An empathetic portrait of four straight male strippers in Tampa, Adam Ballachey's American Dancer reveals the dark side to every guy's secret dream job. "There's definitely a fantasy, to have the animalistic sexual attention of a roomful of women five nights a week," the San Francisco director says. "But it's a trap. They end up emotionally alienated and with an inflated but fragile sense of who they are. And it's not pretty when they get old." Um, that would be 30.
Ballachey records one of the studs injecting steroids, which the moviemaker asserts a lot of strippers require to maintain their physiques -- and their appeal to wealthy women. "One of the things that's interesting is how men come to see themselves when they take on the role of the archetypal gold-digging woman," Ballachey explains. "Body image and vanity are part of all that." Even those hunks who just dance for tips aren't immune. "Whether they are or aren't sex workers, their sexuality is on sale and it affects them."
The filmmaker made seven trips to Tampa over a four-year period to shoot the documentary. "The relationship I have with the subjects is very complicated, and it is a relationship," he says. "There's lots of conversations -- it's a relationship that's constantly being re-evaluated." As a result, American Dancer lacks the scent of exploitation that certain cable stations go for. Nonetheless, when the movie has its Bay Area premiere on Sunday, Nov. 2, at the Castro as part of the Film Arts Festival, all that bare skin will undoubtedly provoke hoots and hollers -- though perhaps only for the first 15 minutes. "I'm confident that the film is dark enough and serious enough that people [will] wind up feeling something."
The King Is AliveFilm historian and journalist Jack Stevenson left the "excess" of S.F. a decade ago for the order of Denmark, but he returns every year for a Tu Lan fix, lugging cans of educational and propaganda movies. "I am still an insufferable 16mm purist," he e-mails from Mexico City, explaining why he refuses to transfer his collection to DVD. The Jack Webb-narrated Red Nightmare (1962) is a highlight of his program of U.S. military propaganda ("Duck and Cover," Saturday, Oct. 25, at the Other Cinema). "Find out what happens," Stevenson writes, "when an average American family man wakes up to find out his small town has turned Communist. (Hint: His wife suddenly turns into a frigid Commie robot -- no sex for this capitalist swine.)"
Stevenson dubs his second show, "Depraved!: An Evening With Jack Stevenson, B-Movie Archeologist" (Thursday, Oct. 30, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts), "a tribute to the concept of sleaze on film." The lineup features My Father's Call Girl, a 1968 stag flick shot in the city "weeks before hardcore captured the market." He claims it "should make local film buffs proud, if not sexually aroused." Forever drawn to bad boys (and bad girls), Stevenson has a new book out called Dogme Uncut: Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, and the Gang That Took on Hollywood (Santa Monica Press). What was the hardest part of writing it? He replies, "Watching some of the Dogme movies!"
Rock Around the ClockFor the release of the concert DVD The Grateful Dead: The Closing of Winterland, Frank Zamacona produced and directed the bonus featurette Winterland: A Million Memories. He didn't have to do much research -- he was the stage manager for the beloved S.F. venue's blowout on Dec. 31, 1978. "It was a party the whole time, from 8 o'clock to 6:30 in the morning," Zamacona recalls. "Then Bill Graham fed everybody ham and eggs." KQED airs the Dead set on Saturday, Oct. 25, at 9 p.m., ahead of the Nov. 11 DVD release. ... The Pacific Film Archive presents the Northern California premiere of Hiroyuki Morita's The Cat Returns, the latest anime epic from Studio Ghibli, at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 2. ... "Flop," a Hollywood-inspired exhibit of photographs and sculptures by John Waters, opens Nov. 20 at the Rena Bransten Gallery on Geary with the Baltimore auteur on hand. ... It was originally called Blackout, then The Blackout Murders. Now Paramount's brilliant marketing department has saddled local director Phil Kaufman's forthcoming thriller with the subgeneric title Twisted. -- Michael Fox