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Between the years 1977 and 1983, director Anthony Spinelli created some of the finest and most memorable X rated films ever shown on American screens. His attention to detail, outstanding cinematography, and above all great storytelling ability ranked him as one of the finest filmmakers ever to direct a sexually explicit film. The Dancers, released in 1981, came at the height of his genius, just a few short years before the popularity of video would force this extremely talented filmmaker to cease creating his powerful works of art.
Most of the auteurs of hardcore cinema crafted films which seemed closer to European art house works or avant garde cinema. Aware that they were not able to cast the finest actors, most filmmakers crafted works which would rely more on visuals and metaphor than on strong dramatic ability. Anthony Spinelli was one of the few exceptions to this rule, and perhaps the finest (along-side Chuck Vincent) at pulling brilliant acting performances out of people whose thespian abilities were often ignored.
Anthony Spinelli's 1981 work, The Dancers, ranks as the x rated film with perhaps the finest ensemble cast ever assembled. Focusing on a troop of four male strippers who are engaged to perform in a small California town, each dancer soon finds himself entangled in the life of a townswoman, but with less than happy results.
Spinelli frames each of the dancer's fateful encounter around their dance routine but in doing so allows each character time to be developed without confusing the viewer with an abundance of cross cutting. The male cast, which consist of John Leslie, Richard Pachecco, Joey Silvera, and Randy West, are cast to perfection in their extremely demanding roles, with each dancer almost representing a different side of humanity.
Leslie is the overseer of the group, never performing himself, but rather guiding his three friends in their own life decisions. Silvera is perhaps the most complex of the four, with obvious demons in his past which he never dares to reveal to anyone. Pachecco and West, while seemingly opposite, function as each others foil's until their identical final actions reveal them both as cowards.
Film historian and critic Jim Holiday described Spinelli as a man's filmmaker who used female characters simply as mechanisms to develop his male protagonists and while this is true here to a certain extent, Spinelli uses the male-centric plot to show the manipulative and dishonest nature of his protagonists. Both Vanessa Del Rio (who won a best supporting actress award for her performance in this film) and Georgina Spelvin's characters could be interpreted as starry eyed lovers who are willing to believe anything they're told, but both women are ultimately depicted as being far stronger willed than their male counterparts.
Cinematographer "Raul Lomas," who I believe is great DP Joćo Fernandes hiding under a pseudonym, photography conveys both the quite loneliness of the film's small town setting as well as visually conveys the stark differences between the pointlessly optimistic world of the dancers and the small, yet secure world of the townspeople.
While The Dancers is a bit slow at times, the film is delicately and wonderfully paced, allowing just the right amount of time for the story and characters to develop. What's more is that the film never overdoes its sexual content, either in stupidly contrived sex scenes or overly long encounters. In fact, only 20 minutes of the film's 101 minute running time is sex. The Dancers is not only the finest film Spinelli ever made, but one of the most important and complex hardcore films of the early 80s.
The film is mastered off a tape. Colors are somewhat muted and the quality looks about as good as VHS. A shame for such a beautifully photographed 35mm feature.
The film is complete.
Who Should See It?
For fans of either the director or cast, this film is a must. It features some of the finest performances be these actors ever filmed and is one of the best written and most compelling hardcore movies ever made.
Who Should Skip It?
I can't really think this movie would be a disappointment to anyone unless you're opposed to watching a well made and well acted film. Sex hounds can look elsewhere.
A superior film gets an inferior DVD treatment. Despite the poor quality of the transfer, the film is well worth seeing.