Film Review: 'Strike a Pose' (dir. Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan)
Updated: Aug 23, 2020
Originally published at SameSame on 15 June, 2016.
“What are you looking at?”
The answer, of course, was Madonna. The opening words to Madonna’s hit single “Vogue” were a sly if typically ego-boosting way of acknowledging the fact that everybody was indeed looking at its maker with fevered glee. What was the world’s biggest pop star going to do next? Or more precisely, what wasn’t she going to do next? The song was released in March of 1990, opening the decade with what would become one of the ‘90s most iconic and successful songs.
But more than just a sassy intro to a polished pop tune, its opening question essentially served as a defining motif for the decade (and beyond) that followed. Madonna’s famed pop culture smarts correctly predicted the public’s hungry desire to know all the intimate details of their favourite personas and she was among the first to answer them. If you’re going to look then she was going to give you a show.
That’s exactly what she did with Madonna: Truth or Dare (known as In Bed with Madonna in Australia) and among that groundbreaking documentary’s many virtues was the way in which it—and Madonna herself—brought queer issues to the masses. In particular AIDS. Of course, what Madonna didn’t expect was that in bringing her sex-positive worldview to the masses, others would get caught up in the crossfire for better or worse, which is where Strike a Pose comes in.
26 years later and this documentary from European filmmakers Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan examines the dancers whose lives were thrust into the public sphere because of her classic Blonde Ambition tour and the subsequent film (of which liberal use of clips are used throughout). It’s a glimpse at the fame cycle from a decidedly different point of view.
Luis Camacho, Carlton Wilborn, Kevin Stea, Gabriel Trupin, Salim “Slam” Gauwloos, Oliver Crumes, and Jose Gutierez certainly got their fifteen minutes of fame thanks to Madonna, and Strike a Pose attempts to assess the positives and the numerous negatives of it. Beginning with a prolonged flashback to 1990 when they were recruited by Madonna for the “Vogue” video and the subsequent world tour before transporting us to the modern day where most of the men work as dancers, dance instructors, or choreographers.
The film’s final act is a where-are-they-now reunion as each of the six living dancers—Gabriel unfortunately passed away—reconvene to reminisce and play one last game of Truth or Dare.
Strike a Pose will no doubt be of great value to Madonna fans (she doesn’t appear in interviews, but her image and her voice are everywhere throughout), but feels slightly like a missed opportunity. Despite access to these individuals, they still feel as if they are slightly walking on eggshells when the subject turns to Madonna herself. Despite lawsuits and personal disagreements, nobody has much of a bad word to say about the pop megastar, which feels somewhat disingenuous. Not that I wanted a bitch-fest, but these men open themselves up so much in other aspects of their lives—the most powerful passages are those in which several of the dancers discuss the shame they felt being a part of Madonna’s safe sex routines while battling HIV in secret—that to not do so everywhere cheapens the affair.