Madonna is often described as the “queen of controversy”, and indeed there have been few people in history as voluntarily controversial as Madonna. One of the such controversies is the register of the Blond Ambition tour in 1990 in the documentary Truth or Dare (also known as In Bed with Madonna, by Alek Keshisian, 1991). From the threats of arrest for “public indecency” in Canada to the commitment to gay liberation, the documentary is an intimate look at the singer and exposed to the media her relation with her dancers. Twenty-five years later, two documentary-makers from Belgium and the Netherlands meets again the performers who knew how to vogue and investigates how they are living now.
In 1990 the pop superstar was looking for dancers who would become role models for the gay community and inspire a new dance craze, which basically consisted posing as a drama queen and pouting on the dancefloor. At first, she found the choreographers Jose Gutierez and Luis Camacho. Then they picked up the gay dancers Salim Gauwollos, Kevin Alex, Carlton Wilbourne and Gabriel Trupin as well as the hiphopper Oliver Crumes Jr, the only straight guy in the troupe. For a short period of time, they became Madonna’s family, and the pop start herself cast herself in the role of mother figure.
Soon after the tour, there was an idyll for the boys. They would express themselves as flamboyant personalities but for most of them reality was hard to deal with. With fame and success they got into a bubble and they didn’t care about anyone else. Ironically, whist spreading the message of freedom and safe sex, they weren’t doing what they preached. Gabriel died at age 26 of Aids-related illness.
Strike a Pose redeems the underground scene in New York City in the 1990s and sets the superstar as a pivotal figure.
The saga also has its negative side. Gabriel sued Madonna pleading for a kissing scene, alleging that it would ‘out’ him to his family and friends. In a way, the movie perpetuates the rooted idea that the gay community has solely two goals: to be accepted and to dodge HIV and the stigma attached to it. There is nothing more prejudiced than such reductionism.
On the other hand, the documentary wipes out the pejorative connotation of “being different” by humanising the dancers with all of their strengths and weaknesses. They all dealt with the consequences of being catapulted to famed at a very young age and being rushed into adult life. One of them says he learnt not to judge; that’s only only for saints and sages.
The film was screened as part of the Panorama series in the 66th Berlin Film Festival this week, where DMovies is live with two journalists following the event.