Review: ‘BALONEY’- Joshua Guerci’s documentary about San Francisco’s only Gay All-Male burlesque troupe is magnetic, intimate, and hilarious.

Baloney follows San Francisco’s wildly popular Gay All-Male Burlesque show over 18 months as the group rehearses for New Year’s Eve 2020. Told through the eyes of the group’s co-founders, as well as the larger ensemble, the film contemplates the struggles that come with being a performing artist in San Francisco, the most expensive city in North America. Through a mix of interviews, rehearsal footage, and filmed performances, Baloney captures the group’s unique combination of humor, confession, and sex positivity in ways that directly reflect the private fantasies of people who come to the show. It’s also a story of the people who choose to perform in Baloney who, like their audience, find themselves in a world that constantly silences kinky, queer, and gender non-conforming people. Finally, it spotlights that real failure in life is often not doing that thing you know you need to do or being the person you know you need to be. Even if that thing is daring to be an artist!


Equal parts sincerity, sexuality, and soul – Baloney takes a deep look behind the scenes of San Francisco’s only Gay All-Male burlesque troupe. Joshua Guerci’s documentary follows this scrappy team as they plan, practice, and perform. Led by co-creators and real-life partners Michael Phillis and Rory Davis, the troop crafts performances that delight their audiences while offering insights across the wide spectrum that is the gay and queer male experience.

I marveled at the editing of this documentary (75 minutes!) Guerci’s team seamlessly transitions from practice to performance in a way that energizes the audience while still giving a deep appreciation for the vision and artists involved.

This documentary leaves you asking a lot of questions. Some are likely to be practical and hilarious (like, how do you wash beans out of your hair, or, did you maybe miss all the queer innuendos in Star Trek?) But others are more serious. I left Baloney with one question at the forefront of my mind: what does it mean to really suffer for your art?

Nearly every member of Baloney has a substantial day job. Everyone talks about their passion for the arts and the power of this burlesque troupe and wishes that they could make Baloney their sole focus, if only they could afford it. Now, plenty of people want to quit their day jobs and take off for Broadway or the hills of Hollywood. The context here is important. Baloney’s performance venues are shown to be sold-out, sure, but always humble in size and scale. They even have a great song poking fun at themselves on this. The energy and community of the shows seem to draw the performers back, just as much as it does for the audience members. 

The performers making up the troupe are magnetic. Guerci’s candid style further breaks down walls and makes the interviews feel intimate and informal. He speaks with them as they prepare breakfast or while they lounge together in bed. I particularly loved Andrew Slade, who leverages his past education in animation and video game design to hilarious burlesque effect.

Michael and Rory, who on paper have captured that elusive dream-job as day-job balance, are still shown to wobble. They are, at once, a producer, casting expert, director, and performer. They even provide rehearsal space out of their San Francisco apartment. There is a tragic irony that San Francisco proudly celebrates its queer and artistic legacy while simultaneously making it nearly impossible for those communities to endure and thrive within its borders.

Watch Baloney, and you’ll see some flat-out great burlesque numbers. But there’s much more here that will keep you thinking long after the final curtain call.


Baloney (2021) – Official Trailer from Joshua Guerci on Vimeo.

Baloney debuts June 7 across North America and will be available on a number of digital and cable platforms, including iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, Spectrum, and inDemand.


Los Angeles, CA – 13th Gen and Gravitas Ventures are proud to present Baloney, Joshua Guerci’s no-holds-barred documentary chronicling 18 months in the life of Baloney, a mostly male, mostly naked, very erotic San Francisco burlesque troupe. The clothing-optional documentary made its world premiere at Frameline and went on to inspire audiences at Outfest Los Angeles, Seattle Queer Film Festival, Cinema Diverse Palm Springs, Winnipeg Reel Pride Film Festival, TLVFest: Tel Aviv LGBT Film Festival, Boston Wicked Queer LGBTQ+ Film Festival, and Tampa Bay International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. At RuPaul’s DragCon Los Angeles, the film is nominated for Best Documentary.


 

Review: Amy Berg’s “Janis: Little Girl Blue” Is a Well-Honed Tribute to Rock Legend Janis Joplin

Janis Little Girl Blue - poster

This year has been an incredibly interesting year for documentaries about women in music. First came Asif Kapadia‘s electric doc Amy about Amy Winehouse now we have Amy Berg‘s equally incredible doc Janis: Little Girl Blue. There is more in common between these two women than might meet the eye and they are really good companion pieces. Berg‘s cinematic territory for most of her career has focused on some pretty heavy shit – child molesting priests, innocent kids accused of horrific murder, mind-controlling polygamist church leaders and sex crimes perpetuated on children in Hollywood. While Janis Joplin‘s story has a fair amount of tough details, this film is something that many of her others are not, and frankly they couldn’t be because of the subject matter – celebratory. This is a film that, despite the shitty elements of her life, celebrates the legacy left behind by an incredibly dynamic woman and performer, one the represented the time in which she lived as well as any.

Photo of Janis JOPLIN

What Berg gives us is a fairly conventional documentary, flush with testimonials from the people that knew Joplin from her early days in Texas spanning to her time in San Francisco to her eventual blossoming into the female powerhouse voice of a generation. Her trials and tribulations as a young girl looking for that one thing that could make her stand out and get her out of small-town Texas on to something bigger occupy a great deal of this film, although Berg doesn’t skimp on the details when she began to hit it big, first with Big Brother and Holding Company and then when she went solo. And what we see is the incredibly vulnerable young woman who even at the height of her fame doubted whether she was worthy of it all. She sought refuge with different men, but also with illicit drugs and especially booze. The film builds to the inevitable end of Joplin‘s death at 27 (like so many incredible musicians of her own time, but incidentally the same as Winehouse).

Janis Little Girl Blue 2

Berg draws so perfectly from home video and archival interview footage to help Joplin speak for herself throughout the film. What may well be the truest stroke of genius in the film, though, is that Berg slowly but surely removes the talking head interviews throughout the film until we are left with just people speaking in voiceover, if any at all, with footage of Janis. Ultimately, Berg lets the footage act as Janis’ voice and this really captures the essence of what I expect she was all about. While I’ve stated that this is fairly conventional documentary with a linear telling of Joplin‘s tale, that doesn’t make it any less impactful. Another deft move was having Chan Marshall aka Cat Power narrate the film. Her voice is strikingly similar to Joplin‘s, and at times in the film, I couldn’t tell whether it was Marshall or Joplin speaking.

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My mother idolized Joplin and growing up, I learned what a powerhouse she was through her voice and her music. I honestly didn’t know much about her outside of that. Perhaps that’s how Janis would have wanted it, to let her music speak for her. Berg has put together a touching portrait that fills in the void that I, and many others, likely had in Joplin‘s story. This film in quite engaging and I think that it does Joplin justice. It stresses her importance to the music scene of the 60s and her lasting influence well beyond. I would be wholeheartedly surprised if this film doesn’t at least make the shortlist for the Oscars and I could certainly see it end up with a nomination. It’s that damn good.

This film hits theaters in New York today and premieres in LA on December 4. If you love music and the legacy left by one of the greats, you’ll run and see this one.

Get there, people.