By Madelyn Ritrosky
Go-Go Fever is one of those films where there’s a quirkiness of visual storytelling style that bounces off a quirkiness of character to capture, well, a quirky story.
Then again, it’s not just that it’s quirky. Another interesting ‘Q’ word of perceptive nonconformity also captures the film’s overall feel and theme. It’s questioning of gender. Gender identity, roles, and expectations.
In a fun little tale of one man striving for his unconventional yet attainable dream, Go-Go Fever questions taken-for-granted ideas about men and women and what they can aspire to be and do by daring to dream outside the bifurcated box of conventional sex roles.
When I first read the description for this 13-minute short film that premiered at the 2012 Santa Barbara International Film Festival, I was intrigued. Male go-go dancer? Heck yes!
I like gender questioning. I like Casey Stouffer’s film and how she does some breaking down of that box. I like the idea of a man as a go-go dancer, of a man feeling comfortable with that and wanting to do it.
We need to see more gender-bending stuff, where men can be the object of the female gaze. And in this case, the filmmaker the director and writer behind the camera is a woman. This male dancer is the object of the female filmmaker’s gaze.
However, the character’s dreams are a bit more gender-complicated: Carlos uses female-signifying accessories of wig and make-up, suggesting transgender identity. Maybe he’s gay, maybe he’s not, but he’s doing what he enjoys.
While dreamer-dancer Carlos isn’t really performing for heterosexual women per se, he is certainly performing and there will be plenty of women in the audience, both within the film at the club where he gets hired and as viewers of the film.
I recently viewed an art exhibition at the Kinsey Institute titled Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze on loan from the Women’s Caucus for Art. Photographers like Karen Zack, Della Calfee, and Collette Standish put men on display. That is a nice change.
We’re so used to women on display, in so many ways, that many people don’t even notice let alone question these cultural norms. This insight jumps out at you when the tables are turned, as it does with this exhibition or this film. As the Kinsey Institute describes it, this exhibition marks “an important development in feminist art.” About time.
Knowing all the images were created by women, some are obviously erotically heterosexual. Some visualize men in ways that are typically reserved for visualizing women, as in the poses, accessories, or framing, thus questioning the supposed innateness and cultural expectations for what is “feminine” and even for what is “gay.”
And there’s the connection, of course, with Go-Go Fever. It’s created by a woman and portraying a man who displays his body in ways that are not traditionally masculine. He is the hero for daring to dream, as Casey Stouffer calls it, this “wildest, wackiest dream.”
Look at the images everywhere in our culture. Conventional gender imagery puts women on display, in taken-for-granted “feminine” ways, primarily by men. Not the other ways around. Think beyond that box.
Dream it. Do it. Carlos did. Casey did. And, she notes, on a mini-micro budget. She has her own small production company called Light the Sky Productions, which produced the film.
Since I watched Go-Go Fever with Jared, my festival co-reporter (and son), we both asked Casey Stouffer some questions about her film, how she came to make it, and her experiences as a filmmaker.
Let’s find out more from Casey herself...
1. How did you decide to create this film?
The concept for this short film came to life after listening to a friend’s desire to go-go dance at a local nightclub. This desire quickly grew to more of a fantasy than a plausible concept. He definitely had the moves, but his inhibitions and weakness for sweets seemed to hold him back. Each week, he was fired up to audition for a spot on the stage, but when his time came, he would change his mind, promising to audition the following week. This became a weekly pattern. I thought I would take that story and run with it. This is where the fun-loving, jovial character of ‘Carlos’ came to life.
2. Although we could tell the film was shot in Santa Barbara because we’re familiar with the area, where did you envision the story taking place?
I envisioned this film taking place in a colorful town, full of life. I wanted the look of this film to exude style and energy, as though the audience was viewing the pages of a quirky comic book. The story could have taken place in any vibrant town, but I really wanted to showcase my local city of Santa Barbara.
3. Did you visualize your editing style as you wrote your script, or did it evolve during filming or post production?
I envisioned the way I would edit the film during the writing process, but the story definitely took on its own style as I began production. It was during principal photography that I got the idea to create visual text on screen and to add a narrative track to emphasize the story. I wanted the final edit to complement the innocent nature of the film.
4. How would you describe yourself as a filmmaker?
My style of filmmaking stems from life experiences and the drive to tell stories on screen.
I love the process of creating different worlds and unique characters who grow and change throughout the story.
I greatly enjoy the writing process because I get to bring these visions to life and give them a pulse.
5. How did you get started as a filmmaker? Your dad must be an influence, but tell us more.
My drive to become a filmmaker began when I was very young. My father, Mark Stouffer, was directing award-winning documentaries for National Geographic and I remember listening to his amazing stories when he returned from each excursion.
I would sit and watch hours of footage with him: wild pandas in China, Siberian tigers in Russia, the vast deserts of Africa’s Skeleton Coast. I was fascinated by it all and was determined to follow in his footsteps.
In 1997, he produced a film called Wild America for Warner Bros., which told the story of him and his two brothers in their youth traveling America one summer to film wildlife in their natural habitat with a 16mm camera. It was during the production in Savannah, Georgia that I completely fell in love with the filmmaking process and knew I wanted to write and direct.
[Read Madelyn & Jared’s 2008 interview with Mark Stouffer]
6. What’s your festival experience with the film so far?
Go-Go Fever was received very well by audiences at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The film kept the crowds laughing, and people were very interested in the filmmaking process during the Q&A sessions after each screening. I had a great time at the festival introducing audiences to my film and will be thrilled to do more.
By the way, you can now view the film at my website.
7. What are other upcoming projects?
I am currently in the editing stage on my new psychological thriller short entitled Out of Body. This film definitely differs from Go-Go Fever no dancing unicorns in this one! I enjoy exploring the thriller genre and find the cinematic elements very interesting. In Out of Body, a tortured man is haunted by a mysterious voice commanding him from the dark confines of an isolated shack in the woods. The voice is a ravenous hunger, needing to be fed, driving the man to his breaking point.
8. What are your thoughts on being a woman filmmaker and/or the gender issues in your film?
Being a woman filmmaker fuels my ambition even more. I understand I have chosen a very difficult path of wanting to be a female director, but I know as long as I believe in myself and stay passionate about my work, success will follow.
Thanks so much, Casey, for sharing your filmmaking experiences. We will look forward to that next film and meeting with you again hopefully at the next SBIFF!
(Photos: top- poster for Go-Go Fever. 2nd- Carlos living his dream as Colt in Go-Go Fever. 3rd- Go-Go Fever Director/Producer Casey Stouffer. 4th- Carlos celebrating his reinvented self in Go-Go Fever)