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Waves of dreamy synth and a stark red background with white text introduce us to the girls, studs, and operators of Shakedown. These aren’t just the performers we’ll see for the next 72 minutes via VHS tapes and digital recordings. They’re the people who will be telling the story, via more recent interviews, of a burgeoning underground lesbian club scene in Los Angeles in the early 90s through the mid-aughts.
Shakedown (2018) is the first film ever released by Pornhub, making it historic in its own regard. (The Pornhub link is SFW, though the URL might raise the eyebrow of your IT person. If you’re looking for another outlet to watch it on, you can find it on Criterion.) Shakedown is a documentary showing us a scene, time, place, and slice of life that the filmmaker holds dear. This is clear in the Linklater-esque labor of love that was the filming period: Leilah Weinraub spent over fifteen years filming and editing the footage, finally releasing it in 2018. The people who made up Shakedown are at the front and center of this doc, as they’re given time and space to tell their stories and recall their memories of the club series. One set of interviews introduces us to the first “shakedown baby.” Another interview gives us insight into how someone became more comfortable with their sexuality due to going to Shakedown. The memories are genuine and touching.
You won’t realize it as you’re watching, but the film score, written by Tim Dewit, will gently nudge you in the directions the film aims to take you. It’s odd to write, but everything makes more sense as a result of this score. Any student of film scores would be well-advised to check it out.
It's rare to get such a crystal clear understanding of how special a time and place were to someone, and Leilah Weinraub communicates precisely that with this movie. When she appears towards the film's end, the camera turned on herself; it is as if she couldn't help it. Our understanding that she was always a part of this story comes through, and we see the mixture of emotions flash on her face as she grapples with the future (or lack thereof) of the place she's been documenting for years. A community she’s been a part of for years.
Shakedown is a shocking film, not because it features raw footage of go-go dancing and strip shows, but because there’s nothing else like it. I don’t mean that as a figure of speech; you’ve never seen anything like this. The movie was filmed for over fifteen years and edited tightly to give us the breadth of those fifteen years in only seventy-two minutes of runtime. This is a film for anyone that’s ever thought back on a formative period of their life with a mix of emotions: warmth, longing, humor, and sadness for what’s passed. The specificity of the documentary may not be relatable to you, but the feeling is universal: it’s a celebration of acceptance, youth, and community. And, like any experience, it ends.
Once they’re gone, some places are just hard to find.
Written and Directed by Leilah Weinraub
Stray Thoughts from the Editor
We’re kicking off March with HERstory. Stick that in your tailpipe and spin it sideways, fellas.
The boys down in marketing said that would make a good catchphrase for the month, so we’re running with it. <END OF JOKE>
For the second time in Movie Night’s
herstory history, we’re going to feature only women directors for the month of March, with a minor exception in the middle of the month, which will either be understood or generate a massive controversy. (It will be the former and not the latter.)