Before delving in to the multi-layered travelogue/documentary that is "PTOWN DIARIES, a personal memory of my visit to the one-of-a-kind vacation spot seems a propos. Strolling down the main avenue Commercial Street on a moonlit summer night, I watched a drag queen running down the street (Ptown is a Mecca for female impersonators of all shapes and sizes).
This tough-looking woman is dressed a la Joan Crawford in the "Don’t fuck with me, Fellas" period of "Mommie Dearest." She gets right in my face and snaps, "Princess Di is dead! Killed in a car crash!" then proceeds on her Paul Revere power walk down the street... only in Ptown, right?
Now, Joseph Mantegna’s "Ptown Diaries," narrated by Alan Cumming, gives the LGBT Massachusetts vacation town a loving look. It presents a rich history dating back to the Pilgrims in the 1600s. Much of this fascinating portrait gives a solid old-fashioned history lesson of the town’s origins and its colors founders. It also makes sure to give voice to the locals, who comment on the fishing village’s transformation into an international resort destination.
The only tedious aspect of "Ptown Diaries" is over five minutes of footage shot in local nightspots. This came off less as revealing than a mandatory nod by the filmmaker that gays and lesbians simply love to dance and party. No kidding.
What makes up for such lapses are the portraits of the now-legendary playwrights and writers who either took up residence year-round or made the town a summer retreat year-to-year. Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams only top the list.
Interviews with authors Michael Cunningham ("The Hours") and Norman Mailer help explain the town’s attraction for the mostly New York-based literati. The documentary definitely proves that Mailer more than lived up to his reputation as a fire-breathing hellcat.
Even today, you can easily spot luminaries like filmmaker John Waters, who regularly weaves in and out of the foot traffic on his bicycle. If LGBTG tourists and homeowners have made Ptown prosperous, it’s the bohemian artists who give it its unique fabric. Interviews with a slew of well-known artists and colorful locals illuminate this special aspect of the town at the edge of the Cape Cod.
After all, it was Mailer who best captured Ptown’s charm when he called it "the freest place in America."