directed by James Lester
starring Darlinda Just Darlinda, Miss Jezebel Express, Gal Friday
Greenmachine Film, James Lester Films
“Burlesque” means to parody or spoof a more serious literary theatrical form. But most people understand it as a bawdy show filled with dance, nudity, spangles and feathers. That’s the sort of burlesque this little heartfelt documentary follows. A decade ago a revival of burlesque flowed across the country; and there was one summer that burlesque made up half of the theater show listings in my town. Now it’s an established art form again, and it attracts the hip and arty more than the down and lonely crowd.
This documentary follows a number of burlesque artists working in the New York City area. We peek behind the spangles to see their hopes, their dreams, and their travails as they compete for modest prizes at the New York Burlesque Festival. We start with the basics. We learn a burlesque is a dance that either starts or ends with nudity, it often aims for comic effect, and costumes are a major part of the action. All these customs are handmade, and these performers are often skilled seamstresses. Acting is a big part of the show as well: we learn women standing around naked is exploitative, but women dancing while undressing is empowering. That’s the logic here, and I’m good with that. Clever names add to the fun; here we meet Gal Friday, the Schlep Sisters, and World-Famous Bob. There’s not a lot of money here; while tips are decent work is spotty and expenses high. But everyone one involved seems positive and upbeat, and as one of the gal’s states “This is drag without the bitterness.” I’ll bet there’s a regular burlesque in your town; go check it out.