New Doc BALONEY Takes You Behind the Curtain of SF’s Sexy Queer Striptease Troupe
Joshua Guerci’s debut documentary BALONEY, a portrait of San Francisco’s beloved Gay All-Male Revue troupe and their burlesque of the same name, is an efficient, practically drama-free depiction of a fringe art collective. Midwifed by Michael Phillis and Rory Davis – directors, choreographers, and partners – the show has built a passionate following amongst a wide berth of sexualities that see themselves reflected in the funny, erotic, tender, and conscientiously archetypal scenarios that house each dance vignette.
“This is very much an adult show for adult audiences, but there’s also a big part of BALONEY that’s about finding your identity, not just coming out but then finding your place in that community,” the director has said. “Michael talks about having no community where he grew up and turning to pornography, not just to get off but also to teach him what it means to be a gay man. It goes to show that there’s an undervalued non-sexual aspect to queer identity, and I think we’re just starting to have that conversation as a society.”
Though marketed as “all gay,” the troupe includes a female participant and two straight men (one of whom, Aaron Sarazan, is a featured interviewee who is such an ally that the other performers lovingly point out that straight men can, in fact, be queer). The struggle to keep the show afloat – especially during COVID – is briefly touched upon (being the imaginative entertainers they are, they solve a few financial issues by taking their brand of camp inclusion to the streets with a steamy, performative car wash that’s as much of a porn setup as their onstage antics). And some of the interviews are casually intimate; laying bare a few souls who have gravitated to BALONEY as a place of healing and celebration.
Guerci’s documentary doesn’t skimp on the live performances of the show, though it’s hard to get a sense of the quality of the individual segments as it’s given to us in snippets. And while there are audience reaction shots, it might have helped to get a bit of audience perspective. Because where BALONEY really shines – beyond the minutia of getting a show on its feet, so to speak – is in its portrait of community and its magnification of sexual joy. That, my friends, is no baloney at all.