Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Trailer for "Burlesque" Has Hit... and I Might Puke

Burlesque as a performance art is extremely close to my heart. Deep down I identify more as a burlesque performer than I do as a drag performer. Most shows that I performed at in New York were burlesque shows. Most of the people I felt I became friends with backstage were burlesque performers. When I was producing and hosting "Drags and Dolls" it was half drag and half burlesque. I adore the art form, both as a performer and an audience member. To say that I'm revolted by the trailer for the movie Burlesque, which is being released this November, is frankly an understatement. I want to shove a sequined pasty so far down the throat of whoever approved this that their crap is sparkly for a month.

Photo by K. Walter

For those of you who don't wish to be subjected to actually watching this trailer it breaks down like this. Christina Aguilera is the bright eyed girl just off the bus in LA. She starts working as a waitress at what Hollywood imagines as a burlesque club. She sees the girls on stage and wants to be like them. Club owner Cher reluctantly gives her a chance. Christina freezes on stage and when they're about to pull her off she starts singing and then a world opens up for her. So your basic generic small town girl goes big story (ala Coyote Ugly.) You know now that I look at that description on paper it doesn't seem that bad (not great but not bad) so maybe you should actually see this trailer to get a better sense of what pissed me off about it.
First problem: all the burlesque girls are skinny as hell. One of the true beauties of burlesque is that it truly is a "takes all kinds" art form. Many of my own favorite performers (The World Famous *BOB*, Jezebel Express, Agent N and JZ Bitch of HyperGender Burlesque, and Dottie Lux amongst others) are not as skinny as these girls and some would even be considered fat by Hollywood standards. But they are all brilliant performers. That's not to say there aren't some great thin burlesque performers as well but my point is that being skinny is not a requirement. In fact with so much emphasis being on hips, breasts and curves being too thin can really be a detriment. But not in Hollywood's version of burlesque.

Photo by Gothic Goddess Media

Second problem: PG-13 rating. I'm very sorry but while burlesque isn't usually X-rated it is most assuredly not PG-13. True that there is rarely full blown nudity in a burlesque act (most clubs won't allow it) a good act can still be extremely naughty in the story it tells. That's right, burlesque is about telling a story. It's not about stripping. Yes getting naked is always going to be a part of the story that the performer is telling but the stripping is not the point in and of itself. The removal of clothes it the vehicle for the character or story the performer is telling. That's what distinguishes burlesque dancers from strippers. Strippers take off clothes for money. Burlesque performers tell stories by removing their clothes, and are very lucky if they get to do it for money. Like most artists burlesque performers are generally not well paid and very few are able to make their living from this art. It's something that is done out of love, not to cash in. If a performer is paid at all it's unlikely that they'll actually turn much profit once you factor in what they spent on make-up, pasties and outfits.

Then there's the singing. Singing? Really? While there are some burlesque performers out there who can carry a tune this is not a vocal art form. I really feel like the problem is that this movie is built around burlesque as presented by the Pussycat Dolls. While the Dolls might have had their roots in burlesque it's at best a general flavor of what they do, not a representation of the art (for the record I'm not a fan but that's because I just think their music sucks.) Maybe my problem is that my experience with burlesque is on the East coast in New York City. Maybe burlesque in LA really is all skinny dancers prancing around in corsets. If that's true though I'll pass and stick to the NYC version I know and love.

Photo by Melina Malice

To be completely fair I'll admit that I'm judging this based only on a trailer, and they can be misleading. This movie could potentially be better than it looks based off what I saw. However I can't believe for a moment that my big issues (skinny performers, PG-13, singing) aren't still going to be there. In any case if I ever hear anything good about it maybe I'll rent it. When it hit theaters though I think I'll head down to New York and watch a real burlesque show as my own private form of protest.

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