J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Ferrara at AFA: Go Go Tales

Indie auteurs are not always distribution friendly. Such has certainly been the case with Abel Ferrara. Still, it is a bit of a head-scratcher that a star-studded, accessibly goofy comedy that takes full advantage of its strip club setting never got more of a theatrical look. Anthology Film Archives addresses that oversight with Abel Ferrara in the 21st Century, a retrospective of the director’s recent unreleased and under-distributed films, anchored by the straight-up commercial Go Go Tales (not quite sfw trailer here), which begins its two week run of screenings this Friday.

Ruby seems like an unfortunate name for a strip club proprietor, but Ray Ruby has no time for historical ironies. He is busy going broke as a joke. Tourists just are not coming like they used to. Fortunately, he and his bookkeeper Jay have a responsible, proactive solution: playing the lotto. Of course, they have a system devised by some dodgy computer nerds in the local bodega. Yet, when their numbers come up, the born losers cannot recall where they stashed the ticket. Mad scrambling mayhem then ensues.

Naturally, Ruby’s Paradise is well stocked with colorful characters, including the hilariously foul-mouthed landlady Lillian Murray, who constantly threatens to evict them to make way for a Bed, Bath and Beyond, while draped over their bar. There is also plenty of flesh and jiggle, surely just to satisfy the demands of on-screen realism.

As Ruby, Willem Dafoe hams it up like Jim Carrey, but at least his energy never flags. Sylvia Miles is a profane joy as the acid-tongued Murray and Roy Dotrice brings a touch of crusty class as the impossibly Irish Jay. Italian horror diva Asia Argento is also well cast as eye candy with an edge. (Unfortunately, Asian action star Selena Khoo is somewhat under-utilized in this respect.) Although his gruff character is underwritten, Bob Hoskins still growls out some of the film’s best lines as the club’s greeter. The director’s fans will also be happy to see Ferrara regulars like Nicholas De Cegli and Frankie Cee on staff at the Paradise. Only Matthew Modine seems out of place as Ruby’s cash flush brother Johnnie.

Though filmed in Rome, production designer Frank DeCurtis nicely creates an environment of New York seediness. It is definitely a Ferrara milieu, but the filmmaker keeps things light rather than indulging in Bad Lieutenant style violence and law-of-the-jungle naturalism.

Frankly, with its Cannes credentials, Go Go has considerably more going for it than so many of the films that are inexplicably picked up by independent distributors. Though hardly perfect, if viewers can get past the sheer knuckleheadedness of its set-up, it is quite the entertaining naughty farce. Along with other films in the retrospective, like Chelsea on the Rocks, it is something of a valentine to old school, sleazy-in-the-right-way New York. Go Go screens at AFA at 7:00 every night of the Ferrara series, beginning this Friday (1/7).

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