Ray Ruby (Willem Dafoe with slicked back hair and a lucky leisure suit) runs a New York strip club where girls wearing g-strings and glitter gyrate to Grace Jones, but beneath the sleazy exterior beats the heart of a romantic. Ray Ruby’s got a dream: he wants his club to be a place where every kid gets a chance, where people take care of each other, and everybody has a good time. Between strip acts, he croons syrupy ballads. No wonder the place is called Ray Ruby’s Paradise.
But Paradise is in a spot of trouble. Ray has to contend with “shifting demographics,” the rent is in arrears, the dancers haven’t been paid, the obnoxious landlady (Sylvia Miles) wants to let Bed Bath & Beyond take over. During one hectic night, girls confess they’re pregnant, the tanning machine in the basement goes up in flames, and the gourmet cook feels under-appreciated. Owner Johnie Ruby (Matthew Modine), a “big shot hair dresser,” threatens to pull the plug but takes a minute for a quick back room dalliance with Monroe (Asia Argento), who specializes in on-stage acts with her Rottweiler. On top of it all, Ray has a gambling problem. It looks like he may have won the lottery, but he lost the damn ticket. No wonder he’s oozing desperation, no matter how radiant his sweaty smile.
With Go Go Tales, Abel Ferrara has made his first “intentional comedy,” telling stories of a bygone New York he recalled with relish at the NYFF post-screening press conference. Go Go Tales is a joyful mess. Not every gag works, not every character convinces, and most shots of the near-naked dancers are entirely gratuitous, but the film’s sensory overload and exploitative mood seem entirely appropriate for the subject matter, and Ferrara’s evident love for the world shines through even the most haphazardly improvised scenes. Like Ray Ruby’s Paradise, Go Go Tales is far from perfect, but it’s a hell of a sleazy good time anyway.
Go Go Tales. Abel Ferrara, 2007. ***
Here’s my video in three parts of the press conference with Abel Ferrara, Willem Dafoe, Sylvia Miles, Shanyn Leigh, and Frankie Cee. Richard Peña leads the discussion.