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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

PARADISE CLUB -- Movie Review by Porfle



They say if you remember the 60s, you weren't there.  But Carolyn Cavallero was there, and she remembered it well enough to write and direct the incense-scented, psychedelia-laced paean to the era, PARADISE CLUB (2016). 

Probably not coincidentally, much of this cinematic recollection looks and plays as though related by someone who experienced it through a haze of drugs, confusion, and/or naiveté.

This describes Cavallero's fictional surrogate, young Catherine (Elizabeth Rice, ODD GIRL OUT, "Mad Men"), a nude dancer in San Francisco's Paradise Club in 1968.  Catherine yearns to join her generation's search for freedom and enlightenment, although this consists mainly of expressing herself by dancing naked for strangers and contemplating beat poetry and free-thought prose (her narration sounds as though she's solemnly reciting pages from her diary).


Her two fellow dancers are Tabitha (Tonya Kay, CREEP VAN), a tough chick with a good head on her shoulders, and the wispy Tulsa (Nicole Fox), a gullible waif blown about by any ill wind that comes along. 

They work at the Paradise Club, one of those movie-fantasy nudie clubs where men regularly come to gaze longingly and reverently at their favorite girls as they perform languid interpretive dances to current songs. 

Here, they live their lives in the womb-like environment of the club, acting out their micro-dramas and personal traumas while the outside world rages on around them.  Unsurprisingly, the sight of two soldiers in the club sets off the sensitive Tulsa, who has an anti-war freak-out onstage and tearfully flashes peace signs at them.


All of this occurs under the wing of paternal club owner Earl Wild (Eric Roberts), who loves his club because he also finds it a haven against the world.  Although for him, "the world" consists of a money-grabbing ex-wife and an even more demanding coke dealer whom he's into for tens of thousands. 

Eventually, the fate of the Paradise Club and those who inhabit it will mirror that of the era itself as it heads toward harsh reality and self-destruction.  Accordingly, various characters degrade themselves sexually, seek solace in hard drugs, or betray one another.  Not everyone makes it out alive. 

Much of this is conveyed visually, in long, sometimes surreal montages set to contemporary music (It's A Beautiful Day's "White Dove" is especially well-used). 

Naturally, there's a lot of drawn-out nude dancing sequences intended to express the characters' inner feelings.  Sometimes this works, sometimes it seems just a little too free-form and indulgent (albeit not unlike actual films of the time such as THE TRIP).  Needless to say, fans of nude girls will have no complaints.


Performances are good, particularly the endlessly wonderful Eric Roberts (THE DARK KNIGHT, SHARKTOPUS) as Earl. Evan Williams is suitably bland and spaced-out as Ben, the arrogant pretty-boy rocker who threatens to sweep starstruck Catherine out of Earl's life. 

Production values are good, and, for better or worse, the film does have something of an authentic late-60s feel similar to the works of Roger Corman or Dennis Hopper.

PARADISE CLUB isn't an all-encompassing statement about the 60s, but it doesn't try to be.  Cavallero is simply telling tales about her own experiences, perceptions, and emotions, and what life was like in her own small corner of a turbulent world. 

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