As Donnie Corker's friends produce a documentary of his strange and sordid life, Richmond's legendary drag queen looks back on three decades of infamy.
For the Ages
When Donnie Corker's elephantine girth next assumes the sweaty glamour that is Dirt Woman and the city's longest-running act of misdemeanor performance art takes the stage at his annual birthday bash for charity more than the usual number of "I remember the time he ..." anecdotes will be whispered.
Dirt Woman's got a documentary, and among the fans at his Dec. 7 party at Cafine's on Grace Street (along which the former prostitute once strolled professionally) will be a film crew to capture their reminiscences.
Responsible for the perhaps-inevitable biopic are local contract-video hipsters Jerry Williams, Dave Park, Liz Throckmorton and Kathryn Leatherwood. They are serving as director, director of photography and co-producers, respectively, on the as-yet-untitled film.
Throckmorton, who has sold a documentary on the New York sex industry to HBO, sees lots of potential in a story about Richmond's big-hearted, dimwitted and occasionally ill-tempered temptress.
"I think he's definitely a perfect character study. ... What really interests me is how someone like him could survive, even flourish, in a place like Richmond," she says. "He's definitely a freak."
Williams, a long-time friend of Corker's, says he mused over the idea of a Dirt Woman documentary for years but kept it to himself until the serendipitous week recently when Park asked if one had ever been done, and Throckmorton confided she longed for a follow-up to her HBO exposé.
Creatively unspent by the corporate videos and commercials that are their stock in trade, the group already has begun preserving Richmond's most notorious cellulite on celluloid. They're conducting interviews with those who have aided, abetted and even abridged his antics over the years, including journalists, artists and law enforcers.
Now they're putting out a call for those with videotape, mementos, photographs and (possibly even rarer) untold stories about Corker to come forward and bring them to Cafine's.
Corker himself is basking in the attention. But in a recent interview, he looked back on his life with a candid mix of bluster and melancholy.
Aside from the being-retarded thing, pretty much everything you've probably heard about Dirt Woman is true: Walking the streets and letting the pervs suck his toes. Going to the bathroom in the back of a police car. Crashing the Wilder inaugural ball. Eating dog food in public. Claiming he was pregnant so Virginia Beach cops wouldn't hurt him when he resisted arrest. Thrashing a song-for-Richmond contest organizer with the bouquet of roses he had just handed Corker (Dirt Woman came in fourth).
"If he says he did something, he did it," Williams says.
"He sounds like he's fibbing half the time, but the stories check out," Throckmorton adds.
What will become of the finished documentary remains anyone's guess. Williams and Throckmorton hope HBO will bite, but if not, they believe there is enough interest in Dirt Woman locally to make money on the project by selling individual tapes. Either way, Williams says the film will be done in time to premiere at the James River Festival of the Moving Image in the spring.
The film's group of four has agreed to split costs equally among them and to cut Corker in on any profits. They expects costs both equipment, materials and the value of their time to top $50,000, but "we've all agreed sort of not to let that worry us," Throckmorton says.
And however tragicomic Dirt Woman's life has been, Throckmorton adds the documentary will be a serious undertaking: She and the others have their own busy lives to lead, and "I don't feel like wasting my time on
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