Video Review: Go-Go-Robics and Go-Go-Robics II

Dear Constant Reader,

These may have been the first burlesque-related DVDs I bought when I was just starting out *mumble* years ago. I still think they’re a ton of fun.

         

On each DVD Angie, Tara, and Helen take you through a high-energy go-go routine that will definitely get your blood pumping. The music is catchy and they wear adorable home-made go-go outfits. Each video has a warm-up, a cool down, a step by step breakdown of the moves, a run of the entire routine with captions, and a chance to do it without coaching. The moves are perky and have cute names. The Pontanis are also perky and cute.

The original Go-Go-Robics is to “Chica Alborotada” by Los Straightjackets featuring Big Sandy. The three of them wear ridiculous tiny sombreros and go-go outfits covered in ball fringe. This routine is mostly classic go-go moves like the Mashed Potato and the Twist.

Go-Go Robics II uses the song “The Baracuda” by the 5.6.7.8’s. The routine contains almost twice as many dance moves, many of them named by the Pontanis, like Jazzercise Throwdown and Fancy Dancer Jog, although there are traditional moves like the Freddy and Pony.

Personally I like Go-Go-Robics 2 better, but that’s because of all the extras.

There’s “Five Minutes of Fun”, which is more like 10 minutes. You will learn a smattering of go-go moves, none of which were used in the workout. Some are classics like the Hully Gully and some were invented by the Pontani Sisters. There’s even a couple named after them, like “Angie’s Applesauce Stomp”. Then there’s little routine to practice them all.

There are two videos of Pontani Sisters’ routines: “Sterno” (with actual horses!) and “Italian Princess”. It’s a nostalgia trip — I saw “Italian Princess” when we performed with Burlesque-A-Pades.

My favorite by far is “In the Kitchen”, where the ladies cook four Italian specialties. It’s a blast to watch as they drink wine and walk you through how to make the dishes. You’ll want to be smashin’ and bashin’ garlic with a big glass of red after you watch this! I make Angie’s Gravy (marinara sauce) pretty much every summer and I always keep a stash in the freezer. Zuppe Ingese was a big hit too.

You can get the DVDs on Amazon for ridiculous prices or you can buy Go-Go-Robics II directly from Angie for a steal!

Angie also released a couple of solo go-go DVDs. Perhaps I’ll review those next.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 20 August 2019 at 12:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review: Inside The Combat Zone

Dear Constant Reader,

I love burlesque history — all the glitz and glamour of days gone by. But I also think it’s important to know about the less savory portions of our art, like carnivals. I’m particularly interested in Boston’s Combat Zone, where burlesque went after Scollay Square was demolished. I was very excited to learn about this new book and even more so when Scratch invited the author to speak at The Expo.

Schorow, Stephanie. Inside The Combat Zone: The Stripped Down Story of Boston’s Most Notorious Neighborhood, 2017.

The Combat Zone, officially designated the “Adult Entertainment District” (AED), was the area around lower Washington Street, bordering Chinatown. It was the city’s attempt to contain the adult businesses that had already moved into the area. City officials hoped for an exciting and naughty destination, with porno theatres, dirty book shops, and burlesque houses, carefully controlled. What they ended up with was a sleazy area of XXX shows, strip clubs, prostitution, pickpockets, and drugs.

After the destruction of Scollay Square (and the burlesque theaters for which it had been famed) so the new Government Center could be built on the rubble, the seamier entertainments began congregating around Washington Street. Knowing that an outright ban would just cause the businesses to move elsewhere (and that might be someplace with higher property values…), the straight-laced and puritanical Boston decided to make one legally-zoned area for adult businesses.

Schorow’s book deals a lot with the political, social, and zoning issues of The Combat Zone, but of course, she also writes about burlesque. None of the theaters originally in Scolllay Square, like the Old Howard or The Casino, moved to Washington Street, but there were plenty of new locations to see striptease. The infamous Pilgrim Theatre wanted to bring back classic burlesque and booked such well-known practitioners as Tempest Storm and Blaze Starr, but it was Fanne Foxe that made history there, with her relationship with Congressman Wilbur Mills and his unexpected appearance on stage with her.

I was delighted to learn the story of Miss Bicentennial and even more so to meet her at a book event. Julie Jordan made the Boston Herald when she stripped at City Hall Plaza in 1976. “Right on the grave of old Scollay Square”, she peeled off her star-spangled Hedy Jo Star costume.

