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Immodesty Blaize Presents Burlesque Undressed, directed by Alison Grist, 2010.
This is a confection of a burlesque documentary. It’s light and sweet, extremely beautiful, carefully constructed, but ultimately insubstantial, and leaves you hungry for more. There’s some burlesque history, but it’s a lot of short interviews, some really only sound bites, and a great deal of burlesque performance footage.
There are interviews with five Legends, three of whom are no longer with us. You know how I feel about preserving the words and experiences of Legends, so this is a high point. Most of the Legends get to tell a brief origin story, illustrated with photos and footage, and they talk about their careers. (Side note: Scratch escorted one of said Legends to the Showgirl Museum for her interview, so I got a little behind the scenes info at the time.) .
The film also features half a dozen of the top burlesque performers at the time, discussing their acts and inspirations. However, Immodesty dominates. She talks at length about her experiences in burlesque, often in a glamourous setting or backstage, getting ready for perform or model. More than once she’s interviewed while someone is doing her hair. I wish…
The documentary covers a wide variety of topics — costumes, music, glamour, act creation, what killed burlesque, and more. There are also appearances from a few male experts, mostly British, speaking on art, history, millinery, and showgirl headdresses, but their contributions are relatively brief.
Besides clips from several burlesque acts, including Dirty Martini’s balloon act and Perle Noir’s Josephine Baker tribute, there are a number of full or almost full-length performances, many from The Tease Show. Kalani Kokonuts performs “The Geisha”. Kitten DeVille shimmies and shakes as Marc Almond sings (the filmmakers liked this act so much it appears in the documentary and again during the credits). Catherine D’Lish bathes in her champagne glass. Michelle L’amour does her Sally Rand tribute. And of course, Immodesty opens and closed the film with, respectively, her giant telephone and her rocking horse acts.
At times it feels like a commercial for Immodesty and The Tease Show, but it’s her project; she can spin it however she likes. And The Tease Show is pretty spectacular, with its high-end acts, gorgeous stage set, and 12-piece live band.
If you’re looking for a documentary about burlesque, either historic or neo-, there are far better ones out there, like Behind the Burly-Q or Exotic World & The Burlesque Revival. If you want to see beautiful burlesque performers doing beautiful things, with a little look backstage and a touch of history, this is a fine watch.
(Affiliate links in this post benefit the American Burlesque Collection, a 501(c)(3) non-profit)