Thursday, April 30, 2009

A WINK AND A SMILE: This was -- or is -- Burlesque? I Don't Think So....


If you're getting your hopes up that Deirdre Timmons' new movie A WINK AND A SMILE is going to give you some idea of what old-time burlesque was like, disabuse yourself of that notion double quick. The film may offer a clue as to what burlesque aspires to now, but if so, that seems a bit sad to me. Not that the old Burley-Q was any great shakes, back in the day. It kept a certain class of guy happy, thinking he was seeing something

naughty (and back then -- the first half of the last century -- I suppose, he was). But if what we see in Ms Timmons' film can be taken as gospel, what Burlesque means these days is some kind of psycho-therapy for needy gals who want to bolster their self-image. My, how times have changed.

What we see in this new documentary is not remotely like the seedy old theatres (or audiences or acts) where I ventured a couple of times during my youth to find out what the "deal" was. No, this stuff caters to a much more modern, with-it audience, who's always ready to "deconstruct" what's going on in order to make it more palatable and perhaps feminist-friendly. The film tracks a semester at Seattle's Academy of Burlesque, run by a young woman with the stage name of Miss Indigo Blue (shown two photos above, in blue feathers). Ms Blue trains her students for the big event -- their first real "strip" at the end of the semester, and we watch and listen as they practice. Sort of. All this is interrupted by views of some current successful strippers who strut their stuff. These include a cross dresser named Waxey Moon (shown just below) Whoops: I am told by a certain Anonymous in the comment that follows this post, that I have misspelled Waxey (it's Waxie) and, in any case, the photo is of a performer called Ultra. Sorry about that., a kind of performance artist Lily Verlaine (the most interesting and, for my money, the biggest turn-on, of the bunch) and Ernie von Schmaltz, a male impersonator who is certainly the funniest of the lot.

More a comment on burlesque than burlesque itself, the movie take itself so seriously that is it finally rather difficult for us in the audience to do the same. "Humor is part of Burlesque," Ms Blue says at one point, yet so insistent is the film on making its point that you'll find damn little of that humor here (and when you do, as usual, it must be commented on and so defeats itself).

One more thing: Ms Indigo Blue, on screen far more than anyone else in this film, appears to be growing a mustache. This was so obvious in the print shown at the screening that I attended, that I found myself wondering often throughout the film just why this should be. Was it some kind of ironic comment? Or simply what happens when a hi-def video camera encounters a brunette? Was a better make-up job needed? Or is this part of Ms Blue's act (the movie offers other gender-bending moments)? Whatever, I found it disconcerting, as nobody connected with the movie appears to have even noticed.
More group therapy than anything else, A Wink and a Smile would have done better by giving us more of what its title promises -- and a lot less blather. The movie opens Friday, May 1, exclusively at Manhattan's Quad Cinema.

(All photos shown are from the film itself.)

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The photo you show is of Ultra, not Waxie Moon, whose name you mispelled. Please do your fact checking. Thanks.

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, Anon. Will correct now.