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'Unveiling' Revelations : Rodney Evans' erotic, rambling documentary takes a look at different eras of exotic dancing.


Rodney Evans' "The Unveiling," which the American Cinematheque screened last March and which opens a one-week run Friday at the Grande 4-Plex, is an entertaining documentary on three exotic dancers: Michele Watley, Eldad Sahar and Dixie Evans.

Sahar and Watley are expert dancers with perfect bodies who are consummately skilled at knowing how to tease their audiences, who tend to be gays and lesbians, respectively. Both Sahar and Watley consider themselves bisexual, and they are both clearly intelligent, thoroughly disciplined and detached professionals. Whether they've thought about it or not, they are in their way upholders of a traditional American puritanism: The couple of millimeters of fabric that separate them from total nudity is a matter of major importance and self-esteem to both of them.

Evans is of an entirely different era. Known as the "Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque," Evans is a hearty, sharp-witted, reflective 70-something survivor of the golden age of stripteasing in theaters and nightclubs that pretty much died out by the '60s. (The physical contact Sahar and Watley make with their audiences would be unthinkable in the respectable venues of Evans' era.) Evans today runs the Exotic World Museum in Helendale, Calif., where she holds striptease contests and still loves to dance. She looks her age and has an endearing exuberance and lack of vanity.

As a documentary, "The Unveiling" tends to be rambling and repetitive, but you probably won't mind because Rodney Evans has come up with such a sure-fire subject and asked good questions. And yes, his film certainly is erotic. (213) 617-0268.


Most of the films in the American Cinematheque's "Tribute to Rosa von Praunheim" that have screened over the past two weekends have surfaced locally in various festivals and as special events over the years, but the group of films that will be presented at Raleigh Studios' Chaplin Theater in this concluding weekend are mainly new to Los Angeles. They confirm Praunheim's importance not only as a committed gay filmmaker but as part of the New German Cinema generation that gained international acclaim in the '70s.

The second part of Praunheim's AIDS trilogy, "Positive" (1990), screens Friday at 7:15 p.m. and, like the first, "Silence Equals Death" (also 1990), is set in New York. A pioneer in chronicling post-Stonewall gay life in America as well as Germany and also an early AIDS activist, Praunheim has the experience and perspective to deal with all aspects of the epidemic. While his first AIDS film dealt with the disease and the arts, "Positive" tackles AIDS and politics. (No kudos here for former New York Mayor Edward Koch or former President Ronald Reagan.)

"Positive" argues for the need for gays to hit the streets and protest the government's slow response to the AIDS crisis. One of the last men interviewed in the film says he regards AIDS as "our Pearl Harbor" and that "we will win the war."

"Horror Vacui" (1984), screening Friday at 9:15 p.m., is one of Praunheim's most accomplished films, remarkably formal in comparison to the casual, improvised quality of most of his work. The early '80s brought a spate of films exposing the dangers of cults, but here Praunheim deliberately recalls the memory of Hitler and even attempts, successfully, to evoke the Expressionist style of the German silents of the '20s. As a result, "Horror Vacui" has a timelessness other exposes of "Moonie"-type sects lack.

Into the Magic Cabaret steps a young painter, whose lover is a medical student, only to be caught up in the spell cast by Madame C (Lotte Huber), constantly on the lookout for recruits for her Optimal Optimism cult. Praunheim favorite Huber, a plump, exuberant onetime dancer who recalls the John Waters' movies' Divine in appearance and wardrobe, has a compelling presence in what is a legitimate performance that at the film's end takes on a totally surprising twist.

Playing with it is "Red Love" (1981), in which Praunheim intercuts an interview with vibrant middle-aged sexual liberationist Helga Goetze with a campy tale of star-crossed love in '20s Russia to show that women have been just as repressed and oppressed under capitalism as they have under Communist Party rule. Goetze emerges as a powerful defender of her radical sexual politics, but you do have to wonder how a homely, dumpy middle-aged woman, as captivating a free spirit as she is, ever managed to snag more than 200 lovers in a three-year period, as she claims.

One of Praunheim's most enjoyable movies, the 1982 "City of Lost Souls" (Saturday at 7:15 p.m.), is a musical camp extravaganza. It stars Harlem-born transsexual Angie Stardust, a cabaret singer, who for purposes of the plot, presides over the Hamburger Queen diner and her own Berlin pension, havens for Americans of unconventional and uninhibited sexuality.

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