Movie review: 'Behind the Burly Q'

May 27, 2010|By Kevin Thomas | Los Angeles Times

At once amusing, raucous and poignant, Leslie Zemeckis' "Behind the Burly Q" is the most comprehensive documentary on burlesque ever made, smoothly incorporating rare vintage stills, interviews and footage. Zemeckis, who has performed her own burlesque show, focuses on virtually all the top strippers of burlesque's golden era of the '30s through the '50s but also includes comics, straight men, musicians and novelty acts. These survivors are a hearty, robust group with a great sense of humor and colorful, often hilarious but sometimes painful memories.

Their forthright manner belies the lingering image of burlesque performers being less than respectable. "It's not what you do, but who you are and how you account for yourself," declares Dixie Evans. A rowdier form of vaudeville, burlesque came into its own with the advent of the striptease in the late '20s.

Evans, the still stunning " Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque" and the performing art's key living historian, provides the film's focal point and context for the vivid reminiscences of such legends as Betty Rowland, Blaze Starr, Sherry Britton and Tempest Storm, who is still performing. Chris Costello speaks of her comedian father Lou and his partner Bud Abbott, and Alan Alda tells of his childhood as the son of Robert Alda, who before becoming a Hollywood star, was a singer and straight man in burlesque. Relatives, friends and colleagues recall such major figures as Rose La Rose, Ann Corio, Georgia Sothern, Lili St. Cyr, Margie Hart, tassel-twirler Sally Keith and fan-dancer Sally Rand.

Oddly, Gypsy Rose Lee, the most famous burlesque star of them all is dismissed negatively. And one could wish that Val Valentine got a chance to tell what performing in carnivals was like, and that Evans got to speak of her pal, the luscious Jennie Lee.

"Behind the Burly Q." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

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