Monday, 27 June 2011

Dancing at the Blue Iguana, lap dancing bared

Dancing at the Blue Iguana begins with a heart rending performance of “Amazing Grace” in a run down room in Hollywood, sung by Jessie (Charlotte Ayanna), a girl barely in her late teens, who is, obviously, in some kind of trouble: we see her later being asked for her ID when auditioning at the Blue Iguana, a lap dancing club in Los Angeles, where her smoothness seduces the owner Eddie (Robert Wisdom) in hiring her, eventually disregarding the age issue.

Michael Ratford assembled not only a notable cast in Dancing at the Blue Iguana (2000), he also made it together with them through acting workshops, resulting in a semi-improvised film notable for the spontaneous and natural feel of the dialogue. Set in the above mentioned lap dancing club, Ratford and his cast slowly but surely peel away layer after layer until exposing this world in its full nakedness for us to see. The result is a poetic yet realistic reflection on the “seedy” world of lap pole dancing clubs. A world that may be seedy, but its participants are not; a world populated by characters making a life on the edge of civil society, where the boundaries between “right” and “wrong” are diffuse and permeable, a world where surviving is the name of the game.

Jessie, Charlotte Ayanna wonderfully portraying that explosive mixture of innocence and sexual allure of a young girl, crashes in the world of adulthood in the arena of this circus, getting beaten up by her boyfriend, dancing for riotous male predators with the bestiality of their libidos let loose on the rampage; Jasmine (Sandra Ho), the dancing poetess who gets dumped by her boyfriend Dennis (Chris Hogan), the poetry reading workshop leader, a tough encounter with the prejudices of the outside world, sustained even by the so-called “liberals”; Angel (Daryl Hannah), the quintessential American blonde model with “legs up to her neck”, a lost soul whose desperate attempt to adopt a child gets derailed, showered with presents and money by Sacha (Vladimir Mashkov), a contract assassin chasing a renegade Russian businessman; an old Jewish gentleman, who still “likes pussy”, with the opera glasses which belonged to his departed wife; Eddie, the owner, a soft touch man who has a business to run, yet still keeping a compassionate but firm eye on the girls; are the characters who show the humanity of this enclosed and feverish world.

Although I have no first hand knowledge or experience of lap dancing clubs, neither in Los Angeles nor in Britain, I hastily add, its cinematic depiction as a kind of Roman circus, where the girl who does the most outrageous performance gets the most dollars bills thrown at her by a pack of hungry hyenas disguised as male patrons, particularly shown when the statuesque Nico (Kristin Bauer) slids off her G-string to the loud cheers of the ravenous crowd, is brilliantly convincing. At times, the film has a semi-documentary feel to it, adding to the credibility of the imagery and the story line, the open ended finale being a deft touch.

Dancing at the Blue Iguana (18) DVD will be released in the UK by Network Releasing on 27th June 2011.

Director: Michael Ratford
Writers: Michael Ratford and David Linter
Cast: Charlotte Ayanna, Sandra Oh, Daryl Hannah, Jennifer Tilly, Sheila Kelley, Kristin Bauer, Robert Wisdom, Chris Hogan
Screen Ratio: 16:9
RRP: £12.99

Still and trailer © Network Releasing

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