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Magic Mike (2012)

You’ve got to be on bath salts if you don’t already know that Magic Mike is the new Steven Soderbergh film about male strippers, based on head hunk Channing Tatum’s experiences in the business. Everyone knows this, and there are no spoilers, really, because we could tell you everything that happens in the movie without ruining your enjoyment. So: Mike (Tatum) brings in newbie Adam (Alex Pettyfer) to Tampa male strip club Xquisite, run by senior stripper/manager/owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). Hijinks ensue as Mike crushes on Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn, rivaled only by Sasha Grey in acting ability) and tries to start his own business, Adam gets a case of babystripper hubris, and Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) swings his namesake around. For our beloved Tits and Sass readership, Kat and Bubbles gladly dragged themselves to a screening to give you our stripper-biz-centric thoughts. We’ll leave the analysis to other reviewers, because what we are interested in are the elements that relate to stripping, not Soderbergh’s commentary on capitalism or his orangey color schemes.

Bubbles: How excited were we to go see this movie? I’ll readily admit that we went in rooting for a good time, as did the rest of the audience. It reminded me of being the stripper at a hyped bachelor party where they’d throw money at you and holler at the simplest flex of a buttcheek.

Kat: There were women who got to the theater at 4:30 in the morning and waited all day in 104 degree heat, essentially risking their lives. The excitement in the room was tactile. I thought some penis goggles would have completed the giant bachelorette party sisterhood vibe, but Magic Mike turned out to be such a blast that I didn’t even need phallic accessories to enhance the experience. Not to mention that I would hate to wear anything that would potentially obscure my view.

Bubbles: No kidding. What a visual delight!

Kat: What this movie lacked in plot, it made up for in amazing choreography and tearaway pants. Pants that disappear with a single tug would be the Magic Mike drinking game cue.

Misérable Politics: Why Anne Hathaway Should Go-Away

Image from LesMeanGirls
Image from LesMeanGirls

In last year’s Les Miserables, a movie with a lot of famous people in it that will probably win some Oscars, Anne Hathaway plays Fantine, a single mother struggling to provide for her child. Fantine turns to prostitution in a moment of ultimate desperation, having already sold her hair and teeth—I know I’m not the only hooker whose first response to that was “Wrong order, girl”, but whatever—and she and the audience feel very sad. Then she’s saved, and we feel happy, but then she dies of tuberculosis, and we are sad again. At least she’s not a hooker now though. Phew!

No one is more concerned about Hathaway’s Fantine, however, than Hathaway herself, as evidenced by her various comments during the lead-up to the film’s release. One of the most circulated quotes has Hathaway outlining her research “into the lives of sex slaves, which are just unspeakably harrowing,” and her attempts to “honor” the experiences of women who are “forced to sell sex”:

 I came to the realization that I had been thinking about Fantine as someone who lived in the past, but she doesn’t. She’s living in New York City right now, probably less than a block away.  This injustice exists in our world.  So every day that I was her, I just thought ‘This isn’t an invention. This isn’t me acting. This is me honoring that this pain lives in this world.’ I hope that in all our lifetimes, we see it end.”

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Bathroom Attendant: A Highly Subjective Review of From the Head [2012]

There is a peculiar claustrophobic glory to working in a strip club. The walls hug. The beat of the music holds you in its grasp that is by turns steely and auto-tuned, fuzzy with distortion, jangly with teenage optimism, and tired with oversaturation. The air breathes recycled. The lights flash with epileptic precision. The girls rotate on stage, so many painted ponies. The voice of the DJ booms intermittent like a hawking God, reminding you to tip your bartenders and waitresses. It’s a closed loop, and yet the strip club’s very Möbius nature gives the whole experience a kind of comfort. It may be claustrophobic, but it may also be the only kind of closeness some strip club denizens get.

There are many things about a strip club that George Griffith’s film From the Head portrays accurately, but perhaps the most compelling is the claustrophobia. And yet, one person’s claustrophobia is another’s intimacy, and everything about this film treads the metonymic line between the two states. As the film’s punning title suggests, Griffith set his film in a bathroom. Griffith, who wrote, directed and starred in the film, plays Shoes, a bathroom attendant in an unnamed strip club. He stands sentinel at the washbasin, part conman, part sage, part poet and part priest, and listens as the strip club’s patrons spew their innards, drop their fierce deuces and generally share their secrets. And it’s also one of the few evocations of strip clubs that centers not on the women dancing but on the men watching (Susannah Breslin’s blog of letters from men who go to strip clubs is the other). 

