Thirty years later, the Topp Twins are way ahead of their time
by Nancy Ford
“Oh, I thought it was a porn film,” one of my male colleagues quipped upon glancing at the upside-down DVD cover of The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls on my desk. Truth be told, he was partially right: the DVD is obscene—obscenely funny. But not in a dirty way.
As many as 20 international film festivals lauded director Leanne Pooley with best documentary prizes for chronicling the unlikely show-biz success story of these lesbian twins raised on a farm in New Zealand. Jools and Lynda Topp began plying their openly gay, openly anarchist show on the streets as buskers, a polite term for street beggars. In the early 1980s, Jools would open her guitar case on any given corner, and together the sisters would sweep into a no-holds-barred sidewalk performance, astounding their growing audiences with their honesty and enthusiasm; it’s impossible not to see the swagger of k.d. lang in her Re-cline days.
Those street stages led to bookings on real stages at festivals and rallies, and eventually international venues. They even starred in a short-lived Kiwi television series in the ’90s, but the small screen was an inadequate venue for the live spontaneity Topp fans grew to love.
The Topp Twins’s stage show is compromised of original protest songs about nuclear disarmament, poverty, apartheid, and basic human rights, all presented via character comedy in which the twins transform themselves into bizarre personae—hickish Belle and Bell Gingham and pretentious socialites Dilly and Prue Ramsbottom are just a few of their alter egos. Think Dame Edna or Greater Tuna, but with real women, with purpose. Then double it.
Oh yes . . . the yodeling. It’s safe to say that the Topp twins are the universe’s sole country-singing-and-yodeling, character-driven, comedic lesbian twin activists.
“It’s not a career, it’s a lifestyle,” the twins happily insist, still delighting audiences in their mid-50s.
Capping the otherwise uproarious film with a bittersweet twist, we witness Jools’s battle with breast cancer, her sister at her side throughout the ordeal. Watching them, we wonder if anything could bring these two amazingly strong women down. Untouchable, indeed. 2009. Diva Films (topptwins.com).