Review: Behind the Burly Q

Dear Constant Reader,

Ages ago I said I was going to review my way through my collection of burlesque DVDs. So far, with a big gap between, I’ve reviewed a movie, an instructional video, and a vintage burlesque film. Time for a documentary!

Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America by Leslie Zemeckis (2010)

You aren’t mistaken; I already reviewed Behind the Burly Q. But that was the book. The documentary came first. In fact, it turned 10 this year!

Zemeckis  traveled the country interviewing burlesque performers and others associated with the art or, in some cases, their descendants, to get as full a picture as possible of American burlesque. Seeing the interview subjects and hearing their stories in their own words has an impact the printed page can not match. Zemeckis herself is invisible, allowing the focus to remain on the history. She may be guiding the interviews off-camera, but she’s not a part of them and there’s no obvious agenda other than collecting the stories, where ever they may lead.

The interviews are interspersed with photographs, newspaper clippings, and film footage. Rather than a chronological history of burlesque, the stories are loosely grouped into sections like “Occupational Hazards”, “Too Many Husbands”, or “Big Money”. Of course many burlesque dancers are featured, some well-known like Dixie Evans and Tempest Storm, some more obscure, but the documentary also tells the stories of comics, singers, variety performers, producers, and more.

The history is further fleshed out by relatives of those no longer with us, such as the son of “tit singer” and straightman Robert Alda (actor Alan Alda), Lou Costello’s daughter, Ann Corio’s husband, Lili St. Cyr’s sister (burlesque dancer Dardy Orlando, who was also married to burlesque producer Harold Minsky). Zemeckis also includes a couple of modern day experts, like David Kruh and Kelly DiNardo.

Since the footage was collected, a number of the interview subjects passed away and in the ten years since, we’ve lost even more. With their words and images captured on film, this documentary is a precious record of our past.

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 24 December 2020 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review: Love Moods/Bedroom Fantasy

Dear Constant Reader,

We have a large collection of Something Weird videos. For those not familiar, these are vintage burlesque films released on DVD. This disc is two shorts, each about 15 minutes, featuring Lili St. Cyr: Love Moods and Bedroom Fantasy.

The first, Love Moods: A Ballet Pantomime (1952) was filmed at Ciro’s, the Sunset Strip nightclub where Lili frequently performed. It was directed by Lilian Hunt, the choreographer and talent agent who discovered Tempest Storm. With the stage covered in elegant furniture, including an elaborate bath tub, you get a great idea of the opulence of Lili’s stage shows.

Lili parades around the stage, occasionally throwing in some dance moves, and pouting for the camera. She directs her longing looks at a photo on her vanity. As she prepares to go out, presumably with the man in the photo, she tries on and removes four glamourous gowns and a negligee, as well as jewelry, furs, and other accessories. The centerpiece of her preparations is her famous bubble bath in her gilded tub.

Her striping is the height of tease. The audience never sees more than the slightest flash of her pasties or g-string. She’s always concealed, behind her dressing screen, her garment, a towel, or her maid’s body.

The film is not in great condition, with a number of small jumps; the worst being when Lili’s second stocking mysteriously appears on her leg while she’s dressing at her vanity.

The second film, A Bedroom Fantasy (1953), is a little more like an excerpt from a burlesque show. It opens with The Folliettes, a mob of chorus girls dancing the cancan with more or less skill. After a minute or two this turns into a stately parade as a singer begins crooning off-stage. Then they become a backdrop for the Duponts, dancers who perform a somewhat comedic duet. The Folliettes reprise their can-can and everyone takes a bow.

Now the curtain opens on the main show. Lili is returning to her boudoir after an evening out. The setting is slightly different from Love Moods — instead of an ornate bath tub, she has a lavish bed on a platform. She slowly and expertly strips out of her evening attire and poses languidly on her chaise before putting on her night attire with the help of her maid (a different maid from the previous short).

She dances and poses and even does some calisthenics (gracefully, of course) before climbing into bed. But then the phone rings and she rapturously listens to a singer “on the phone” as she writhes on the bed and wriggles out of her nightgown. The act ends with her going to sleep.

Of the two, I like Love Moods better. She seemed to be having more fun with it. Also, you get to see more outfits, more teasing and, of course, her signature bubble bath. As it was filmed at Ciro’s, this is probably about as close as we can get to seeing an actually Lili St. Cyr stage performance.

The rest of the disc is filled with trailers for other burlesque films, but I’ll be honest — I haven’t watched them.

