Synopsis: Beth B takes us into the 21st century underground and reveals a secret world where cutting-edge performers are taking hold of a taboo art form, Burlesque, and driving it to extremes that most people have never seen. It’s satire. It’s parody. It’s a populist blend of art and entertainment that gives new meaning to the word “transgression.” Above all, it’s a lot of fun, and it will blow your mind.
EXPOSED: BEYOND BURLESQUE features performances by Rose Wood, Julie Atlas Muz, Mat Fraser, Dirty Martini, Bunny Love, Bambi the Mermaid, World Famous *Bob* & Tigger! These eight female and male artists use their nakedness to transport us beyond the last sexual and social taboos.
eyelights: its stories of self-acceptance. its redefining of gender roles and sexuality.
eyesores: its limited scope.
“If I can blow some people’s minds, I’m doing them a great favour.”
‘Exposed’ is a 2013 documentary about burlesque dancing. But it’s more than that: it’s also about redefining gender and gender roles and it’s about self-acceptance and community. It puts the spotlight on a handful of New York City dancers who perform in various joints, including The Slipper Room and the Coney Island amusement park.
The film consists of interviews with each of the featured performers as they discuss their history, politics, personal lives and philosophies about burlesque. It includes lots of segments from many of their live routines, and it is all uncensored. In fact, it’s surprisingly explicit and it could be shocking or even offend some.
- Bambi the Mermaid: Bambi discusses the difference between burlesque dancing and strip clubs, how the former is about storytelling whereas the latter is about voyeurism. She explains how she finds flaws more interesting and makes a point not to promote physical perfection.
- Dirty Martini: She talks about how she was born to dance, but was once told that she couldn’t do it because of her body type – despite being very skilled. She didn’t let that stop her, of course, and now she’s a mentor (a.k.a. drag mother) to Rose Wood, who is also featured here.
- Mat Fraser: Mat is a thalidomide baby, and was born with two diminutive arms and no opposable thumbs. Naturally, this led to all manners of bullying and rebellion in his youth. Now he strips and does comedy. He feels that seeing him do this normalizes him and empowers the audience.
- Bunny Love: For Bunny, doing burlesque is about control and believes that, quoting someone she knows, there’s “freedom in vulgarity”, a compelling notion. She likes to satirize her upbringing, but her ultimate goal is to blow her audiences minds, because therein lies release.
- Julie Atlaz Muz: Muz actually just likes being naked and feels that her nakedness is sort of an armour; she’s even been known to show up at events in her birthday suit. She is stunned that our society still has hang ups about nudity, and is certainly trying her best to normalize it.
- Tigger!: Tigger! believes that the best way to discuss politics is to make the audience laugh first (to paraphrase him, you have to get them howling with laughter in order to ram the issues down their throats). He takes great pride in being one of the first men to do burlesque.
- Rose Wood: Rose has been celibate for 27 years and has an androgynous quality to him that you don’t see often. Even as a kid, he liked to wear long hair, blur the lines. At the beginning of the documentary, he talks about planning to get breast implants to blur the gender lines even further. He also shows us the tricks of his trade, how to tape up the face, how to move. Nice.
- The World Famous BOB: She explains at length how, as a teenager, she identified as a gay male, and wanted to be a drag queen. She even considered sex reassignment surgery so she could be a real drag queen. She later discusses the politics of choosing to be a woman. Interesting stuff.
There is also a brief interview with James Habacker, the owner of The Slipper Room, who MCs the events in various guises and personas.
Unsurprisingly, most of the dancers are friends. And a few are even coupled up (it was cute seeing Julie and Mat together). They talked about the complexities of having relationships given the many roles that they play; it’s hard for partners to broach the persona and the person. Straight men are also intimidated by the women.
Some of the most unforgettable moments belong to Rose Wood, who eventually does get the breast implant procedure; it’s an unusual sight. He talks about the challenges this poses, and it’s surprising he’d choose that route. He also does a disturbing “serial killer” routine for one show that I wish I hadn’t seen. It wasn’t fun at all.
Having said this, it only slightly put me off and ‘Exposed’ remains the first portrayal of burlesque that I really enjoyed (‘Behind the Burly Q‘ is more about the history). I thought that the performers were extremely interesting and I found their sets rather fascinating: they mixed fantasy with politics with humour. And, of course, sex.
It’s quite a potent mix, and it’s properly exposed here.
Date of viewing: May 15, 2016