Huge in their native New Zealand, the Topp Twins remain something of a cultural footnote across the pond. If your average Australian has heard of them, chances are that knowledge doesn’t extend far beyond the Topps being ‘yodelling Kiwi lesbian twins’.
That may change with the cinema release of Leanne Pooley’s hilarious, inspiring and poignant profile of Jools and Linda Topp, Untouchable Girls. Since its NZ release in April, it’s become the highest-grossing documentary ever to screen in that country, beating docos by such heavyweights as Michael Moore and Al Gore to rake in over $2 million.
Pooley told Sydney Star Observer that despite the fact the Topp Twins are beloved New Zealand cultural icons on par with our Dame Edna, the success of the film took her by surprise.
“I’ve been making films for a long time, and I gave up years ago trying to predict what would be a success. I’m rarely right. I tried really hard to make a movie people would connect with, and I knew the twins were popular, but it’s gone better than I’ve ever imagined. I think we’re the seventh most successful motion picture in the history of New Zealand,” she said, still clearly incredulous at the film’s runaway success.
Charting the duo’s rise to fame and the unique mix of talents — both musical and comedic — that got them where they are today, Untouchable Girls is a glorious look at life for the Topps.
But midway through the film, the tone changes as Jools is struck down with breast cancer and undergoes months of gruelling chemotherapy. It makes for emotional viewing, watching the lifelong equal relationship between the twins momentarily turn into one of patient and carer.
“We knew about Jools’ illness when we started shooting. It wasn’t the reason for the film — and we were careful not to include too much about it, because we weren’t making a film about cancer — but it certainly put some urgency behind what we wanted to do,” Pooley said.
Watching the Topps’ 30-year rise from feisty buskers to household names, one can’t help but think: how did these openly gay, politically outspoken women find their way into mainstream entertainment?
“That’s something I think a lot of people wonder about,” Pooley said.
“The film hasn’t had many bad reviews, but one of the criticisms I’ve heard is from people saying, ‘There must have been obstacles, you left out all the bad stuff’. But the twins don’t seem to think there were that many. They’ve just gone out and done their thing.
“It’s quite remarkable — they’ve been out and politically active as left-wingers for 30 years, and they’ve never ever once received any hate mail.”
But how have two outspoken left-wing lesbians managed to have such long careers without pissing anybody off?
“I think it’s the fact that they’re very real, they’re not pretentious, and they’re not cruel in their humour. A lot of comedy can be quite nasty, but they’re never nasty. They love what they do, and people love them for it.”
info: The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls screens in selected cinemas nationally from November 19.