The performances by Lili St. Cyr highlight why she was such a popular performer in her day and why her legend lives on today. Few performers today come close to matching her opulence and her grace on stage.

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 8 October 2020 at 2:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Video Review: Booty Lab

Dear Constant Reader,

Here’s another instructional video from my collection.

Booty Lab by Michelle L’amour (2013).

The Queen of the Booty is undoubtedly Michelle L’amour, so who better to take you through all different ways to use your backside. And today is her birthday!

The video starts with a warm up, which is going to be needed if you follow along. The rest of the video is breakdowns of burlesque moves focused on the hips, thighs and bum.

She starts with bumps and shimmy variations that are standard burlesque fare, but they are clearly explained and demonstrated by Michelle. It’s no surprise that she includes isolations, one of her signature moves which you cans see to great effect in her famous “Butthoven” video.

She moves down to the floor for some moves that quiver and shake your legs. These are then translated to standing moves, including the infamous ass clap. Take it from me, it’s much easier to do them on the floor…

Finally, she teaches the move everyone wanted to learn, the booty bounce. Later on there’s a bonus section of Michelle doing the bounce while in a handstand with her feet up on the wall.

After a review of all the moves, there’s a twenty-minute workout, focusing on the booty, of course, but with some abs and arm work as well. This is followed by a much needed stretch. I do this section (plus the warm up) when I need a hit of toning and don’t have much time.

Michelle is an excellent, polished teacher, and her explanations are easy to follow. She demonstrates the moves facing in different directions as necessary for a clear view. They’re also pretty clear for those who have no interest in learning these moves and just want to watch Michelle jiggle.

I’ve had this video since it came out and was fortunate enough to take Booty Lab with Michelle at BurlyCon before it existed. I go back from time to time to polish my moves. I always believe in going back to basics no matter how experienced you are. And maybe someday I’ll actually perfect the clap!

The DVD is no longer available, but you if you rent or buy Michelle’s extensive series of instructional videos, you also get Booty Lab.

Happy birthday, Michelle!

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 15 April 2020 at 8:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review: The Night They Raided Minsky’s

Dear Constant Reader,

The other day one of my students asked for recommendations for movies about burlesque and I remembered this one…

The Night They Raided Minsky’s, directed by William Friedkin, MGM, 1968.

Based on the book of the same name, this movie, set in 1925, tells the tale of Rachel Schpitendavel (Britt Ekland), an Amish girl who dreams of dancing on stage in New York. She arrives at the National Winter Garden, a burlesque house, run by Billy Minsky (Elliot Gould).

Minsky is beleaguered by Vance Fowler (Denholm Elliott) a zealous anti-vice crusader who wants to raid the theater. Straightman Raymond Paine (Jason Robards) and top Banana Chick Williams (Norman Wisdom) realize they can solve this problem by informing Fowler that Mademoiselle Fifi will be performing her dance that drove a million Frenchmen wild at the midnight show. Of course, the performer will actually be modest Rachel, doing her Biblical interpretive dance. The raid will be a bust and Fowler humiliated.

Meanwhile Minsky is courting gangster Trim Houlihan (Forrest Tucker) in hopes that he’ll invest in the theatre, but Houlihan thinks that investment gives him exclusive rights to Mlle. Fifi… But not if Raymond Paine seduces her first… And Rachel’s father is storming into the city from Pennsylvania. His daughter had better on the last train home or he will disown her.

Suffice it to say, almost every man in this movie wants Rachel for something.

It’s not spoiling anything (since they announce it at the start of the movie) to say that Rachel gets on stage, discovers the power she has over an audience, and invents the striptease.

The movie betrays its 1960s creation with the saturation of the colors and Britt Ekland’s bouffant hair. However, it does slip in some actual footage from the 20s, and the Lower East Side is dressed up pretty accurately. There’s a nice bit where they transition from the vintage footage to black and white film of a street scene and then take it to color.

The best reason to watch this movie is the burlesque show. Throughout the movie you see the show in progress. A chorus line of 10 terrific girls (but only 9 costumes) prance and shimmy on the stage in skimpy costumes. One of them looks like she’d rather be anywhere else and another just can’t dance. There are classic comedy sketches like “Meet me Round the Corner” and “Crazy House”, some of them including talking women. The candy butcher does his spiel, pitching bonbons along with the promises of gold watches and racy pictures of Mlle. Fifi.

