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Unapix Entertainment presents
Showgirl Stories: From Vaudeville to Vegas (1998)

"We hurry towards the stifling dressing rooms, the blinding footlights. We scurry along, pressed for time, talkative, screeching like chickens, hurrying towards the illusion of living at high speed, keeping warm, working hard, shunning thought and refusing to be burdened with regret, remorse or memories."
- Colette

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: August 19, 2000

Stars: Anjelica Huston
Director: Agnieszka Piotrowska

Manufacturer: Henninger Interactive Media
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (Nudity)
Run Time: 01h:43m:26s
Release Date: July 25, 2000
UPC: 711027203120
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+A-C+ D-

DVD Review

"Rule No. 1: The customers can't touch you, and you can't touch the customers." This was for many years the strict rule that showgirls followed in the main hotspots and nightclubs such as the Lido and Moulin Rouge in Paris, and in Las Vegas up until recent times. The dancers from that era speak with disdain about sexual lap dances and the like in this documentary film, treating their own careers as a much more virtuous endeavor.

"Once you're doing this, you never want to do anything else." One of the main threads that runs constantly through Agnieszka Piotrowska's documentary about showgirl stories is the notion that many, if not all, of the women profiled love what they're doing or have done. She interviews a great many dancers, with serious emphasis on dancers from as far back as the Ziegfeld Follies (including a 99-year-old Ziegfeld girl) and through the 60's. These are interspersed with photos from the era, period films and similar materials. The program also includes a few clips from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (why isn't there any Marilyn Monroe available on DVD???). The joyousness of living the high life and being on stage, admired and desired, is clear in the stories of nearly every woman interviewed.

"I have nightmares about people trying to get into my room, to get into me...to look into my soul." Piotrowska also includes, to a lesser extent, the unhappy side of the business. Many of the dancers develop a contempt and hatred for men, to the extent that they become completely isolated; many of the aged dancers have lived alone for many years (one even lives in the middle of the Mojave Desert). She also explores briefly the fact that one might be washed up at thirty, and that by thirty-eight or thirty-nine the body is ready to give out if not worked constantly. The poignancy is emphasized by a tear-jerking cello score by Stanislas Styrewicz. The film contains a lengthy episode devoted to the notorious triangle of Evelyn Nesbit, architect Standford White and White's murderer, Harry K. Thaw; this seems to be rather disruptive to the general flow of the film and rather feels like padding.

The documentary, shot for The Learning Channel, is highly sympathetic to the dancers at all times; it shares their joy and sorrows for them in their despair. The film thus works nicely to take one into the world of the stories of showgirls. The emphasis is indeed on their stories. Beware, however, if you're expecting a Joe Esterhasz epic of sleaze. While there is some nudity here, and a couple erotic moments, much of the running time is devoted to elderly ladies and their reminiscences. Overall, it's really not objectionable at all, and is clearly not a disc meant for the raincoat crowd.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image is nonanamorphic widescreen, but has a nice presentation throughout. Colors are vivid and bright, and blacks are quite good for a documentary. Artifacting is minimal, but there are moments of severe aliasing. The film excerpts are all presented without damage and with excellent color (especially the excerpts from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes). The bit rate is a fairly high 6-7 Mbps. Overall, a quite acceptable picture for a documentary film.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Although the keepcase advertises Dolby Surround, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, all that really appears on the disc is basic DD 2.0. The sound is fine, but nothing like what's advertised. The music comes through nicely, and the dialogue is almost always clear and easily understandable, which is a good thing because there aren't any subtitles.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Other than inadequate chaptering, nothing whatsoever. Nada. Zippo. Squat. Wait, let me rephrase that one....

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

An interesting and poignant documentary, but if you're looking for erotic content, you're probably going to be disappointed. If you're interested in what the life of a showgirl is like, it's highly recommended.


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