Bring On the Dancing Girls...

In this age of the voyeur and non-contact sex, a leading Houston export may be its strip-joint fantasies

Dreams can come true. It can happen to you, if you have pay-per-view.
For every Beavis or Butt-head sitting on a couch and experiencing a surge of testosterone, the sexual equivalent of the 7th Cavalry is waiting to be summoned. It's just a phone call and $9.99 away.

That's all it takes to pull The Girls of Rick's from the Warner Cable pay-per-view umbilical cord and into your living room. Yes, they will be two-dimensional and insubstantial, but it's half the price of a table dance and it lasts 73 minutes, which is a lot longer than most men would last if these girls were real.

Rick's Cabaret is one of Space City's upscale strip joints (Oxymoron No. 1) that attempt to erase the stigma of walking into a nudie bar by charging a $6 cover, hiking drink prices, serving edible food and not hiring any strippers who have tattoos. Robert Watters, the owner of the joint, must be doing something commercially right -- the thriving place has now produced its eighth, and so far glossiest and most ambitious, naked-woman video.

Watters put up the moolah, Los Angeles video-veteran Dan O'Dowd produced it and Earl Miller, a well-traveled shutterbug for IPenthouseI magazine, directed. During a recent visit in a back room at the "cabaret," Miller and O'Dowd trip over themselves in praising Rick's and its owner. Says Miller, "Robert Watters is a very classy guy. He defies the stereotype of a titty-bar club owner."

(Just what would that stereotype be? Someone who makes oodles of money off the sexual frustration of men and the sexual objectification of women? Oh, no, notI that Istereotype.)

O'Dowd looks like a cross between a GQ model and a slightly graying fraternity brother. But when he talks you have the urge to keep your hand on your wallet -- he sounds Hollywood slick and on the make.

Miller is wearing blue jeans, a black T-shirt and a Penthouse baseball cap, and he's not at all self-conscious about the project. He's been shooting nude women for 22 years. He says that he and O'Dowd are out to produce "high-caliber, R-rated programming." (Oxymoron No. 2.)

O'Dowd says Miller is the best at what he does, which is take pictures of naked women for Penthouse and only Penthouse. "When you bastardize yourself and whore yourself out ... to any of those other publications," O'Dowd says with a straight face, "you don't get the quality this guy does."

Miller accepts the compliment. "It's a quality thing. If you don't shoot for Playboy or Penthouse, the rest is a bunch of shit," he says. "I've been fortunate to shoot so much for Penthouse it hasn't been a consideration for me. I could have always shot for the other magazines, but I don't want to just grind out cheap tits-and-ass stuff to make a living."

(Expensive Itits-and-ass stuff -- that's where the quality is.)
Houston may be the Energy Capital, and its name may be the first official word broadcast from the surface of the moon, but for O'Dowd and Miller, the main attraction is good-lookin' women willing to take off their clothes for money.

"It's not just Houston, it's this club," says Miller. "I've done pet searches everywhere." (Quick quiz: Is the term "pet search" a demeaning sexist depiction of a search for an attractive woman? Next question.)

Miller and O'Dowd -- who have teamed up to form a video company, Erotic Visions -- list Houston as the best, in both number and quality, city in North America when it comes to, well, gentleman's clubs. Miller ranks Dallas and Atlanta close behind, followed by Vancouver. (Some things are hard to explain.)

All this travel and all these naked women cause small confusions: Miller says, "Robert Watters has the only club in Dallas, uh, Houston that has the vision to want to do something of this caliber and see the value of it."

The Girls of Rick's is destined to be the first in a series of R-rated "Girls of" videos planned for pay-per-view and video sales. Videos will be filmed at other strip joints. This first effort will be offered nationally through cable, then to home video and possibly late night on the Showtime channel -- or so O'Dowd hopes.

O'Dowd says the 73-minute video, which shows nine gals dancing and striking various non-dancing poses, is cut down from 84 hours of film. (Oh, the outtakes...)

(Parenthetical video review: The dialogue gives new dimensions to the word "inane." Imagine someone reading aloud a centerfold's favorite things. Lots of slow-motion, a bit of auto-eroticism, a long bump-and-grind performance on a stationary motorcycle surrounded by fog, and an inexplicable segment in the country where the dancers pose on a front porch wearing see-through body suits. But who expected a plot? The women get naked and they gyrate. What do you want for $9.99?)

Explains O'Dowd, "We shoot well into what you can call an "X" situation, though it was never our intention to do that.... You have to go further and then back up into it." Miller adds that they don't do hardcore. (Read: The only man in the video is there to witness a table dance, there's no female-to-female contact, no toys, just dancin' and full frontal nudity.)

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