Reviews

Carol Doda Topless at the Condor

DIGITAL REVIEW:

Vertical;
Documentary;
Rated ‘R’ for nudity/graphic nudity throughout, some sexual material, language and drug content.
Featuring Carol Doda, Polly Mazza, Jimi Mamou, Philip DerDevanis, Charlie Farrugia, Pete Mattioli, Art Thanash, Mike Boone, Judy Mac, Sarah Thornton, Wednesday Martin, Larry Nelson.

She was the Silicon Valley’s Queen of Silicone. Those familiar with Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy know that “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” is a stripper’s motto to live by. The rise to fame of San Francisco’s Carol Doda began its peak atop a grand piano, hydraulically descending from a hole in the Condor Club’s ceiling. She bore the dubious distinction of being America’s original topless dancer. Doda knew the best way to get into show business was by showing her business. From the moment she hired on as a waitress at the Condor, Doda, determined to stand out, wore a distinctive white leotard, which set her apart from the other black-clad servers. A trend setter in the field of breast augmentation, she was the first in her field to balloon from a size 34 to 44. Her enduring fame in the city’s history books make her a fascinating historical footnote nonetheless. Marlo McKenzie and Jonathan Parker’s Carol Doda Topless at the Condor cements her legendary status as a pioneer in the world of striptease, but her portrayal as a feminist icon is overstated.

Doda launched the topless craze with what she called “tasteful nudity.” Prior to her bursting onto the scene, a stripper’s life was all about pasties and tassels. And only a gutter tramp would be caught dead wearing bikinis. Suddenly, nipples became the talk of the town. Avant-garde fashion designer Rudy Gernreich revolutionized swimwear in 1964 with his iconic one piece “monokini.” Described on the late designer’s website as “a full, high-waisted bottom with two signature graphic straps,” sales initially topped 3,000 suits. (You can take one tonight home for the low price of $140 S&H included.) For all this talk of a string bikini revolution, I don’t recall one monokini ever washing up on the shore of my neighborhood beach.

What a pivotal moment in American history! The Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement were dominating the national conversation. At the same time, the second Republican National Convention ever held on the West Coast was also taking place in San Francisco, drawing attention to the city alongside Doda’s striptease performances. (Republican nominee Barry Goldwater’s two sons were in town and natural curiosity drew them to the club.) Condor Club publicist “Big” Davy Rosenberg presented Doda with one of Gernreich’s skimpy concoctions. The country had more to contend with than tits, yet the unveiling of Doda’s licorice-strapped monokini on June 19, 1964 — a day that will live in infamy — marked a turning point in the cultural zeitgeist, as it sparked a frenzy of fascination and debate about the boundaries of modesty and morality.

Carol Doda Topless at the Condor is more than just another “talking heads” documentary. Archival footage trumps eyewitness testimony every time, and one guesses enough vintage file footage exists to fill another 10 documentaries. Add to this choice rock ‘n roll lore featuring George ‘n Teddy, Bobby Freeman and Sly Stone, a mess of mob anecdotes, and fossilized first-hand testimonials — what is it about the aging process in male strip club owners that causes heads to shrink with age leaving toupees and Sharpie-dyed mustaches to balloon to outlandish proportions? —  all woven together to reveal a fascinating glimpse into a heretofore relatively dark corner of sexual culture.

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