Schorow’s book takes you through the history of the Combat Zone, from its well-intentioned beginnings through the quick slide to a dangerous area of mobsters and murder to its dwindling when adult businesses were shut down in favor of restaurants, condos, and other more “reputable” businesses. The last remnants of the Combat Zone are two strip clubs on LaGrange St. Most Bostonians don’t miss the chaos and the crime, but it was part of our past and all burlesque performers in the area should know of it.

Special bonus: the cover art is based on a photo of Satan’s Angel who was interviewed for the book, along with a few other women who worked in the clubs of the Zone.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 10 June 2019 at 2:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review: More Havoc

Dear Constant Reader,

Today we return to the life of June Havoc, Gypsy Rose Lee’s younger (and most say more talented) sister with her second memoir.

More Havoc by June Havoc (1980)

More Havoc begins where Early Havoc leaves off. June, barely in her teens, has fled her overbearing mother and the grind of constant work. She longs to be a legitimate actress, but has to sustain herself as a marathon dancer. She looks back at her childhood in vaudeville for a few chapters, but the rest is a straight-forward narrative, without the shift between past and present of her first book.

June, a pro on the marathon dance circuit, leaves the grueling competitions when a promoter falls in love with her and has his syndicate hire her as his driver while he looks for new venues. Really, it’s a cross-country camping vacation, but she’s getting paid for it. She also reconnects with her husband, Bobby. She doesn’t want to be tied to any man, especially one who doesn’t want her to follow her dream, and decides to leave them both and have her own family.

Pregnant, she begins working hard as a entertainer, saving for her daughter (she’s sure it will be a girl). Ultimately she has to go back to New York and live with her mother, who is running a social club for lesbians out of the spacious apartment Gypsy bought her. At first June is told to hide in her room during the parties, but is soon pressed into service dispensing bathtub booze and plates of cheap spaghetti to her mother’s clientele. This arrangement lasts until the sisters discover that their mother was charging them both for June’s rent and Gypsy’s boyfriend gives June some cash (which Mother tries to filch) to get her own place.

June is ecstatic to start a new life with her daughter, April, but she has no real support and no job. Her mother offers to adopt April and “do for her what I tried to do for you”, but June is never going to be that desperate. After struggling to get by, a lucky break lands June a job as a mannequin, modeling gowns for a fashion house. With every scrap of free time she makes the rounds of booking agents. She finally lands a performance job which leads to another and another.

She marries (and divorces) a Harvard man who fancies himself a writer. She abandons “Jeannie Reed”, her name from when she was hoofing with her husband, which she also used during the marathons. She panics as she’s writing “June Hovick” on a contract, since her sister was forced by prudish Hollywood to perform as Louise Hovick and her movies failed. Instead, it comes out “Havoc”. She doesn’t like it, but it sticks.

Then comes Pal Joey. June is cast in the new musical as Gladys Bumps, a small comedic role that keeps getting bigger and bigger as the director discovers her talents. At last! A Broadway show! And then Hollywood comes calling… Soon June is shuttling across the country between Hollywood and Broadway. June and Gypsy become closer. For a few years, the sisters live together in Gypsy’s huge house in New York City.

The book ends with June’s show-stopping performance on opening night of Mexican Hayride in try-outs in Boston. Her sister, in disguise, is in the audience, having stayed up all night to help June with her costume.

It’s impossible to tell the story of the Hovick sisters without acknowledging the dominating presence of their mother. Gypsy’s memoir portrays her mother as a needy woman, beautiful and fragile, humorously eccentric, in a fantasy world of her own devising. Gypsy deliberately makes her “Mother stories” amusing, even after her mother’s death. In this book June depicts a greedy, delusional, sociopathic woman who emotionally and occasionally physically abused her daughters. Both June and Gypsy try to break free of their mother, but only June succeeds. Despite leaving her mother’s control, June is still shadowed by her presence. This memoir is even bookended by scenes of her mother’s deathbed. All June wanted from her mother was love and approval, but once she becomes independent she might as well be a stranger. Mother did not create June Havoc, so she can’t live in reflected glory. To her, June is a failure. Gypsy is the one she clings to and the one she curses as she dies.

This memoir is certainly more positive and uplifting than the first. However, I liked it less. It wasn’t the story; it was the writing. Early Havoc felt more genuine and the writing of this one feels a little forced. Burlesque-wise, there’s more about Gypsy in this volume, as the sisters spend more time together, but not too much about her performances.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 20 May 2019 at 3:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review: Early Havoc

Dear Constant Reader,

A book review! I know I’ve been remiss in writing these and I’ve let a huge stack of books just pile up. Today’s book is not so much about burlesque as it is adjacent to burlesque.

