There’s something very meta about this film – it’s almost a documentary about a documentary. In 1990, at the height of her imperial phase, a conical bra-clad Madonna hit the road with her Blond Ambition tour. Sharing her stage were seven super-buff, and extremely talented, male dancers. Blond Ambition’s lashings of sex and religion made it a cause célèbre – the Vatican described the show as satanic – and the ever-enterprising Madonna managed to milk the controversy the following year, too. Filmed backstage, her documentary Truth or Dare (aka In Bed With Madonna) featured scenes of the star and those dancers bitching, snogging and, in Madonna’s case, performing oral sex on a wine bottle. As one contemporary news report declared in shock: “There are even scenes with two men kissing!”
That news report is revisited in Strike a Pose, which takes those dancers and what happened to them afterward as its subject. All but one were gay (the straight man was the New Orleans hip-hop dancer Oliver Crumes III), and none were white. Two of them, Jose Gutierez and Luis Camacho, were plucked straight out of New York’s vogueing scene, the underground gay dance world which inspired Madonna’s hit Vogue. Strike a Pose reveals that three of them had also been diagnosed with HIV before they joined the tour, back when that equated to being informed that you would die a premature and horrible death.
Despite Blond Ambition’s flamboyant gayness and Madonna’s onstage expressions of solidarity with those living with Aids, the dancers felt unable to share the burden of this news, either with Madonna or each other. In Strike a Pose, the dancer Carlton Wilborn recalls that he forbade a doctor who treated him in Japan to tell the star that he was unwell. The film makes clear that being fearless and bold is a luxury megastars can enjoy, but the rest of us end up having to make compromises.
Though Truth or Dare depicted Madonna and her dancers rolling around in bed together, all tighter than her Gaultier corset, three of them subsequently sued her, unhappy with her film. One of the trio, Gabriel Trupin, died of Aids in 1995 – he had been upset that his onscreen gay kiss had exposed his sexuality to the world, concerns which Madonna had brushed aside. “It wasn’t a statement that he wanted to make – it was her statement,” Trupin’s heartbroken mother tells Strike a Pose’s directors, Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan.
The film features another uncomprehending mother, that of Gutierez, who can’t understand why his key role in such a massive cultural phenomenon didn’t translate into long-term fame and fortune. Of course, Madonna had moved on to the next project, leaving those in supporting roles struggling to process what had happened, some turning to drink and drugs. The film also reveals what the depredations of time can do to even the most sculpted of abs.
Given the bad blood, one gets the distinct impression that Madonna’s lawyers have watched Strike a Pose more intently than any wannabe, though presumably she approved of the film enough to allow the use of some brief footage from the Blond Ambition tour. Nevertheless, it’s a sad story that suggests that climbing aboard a superstar juggernaut is a lot like riding a tiger – as the Chinese proverb goes, extremely tricky when you dismount.
Source: The Guardian