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Angel is a dancer wishing to adopt a child. Stormy is a dancer with a secret with her brother Sully. Jasmine is a poetess who falls in love with Dennis. Jo is a dancer who became pregnant and Jessie is a woman fighting to survive in Hollywood. The link between them is the fact that they dance at Blue Iguana, a strip-club managed by Eddie. Their personal dramas are the theme of this movie. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
If you're partial to the documentary approach to feature films, Dancing at the Blue Iguana is one you'll want to grab, possibly from your video store's for-sale rack or any bargain bin that it has tumbled into. It's interesting work and is considerably more than the soft-core porn for which it might be mistaken. The film was also an experiment on the part of the director Michael Radford, who began his film career as a documentary film maker. To remain true to his school, Mr. Radford allowed the principal actresses to map out their own back stories and interactions, then filmed the results. Many people seem to feel this process failed. I must disagree as I think it worked very well. The slight raggedness that resulted simply made the film more convincing to me. It's a thinking person's adult film. Viewers looking for a straight-up porn hit should pass. This film is more about people who have faced certain facts and settled into lives along the underbelly of Los Angeles. The fact that some of them happen to strip is merely coincidental.
Dancing at the Blue Iguana takes an MRI-like scan of life in an L.A.-area strip club, clinically sectioning the lives of the dancers and staff of the club, as well as providing interesting vantage points on the various types that patronize it. There's an elderly gentleman who watches the dancers from ten feet away through opera glasses, understanding that the devil is truly in the details, a Russian hit man who may be targeting one of the dancers. There's even a young woman regular, apparently in the same age bracket as the dancers. The overall slant is so detached, so transparent, that one comes away from the film feeling as though almost nothing has happened. A number of questions are asked but not really answered, but life is that way at times.
The entire cast turns in solid performances that simultaneously reveal both the surface and hidden aspects of their characters but the story really zeroes in on the various dancers, all of whom are portrayed with great conviction by several very fine actresses who have really taken the plunge into their roles; Daryl Hannah's wasted, self-deluding Angel and Jennifer Tilly's freaked and superfreaky Jo to mention just two off the top. There are more. But the real depth resides in Canadian actress Sandra Oh's Jasmine whose character, away from the pole, is a gifted poet in deep mourning for the dead end which her life, due to a lack of faith in her gift, is approaching. When Jasmine is finally persuaded to read at a local open-mike event by the owner of the bookstore where the reading takes place, she blows everyone out the door, including the headlining poetess who is touring behind her newly-published collection. But Jasmine can't be happy because her triumph is simply more proof of her, apparently, terminal weakness and lack of belief in herself, as well as the hate of what that lack has made her. It's a heart-rending performance. (You can catch a glimpse of this little-known actress in the beautifully-done Canadian production, The Red Violin, as the wealthy Asian lady who, with her husband, bids on the instrument near the film's climax.)
Dancing at the Blue Iguana also contains what may be the shortest 75-second sequence ever filmed in which Kristin Bauer's Nico, a touring professional stripper and porn star, whose anticipated guest performance comprises one the film's wispy back stories, takes the stage. The regular dancers all tend to mime various stages of sexual involvement as part of their individual routines; no such nonsense for Nico. When she confronts the hooting, cash-brandishing, SRO crowd, she operates behind a calm, Apsara smile that might have floated off a wall frieze at Angkor Wat. Nico is obviously the girl who really does this stuff for a living. If you were a fan of the great 80's group, Echo and the Bunnymen, as I was, you'll never hear their hit, 'Lips Like Sugar' quite the same way after Nico works with it. Hard to believe that Ms. Bauer is the same lady who played Jerry Seinfeld's entirely mainstream girl du jour in the 'Man Hands' episode, but it is. Her opening at the Blue Iguana is also set up by one of the most unexpected scene-to-scene jumps that I've ever witnessed. Nico's tough as nails but later, in a touching scene with Jasmine, the girl behind the woman comes out. If you find a VHS copy of this very engrossing movie, (It's probably available as a DVD.) you may want to have it duplicated to provide a backup when you finally wear out the tape under Nico's scene.
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