After seeing the press conference that followed "Go Go Tales," it’s a mystery to us how Abel Ferrara held it together to make a movie at all, much less one with a cast of dozens, filmed in Rome (standing in for New York) despite Ferrara’s apparent inability to communicate with much of the crew. But against all odds, "Go Go Tales" exists, as shaggily likable and verging on car-wreckish as the director himself. Like a stranger, more naked version of "A Prairie Home Companion," "Go Go Tales" chronicles the multi-floored goings on in Ray Ruby’s Paradise, a strip club on the verge of going out of business. Willem Dafoe is Ray, who presides over the club like it’s an extended beauty pageant, summoning the girls up to parade around as he sings and clearing the place out on Thursdays for cabaret night, wherein the girls show off the acts they hope will make them famous â€” magic, ballet, avant-garde mime â€” for talent agents that never show up. He’s working on a lottery scheme that will hopefully save the club from months of back rent and the clutches of its landlady Lilian Murray (Sylvia Miles), who’d like to turn the space over to a chain retail outlet. (Miles’ paint-peeling screech of "Bed Bath & Beyond!" is so distinctive that the song that plays over the closing credits repeatedly samples it.)
There’s also Matthew Modine, who shows up as Ray’s silent partner and brother, a dog-toting salon owner who’s instantly smitten with new girl Monroe. Played by Asia Argento, Monroe is introduced by the Paradise MC as "the scariest, sexiest girl in the world," and the former is more true than the latter â€” jerking around on stage in black pasties and smooching her dog, Argento is hypnotically watchable, for once in the perfect vehicle for her singular… charms, we guess. Bob Hoskins is there as a bellowing bouncer, as is rapper Pras in a hilarious role as the club’s put-upon chef (who only serves up microwaved organic hot dogs). The film, episodic and rambling, is consistently on the verge of dissolving into chaos, but sustains itself through sheer good will â€” while all of the characters complain, they’re also quite happy to be there, even Lilian, who plants herself at the bar for the duration and cheerily drinks for free. The overall experience of watching "Go Go Tales" is like spending a weekend with a disreputable, drunken uncle: You’re pretty happy to go home at the end, but you have a good time while you’re there.
"Go Go Tales" screens October 5 at midnight at the Walter Reade Theater and October 7 at 4:15pm at Frederick P. Rose Hall. It currently has no US distributor.