Early Havoc by June Havoc (1959)

June Havoc was Gypsy Rose Lee’s little sister, the former Dainty Baby June, vaudeville sensation. She wrote two memoirs about her life in show business. Early Havoc is a bit harder to find, but Scratch used his excellent hunting skills to find a first edition, which had been signed by the author.

Early Havoc alternates chapters between June’s time in vaudeville and her first dance marathon. June was a dance prodigy and from the time she could walk, her mother put her on stage. She was a vaudeville star and even made some movies. As she grew up, the act she had been performing since childhood grew stale and vaudeville declined. June’s mother adamantly refused to let June have an education or any training in dance or acting. She kept her daughter frozen in childhood, unwilling to allow any change. When June was 13 (she thought she might be 16 and her forged birth certificate claimed she was 18) she was desperate to change her life and secretly married Bobby Reed, a dancer from her act. The newlyweds ran away to start a new life and double act.

It was the Great Depression. Vaudeville was dead. June realizes that between her life in show business and her mother’s, let us just say, eccentric view of the child rearing, she has absolutely no idea how to behave in “normal” life. June and Bobby split up in hopes of finding work as solo performers. A $5 booking led June into the brutal world of dance marathons. She took the job at first because the promoter promised 6 meals a day. In a dance marathon, partners have to stay on the dance floor, constantly moving, for as long as possible, in this case, up to three thousand hours. The dancers only get one 11-minute rest break every hour or, later in the marathon, only every two hours. They have to keep moving during meal time and even when called up on stage to entertain the audience with a song, specialty dance, or comedy routine. The teams that stick it out to the end win a cash prize.

June is naive about the dirty dealings on the dance floor, but quickly becomes a pro, a “horse”. After falling victim to tricks from her fellow participants to injure her or make her sick, she learns to keep going no matter what, to lug her sleeping partner around the dance floor, to look pathetic and weak during her time on the performance stage so as to get better “floor money” (tips). She also has to survive the sadistic stunts of the event promoters and their underhanded tactics to make as much money as possible off the backs of the desperate dancers. The marathon participants are pushed beyond exhaustion with grueling “sprints” and “grinds” and “treadmills”. The crueler the events, the more audience they get.

The book ends with the conclusion of the marathon. After making it all the way through, June discovers she’s been cheated out of most of her earnings and prize money. She swears she’ll do just one more marathon, now that she’s wise to the tricks.

What’s the burlesque connection? Throughout the books, when June mentions her sister, it’s to speak in awe of Louise’s intellect and her beauty, but she has little talent for singing and dancing. When June first arrives in New York, desperate, her mother boasts about Louise’s career and all her accomplishments, while treating June as someone she vaguely remembers meeting once upon a time. It’s a shock to discover her beloved older sister is now Gypsy Rose Lee, staring in Minsky’s Ada Onion from Bermuda. June is awestruck by Gypsy’s beauty and stage presence. She describes watching Gypsy’s famous act as Bobby gushes about her sense of humor and good looks. Gypsy herself is a distant presence, hardly noticing her little sister. However, Gypsy kindly gets June and Bobby a spot in the show doing their dance act, but they’re fired after two weeks. Nothing personal — management just has to change up the show.

The whole book is less a tale of show business than a memoir of survival. June knows she’s got a lot against her — raw talent but no training, little education, a selfish and manipulative mother, no support — but she’s determined to make her way in the world. Her story is painful to read at times, especially her assessments of herself and her awkward interactions with “regular” people.

The book ends leaving many questions unanswered: Does she make it out of the world of marathon dances? Does she get out from under her mother’s shadow? Does she find success on stage? Does she ever have a relationship with her sister? Fortunately, there’s another memoir, More Havoc, published 20 years later, answers some of those questions. I’ll review that one next.

One little tidbit — I was excited to realize that the last theatre Dainty June played before she escaped her mother was the Jayhawk in Topeka, KS. I’ll be performing there on June 22 with Hot in Topeka as part of a fundraiser for the theatre!

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 6 May 2019 at 2:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review: Fierce

Dear Constant Reader,

One of the other assignments for The House of Knyle mentorship was to write an essay on Jo Weldon’s new book. Since I’d been intending to review it anyway, this was a good incentive to do it sooner rather than later. As with the essay on Sally Keith, I’ve tweaked the writing just a little here and there from the essay I submitted to Egypt.

