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Monday
May092016

Interview: The Filmmakers, and Stars of 'Strike a Pose' Talk Madonna, Dance Moves and Movie Stars 

We're celebrating the 25th anniversary of "Truth or Dare" this week. Here's Jose having a brilliantly fun chat with its dancers who have an unofficial sequel, if you will, making the festival rounds...

Clockwise from top: Carlton, Madonna, Luis, Gabriel (RIP), Jose, Kevin, Oliver, and Salim (aka "Slam")

Jose here. I was four years old when Madonna went on her Blonde Ambition Tour, but I distinctly remember being hypnotized by the woman with the pointy bra on TV that was making the Pope very upset. Fast forward a couple of decades and not only am I a huge Madonna fan, but I’ve made more sense of that specific era in her career thanks to the revolutionary documentary Madonna: Truth or Dare. So I was thrilled when I found out Dutch filmmakers Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan had made Strike a Pose, a documentary about the male dancers that were so prominently featured in the tour and the film. For Madonna fans, the names of Carlton Wilborn, Kevin Stea, Oliver S Crumes III, Salim "Slam" Gauwloos, Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza, Luis Xtravaganza Camacho and the late Gabriel Trupin (1969-1996), are akin to those of Christ’s disciples. Not only for the devotion that comes with fandom, but also because we have each developed our own mythologies about who these men were (they choreographed the “Vogue” video!)

Read the conversation after the jump...

In fact when I sat down to speak with all of them, and directors Gould and Zwaan, as they prepared for the American premiere of the film at Tribeca last month, the dancers spoke openly about the strange theories they’ve heard when people try to decipher the meaning behind their hand gestures and figures of speech. I mention to Salim that one of my friends thinks there’s a hidden meaning behind his “Belgian stress” line from Truth or Dare (turns out it means just that, Salim is Belgian and he was stressed). Beyond being a spiritual sibling to the 1991 film, Strike a Pose, is a touching look at life after blinding fame, and as thrilling, funny and stylish as it is, it also has moments that pierce the soul. But these are men who epitomize the idea of putting your best foot forward, and that as long as music is pumping, we can all find new life.


Carlton, Luis, Salim, Kevin, and Oliver with the directors at the Tribeca premiere
JOSE:
Besides everything else Madonna has done, Madonna: Truth or Dare was one of the first documentaries that made people want to go to the movie theaters for a nonfiction feature. As filmmakers did this inspire you in any way to make nonfiction films?


ESTER: I didn’t decide to become a documentary filmmaker because of Madonna: Truth or Dare but I do think the film isn’t dated, it’s an experience to watch it, it’s a film in its own worth, it’s so well made.

JOSE: Watching Strike a Pose made me think of how getting all of you guys together must have been like The Avengers.

(They all laugh)

CARLTON: Thor!

What were some of the challenges that came in getting everyone together for the film?

REIJER: All of them together was the very last thing we shot, but we spent the year and a half before shooting with them individually. At the beginning it was hard to get some on board because at the beginning everything was about Madonna, and some of them were reluctant because they thought that’s what the film would be about. So we had to convince them the film would be about them, because that would be more powerful.

ESTER: There’s also a level of “what happened to the guys?” and that was interesting, but on another level it’s also a film about growing up, which is something everybody can relate to, but they lived it in a much more heightened way. Not all of us go on a world tour with Madonna.

CARLTON: That’s beautiful, when we did the premiere in Berlin there was a young female at the Q&A who was so emotional. This unfolding that you get to see of us is something anyone can relate to, it has nothing to do with entertainment or our issues.

Carlton & Kevin at a screening of the new documentaryLive shows on a tour, like theatre, offer the advantage of allowing you to “fix” things you fucked up the night before. But now seeing your work captured in two documentary films and knowing you can’t change what you did, is that weird in any way?

[They all nod and say “yes”]

JOSE G: You open yourself for judgment when you do a film, a lot of things end up in the cutting floor, but when you sign up for a project like this you need to be open. Of course there are moments where we wish we’d done things differently, but it’s raw, it’s real.

CARLTON: In order for us to go to the levels of comfort that we went to for Strike a Pose, it was all thanks to the level of comfort Ester and Reijer gave us. They are so clean as beings, that once we met them they created an instant comfort space.

