Thursday, January 06, 2011

Fairy Tails

Why, dear god, do I find Willem Dafoe so darling? I may never know. In celebration of Anthology Film Archives' fabulous series Abel Ferrara in the 21st Century, I thought I would put down my two cents on his recent (undervalued) Go Go Tales. Ferrara has sadly been on something of a losing streak lately, with two large feature films with noteworthy cast members (Juliette Binoche, Forest Whitaker, Asia Argento, Marion Cotillard, Dafoe, Matthew Modine, and, sure, Heather Graham) going totally unnoticed by American distribution companies. Well now the dust is unsettled from these wonderfully peculiar films and Go Go Tales (2007) is receiving the presidential treatment over Mary (2005) in the series. On this single evening in Ray Ruby (Dafoe)'s Paradise Lounge, a bordello for high-minded strippers and dancers, all is not right and the flagging earnings present a crippling hurdle for Ruby to overcome. So he turns to the lottery.

Ferrara is the master of masculine hysteria. There's a creeping sleazy dread coursing through the veins of the strip club goons who run the proceedings (a crew which includes the implacable Bob Hoskins). Ruby's anxious gambling streaks help none to settle the tone. But as the final descriptive word of its title suggests, Go Go is more fairy tale than some of the seedier ruminations of Ferrara's past (which most famously include Bad Lieutenant, King of New York and the sublime The Addiction). Cause Ruby wins the fucking lottery, of course (18 million), but loses the ticket. The rest of the film is a frenetic free-for-all, as Ruby dives between his role as demur MC, scouring the club for the missing lotto ticket, avoiding his irate and unpaid strippers, and braving the ravings of his landlord, a delicious Sylvia Myles, kvetching as only she knows how.

Almost all the ink that's been spilt on Go Go Tales is over Argento's infamous smooch with her pooch. The scene, in truth, is here and gone. History if you bat an eye. And really, how scandalous is a tongue kiss from a rottweiler, these days? It's Dafoe's charisma and campy brand of unselfconsciousness that wins out in the end. His final monologue is equal parts wacky and heartfelt. As J. Hoberman attests in his Village Voice review, "no amount of writhing pulchritude or gutter language can conceal this movie’s essential innocence." Basically, Go Go Tales is batshit crazy in the way that one has come to expect from a film by Ferrara, but it's also a wide-eyed, loving movie, with an erratic little war torn heart.


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