Fierce: The History of Leopard Print by Jo Weldon (2018).

I remember my first leopard print. I was shopping for a sun hat and Scratch pointed out one with a lovely wide brim, painted with leopard spots. I said no, “I don’t think I’m a leopard print kind of girl.” He pointed out that I might be a leopard kind of girl, but I wouldn’t know unless I tried it. I’ve been wearing that hat ever since. And more leopard print followed. I’m got a wardrobe-full and still love this fierce pattern. I’ve been awaiting the publication of Jo Weldon’s book on the history of leopard print since she first started presenting her lectures on the subject.

Fierce: The History of Leopard Print is a look at fashion and society through the lens of leopard print. The viewpoint is a feminist one, a fine way of seeing a fashion choice generally considered the purview of women. As the title suggests, wearing leopard print is a bold decision that reflects the personality of the women wearing it.

The fashion for the fur of spotted cats starts in prehistory and for millennia represented power. As a human was draped in the skin of the cat, its fierceness of the cats was transferred to the wearer in a form of sympathetic magic. The book skims the appearance of leopard print in several centuries before reaching the focus of the book – the twentieth century. The next several chapters are a thematic look at each decade and the meaning of leopard print at the time.

I loved seeing how the attitude toward leopard print changed with the decades. I was particularly struck by contrast of the chapters “The Trophy Wife” and “The Bad Mother”. In a short span of time, leopard print signified polar opposites in woman – privileged and obedient versus seductive and rebellious. We see how leopard print moved up and down the fashion scale over the years, from powerful to tacky to campy to sexy to playful and back again. I particularly enjoyed the analysis of the meaning of “tacky” and how something once considered prestigious could fall to being dismissed by the elite.

Fierce is lavishly illustrated, as a fashion book needs to be. The photographs show leopard being worn by movie stars, supermodels, and ordinary women, and in advertisements, catalogs, and other photos. I know how hard it is to get the rights to images so I’m very impressed with all the gorgeous picturesshe was able to use. This book wants to be enjoyed in full color. The writing is excellent, but the impact would be lost without the images.

The history of this fashion is bookended with information about the big cats whose fur inspired this all. At the start the reader is introduced to the spotted cats and their markings, so you can tell if you’re wearing leopard print or if it’s actually jaguar. The book wraps up with some organizations that are helping big cats, if you want to get involved in preserving these beautiful creatures. Because of Jo I’ve been a supporter of Panthera for several years now.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in fashion history, in feminism, or in big cats. This enjoyable and informative read is a celebration of fierce creatures — female and feline alike.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 6 February 2019 at 3:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review: Feuding Fan Dancers

Dear Constant Reader,

I know it’s been a long time (a year!) since I gave you a new book review. Here’s one for a brand-new, hot-off-the-presses book.

Feuding Fan Dancers: Faith Bacon, Sally Rand, and the Golden Age of the Showgirl by Leslie Zemeckis (2018).

I’ve enjoyed Leslie’s previous books (Behind the Burly-Q and Goddess of Love Incarnate) and this one is just as good. Her writing is very accessible and she brings these long departed people to life. The history of burlesque, at best a niche art, could be so easily lost and I’m glad these engaging books are capturing precious bits of information and bringing them to a wider audience.

We all know Sally Rand as the most famous fan dancer of all time. But was she the first? Faith Bacon, a beautiful, but fragile showgirl, seems to have originated the feathered tease. Zemeckis follows the lives and careers of both women through triumph and catastrophe. In a simple summation one could say that Faith had a tragic life, overshadowed by the successful Sally, but there is more to the story.

Faith Bacon was considered one of the most beautiful women of her time and her daring suggestion that she use fans to cover her nude body should have cemented her place as a star on stage. Sadly, drug addiction, poor choices, and plain bad luck dragged her into obscurity and a short life. Sally Rand, less attractive but more vivacious, by determination and ambition, made the fan dance synonymous with her name.

You can see to the right a souvenir lamp from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair from our collection. It’s just labeled “The Fan Dancer”, but is always identified as Sally Rand, despite the fact that both women performed at that event. One could say Sally had the success story, as she had a long life, performed for most of it, and is remembered today, but she had her share of hardships. She was constantly performing because she was chronically running out of money.

