(*homocinematically inclined)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Reel Thoughts: Show Me How You Burlesque

Leslie Zemeckis, wife of director Robert Zemeckis of Back to the Future and Forrest Gump fame, clearly has a love for the ladies of burlesque. Behind the Burly Q, available on DVD tomorrow, is a valentine to women like Sally Rand, Lili St. Cyr, Blaze Starr and numerous other fascinating women who fill the fascinating documentary. Only Gypsy Rose Lee gets a stinkweed bouquet from the other dancers, but that makes the film all the more delicious.

Behind the Burly Q charts the history of burlesque from its family friendly beginnings, through its heyday in the thirties through the fifties to its sad decline into sleazy pole dancing like Elizabeth Berkley did in Showgirls. While it lasted, however, most of the women recall a life where they had control of their careers, made money that supported their families and were never asked to prostitute themselves.

Alan Alda and Chris Costello are on hand to describe the role comedians like their dads Robert and Lou had in the shows, but Zemeckis also reveals the dark side of burlesque. The influence of the Mafia and the often hypocritical conduct of law enforcement played a part in business. Also, sometimes the ladies found the most dangerous foes to be other dancers.

The women are such larger than life creations, anyone who loves camp and drag will find plenty of inspiration in the film. There is also plenty of tassel-and-pasty-covered beauty to admire on display for those who admire the female form. None of the women consider themselves exploited, which dovetails with the retro resurgence of popularity for burlesque as an art form. Behind the Burly Q is a priceless chronicle of a lost form of entertainment.

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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