Behind the Burly Q (First Run Features) is quite simply the best and most complete history of America's lost art form. Burlesque, as wonderfully explained here, was not just a matter of T&A, but of glamour, comics, style, wit, a soupcon of raunch and heavy dose of showmanship. Live entertainment in general is eroding away, but the first modern victim, Burlesque, was lost about 50 years ago . . . lost to porn and expenses and lack of youngsters wanting to learn the art. Leslie Zemeckis should be given praise, awards and recognition for this incredible piece history preserved at the last possible moment, while a few or the artistes are, or at the time of the filming were, still with us. More than that, Zemeckis should be given more and more assignments, for as this documentary proves she is nothing short of brilliant.
Zemeckis, wife of producer/director/writer Robert Zemeckis, replaces anything that could be called judgmental with love. As she interviews these ladies, shows lengthy clips from their past and explains in a seemingly relaxed, but actually a strict and inclusive narrative, each element of life connected with this art form, this world of glamour and glitz comes back with a rosy hue. Yet Zemeckis never turns from the darker side of this life: exploitation, drug addiction, the mob, alcoholism and suicide. When one of the ladies is asked if she'd do it again or if she'd change anything as she looked back on what must be three quarters of a century, she explains with a gargantuan smile that she'd do it again . . . and not change a thing. That's love, commitment to art, and certainly a life well spent.
Alan Alda, whose dad Robert spent the early part of his career in Burlesque before conquering Hollywood and Broadway (notably with playing Nathan Detroit in the original Guys and Dolls), acts as a sort of chorus, speaking of the life of performers and remembering being mothered by the ladies of the chorus.
But the draw for this documentary are the ladies themselves---strippers with golden, and perhaps slightly tarnished, memories of past triumphs and defeats, memories of the glamour and the pain, the glory that was burlesque. Ann Corio, Tempest Storm, Gypsy Rose Lee, Lili St Cyr, Sally Rand, Margie Hart . . . all the wonderful performers are here, in clips and contemporary interviews. Behind the Burly Q is a slice of Americana in a near-forgotten memory of show business as it once was.
And never will be again.