Although the fan dance has become a staple on the burlesque stage, neither woman would have considered herself a burlesque performer. They didn’t strip, but used the fans to conceal and tease. Faith was a showgirl, performing for Ziegfeld and Carroll, while Sally, after struggling in Hollywood, found her place performing at World Fairs and Expositions.

Telling two stories in alternating chapters is a challenge for a writer and sometimes feels forced (I’m looking at you, Thunderstruck) but these two women did have lives that ran in parallel, met, intertwined, and ultimately diverged. Since more than century has passed since the birth of the feuding fan dancers there were fewer eyewitness accounts that in the author’s other two books, but she fleshed out the stories with many other sources. If you love the fan dance or burlesque history in general, this is a must read.

Just for fun, here I am with the author at her book event in Cambridge.

Leopard-print forever!

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 5 December 2018 at 3:33 pm  Comments (1)  
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Book Review: April Unwrapped

Dear Constant Reader,

Every once in a while I receive a request to review a book or film. I’m always happy to do so!

April Unwrapped: My Naked Dreams Revealed by April Brucker (2017)

April Bucker is an actress and comedienne, not a burlesque performer, but her book addresses being naked in public. Everyone has had that dream of being naked in a public place, whether it’s in the classroom, the boardroom, or on the subway. In April’s case, her nightmare was being naked on the stand-up stage. In reaction to that bad dream, she created April Unwrapped, in which she faces her fear by being naked in the pages of a book.

In the tradition of the pin-up calendar, April presents more than a dozen photos of herself, naked, each one themed for a month. She’s not actually naked, but coyly covered with an item or two, appropriate to the theme. The effect is more cute and a touch campy than it is provocative (although the creamy “bikini” of August was more revealing than most of the other months).

Each photo is accompanied by a short message, relating her dream to the reader. In May, where she holds a vase of yellow roses in front of her crotch and a single rose across her breasts, she writes “I dreamed you planted my May flowers. Au Revoir! April”. It reminded me of the old ads — “I dreamed I argued before the Supreme Court… in my Maidenform bra!” only without the bra.

As I said above, April is not a burlesque performer, so taking off her clothes for an audience isn’t a common occurrence for her. She’s also not a pin up model and she employs none of the glamourous artifice of that profession. She’s truly unwrapped, naked and exposed before our eyes. This is art created to confront a fear and make a statement, not to seduce or entice.

As a book, it’s a little thing and I think it might have worked a little better as a calendar. I would have like to have seen more of April’s creative concepts, untethered by the constraint of the monthly theme. It’s a charming collection, nonetheless, and is both amusing and brave.

If you, Dear Reader, have a book, film, product or anything else you’d like me to review, please drop me a line.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 2 November 2017 at 3:20 pm  Comments (2)  
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Review: Growing Up Naked

Dear Constant Reader,

Scratch got me a copy of Burlesque West: Showgirls, Sex, and Sin in Postwar Vancouver for the holidays, but that’s not the book I’m reviewing. I’ll get to it. Eventually. Early in the book, the author mentioned a book I’d never heard of, I was intrigued, and found a copy. And here it is.

Growing Up Naked: My Years in Bump and Grind by Lindalee Tracey (1997).

Lindalee Tracey began stripping, underaged, in an unspecified Canadian city in the 1970s, a transitional time for burlesque. She worked at Eden with angry, artistic Emma, Ruby who would spread, elegant Yvette who was once on a bill with Lili St. Cyr, and beautiful, bitter Sugar. She discovered the joy and power of dancing on the club stage. She also dealt with backstage jealousies, sleazy management, and a trial for lewdness. After being forced into a humiliating publicity stunt, she left Eden to tour in the U.S. There she discovered some unfortunate truths about Americans, in the industry there and in general.

She returned to Canada in time for the Olympics and found a home in Montreal at the SexOHrama. Some of her colleagues from Eden had also made the move, but their lives and fortunes had diverged from hers. After a while, she began drifting away from stripping to concentrate on her writing. Before she left the business entirely, she founded the Tits for Tots strip-a-thon, which raised both money for a local children’s hospital and the esteem of the participating strippers. Her final project before leaving stripping entirely was to be involved in a feminist documentary, which didn’t quite go as she’d hoped.

Her writing borders on poetic (not surprising, since she also wrote poetry). It’s all present tense, which gives it a sense of immediacy, but it has a misty quality of looking backwards as well. Unlike some other burlesque memoirs, she often looks inward and describes her feelings and emotional experiences, not just events and actions. Her story is interspersed with letters from some of her fans and her own poetry.

