Strike a Pose (2016)

Directors: Ester Gould & Reijer Zwaan

I have no idea what possessed my boyfriend and me to choose this film. We knew nothing about it prior to seeing it pop up on Netflix a couple of weeks ago, neither of us is a Madonna fan (far from it really), and dancing is not something either of us is all that fond of. And yet the description, a lack of motivation to go searching for anything better, and a slight interest led to our viewing of this documentary. Ultimately we were glad we did, even if the film is nothing too special or memorable.

The film catches up, 25 years later, with six of Madonna’s male dancers from her Blond Ambition World Tour from 1990. While that alone was not special or stand-out enough to warrant a feature length documentary, the fact that the tour was also the basis for the concert documentary film Truth or Dare, becoming, at the time, the highest grossing documentary of all time. The original film shed light not just on Madonna, humanizing her after all the controversy that had been surrounding her since the 80s, but also at her close relationship with her crew, especially her dancers, with whom she spent an incredible amount of time and with whom she seemed to share a tight bond and deep affection. Yet, when the tour ended Madonna slowly stepped away from some members, while others sued her over the content shown in the film, exposing their private lives and possibly affecting negatively their careers. The bond, and the magic, was broken.

Twenty-five years later the men are all in different places. One works in a diner, another is a dance instructor, one lives with his mother in NYC, others have careers that are pop culture adjacent, but none of them ever really reached a level of stardom on par with the exposure they got from that film in the early 90s. Five of the six men the documentary zeroes in on are gay, and the narrative focusing on their sexuality, and the intersection of fame, societal pressures, and personal demons makes for the most interesting component of the documentary. The one straight man had caused a minor scandal with his original homophobic comments in the first doc, so to see his deep sorrow over his previously held beliefs also allows for a look at how people change if we let them. There is one voice missing though. There was a seventh male dancer on the tour, but a few years later he would succumb to AIDS-related health issues and pass away. Two of the surviving dancers also are HIV positive, and this makes for the most relevant and important aspect of the film. Too many LGBT young people forget and take for granted those who came before them, and paved the way for the types of lives they get to enjoy nowadays. That is not to say that things are easy or great, but improvements have been made, and we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, including these very men – even if we don’t always recognize ourselves in them.

The film ultimately struggles with how to end. There is a somewhat awkward final dinner and reunion amongst the six surviving dancers, and while they all seem very happy to see one another and spend that time together, it does not make for very compelling footage. And aside from their fallen member, there is one larger and deeper felt absence. I never thought I would say this, but the fact that Madonna never shows up is a problem for this film. Their only connect thread, the reason we are even remotely aware of who they are, the reason for this film altogether, is the pop superstar. She is their glue, and the intense focus throughout on that bond and even on the lawsuit, begs for a resolution that is never provided. They explain to themselves that she doesn’t owe them anything, that her choosing them was a gift for them to do with as they wished, the rest was for them to figure out. And yet it rings hollow. These men have managed to overcome, to fight, to forgive and move on. Madonna’s silence is thus rendered loud, disquieting, and leaves a bitter note, a false move, a discordant pose in the vogue dance of these men’s lives.

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