Film Review: Strike a Pose

Those terrific dancers who Vogued their way to brief stardom backing up Madonna are front and center in a warm and absorbing doc about their troupe and what went down post-Madge.
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A huge part of the mega-success that was Madonna’s “Blonde Ambition” concert tour in 1990 was the dazzling Vince Paterson choreography, as performed by a fabulously talented troupe of multi-ethnic male dancers. From the brilliant Fosse-esque chair capers on “Keep It Together” to the era-defining stylized gyrations of “Vogue,” those gorgeous, achingly young performers, to use the street parlance in which they converse, worked. All of this was captured in Alek Keshishian’s documentary about the tour, Truth or Dare, the highest-grossing doc of its time; their moves, spirit and style swept the planet—and for that infamous Warhol 15 minutes, they were stars as well.

Now, 25 years later, a number of them are reunited in Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan’s loving doc Strike a Pose to tell their side of the story, and what happened after the final curtain of their tour fell. For most of them, it wasn’t so pretty a picture, being ill-equipped to handle their sudden fame, especially in the gay community. AIDS, which was raging in 1990, figured in their lives, as well as addiction, depression and poverty.

Oliver Crumes was the one heterosexual among them, a muscular stud turned genial, portly daddy type today, who describes having to deal with his own homophobia, surrounded as he was by peacocks who, regarding the love that once dared not speak its name, would not shut the hell up. Luis Camacho and Jose Gutierez—who came directly from New York’s “house ball” scene, wherein largely black and Hispanic gay men strut club runways while creating their own visions of glamour and stardom, all to the beat—figured prominently in the Keshishian film, and are spotlighted here. Out and proud back then—some might say arrogantly so—Camacho, who in his youth possessed an Audrey Hepburn sylph-like, androgynous quality, is now an adorable teddy bear, while Gutierez lives at home with his Spanish-speaking mother, who still basks in the now-dusty achievements of her son, who quit dancing as his life spiraled downwards. Their tearful joint interview, with him translating her words, describing the dream house he was supposed to have bought her, is the film’s emotional highlight.

1990 was a different world, with not only AIDS being almost a surefire death sentence in the eyes of many, but homophobia and other pressures raging about these men. When innocent tour favorite Gabriel Trupin notoriously French-kissed Salim Gauwloos during a game of Truth or Dare in Keshishian’s film, a definite element of exploitation arose, with his parents furious, and he even later sued Madonna for invasion of privacy. Many of the other dancers did the same after the doc came out, but even though this movie makes extensive use of archival footage of irate talk-show appearances by them, the actual reasons and outcome of their lawsuits are fuzzy.

The film could have used more enlightenment in this and other areas regarding their afterlives, and an overall tightening, but its respect and deep affection for its subjects are unquestioned. Madonna herself is MIA—understandably so—but it’s also a tribute to her that none of her boys she helped make famous, and really mothered for a time, has a bad thing to say about her.  

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