The joy-boys at Something Weird have followed their girlie features like Teaserama with this
endless, exhaustive round-up of every burlesque short subject they could find, with two feature films
as headliners. It's enough to satisfy both horn-dogs (we know you're out there) and serious students
of the American institution of Burlesque (Savant, of course). There are color short subjects, arty
short subjects, bizarro dancers, several shorts in 3D, trailers, and top performances by three of
the most famous of the burlesque babes: Lili St. Cyr, Tempest Storm and Dixie Evans.
A text interview with Lili St. Cyr by author Eric Schaefer fills several pages of an insert to the two-disc
set. In it, St. Cyr aptly describes Burlesque as the very bottom of show business. Like most of those
who sought work on the Burlesque circuit, she describes herself as uneducated, unemployable
and looking for a way to make a living.
Judging by many of the women on stage in these short subjects, just about anyone with the desire to
be on stage could become a showgirl or stripper. The unwashed, unhappy men who filled the burlesque
theaters were looking for a cheap thrill and weren't too particular about quality, that's for sure. William
Friedkin's wonderful The Night They Raided Minsky's waxed nostalgic about the tawdry innocence of
burlesque. Twenty years later, the routines, comics and broads in these shorts attest to the fact
that nothing had changed much. The jokes were still awful ("Ill be your Sugar Daddy! I've got
diabetes!"), the sets were still awful, and the strippers all seemed to do the exact same routine.
The reason these shorts exist is because burlesque houses began to run them as variety during the
shows, perhaps to provide a short break for overworked performers. The majority of the films duplicate
exactly the contents of a strip act. Some "theme" is used for supposed freshness, with
costumes ranging from harem girl outfits to elaborate multi-piece skirts and drapes. There are
several Cat costumes given a workout here, and they're all terrible. Everyone wears pasties over their
nipples and often some other kind of custom moleskin item elsewhere; otherwise the whole shebang
would be illegal.
The titles are as much fun as the shows themselves: Bananas 8 to the Bar, Bust-O-Rama,
I'll Sell My Shirt. Who can resist timeless fare with names like Unclad Cuties, Persian Slave
Market or A Cocktail at Sloppy Joe's?
In his essay, Schaefer explains that the exploitation film producers (often starting as burlesque theater
owners) would shoot individual acts, slap on a title and call it a short subject. They
were fast and cheap and often used one camera and one camera position. And are they repetitive! Some
short subjects immortalize terrible comedy routines, with vastly inferior comic
knock-offs of Abbott and Costello, or solo baggy-pants clowns who pretend to be imbeciles. These
are the real guys, and they can be funny in their own way, even if they now seem to be nightmarish
inspiration for Robert Crumb cartoons.
The women show some variety. Many are rather old, and few have the kinds of figures we now think
strippers require. Only a few have a real stage presence, and those
that do immediately catch one's eye. St. Cyr, Tempest Storm and a couple others truly command the
stage and expertly direct the male gaze. One fairly well-known star recites a soliloquy as she
strips. Another older woman uses a half-mannequin that she manipulates with one arm, to make it look
as if she's being embraced by (and is fighting off) an amorous lover.
The touted material here are two features, one per disc. A Virgin in Hollywood is a literal
exposé of the wild times to be had by single lookers who migrate to Tinseltown. A fairly good main
actress is stuck in a hopeless jumble of embarrassing blind dates, photo-ops and various "wild"
goings-on, all so that she can greet her lecherous boss with a big kiss and the news that she's
learned "a lot" from her trip to California. The show encourages adventurous young beauties to
get to Hollywood as fast as they can.
The other feature is Too Hot to Handle, a more standard burlesque compilation, and close to exactly
what a stage show of this kind would have been like. There are bad comics, awful strippers, okay strippers,
and cheesy songs. An emcee really does introduce the girls one by one, making lame suggestive remarks while
they demurely pose in their scanty outfits.
In a color short called A Bedroom Fantasy, Lili St. Cyr sells her glamorous appeal, distinguishing
herself from the competition with elaborate art direction and a classy reserve. Hot number Tempest Storm
is the most exuberantly erotic sight on display. Her straight strip act is just plain wanton
exhibitionism that doesn't pretend in any way to be anything but what it is - just a lot of generous
torso-tossing to the sad men out there who want a thrill.
Both discs are replete with tons of stripping short subjects. A bunch show only chaste dancing, which
made me wonder if they were reels the showmen kept ready to go in case the authorities
or cops showed up. When the badges left, the "good stuff" would go back up on the projector.
The set makes a big deal out of the 3D material, and comes with a set of red-green glasses. Red-green
analglyphic never worked well for Savant's eyes, so the fact that no real 3D effect presented itself
to me isn't a decisive verdict as to the 3D's effectiveness. Sorry.
The image quality is basically good, especially considering how much is packed onto these discs. Something
Weird's transfers and compression are always good, and only the occasional show here is of a poorer
quality. Most of the shorts have a repair splice or two somewhere. Curiosity is going to be a big
factor in buying this one ... historically, it's all here, folks.
Special mention needs to be made of the "bump'n grind" soundtracks on these shows. Many have a flavor
that simply can't be recreated today. The music might be a big attraction on its own.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Best of Burlesque rates:
Video: Good and Good -
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: 2 features, 31 novelty shorts, 4 3D shorts, 40 minutes of theatrical trailers,
galleries of photos and Exploitation art
Packaging: Double Keep case, pair of 3D glasses included
Reviewed: March 19, 2004