In 1968 there were plenty of people who still remembered burlesque and some of those people were in the movie. The Master of Ceremonies is played by burlesque tit singer Dexter Maitland. Bert Lahr, playing a retired straightman, got his start as a burlesque comic, before his fame as The Cowardly Lion. When he died before filming was complete, burlesque comic Joey Faye stood in for him. Morton Minsky, the youngest Minsky brother, was the technical advisor.

It’s a fun film with a great cast, but the highlights are the scenes onstage and backstage.

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 14 April 2020 at 2:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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’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: 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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Review: Best Assets & Rock Bottom

Dear Constant Reader,

New review! I recently subjected myself to the “Burlesque Booty Workout” DVDs and this is what I found…

Best Assets and Rock Bottom by Gal Friday and Peekaboo Pointe (2013)

Each DVD follows the same format. There’s a stretching warm-up, then 3 segments each teaching a couple of burlesque moves which are good for toning your bum, each set of moves is followed by a 10-minute workout using those moves, plus others. You can also select the continuous 30-minute workout of all three workouts. Each disk ends with a toning workout from one of the instructors. On “Best Assets” that’s a Pilates-based core & leg workout (with a little upper body works) from Peekaboo and on “Rock Bottom” it’s a squats routine with Gal.

The instructors trade off teaching the individual moves, but they both do the workout, with one taking the lead. Sometimes the other one offers a side view which can be really helpful to see what your backside is supposed to be doing. They wear cute go-go outfits with spangly sneakers to add some burlesque appeal to the bumping & grinding workouts.

However, the toning workouts are all business. Gal’s has a lot of teaching about the different kids of squats. Peek’s is 24 minutes (yes, I was watching the clock) of pure ass-kicking. I enjoyed both and will probably incorporate aspects of each one into my usual fitness routine.

There’s quite a bit of overlap between the two DVDs with a couple of the same burlesque moves being taught on both disks. However, despite the repeated instruction, the workouts associated with those moves are very different. Also, there are moves that are taught on one disk, but then used in a workout on the other. If you do “Best Assets” first, you’ll learn some moves that appear in the “Rock Bottom” workouts, but not in its instructional sections.

Although the workouts are mostly focused on hips & glutes, there are still some moves for the upper body (stripper pushups, anyone?). Most of the workouts are done standing, but there’s some floorwork too, so you might want a yoga mat.

I would have liked to have had a cool down as well as a warm up, ’cause I was sweating by the end. A little less chitchat during the workouts would also be nice. There was a little teaching during some of the workouts, which slows everything down and I didn’t want to stop moving. Lastly, I do wish the 2 DVDs were completely independent of one another or had been packaged as a 2-disk set. I bought both of them, but someone who only bought “Rock Bottom” might be lost when the moves taught on “Best Assets” came into play.

The production values were very good, which I have come to expect from World Dance New York projects. I think these workouts were a lot of fun, a good workout, and you’re going to get very familiar with the butt isolation. Trust me.


Published in: on 23 April 2014 at 3:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review: Crazy Horse

Dear Constant Reader,

Crazy Horse, directed by Fredrick Wiseman (2011).

The good people at Zipporah Films sent me a copy of Crazy Horse to review. When I started watching the movie, I knew of the Crazy Horse in Paris, although I’ve never been.* Beyond that, I went into it a tabula rasa.

Unlike your average documentary, there are no voice overs, no captions, and no focal point. The camera roves around the Crazy Horse while a new show, Desir, is in creation. It’s almost entirely in French, with subtitles, so I found I had to pay close attention or I’d get totally lost**. We jump between rehearsals, performances, back stage, and conversations. There are too many establishing shots of Paris and the camera frequently lingers on stage lights changing colors. Honestly, I found it tedious — 2 plus hours was a bit much.

After watching it, I learned that Fredrick Wiseman is famed for his fly-on-the-wall style of film making***.

Also, I learned that I am a philistine, because all the critics absolutely raved about this film and its brilliance.

What did I like? The performance footage. It was quite inspiring. Many of the acts involved fabulous lighting effects, either silhouettes or colored images projected on the dancers. And It’s nice to see that a big-budget show has some of the same problems as our little shoe-string productions.

After a while I did get used to the fact the film had no overt adgenda, like many documentaries, but just sort of drifted around. Eventually I figured out most of what was going on, but I’m still not sure who some of the people were or their roles in the show.


* I have been to the Moulin Rouge, but that’s neither here nor there.
** My French is okay, but not good enough to only listen and still follow along.
** Sometimes called it “observational cinema” or “cinéma vérité”, but apparently he dislikes those terms.

Published in: on 14 August 2013 at 11:35 am  Leave a Comment