Behind the Burly Q -- Film Review



NEW YORK -- Anecdotes aplenty tumble past the footlights in "Behind the Burly Q," a love note to '30s-era burlesque that plays best for those already invested enough in the milieu to hang on every word of aged strippers. Newbies and the mildly curious may have a harder time getting into the doc, which has time-capsule value on home-vid but not much theatrical potential.

First-time helmer Leslie Zemeckis (wife of Robert and would-be burlesque revivalist) assembles an impressive array of veterans for interviews (poignantly, many have passed away since talking to her), including surprise talking head Alan Alda, whose dad was a "tit singer" and comedian on the burlesque circuit. Most on-camera faces though actually performed, sometimes famously: women with names like Tempest Storm and Blaze Starr, telling of troubled youths and backstage brouhaha while recalling a time when their pastie-shielded breasts drove men mad across the country.

Plenty of information is conveyed here, from the mood of on-the-road life to the gimmicks -- dogs and snakes, flaming tassels and a "voodoo death skull" -- that helped each stripper set herself apart from the others. We also hear about important performers, like Lili St. Cyr, who aren't around to speak for themselves.

But Zemeckis and editor Evan Finn do little more than let the facts spill forth, organizing them loosely into themes but doing little to shape them into an overall narrative. Interviewees are rarely allowed to speak for more than a few sentences at a time, and individual biographies are fragmented throughout the running time for no discernible reason.

The result is a monotonous pace that grows tiresome, a situation certainly not helped by pallid videography by Sheri Hellard. Vintage performance footage and a wealth of stock photos help on this front, but overall the doc looks more like a trip to the rest home than its taboo-tweaking subjects deserve.

Opened: April 23 (First Run Features)
Production company: Mistress Inc.
Director/screenwriter: Leslie Zemeckis
Executive producers: Robert Zemeckis
Producers: Leslie Zemeckis, Sheri Hellard, Jackie Levine
Director of photography: Sheri Hellard
Editor: Evan Finn
No rating, 97 minutes