EXPOSED: BEYOND BURLESQUE explores themes of gender identity, disability, and sexuality through the testimony of eight burlesque performers of varied gender identities. It’s a thought-provoking film that is shocking in places, and sometimes hard to watch – inviting the viewer to examine their own ideas and beliefs relating to how society decides what is sexy, how we define gender, and the relationship between politics and entertainment.
Each innovative and entertaining performance pushes boundaries even within the performers’ own world, redefining what constitutes burlesque. Although this is an intelligent film, it could prove to be difficult watching for those who are expecting a coy fan dance or a glamorous martini glass routine. Performers’ monologues are interspersed with burlesque spectacles which, while entertaining, can be challenging watching; for example, in one routine Rose Wood portrays a serial killer reminiscent of Buffalo Bill in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.
burlesque returning to its circus sideshow roots, but with the power shifted from the audience…
The performers are likeable and funny, aiming to entertain as well as educate, without patronising the viewer. The shows are performed on the New York club scene, at the Amsterdam fringe festival and on the Coney Island boardwalk; this last providing an interesting point from comedian and burlesque performer Mat Fraser about burlesque returning to its circus sideshow roots, but with the power shifted from the audience to the performers.
In spite of the deliberate shocks, the film has a warmth rooted in the community which has formed out of what was originally a very small and niche area of entertainment. Each artist seems to feel that they have come from a lonely position to a supportive, inclusive and co-operative community. People help one another in practical ways, such as choreographing dances, but also in less tangible ways – such as informing and influencing each other’s views of gender politics.
Director Beth B opts for a handheld camera which lends an informality to the interview sections, making the viewer feel they are part of the audience for the performance sections. This punkish approach reflects the anarchic content, and supports the intimate feeling of the documentary; the viewer is invited to see every part of the community, and there are no boundaries. Beth B’s documentary, although chaotic, is an articulate, challenging and rewarding film which opens a thoughtful discourse on gender, disability and sexuality.