Sex appeal and comedy come together in a perfect union in this treat of a film, directed by Jon Manning. In its exploration of the neo-burlesque movement, “Burlesque: Heart of the Glitter Tribe” is bold, daring, and sexy; but more importantly, the documentary provides us, the audience, with a unique and humanizing lens into the lives of the people who inhabit this world of glitter and glam. The documentary relies heavily on personal profiles and interviews with the performers who dedicate not only their time and their money, but often their entire lives to the art of burlesque. We also get the opportunity to witness a variety of their dance routines that range from seductive and sensual to sidesplitting and absurd.
Although burlesque is usually associated with the dancers being overtly sexy and sensual in most people’s minds, I learned that neo-burlesque is actually funny—like really, really funny! For example, one of the performers who goes by the name Babs Jamboree expresses how she tried the ‘traditional’ style of burlesque when she first started out and completely failed. She realized that audiences are much more likely to respond to humor on the stage. She proves this by constructing an entire routine around something she loves—burritos. What may sound out of the box is an absolute hit with the audiences. She steps out of a giant paper bag, rolled up in a giant tortilla roll coat— only to reveal that she is a sexy little jalapeno underneath. This was probably my favorite moment in the entire documentary. Babs’ performance still included the traditional striptease aspect of burlesque, but with a unique twist that is the burrito. It was outrageous and absurd in all the best ways. “What I find sexy is someone completely putting themselves out there. That person’s full commitment,” Babs confesses. And I couldn’t agree more.
For the performers, it’s all about bringing a character to life onstage that represents their quirks, their individuality, and the things that make them feel beautiful. And for these individuals, burlesque is not just a hobby; it’s a way of life. “Burlesque doesn’t make me feel alive. Burlesque makes me alive,” one of the performers reveals.
The film explores each performer’s journey that brought them to the stage, and the passion that they each possess for the art is incredibly inspiring. They all reveal that burlesque isn’t a means for them to make money, and as a matter of fact, most of them are often in the hole financially due to the commitment of time and money they put into making their costumes and rehearsing their performances. These artists perform burlesque for the pure joy, the passion, and the community that burlesque has brought them.
The film also tackles plenty of misconceptions and stereotypes about burlesque dancers in general. I really loved how the film not only profiled women, but it highlighted male performers as well. The film features the all-male group “The Stage Door Johnnies” and documents how the men have truly immersed themselves into a world and culture that is usually dominated by women. They have no trouble poking fun at themselves, and they are true proponents that burlesque engages audience in a way that is beyond sexual.
The film also brings up the common criticism that the dancers are objectifying themselves through their craft. The performers all reject the notion that they are being objectified. According to one performer, performing is her choice, and it is an opportunity for dancers to breathe life into a diverse range of characters that they embody on stage. She further asserts that it doesn’t make sense to claim that the audience is objectifying the characters’ bodies, as they are never taken out of their routine and stage persona.
The greatest strength of the documentary is it’s ability to humanize the performers and their experiences as burlesque dancers. When you are able to step into someone else’s world (in this case the world of burlesque) and learn about their passion, their art, and their way of life, you come out with a much deeper understanding and appreciation of their art and their way of life. That is exactly what this film allowed me to do, and will continue to do for audiences that are intrigued in exploring the world and the many aspects of neo-burlesque.
In theatres on March 3. Available on VOD and iTunes on March 7.