JOSE G: They did a great job in pulling these emotions out of us, things that we hadn’t touched in a while, like my issues with my mom. I heard her say things she hadn’t said in such a long time, and to hear her say them 26 years later was a lot. But it was good, because you take what you take from it, and a lot of people can now relate to our stories.

SALIM: Also, Ester and Reijer being Dutch brought so much heart to the film, which is something very different than what American filmmakers do, since they often go for the sensationalism. These guys didn’t, and we all relate to this European way of work.

CARLTON: It’s edgy and real.

Was it easy to discover the structure of the film? Did you guys end up with the movie you thought you were setting out to do or did it change along the way?

REIJER:A bit of both. We had a basic outline as soon as we spoke to all of them and found a common ground in their stories: they’re strong, fierce, male dancers and we wanted to focus on how hard it is to express yourself. We also knew there would be dance in the film, because they’re all still dancers, but we didn’t know what place it would take in the film.

ESTER: Editing a film is so complicated, if you change a little thing here, then the whole ending changes. It’s hard to explain how complex this is, it’s almost like magic. It’s an intricate process, we spent weeks and weeks and weeks working on the editing.

CARLTON:I imagine the content changed from conversations you would have with people. Was that the case?

JOSE G: Yes! (Laughs)

CARLTON:Ester and Reijer…(laughs)

REIJER:For example I think shooting Jose’s mother was something we couldn’t foresee. We knew his mom had something to say but we didn’t know what it was.

JOSE G: And boy was that something…

REIJER: That was a surprise.

JOSE G: For me as well.

REIJER: We were worried the reunion scene would come off looking tacky, like a high school reunion. What happened there, even after shooting it, surprised me because of how emotional and powerful it was.

ESTER: I think when you make a documentary you ask a lot of people, and these guys gave us a lot.

a then progressive moment in cinema, luis, salim, and jose at NYC's gay pride parade in Truth or Dare (1991)

There’s an ongoing conversation right now about cultural appropriation, and Madonna has always been the kind of artist who uses elements from other cultures but acknowledges it. She is outspoken about her love of different cultures, ethnicities, she also brought LGBT topics to the table of popular culture. Looking back and seeing how ahead of her time she was in terms of this, does it make you go “oh wow, this was huge”?

JOSE G: Wow, yeah! In that moment we didn’t realize it, we were in the element, but now we realize we were pioneers of some kind of movement within the community. Back then we didn’t set out to do this, but looking back yeah, we started a movement inviting people to express themselves. And I think now it’s time we take credit for that.

Can you explain to me what is this magic that Madonna exerts on people to make us love her so much?

JOSE G: She has this force of energy and anything that comes in contact with her she seduces mentally, physically...things that come out of her mind, whether for shock value or straight knowledge (does “mind blow” hand gesture) sometimes she would quote books and I would be like “what?” and she’d say “it’s a compliment”.

OLIVER:Her music doesn’t get played as much as it used to but she goes on tour and it sells out instantly. She doesn’t need to make videos or anything, but when she does a concert the whole world will show up to see it.

CARLTON:She’s like Oprah, some people had lives that are preordained for them to do something huge. Madonna was meant to inspire people.

KEVIN: She’s aware of what she’s saying, she doesn’t want to shock or scandalize people.

ESTER: I think she’s smarter than the pop culture.

KEVIN:She’s not an empty spectacle. She’s full of meaning. She understands what she’s saying and her work reflects that.

the Blonde Ambition dancers now
OK, it's time for a lightning round. Describe Madonna in one word.

ESTER: Bold.

CARLTON: Courageous.

KEVIN: Complex.

OLIVER:Original.

SALIM: Extreme.

JOSE G:They took all the good ones! Hmm, powerful.

LUIS:Vibrant.

REIJER:Button-pusher.

Favorite Madonna song.

ESTER:“Express Yourself”

CARLTON: Because of the video, “Justify My Love”

KEVIN: “Human Nature”

OLIVER: “Holiday”

SALIM: “Live to Tell”

JOSE G:“Deeper and Deeper”

LUIS: “Angel”

JOSE G: That's a song?

