In anticipation of the upcoming 2015 Toronto Hot Docs International Festival of Documentary Cinema, here's my review of the brand-new Zeitgeist Films DVD release of Exposed, a tremendously insightful and entertaining doc on the world of contemporary burlesque by the legendary cutting edge New York "No Wave" underground filmmaker Beth B.
Dir. Beth B
Starring: World Famous *BOB*, Julie Atlas Muz, Mat Fraser, Rose Wood, Dirty Martini, Bambi the Mermaid, Bunny Love, James Habacker, Tigger!
Review By Greg Klymkiw
I've always loved burlesque. As a healthy, young lad growing up in Winnipeg, I was surrounded by the finest in this magnificent form of entertainment thanks to a crusty old booking agent by the name of Gladys Balsillie who managed a stable of formidable talent on constant view in only the finest gentlemen's clubs of my old winter city.
Known famously as "Gladdie's Girls", these ladies were no mere strippers, but featured performers who put on super-cool shows with props, costumes, jokes, storytelling and even narrative arcs to their dances. The greatest of these ladies was the incomparable June Tracy, a ribald, full-figured octogenarian beauty who spun deliciously dirty tales through her craggy, chain-smoke-charred voice pipes. Not only could she twirl one tassel-adorned breast at a time, she oft-performed her famed bubble bath act in a claw-footed tub and then, always ended every show with a series of vigorous bows and the best exit-line ever: "Thank you, thank you, thank you," she'd belt out and then, after a perfectly-timed pause, "…Thank you, relatives!"
Beth B's wonderful film Exposed, took me back to those halcyon days and reminded me how disgusting many of the clubs have become since the implementation of lap dancing, private dancing and the addition of dark V.I.P. rooms which are little more than whorehouses. In recent years, Canada began to bring back old-fashioned burlesque, but unless you live in Toronto or Vancouver, it's awfully hard to see.
Of course, always ahead of the curve, it makes perfect sense that since the beginning of the 21st Century the creative sluices opened up for a number of New York-based performers to take burlesque into truly transgressive directions and Beth B is clearly the filmmaker for the job of immortalizing it on film. A vital part of the late-70s-early-80s New York "No Wave" of cinema (whose members included Amos Poe, Jim Jarmusch, Sarah Driver and others), she brings her eye for alternative visions as well as her well-honed craft to a film that was shot over a few years.
B's picture is a lovely cinematic alternative to this dazzling, live performance/burlesque art and focuses upon eight spectacular performers who continue to strut their stuff - not in sleazy "gentleman's clubs", but most often in (occasionally sleazy) super-cool venues where the acts are presented with all the bump-and-grind one would expect, plus the addition of genuine performance art of the highest quality. The work is satirical, political and downright cerebral. The performers are first-rate entertainers who continually confound traditional notions of sexuality, gender and body-type.
We're taken backstage, into the homes and hotels, as well as the bedrooms of these eight dancers. B's camera allows them all to present who they are as both artists and people. Then, there are the performances which are gloriously shot and cut, offering humour and food for thought, but most of all, they are just plain sexy as all get out. Not a single man, woman and transgendered performer is bereft of sex appeal and Exposed is easily one of the best showcases for this loin-stirring and noggin-inspiring work.
I loved each and every one of these people and part of this comes from who they are as human beings, but another part comes from B's point of view - she brings humanity and love to every frame of the picture so that it's also deeply and profoundly moving.
It's especially cool to see the brilliant actor/performer Mat Fraser celebrating his sheer sex appeal by "normalizing" his physically challenged thalidomide-affected arms and hands. He does this by using his natural gifts as a performer, but also by infusing his arms with all manner of sex-drenched aplomb and gymnastics. It's also cool to see his deeply loving relationship with his partner Julie Atlas Muz, and why not? He's a major hunk and she's a total babe and they're both brilliant performers in their own right.
What's not to love?
Rose Wood, an astoundingly intense transgendered performer is equally compelling - he's a tower of power in all respects and we eventually even get to see the results of his breast augmentation surgery which adds an amazing element to his act - we're talking hunka-hunka-burning-love here.
Then again, that pretty much describes the entire, glorious experience of Exposed. It's without question one hunka-hunka-burning-love of sheer cinematic joy. It might well be the definitive documentary on contemporary burlesque.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4 Stars
Exposed is available on DVD via Zeitgeist Films.
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