Not unlike the wonderful Paris is Burning, Leilah Weinraub’s lo-fi, kickstarter-backed documentary Shakedown looks at the life of an institution founded and run by a group of marginalised people. The focus is a slice of Los Angeles’ lesbian underground scene, a series of strip shows named “Shakedown”, exclusively run and attended by non-heterosexual African American women. As one frequent customer puts it: “it’s the only place like this in the hood”.
Shakedown is broken down into specific chapters focusing on the original dancers and club owner Ronnie Ron. Weinraub utilises candid talking head interviews with the dancers and club organisers to explore their involvement and relationships with each other, combining this with archive footage she herself shot on cheap digital cameras during her frequent attendance of the club in her twenties. The whole piece is scored by booming club joints of that era, all of the above combining to make an immersive, involving work. The dancers’ and Weinraub’s perspectives are crucial here, as the film never feels like someone from the outside looking in.
The doc isn’t entirely concerned with the context of the time period and perhaps doesn’t illuminate much about the scene beyond the club – the time and date of events is only brought up at a number of points, once the police begin to interfere with the running of the club. This isn’t to the detriment of the film though, and its very existence feels liberating and important.
Shakedown is an involving and genuine piece that never feels seedy, or simply objectifies the dancers, despite the amount of skin on show (which is a lot). It’s a nuanced, moving look at a haven of sexual freedom and expression, and raucous fun at the same time.
DIRECTOR: Leilah Weinraub
WRITER: Leilah Weinraub
SYNOPSIS: Showing the protagonists backstage and in interviews, this intimate chronicle looks at a series of parties founded by and for African American women in Los Angeles that featured go-go dancing and strip shows for the city’s lesbian underground scene.