One of the aspects I found interesting was the changes in burlesque during the author’s career. When she started in burlesque, features (strippers) were still performing 20 minute sets. Early in her career the author muses on themes and songs for an act. Also, the features never mingled with the audience. It was go-go dancers who hustled drinks for tips. Periodically the go-gos would come on stage for a “paltry” three-song set. Then the go-gos were being brought on stage en masse for what became known as “the meat market”. The features were trying to compete with twenty girls at once (many of whom would “spread”) but also with porn movies being shown in the clubs. Once table dances were introduced, some strippers chose to step down in status to become a go-go for the increase in income via tips. You can see the evolution into the present day strip club.

It’s clear Lindalee loved stripping and what it had been when she started. She felt it made her more, bigger, stronger. She fought constantly against being diminished and demeaned by her employers, the audience, and others who wouldn’t see the power the performers had on stage. When she left, striptease had changed completely and she mourned the loss of what it had been.

Besides her published writings, Lindalee Tracey also made films. At some point, I’ll review her documentary The Anatomy of Burlesque.

I filmed myself reading a short passage from this book, but only my Patrons can see the video. The rest of you will have to content yourself with this photo.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my 7 Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 12 July 2017 at 3:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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And the Winner is…

Dear Constant Reader,

Thank you all for reading my review of Exotic World and The Burlesque Revival. Big thanks to those of you who shared your favorite burlesque Legends, living, departed, and fictional. I enjoyed reading your comments.

By random selection, the winner of the DVD is Caramel Knowledge! I hope you enjoy it!

Also, Red Tremmel, the documentary’s creator pointed out that one can rent or buy the film streaming right here. And you should!

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 14 June 2017 at 3:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review: Exotic World & the Burlesque Revival

Dear Constant Reader,

While the rest of the burlesque world was in Las Vegas at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend, I stayed home and watched this documentary. It’s become an annual ritual for me.

Exotic World and the Burlesque Revival by Red Tremmel (2012)

Quick explanation for my non-burlesque readers: Exotic World was founded by Jennie Lee, The Bazoom Girl, as a burlesque museum and retirement home for former strippers. The museum was originally a goat farm in the Mojave Desert and as you might imagine, it was not over-run with visitors. After Jennie Lee’s death, Dixie Evans (The Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque) took over the place and then created the Miss Exotic World pageant to bring more people in.

The film chronicles Exotic World’s struggle to stay afloat and its rise as a place of pilgrimage for neo-burlesque performers. It’s full of interviews with Legends, more precious now that some of them have since left us, and with some of the pioneers of the burlesque revival. The documentary was shot over the course of several years, so you see the how the pageant grows, but also how the museum decays. It ends as Exotic World is packed up for the move to Las Vegas and the gates are closed.

It’s always a bittersweet experience watching it. The clips of the pageant are a delight to watch. There’s so much energy and excitement amongst the performers. It’s marvelous to watch the early days of some icons of the modern burlesque scene, like Dirty Martini and Kitten De Ville. Then there are the scenes in the museum itself. The newer performers treat it with reverence and awe. The Legends are more nostalgic: these were their friends, their youth, a lost past.

It’s hard seeing this amazing collection in the crumbling surroundings. There was something wonderful about this gem in the desert, but it was also delapidated, leaking, and insect-infested. Dixie tried her best, but there’s only so much that can be done on volunteers and hope. It did my museum-trained heart good to see the collection being packed up in acid-free tissue by white-gloved workers, even as I got weepy seeing the end of an era. Someday those treasures will see the light of day again.

Occasionally in watching the documentary I would pull back and try to watch it as someone from outside our Glitter Tribe and think “who are these half-naked freaks in the desert?” But for the most part the love from the young performers and the filmmakers comes through.

Exotic World is an important part of our history and we can never again visit that old goat farm in Helendale (I missed it by a year). The film immortalizes the words of Legends now gone (including our beloved Dixie) and the leaders of our current revival. A taste of what Exotic World once was is preserved. It is so, so important that all modern burlesquers see this documentary.

To that end, I’m going to give away a copy of the documentary. Just leave a comment here naming your favorite Legend of burlesque (living or not) and a short explanation of why. You can leave a comment here (not on Facebook or any of the other places I post this link) up until 9AM on June 14, I’ll pick a commenter at random and the DVD is yours!

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Update: The above site appears to be gone. You can still watch the movie through Amazon here

Published in: on 7 June 2017 at 2:32 pm  Comments (5)  
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