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Jennifer Merin

Review: Behind the Burly Q Opens in New York

By April 23, 2010

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In Behind The Burly Q, filmmaker Leslie Zemeckis interviews women whose names once emblazoned the marquees of theaters on the burlesque circuit.

Blaze Starr, Tempest Storm, Evangeline, the Oyster Girl, Miss White Fury and Lily Rose were household names, albeit sometimes mentioned only in hush hush tones.

They are strong and determined women who had survived challenging childhoods of financial distress and, in some case, abuse by using their good looks, creativity and talents to forge successful careers for themselves.

In Behind the Burly Q, the surviving members of this sexy sisterhood of strippers speak candidly about their lives and loves, and the hardships of going from show to show. Their stories are rich and entertaining, and sometimes quite sad. They are now elderly and still quite attractive. They are again baring it all, but this time using their skills as storytellers.

They tell tales of pasties taking flight during performances, of interpersonal enmities and onstage sabotage and of the rich and famous -- John F. Kennedy, among them -- who followed the shows. They share details of their post-performing lives and how one even became a baroness.

Zemeckis has assembled a wonderful montage of archival footage to show us who these ladies were and what they did during the glory days of their stage careers, and to follow their lives Behind the Burly Q.

The film also shows that the strip acts were just one part of burlesque, which featured comics and glamorous musical numbers and headlined the likes of Abbott and Costello. Burlesque was, according to the film, the heir to the Vaudeville tradition -- "they added the strippers to keep men from going to the movies."

This is Zemeckis' first film, and it's strikingly independent from the influence of her famous filmmaking husband, Robert Zemeckis. It's smart, brassy, sassy and charming and we hope to see more from her.

Behind the Burly Q is being released theatrically by First Run Features, with runs in New York beginning April 23 at Quad Cinema (with audience Q&As following selected show times, and in Los Angeles beginning May 7. The film will also be released on DVD. Meanwhile, you can watch the trailer.

(PHOTO: Lily Rose performs in Behind The Burly Q. Courtesy First Run Features.)

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