Sunday, November 7, 2010

Disappointment at the Burly Q

Take ourselves up on our own recommendation, 2/3 Team Scenic attended Hartford International Film Festival's screening of Leslie Zemeckis' Behind the Burly Q at Hartford's historic Art Cinema (the porn theater!). We quite enjoy contemporary burlesque we've seen in CT and naked bodies in general, but we were pretty disappointed in this film, which uses recent interview footage of burlesque performers recounting their glory days interspersed with photos and some snatches (HA!) of archival film footage to tell a history of burlesque through the eyes of the performers. While there were some interesting details about the impoverished backgrounds the dancers escaped by becoming performers, and Alan Alda was charming as usual recalling his father's career as a burlesque comedian, overall the film just didn't cohere and jumped erratically between speakers and time periods and subjects with no grander purpose. The women look gorgeous in their old pictures, but as speakers in the present they just aren't very compelling - and less bawdy and fun than you'd expect. The film could have benefited from the inclusion of some scholarly or technical perspective or a comparison with the current burlesque trend. Instead it's just kind of a mess of random remarks and memories.

Actually, we've seen a much more coherent documentary, Pretty Things, which aired on HBO a few years back, in which filmmaker Liz Goldwyn inserted herself and her contemporary, academic perspective into the story quite a bit, but similarly explored early burlesque through interviews with very old ladies. By making it a personal story and lingering on her subjects with a longer attention span for their stories and characters, Goldwyn made a much more lasting impression. However, Behind the Burly Q may be prove to be the final word on the subject, since as the credits role you learn that many of the interviewees have died since filming.

In spite of our disappointment with the film itself, our night out was not wasted. We got a big kick out of actually going to the porn theater and exploring its own historic charm. The place is run down, and the requisite jokes about hygiene were made, but admired the old-timey architecture and decor and wondered out loud about the venue's potential for other kinds of indie events - a future Scenic party perhaps? We were fascinated by classic posters and old porn film canisters lying around at the front and back of the theater. Those have potential too! What a treasure trove of porn history!

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