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Go Go Tales (2007)
Go Go Tales is an independent 2007 film by Abel Ferrara. It was screened out of competition at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. It stars Willem Dafoe as a strip club owner and co-stars Bob Hoskins. As of 2008, it been seen only at selected film festivals, including the Montréal World Film Festival where it competed for the "Grand prix des Amériques" and has not yet received either cinema distribution or DVD production.
Of course, Ferrara has openly compared Go Go to Bookie and the bar-set sitcom Cheers, and it's true enough that everyone in the film's central setting, Ray Ruby's Paradise, seems to know every customer and visitor's name. The club's owner and namesake (Willem Dafoe in top form) imagines his strip joint as the sort of classy lounge that might have been graced by Frank Sinatra back in the day but now settles for gaggles of high-rolling Japanese tourists, local businessmen, and a few regulars. But Ray has ambitions and principles: He comes out and performs a show-stopping serenade for the audience nightly and intends on expanding his food service past the lonely chef who specializes in organic hot dogs (erstwhile Fugees member Pras). Times are tough, however, and Ray's landlady (Sylvia Miles) enters the club barking about plans to turn the Paradise into a Bed, Bath and Beyond with a 99-year lease. What's poor Ray to do?
As it turns out, Ray indeed has a plan, involving a scheme to cheat the lottery with his Irish bookkeeper (Roy Dotrice). As the girls writhe and grind downstairs, Ray searches for a lost winning ticket that could put his crew, the Paradise, and himself on easy street. That search is about as close as Ferrara, who also wrote the film's script, comes to a proper plot, but his fascination with routines, asides, and long bouts of improvisational yammering more than makes up for narrative instability. Ray must endure a possible workers strike, a tanning-bed fire, a customer noticing his wife gyrating onstage, a stripper coaxing a producer to offer her a movie deal, and, in one of the film's funniest scenes, a man in a crab suit stealing his business. All of this, however, is child's play as compared to Asia Argento's frolic with her Rottweiler, including an onstage make-out session between pet and owner.
Argento's gleefully perverse performance piece easily matches Dafoe's endearingly sincere croon, but it also anticipates another dog show involving Ray's bankrolling brother (Matthew Modine, always game) and his keyboard-playing Pomeranian. This comes during the film's most emotionally poignant sequence, in which Ray shuts down his business to allow his employees to practice their true "art" on stage for an audience of what he hopes are waiting agents, managers, and talent scouts but are mostly family and friends. It's not that hard to see how Ferrara connects not only to Ray but to the hip-swaying ladies in his employ, and there is perhaps no better allegory for the covert humanism of Go Go Tales than the sight of one stripper donning a pink leotard and a tutu on the sweat-drenched stage once all the bill-waving horndogs have exited the premises.
Constructed in Italy's Cinecittà Studios, Ray Ruby's Paradise is a genuine and realistic doppelganger for any number of midtown clubs, replete with bouncers and a snarling house manager named the Baron (Bob Hoskins), and an endearing portrait of New York City's independent business culture in the face of gentrification and capitalism's rampant progress. And as much as this metaphor is blithely apparent and maybe even cliché, Ray's belief in his club, the ladies and their various expressive forms makes for a deeply moving view of Ferrara's attitude towards his own work and the filmmaking business.
"The problem is not the business, the problem is me...I love to gamble," admits Ray in a climactic monologue to a cast of characters that equally suggests influences by Federico Fellini and Robert Altman. Ferrara's honesty about his own inability to concede to what might be a leisurely life of for-hire gigs and abandon the provocations of his own canon is startling and compelling, making a final twist, one involving Ray's intentions to gamble once more rather than embrace a financial windfall, all the more comforting.