Bringing home the gold

Recognition and respect for the world's best

Published: Feb 26 2014, 01:01:am

Thursday, June 19, 1986.
STRIPPER. Music by Jack Nitzsche and Buffy Sainte-Marie. Conceived, co-produced and directed by Jerome Gary. No Classifier's rating (Vancouver International Film Festival screening).
WHEN JEROME GARY went to see the show at Powell Street's Drake Hotel, he took friends.      A cinematographer. Soundmen. Gaffers, grips and gofers.
    As the dancers rocked, his camera rolled, recording for all time an aspect of local culture not covered in the official Tourist Bureau brochures. A New York movie producer making his directorial debut, Gary was shooting scenes for the film Stripper.
    Last June [1985], Gary booked the Robson Square Cinema for a Sunday afternoon preview screening of the finished feature. Invited were the local people who'd worked on it, their friends and a couple of critics.
    An obvious question: of all the places that you might have featured in an examination of strip-tease dancing, why choose Vancouver?
    "I didn't choose Vancouver, " Gary shrugs. "Vancouver chose me."
    Are you listening, [B.C. Minister of Tourism] Claude Richmond? "The Drake, the Marr and the Cecil (Hotels) are, in my opinion, the best strip bars in the world," Gary says.
    On screen, his Stripper recalls the Pumping Iron pictures, not surprising since Gary produced the original Pumping Iron (1977) documentary. Like the recent Pumping Iron II: The Women (1985), Stripper profiles several representative competitors in a professional development contest.
    Here, the featured performers are vying for the Golden G-String Award, the central event at 1983's First Annual Strippers' Convention in the Las Vegas Sahara Hotel. Three of the five women spotlighted work out of Vancouver.
    New York-based magazine writer Jim Verniere attended the convention. "It soon becomes clear," Verniere reported in the October 1985 issue of Film Comment magazine, "that there are two kinds of stripper: those who work where the laws are strictly enforced (Canada) have elaborate acts. Those who strip where anything goes are relatively artless.
    "The Canadians are a healthy, sororal lot with theatrical agents, good pay and decent working conditions." Verniere wrote. "U.S. strippers are a harsher crowd . . . There are no strippers from New York, the fleshpot of the East. 'Too sleazy,' explains a filmmaker.''
    In Gary's picture, the emphasis is on the first kind of stripper. In his version of the competition, the finalists are all hard-working professionals with generally normal backgrounds and reasonable-sounding aspirations.
    Los Angelino Sara Costa lives at home with her mom, who sews her costumes for her. Janette Boyd, a former Minsky showgirl, is a single mother living in a bungalow just outside of Las Vegas.
    The Vancouver contingent includes Kimberly "Danyel" Holcomb, Loree "Mouse" Menton and Lisa "Gio" Saurez. Danyel is seen perfecting her competition routine in the Vancouver strippers' gym, while Mouse and Gio are interviewed on the road in rural Alberta.
    As a filmmaker, Gary approaches his subject with a mixture of admiration, fascination and old-fashioned respect. In Stripper, he offers a squeaky-clean portrait of the professional peeler's art.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1986. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Together with her Sweet Soul Burlesque colleagues, Crystal Precious has put Vancouver on the cutting edge of the North American neo-burlesque movement. Tomorrow (Feb. 27), and every Thursday, troupe members perform three "Sweet Sip" sets at The Keefer Bar. In 2005, the group was one of the founders of the Vancouver International Burlesque Festival, a non-profit society. Its 2014 edition is scheduled for May 1-3. Today, though, Ms Precious is focused on March 18, the release date of her Queen of Sass studio album, which features music that she describes as "downtempo hip hop, or 'strip hop'." Currently online, there is a music video featuring Precious and six members of the Sweet Soul troupe introducing the album's first single, Apple Pie.