Strike A Pose

Studio: Kino Lorber

Jun 07, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


In the spring of 1990, Madonna launched The Blond Ambition World Tour to support her previous studio album Like a Prayer and her latest album I’m Breathless, which served as the soundtrack to her forthcoming film, Dick Tracy, which was conveniently timed to open the week after the tour ended.  Instead of a traditional tour, she intended the show to be a theatrical spectacle, designed to be provocative and progressive. It most certainly was, as the show faced controversy and legal threats in cities around the world. Not one to let a good media spectacle go to waste, she documented the tour in a black-and-white,  Pennebaker-style documentary, Truth or Dare, which featured an intimate look behind the scenes of the show, and the lives of her dancing troupe—seven young men from diverse backgrounds, with all but one of them being gay. Throughout the film, much is made about how their unit is more than just a performance troupe—they’re family. Strike A Pose, a European documentary film shot in 2015, served to tell the rest of the story of this family, twenty-five years after the tour.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the documentary is somewhat bittersweet. The film picks up their story in 1991, shortly after the release of Truth or Dare, which really brought a swift end to this “family.” Not all of the dancers were happy about the film, and three members of the troupe brought about a swift lawsuit resulting from issues ranging from non-payment, misrepresentation, and invasion of privacy with Gabriel Trupin feeling personally aggrieved for being forced out of the closet. (The suit would not make it to court, and would be settled quietly.) In the case of Jose Gutierez & Luis Camacho—the two dancers who were specifically hired to teach Madonna how to “vogue” and to choreograph the show, they would record a single with Madonna’s assistance, but soon drifted apart, thanks in part to Luis’ drug addiction.  Of the seven, only Carlton Wilborn would work with Madonna again, appearing as a lead dancer for her next tour. (It’s worth noting that this fact is not mentioned whatsoever in the film.)

Strike A Pose has a certain level of sadness to it, one that comes from watching a celebrity bring people into their sphere, and then discarding them after a few months’ time, seemingly coldly. Not all of them deal with this quite well; many of them develop drug and alcohol addictions; Belgian dancer Salim Gauwloos would become homeless, while Jose would soon be faced with self-doubt and would wind up living with his mother. Others faced even more serious issues; throughout the tour, Wilbourn and Gauwloos were harboring the secret knowledge that they were HIV positive; while Trupin, who kept his health issues secret, may have known as well, but sadly died from the disease in 1995.

But life has not been all bad for them; dancer Kevin Stea—who maintained a low profile during the Truth or Dare filming—would become one of Hollywood’s most in-demand choreographers, as would Gauwloos. All of them would fight their addictions and come to conquer them, while Oliver Croomes—the tour’s only straight dancer, and one who was sorely hurt by Truth Or Dare’s portrayal both as somewhat intolerant and as Madonna’s spurned love interest—would come to admit that his experience turned him from homophobe into a more loving, caring person.

Strike A Pose’s finale, of course, is the inevitable reunion of the group, one that takes place at a fancy restaurant and is purposefully not unlike a scene near the end of Truth or Dare. They participate in a game of Truth or Dare, and unsurprisingly, none of them are willing to take a “dare” this time around. While most of the group wishes things had been better, lament how Madonna was no longer in their lives, and wished Madonna could have joined them, it is Luis who delivers the blunt but honest truth, and one that makes the rest of the group wince: Madonna gave them an opportunity and a start, but what they chose to do with their lives after that was their choice, and she didn’t owe them anything at all after the tour ended.

He’s right, of course. Strike A Pose is interesting, but it’s unfortunately flawed, as it errs too much for being cautious about what’s happened in their lives since the tour. The film focuses a bit too much on the negatives and failures and tragedies and not on the successes; had one not looked up the individual dancers’ histories online, one might find this documentary to be an hour and a half of a pity-party for people who simply couldn’t move on from their brief moment of fame and infamy—and in that sense, Strike A Pose is almost as unfair and distorted a portrait of the men now as Truth Or Dare was of them twenty-five years ago, and they deserve better.  

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