Admiration of the undressed form is something that humanity has appreciated for time immemorial. This can be arty, seedy or any myriad of in-between states. Yet nothing marketed ogling honed bodes as a fun and acceptable night out quite as well as the Chippendales.
The distinctive ‘collar and cuffs and not much else’ all-male strip troupe originated from a LA nightclub in 1979 and took America by storm throughout the hedonistic 1980s. Yet, as Curse of the Chippendales documents, with success and money comes jealousy and the darkest bitterness.
From the producers and directors who brought us Black Sheep and Man on Wire, Curse of the Chippendales slides down the thong of its subject matter to both admire and recoil at what lies underneath.
I went in thinking that the story beats would be the usual sort: humble origins, initial boom, peak success marred with problems, problems take hold, self-destruction. This is true, but whilst the inherently interesting, if predictable, business path of the Chippendales is good material in of itself, there is also a much darker tale of jealousy, arson, and murder.
The various interviewed parties recount their tales with wonderful frankness; in particular Michael Rapp’s journey from shy country boy to the show’s ‘Perfect Man’ star with all the ups and downs associated with it.
A picture is painted of owner and Indian-born Somen “Steve” Banarjee as a shy and non-confrontational man who stumbled across the core idea for a money-making monolith. With little archive footage available about a man who shunned PR due to a stutter and lack of charisma, he is remembered to varying degrees by ex-dancers, lawyers, and business associates.
Yet the thrum of jealousy runs deep as new hires are taken on to expand the business. Business partner Nick De Noia was clearly a man who elicited strong reactions in everyone he knew (mostly negative) and yet morphed the burlesque type Chippendales into a marketable brand that could open a club in New York and go out on tour, thanks to a rather dodgy ‘napkin’ contract he convinced Banerjee to sign.
And yet years later he is murdered by an unknown assailant, as the Curse story veers down a decidedly darker path. I won’t spoil this for you, but come the final episode, this documentary can be found cowering in a Blackpool, UK hotel for fear of its life.
The package being rhythmically thrust in our faces is a pretty one. This beefy tale is adorned by layers of 80s style, complete with VHS blur, neon sickly glow, big hair and overly sincere commercials. Much like G.L.O.W, any tale set in the 80s needs to feel like the 80s and with such a distinctive decade, why not?
By combining archive footage with interesting interviewees and editing these together with a dazzling hairspray mist, Curse of the Chippendales succeeds in making you feel like you are in the audience, even as sweaty torn off trousers are thrown over your face.
Words by Mike Record