SHAKEDOWN chronicles explicit performances in an underground lesbian club in Los Angeles. The story functions as a legend where money is both myth and material. Cumulatively, questions arise about how to diagram the before and after of a utopic moment. Directed by Leilah Weinraub.
- Leilah Weinraub's début documentary feature, "Shakedown," which will screen at moma PS1 on March 18th, explores early-aughts Los Angeles through the underground black-lesbian strip club from which the film gets its name. This summary is, as Weinraub acknowledged, a "both crude and accurate" take on the film. "When I was doing interviews over the years," she explained, "a lot of it would be like, 'How did this evolve? What was the evolution of this style?' Of the look, of this 'high-femme performance,' or whatever. And, you know, everybody in the world is like 'I invented that.' And I think that everybody is right! But also that's very superficial [commentary] about the look [of the film]." As a director, Weinraub resists operating as a liaison between viewer and subject; she seems more interested in the play between voyeurism and fantasy. "Shakedown" is neither an experimental art film nor an anthropology of gay, black femme performance in L.A. Rather, Weinraub sought to capture a moment and turn it into cinema.
"Shakedown," which runs seventy-one minutes, was carefully culled from more than four hundred hours of footage that Weinraub shot of the Shakedown Angels, the club's roster of all-black female performers, composed of both femmes and studs. Weinraub began shooting in 2002, when she was twenty-three years old. She was first brought to the club by a friend and was so amazed by what she saw on stage that she asked Ronnie-a charismatic butch lesbian and the club's owner, m.c., and promoter-if she could work there. Weinraub started out as a photographer before moving to videos, capturing sensual, energetic, and lascivious dances by the Angels, including Egypt, who came into her own lesbian identity after being exposed to gay night life, and Slim, who impressed audiences and fellow-strippers with her chameleon-like role-play. "The performances were exceptional," Weinraub said. "So I was just trying to capture them. Just get it right. The room felt extremely special, and I had never met better people. I was just like, this is it. I'm meeting legends." The film studies Shakedown's heyday, before its main venue was shut down, by police, in 2004-around the time that the gentrification of Los Angeles finally manifested as cultural censorship and law enforcement began to arrest and ticket nude performers for soliciting.