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 as a burlesque museum and retirement home for former strippers. The museum was a former 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 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 filled with 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!

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