DVD review: ‘Behind the Burly Q’
The bump and grind of American burlesque has been largely sanitized and celebrated in pop culture in such mainstream entertainments as “Gypsy” and “The Night They Raided Minsky’s.” But despite its wink-wink acceptance as a slightly naughty form of “gentlemen’s indulgence,” burlesque certainly had its seamy underside with mob influence, drug and alcohol abuse and sexual exploitation.
Those darker aspects of burlesque get scant attention in “Behind the Burly Q,” a bubbly and highly uncritical documentary look at the florid, bawdy and often tawdry world of striptease by writer-director Leslie Zemeckis (wife of filmmaker Robert “Back to the Future” Zemeckis, who serves here as executive producer).
Intending to present a history of burlesque, Zemeckis’ film instead offers up a spotty, colorful, anecdote-filled collage that’s mostly entertaining but hardly coherent enough to provide a clear historical perspective. Rather, it meanders around from topic to topic (mob involvement in nightclubs, signature costumes of dancers, etc.) without much of a plan.
The film gets its most lively content from talking-head interviews with the real women who “bared it all” (mostly) for their art. Informed by archival photos and grainy film clips, we get pithy observations of life in various cheap strip joints and occasional Art Nouveau palaces by the likes of Tempest Storm, the fiery redhead who billed herself as “the girl with the 40-plus bust who goes 3-D two better,” and the saucy Kitty West, who took to the stage on a half shell as Evangeline the Oyster Girl. The famed dancer Blaze Starr appears to be camera shy in her old age and only shows up here as an oddly disembodied voice over the telephone.
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