In 2017, Andrea Werhun and Nicole Bazuin launched a Kickstarter campaign to help publish their book Modern Whore. The “creative memoir” would feature stories from Werhun’s time as an escort and film photography by Bazuin. The crowdfunding campaign succeeded, with Modern Whore launching in bookstores across North America.
A few years later, Bazuin helmed the short film adaptation of Modern Whore, a hybrid documentary featuring Werhun. It would enjoy its world premiere at SXSW 2020 as part of the film festival’s Documentary Shorts Program. SXSW 2020 was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, leading Modern Whore to premiere online — not in Austin, Texas, as planned.
That brings us to Last Night at the Strip Club, a CBC Short Docs Original written and directed by Bazuin.
“I didn’t want to be there anymore, not in a pandemic. It just didn’t feel safe. So, I got my things together, got on my bike, and went home. Two days later, the club was closed.— Andrea Werhun, Last Night at the Strip Club
The documentary begins with Werhun looking back on her last few shifts at the strip club where she worked. She tells her story while recreating her stripper makeup in a video tutorial. “This is March 2020,” Werhun says, applying powder to her face. “Sports had been cancelled. Handshakes had been cancelled. So, how am I supposed to give a guy a lap dance if I can’t even give him a handshake?” The club closes after Premier Doug Ford declares a state of emergency in Ontario. Werhun needs to “think fast” as she faces an uncertain future.
“Think of this as meaningful quarantine companionship that is creative, conversational, and intimate in nature, centered around our mutual interests. A muse for hire, sure to amuse! Let’s go H-A-M.”— Andrea Werhun, Official Website
Werhun comes up with something she calls Hire-A-Muse, or H-A-M. She describes H-A-M as falling into a “neat grey area of sex work.” There are a variety of packages offered through H-A-M, including private dance videos, tarot readings, and writing workshops (“I’m currently helping a sex worker organize their memoir”).
The documentary finds Werhun at home, working on her computer. She has landed a book deal to write a memoir about her stripping years. “What a time to write a book,” Werhun says to her editor over a video call.
Last Night at the Strip Club leaves us with Werhun writing late into the night. Her computer screen glows brightly in her face as she muses on the future. “Making plans is often a joke, but I do think it’s important to hold some dreams dear, so I’m just going to keep quietly plugging away at my dreams.”
Watching the film reminds me of all the artists who migrated online to save their livelihoods. Stand-up comedians are doing Zoom shows. Musicians are performing livestream concerts. For some artists, the transition has been difficult, whether it be technical difficulties, screen fatigue, or feeling drained by the world right now. Still, these artists, who were left scrambling to find alternatives, make it work and continue to pursue their dreams despite the challenges.
Werhun displays a knack for comedy. She is a great storyteller, a magnetic presence in this multi-layered documentary that throws viewers back a few decades with bright colours and a groovy soundtrack. The film strikes a balance between style and sincerity. Underneath its glitz and glamour, the documentary expresses anxiety over the future, capturing a relatable numbness in the face of continued uncertainty. The film’s final image, which shows Werhun writing late at night, that’s a lot of us right now. We are all trying to make it work. If we didn’t know it before, we know it now. Nothing in life is guaranteed. But why not try, because who knows what tomorrow holds?
Last Night at the Strip Club is a stylish but thoughtful film that sees its protagonist recreate herself after losing her job during a pandemic. Recommended viewing for anyone in need of a laugh and motivation to pursue their passion.