REIJER: “Vogue”


Who’s your favorite star mentioned in “Vogue”?


ESTER: I don’t know who’s mentioned, you have to do it.

JOSE: (I do the “Vogue” rap)

OLIVER: Thank you for that, I was just singing it with you and you got it all right.

ESTER: Fred Astaire!

CARLTON: For sure, Gene Kelly.

KEVIN: Bette Davis.

OLIVER: Gene Kelly.

SALIM:Gene Kelly for me too.

JOSE G: Rita Hayworth, cause she gave face.

LUIS: Monroe.

REIJER: Marlon.

Madonna and Luis in Truth or Dare (1991)

Boys, what do you think Madonna learned from you?


CARLTON: I think she learned from me that she could trust that somebody was interested in her and not be enamoured with her.

KEVIN: Her steps!

OLIVER: That not everybody cares about her stardom.

SALIM: I just think we made her a better dancer because we were all so good at what we did.

JOSE G: A lot, I think we were a lot of input for her, we were fashion forward, creative in so many ways. She learned style, she loves fashion, she learned how to be shady, how to speak the urban lingo, how to be fierce, how to give face.

LUIS: ...and voguing.

Slam, Luis, and Carlton vogueing
Something more technical, what’s your favorite dance step?

CARLTON: Mine is a term called “port de bras” which means “arm movement”. Someone’s “port de bras” gives a lot of information, it can be very powerful.

KEVIN: Great question, it’s like asking what’s your favorite word. I’ll go with hands, I like working with the hands.

(The others laugh and make dirty jokes)

OLIVER: I like teaching my kids the creativity of hip hop.

SALIM: Head rolls.

JOSE G: Jazz hands!

LUIS: Pop, dip and spin.

CARLTON: Can we see what that looks like?

LUIS: I can’t, there’s a table here.

CARLTON: Get on the table!

(He doesn’t get on the table)


Who do you think is the next Madonna?

ESTER: No one.

OLIVER: They can try and copy but there’s only one Queen. Isn’t that what they say?

KEVIN: Everyone is unique, the only person who I think even comes close is Gaga, just because she explores so much.

JOSE G: I beg to differ, I think that a lot of the things that she does are the Madonna formula. She doesn’t get credit for being a talented musician, just as smart as she is visually.

SALIM: Gaga did it in such a small time, Madonna has put more work and years into it.

REIJER: I think Ester is the next Madonna.

What are you most excited for people to see in the movie? What do you want them to take from it?

ESTER: Encouragement, I think the film has sad moments but I hope people find it uplifting in the end.

JOSE G: I hope they walk away with hope.

previous interviews | more documentaries | more Madonna

 

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Reader Comments (9)

I have never in my life wanted video of one of your interviews as badly as I do right now! You doing VOGUE lyrics for Blonde Ambition dancers? it's too much.

you are so good at interviews. can't wait to see this.

May 9, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Loved loved loved this! Thanks for a great interview :)

May 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNick

With the right answers to both best Madonna song AND best Vogue celebrity, Jose G is my spirit Madonna dancer.

May 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

I can't believe this movie exists. Someone is reading my mind.

May 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Excellent,In Bed With Madonna (UK title) is a groudbreaking doc and the further we get into the future and the social media world we can see who started it all and just how forward thinking Madonna was.

I miss her sense of fun.

May 10, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermark

As if I couldn't be MORE excited about this movie, this interview is PERFECTION. And I'm with Nathaniel - I am DYING for video of you doing the Vogue rap in front of these guys!

Also, good on you for actually living to tell about this interview. I'd probably die from excitement after about five seconds in front of these living (and still gorgeous!) legends.

May 10, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Nat and denny: no video, but there is audio.
I also wore an appropriate shirt: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CgG_tAwVAAACZDL.jpg

Nick: thanks!

Peggy Sue: I felt exactly the same way when they announced it.

May 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJose

While I look forward to seeing this, the one thing that tips Vogue into the cultural (mis)appropriation category for me is that Madonna adapted Black movement and music but couldn't find room for a Jackie Robinson, Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, Diahann Carroll or Sidney Poitier in her "They had style - they had grace" shout-outs.

May 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNewMoonSon

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July 12, 2018 | Unregistered Commentergame

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