In recent years the likes of Dita Von Teese have helped to bring the world of burlesque back into the public consciousness. However Exposed: Beyond Burlesque is here to show that this world goes far beyond slightly kitsch striptease with a sprinkling of feminism on the top. The documentary follows several performers who don’t fit into simple boxes, showing how burlesque can be used to challenge perceptions of things such as gender and disability.
For example one of the performers does in-your face pieces that include shoving a bottle up his bum or going grand-guinol by enacting the murder of a woman and wearing her skin. While he lives as a man, his pieces blend gender ideas to the point where he is seen planning having breast augmentation surgery, which he views as part of his art. Then there’s Mat Fraser, who has shortened arms due to exposure to the drug thalidomide before birth. Many Brits will recognise him from appearances on TV, but they probably won’t have seen him quite like this before, doing edgy, slightly punk and sexy pieces alongside his partner, Julie Atlas Muz. As he says, it’s a way to challenge the fact disabled people tend to be desexualised, among other things.
It’s an interesting documentary, showing that Burlesque is complex, diverse and a place that often attracts those who feel they don’t quite fit in. It’s an artform that revels in being creative around things you don’t see everyday, allowing people to express themselves in ways that would be difficult for some people in other ways.
For example, one of the female performers talks about how when she was young she wanted to be a drag queen, to the point where for a period of time she identified as transgender and considered having a sex change operation, with the intention of being a gay man who spent his evenings in full drag (and would therefore at that point be a man who was dressed in a hyper-feminine way, even though she had been born female). She eventually became a girl who was also a drag queen, which as she says, is something she consciously decided to do. It’s a complex take on gender and something that most artforms wouldn’t quite know what to do with, but it can be embraced by burlesque.
Indeed there are few people who couldn’t find a home, from gay men expressing their identity to those with body issues, or indeed with those keen to show that despite what society suggests, they don’t have body issues. Of course there’s also a streak of exhibitionism, although both the performers and the documentary itself seem to dance around this, preferring to concentrate on the artistic side and the empowerment burlesque offers, rather than dwelling on the more prurient aspects of what’s going on.
Although there are times when the documentary seems to get slightly lost and isn’t sure what it’s there for, it finds it feet and ultimately offers a fascinating look into a somewhat hidden world.
Overall Verdict: If you thought burlesque was all 50s kitsch striptease, Exposed offers a very interesting look into a world that goes far beyond this and offers ‘outsiders’ a place to challenge their audience as much as they entertain them.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac