Exposed: Beyond Burlesque (18)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner10/01/2014

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 78 mins

Entertaining, eye-opening documentary enlivened by passionate, engaging subjects and boundary-pushing performance pieces.

What's it all about?
Directed by Beth B, Exposed: Beyond Burlesque is a documentary that explores the more extreme end of the US performance art scene. The film focuses on eight different performers, intercutting candid backstage interviews with filmed clips from their various stage routines, all of which are pushing boundaries of gender, sexuality, body image and disability.

The performers include: British star Mat Fraser, whose routines frequently challenge the way disabled people are viewed with regard to sex (he performs a routine called Criptease and at one point he's interviewed in bed with his work and life partner Julie Atlas Muz); Rose Wood, a muscular transgender performance artist who gets a breast implant operation during the course of the film); World Famous “Bob”, a curvy woman who identifies as a gay male; Bunny Love, who talks movingly about her relationship with her parents and asserts “If I can blow some people's minds at a show, then I'm doing them a great favour”; Dirty Martini, who idolises the burlesque artists of the 1950s and acted as a mentor to Rose Wood; Tigger! (exclamation mark included), who talks about creating “boylesque” and whose act includes strong political messages (he has an act involving an oil slick); and Bambi The Mermaid, who produces New York's longest running neo burlesque show Burlesque at the Beach and often performs dressed as a lobster.

The Good
Director Beth B eschews commentary in favour of letting the performers tell their own stories in a series of candid and open interviews. As a result, several distinct themes emerge, primarily that of acceptance, as each of the participants talks movingly about their early lives and how they discovered performance art as a creative and personal outlet (the relationship between Mat and Julie is also extremely touching).

The subjects themselves are well-chosen, delivering passionate and engaging interviews (director Beth B is good at coaxing moving details). However, the highlight of the film is the clips from the performance pieces themselves – Rose Wood's serial killer act (in which he pretends to kidnap an audience member and then proceeds to hack them up in an onstage bath and ends up wearing their sliced off body parts) is particularly striking and it's safe to say that most of the acts shown are not for the squeamish or the easily offended.

The Bad
The only real problem with the film is that the performance clips areoften too short, depriving some of the acts of their larger context, where it might have been beneficial to see a few of the routines in more detail. Although that might have given the BBFC a few nightmares if some of the performances are anything to go by ...

Worth seeing?
Exposed: Beyond Burlesque is an entertaining and engaging documentary that's both warm-hearted and challenging. Worth seeing, particularly if you have any interest in performance art.

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Content updated: 12/12/2017 19:49

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