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Deep in the Heart of Chelsea: Susanne Bartsch: On Top

By Jennifer Parker

This weekend marks the eighth annual Athena Film Festival at Barnard College and as the name suggests, the festival is “ a weekend of inspiring films that tell the extraordinary stories of strong, bold women leaders from all walks of life.” A must-see is the documentary featuring New York nightlife icon Susanne Bartsch by directing duo Anthony&Alex (Anthony Coronna and Alexander Smith), SUSANNE BARTSCH: ON TOP distills the milieu of Bartsch’s quotidian stasis between humanity and authority. Whether Susanne Bartsch was anointed or appointed “Queen of the Night” and patron saint of LGBTQ advocacy and inclusion is no less important than her ability to throw a raucous party, where the only criteria for entry is making the effort to be fabulous. Among those who grace Bartsch’s events are superstars and LGBTQ nightlife dignitaries RuPaul, Simon Doonan, Michael Musto, and Amanda Lepore.

Bartsch’s contribution to fashion drives the narrative of the film as her collection is readied for exhibition at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology). The directors, disenfranchised with how aging women are treated by the fashion industry after making their film, have decided to no longer make documentaries about the industry.

Perhaps the two biggest stars are the least flamboyant of the entire film: Bartsch’s now ex-husband David Barton (longtime partners, they divorced in 2010, though the documentary doesn’t make their marital status clear) and their son, Bailey. What is clear is how much Susanne and David adore their son and how there is no instruction manual to parenting. Barton is the famed trainer and owner of the David Barton Gym chain.

Susanne lives deep in the heart of Chelsea, New York in the Chelsea Hotel. Their preppy-hipster-cis-gendered son was raised among the most unconventional of parents and role models, in an environment where gender was fluid, where his Swiss-born mother had checked into the iconic 23rd Street hotel one day and has never checked out. Bailey is a student at Brown University majoring in Classics—meaning the kid reads Latin. Bailey doesn’t do drag, he isn’t into parties; that’s his mom’s bailiwick. Yet, he sees her as the most loving, generous person he knows. He wouldn’t trade his childhood surrounded by drag queens for anything. Bartsch has a big heart and really, she just wants to make sure that people who may otherwise be marginalized because of gender feel fabulous and have fun, “On Top.”

Runtime 96min.

Directors: Anthony CaronnaAlexander Smith 

Writers: Anthony Caronna, Alexander Smith

Star: Susanne Bartsch

SUSANNE BARTSCH: ON TOP screens at the Athena Film Festival on February 23, 2018 at 9PM. For tickets, go here. For more offerings from the Athena Film Festival, running through February 25, visit athenafilmfestival.com.

Portions of this review first appeared in Fjord’s Review.

Jennifer Parker is a Manhattan-based writer and editor-in-chief of StatoRec. Her film criticism, author profiles, and poetry have appeared in Fjord’s Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Quiet Lunch, and Pank Magazine. She has also contributed photography to At Large Magazine. Follow her on Twitter and on Instagram at @jenparker12345.

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