“Secrets of Chippendales”
The naked truth about the stripteasers
The investigative documentary “Secrets of Chippendales” offers shocking insights that go far beyond bare skin.
“A man was just shot dead in my office.” What sounds like the start of an atmospheric film noir with Humphrey Bogart turns out to be the start of an investigative documentary that lives up to its name in two respects: “Secrets of Chippendales – Between Greed and Murder” deals with the show dance group that has become a worldwide synonym for male striptease.
On January 31, “Secrets of Chippendales” premieres on the on-demand channel Crime + Investigation Play (available via Amazon, Apple and ScreenHits TV). The four 45-minute episodes show how an immigrant changed America’s nightlife forever, how clumsy men with hairy backs became professional strippers – and behind the dazzling scenes, a power struggle broke out that saw three influential “Chippendales” makers break down found death. Two by suicide, one by murder…
“How does it feel to be a sex object?”
As familiar as the term “Chippendales” and the striptease empire that goes with it may be, most people probably don’t know much about their origins. An Indian immigrant with an American dream, Somen “Steve” Banerjee, transformed his Los Angeles nightclub into “Chippendales” in the late ’70s. The choice of name could not have been more banal, as Banerjee’s former companion Bruce Nahin reveals in the documentary. He gave the trend-setting food for thought: “Why don’t we just name it after the damn pieces of furniture in here?”
The fact that the strippers are named after the works of an 18th-century cabinet maker of the same name is fitting: objects that are beautiful to look at and whose appearance stands above all else. “How does it feel to be a sex object?” a “Chippendale” from the very beginning is asked in the documentary. He doesn’t answer, but his smile speaks volumes. However, the display of the male body symbolically meant most to the women – finally the zeitgeist of sexual liberation allowed them to go out with girlfriends and have unbridled fun. Meat inspection with reversed sign.
More appearances than reality?
But like the documentary “Secrets of Playboy”, which can also be accessed via Crime + Investigation Play, “Secrets of Chippendales” also suggests that the striptease pullers were concerned with a lot – emancipation was not one of them. “Sex, drugs, murder, suicide, mafia – and men in G-strings,” is how a former dancer sums up the structure to which he belonged for years and which even culminated in an in-house “orgy room”.
Three (too) powerful people with power crystallized right from the start: In addition to club owner Steve Banerjee, there was “the Jewish pimp” Paul Snider and a man named Nick De Noia. Snider came up with the idea of hiring stripping men as the nightclub’s unique selling point and “wasn’t good as a promoter, as a show host, or as a human being,” according to the scathing verdict in the documentary.
Meanwhile, the imperious De Noia stood for the qualitative change from awkward amateur nudes to choreographed astral bodies. As a TV creator, he had previously won several Emmy Awards for a children’s show of all things and now wanted to raise the “Chippendales” stage shows to Broadway spheres. What all three men have in common, apart from their penchant for megalomania, is that they all paid for it prematurely with their lives.
Worth seeing reality check
Similar to “Secrets of Playboy”, the “Chippendales” documentary straightens out some things that are badly glorified in retrospect. It shows the dilemma in which those men found themselves, whose professional clothing still consists of black bow ties, white cuffs and a smile on their face: the greedy looks on the one hand, the greedy bosses on the other. And several murders in between.