“Shakedown” is an intense, emotional glimpse into a hidden world

Leilah Weinraub’s immersive film about an underground LA strip club is a joyride.

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In the early 2000s, Leilah Weinraub brought a camera to her job at a black lesbian underground strip club in Los Angeles. Last weekend, she shared that footage during the True/False Film Fest in her intimate and edgy film Shakedown.

The film gives a deeper look at the club, its patrons and its workers. Weinraub talks to dancers as they prepare to perform as well as in their own homes. The girls are comfortable with each other and there is a sense of family among them. They’re funny, emotional and exude confidence as they recount their experiences of performing and of their relationships with other performers. Their stories are interspersed with clips from their enticing strip performances at the club.

The film is provocative, and not just because it takes place almost solely in a strip club. To feel comfortable and nostalgic about somewhere you’ve never been is hard. To feel this way about a place you’d never expect should be impossible.

Weinraub gives her audience access to a world that is rarely seen. It’s not often that the LGBTQ community gets screen time without being trivialized or labeled as “just a gay movie.” But Shakedown takes its audience inside a black lesbian strip club and makes viewers feel like they’ve been going to the club for years. It normalizes the entire experience by making it feel personal.

The cinematography of the film enhances this. There are montages of old posters from events at the club that have a distinctly 2000s feel to their designs. The shakiness of the camera combined with the grainy, early-2000s picture quality makes the film feel almost like a home movie. This fuels the sense of home and family and gives the film an unexpected nostalgia. Because of the perspective of the camera, it feels like you’re inside Weinraub’s head experiencing her job as she lives it. You can’t help but feel close to the dancers and become immersed in their world.

Because of the intensely personal feel of the film, the storyline becomes an emotional joyride. As the dancers share stories about how they came into performance and how they balance their career with their personal lives, their love for the club becomes more evident and real. The variety of tales allow each dancer and club worker to develop as characters as the film progresses.

Shakedown films all the way up to the club’s closing after a series of police raids. Several of the raids are caught on film. Foreshadowed by ominous music, it’s clear that something is wrong. The uneasiness gives the raid scenes a heartbreaking aftertaste as viewers realize the club is slowly going under.

The film has a bittersweet ending. Much like a home movie, the nostalgic feeling of the footage gives it warmth. However, it also signifies that the club and its dancers are in the past and that we are living in a separate world. It’s an odd kind of closure, but it feels right.

Edited by Brooke Collier | bcollier@themaneater.com

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