Les Mis Isn’t An Anti-Trafficking Bible

A grisette, a young 19th century working-class French woman, like Fantine ("La Grisette" by Robert Richard Scanlon, image part of public domain)
A grisette, a young 19th century working-class French woman, like Fantine (“La Grisette” by Robert Richard Scanlon, image part of public domain)

Les Miserables translates roughly as “The Downtrodden.” Fantine is one of these downtrodden, a young working-class grisette who hides her out-of-wedlock child to obtain respectable employment. When her secret is discovered, she is thrown out of the factory. In desperation, she sells her hair and her teeth, and finally, reluctantly, she sells sex. (Incidentally, she may not be the only major character in the novel who is involved in the sex trade: It is implied several times in the novel that when M. Thenardier involves Eponine in his criminal exploits that this includes pimping her out.)

A contemporaneous researcher surveyed Parisian sex workers, and while he goes on at length about his own prejudices, he also gives some data, including reasons cited for getting involved in sex work. This data doesn’t really confirm his biases,which might indicate its validity, at least insofar as he believes laziness, vanity, parental “corruption” and women forgetting “their most sacred of duties” (huh?) are to blame for prostitution. In any case, Fantine’s story (“brought to Paris and abandoned by soldiers, clerks, students, etc.”) was commonly cited—by a little less than 10% of respondents—and the bulk of the rest were orphaned, or kicked out/ran away from home. The single most commonly cited reason for turning to sex work, though, was poverty (i.e. doing it for the money, duh).

Today, many confused feminist commentators, including Anne Hathaway, refer to the character as someone caught in “sexual slavery,” linking Fantine’s plight to the term “sex trafficking.” But Fantine is not a sex trafficking victim and to call her such is to profoundly miss the point of the story. In fact, the co-option of a survival sex worker’s story to fit an agenda that leads to the oppression of all sex workers is itself exploitative. You might note, as quoted in the article linked above, that Victor Hugo also refers to Fantine as a slave, but I believe this is more clearly metaphorical on his part, since he explicitly names “hunger,” “cold,” “loneliness,” “abandonment,” and “privation” as the “slavers.” Interestingly, Hugo himself was rather well known for his sexual exploits with his wife, long-term mistress, short-term mistresses, his maids, and, yes, with many sex workers. So, Hugo was himself a client–a fact which those who would use Les Miserables as an anti-trafficking text are presumably unaware.

Dancing at the Blue Iguana (2000)

blueiguanacover
(via imdb.com)

I’ll confess that Dancing at the Blue Iguana is a special film to me. Over ten years ago, I naively watched this film as research before I finally decided to join the ranks as a card carrying exotic dancer.

“Oh God,” I remember thinking after watching it. “Can I really do this?”

Dancing at the Blue Iguana, directed by Michael Radford, is a moody, winding drama that examines the lives of five strippers working at the San Fernando Valley’s Blue Iguana strip club. Jo (Jennifer Tilly), Jesse (Charlotte Ayanna), Jasmine (Sandra Oh), Stormy (Sheila Kelley), and Angel (Daryl Hannah) have dysfunctional, messy lives but ultimately they can depend on each other and are bound by the sisterhood formed in the Blue Iguana’s dressing room.

The film offers a series of snap shots into the girls’ personal lives. And boy howdy, their lives are a collective train wreck. Jo is the hot-headed drug addict that can barely make ends meet. She vehemently denies that she’s pregnant until her workmates force her to fess up. Later, she enthusiastically lactates on her customers. Jesse is the new girl who relishes in her sexual power but finds it damning when she seduces a struggling musician who reveals himself as an abuser. Stormy, the tortured one, rekindles a secret, incestuous relationship with her brother. Jasmine is the club’s requisite icy bitch. She doles out tough love and cynical witticisms to her workmates but surprises us when we learn that she is also a sensitive poet.

Angel made a convincing case for becoming a dancer. She is beautiful but lonely, well-meaning but ditzy—a classic dancer archetype. A shadowy hit man is hiding in the hotel across the street from the Iguana. Anonymously, he sends her mysterious gifts. When he finally reveals himself, he hands her an enormous stack of cash and disappears forever. This still hasn’t happened to me, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.