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NYFF: Go Go Tales

October 9th, 2007 (08:42 pm)

© 2007 D. Gordon
Yep, Q & As can be pretty telling.

Scott Foundas, film editor and critic at L.A. Weekly and member of the festival selection committee, acted as moderator. The idea was to get brief impressions from the ten people seated at the table, then go to the audience for questions. Willem Dafoe, seated at his left, followed the script; but Scott then moved to Sylvia Miles, who started in on her reminisces. Abel Ferrarra, down at the other end of the table, jumped in with comments, and then they were off. A few others joined in (especially Burt Young), and things shifted into cocktail party land. The jokes and banter completely took over, neglecting the whole "Q & A" concept until almost the very end of the allotted time.

But it was the kind of banter and frenetic energy that people very comfortable with each other share (well, either comfortable with each other or partying with each other in the Green Room beforehand). And that's the kind of frenetic energy that plays across the screen in Ferrarra's Go Go Tales.

Go Go Tales is a night in the life of a strip joint. Ray Ruby's Paradise Club lies somewhere in New York City. Lilian, the crusty old battleaxe who owns the building, is on the warpath – the club's four months behind on the rent and Bed Bath and Beyond is offering her more money in regular payments. John Ruby, brother of Ray and Mr. Hairdresser of Staten Island, has been funding the club for years – and seeing nothing for it (although he's not above sampling the merchandise from time to time). He's about had it and has come to call it quits. The strippers, who by and large have bigger dreams and are there just to pay their bills, are ready to go on strike if the don't get paid soon. The cook – er, gourmet chef – is fed up with the girls treating him like dirt and no one appreciating his free-range hot dogs. And Ray Ruby, the manager of the club, the head of this little family, and his bookkeeper have concocted a secret scheme to take the club's funds, buy as many lottery ticket as possible (using a carefully constructed mathematical formula, even), and win the $18 million lottery; it's successful, except... they can't find where they put the winning ticket. Yep, it's another night at Ray Ruby's Paradise Club.

This is definitely a comedy of errors. One of the bouncers replaces burnt out bulbs in the girls' tanning bed with regular fluorescent bulbs, causing the fire you'd expect. An unexpected busload of tourists – customers, which the club sorely needs – pulls up and enters, only to find out they're in the wrong club and exit through the revolving doors, guided by a man in a crab suit. Meanwhile everyone's after Ray, and he's after that pesky lottery ticket. It's screwball crossed with bump-and-grind.

There's a skill in managing all this lunacy. Abel Ferrarra had more or less dreamed up the world of the club, but everyone else had to come to the shoot (at Cinecittá in Rome) and learn it, and get beyond the language issues, and make it work. Somehow, they did.

Willem Dafoe is the lynchpin of the action, and he's wonderful as always. The slightly seedy but well-intentioned Ray Ruby is actually trying to keep his dream – the club – alive, and in doing that keep the dreams of everyone around him alive as well. (It's ironic that in a place that relies on its patrons' dreams, it's the staff's dreams that are most important.) One of the nice things about the movie is that the club isn't pimping the girls, chewing them up and spitting them out, and that they're quite capable of holding their own. They're allowed to dream as much as anyone else.

And Dafoe has a whole cast of solid actors behind him: Bob Hoskins, Matthew Modine, Burt Young, Sylvia Miles, Asia Argento, even Anita Pallenberg at the front counter. This is really an ensemble piece, and it looks like it became a labor of love. And the fruit of that labor is a fun little movie.