Something Weird Video presents
Best of Burlesque (2004)
"Here in Hollywood, the film capital, everything seems more glamorous, more exciting, more wonderful."- Darla Sloan (Dorothy Abbott)
Stars: Dorothy Abbott, Patti Waggin
Other Stars: Dixie Evans, Joan Carter, Melodee Lane, Novita, Jeanette Carver, Lili St. Cyr, Tempest Storm, Lorraine Lane, Sally Rand, Evelyn West
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sexuality)
Run Time: 07h:00m:00s
Release Date: 2004-03-16
DVD ReviewIn this day and age of rampant, envelope-pushing sexuality in everything from music videos to commercials, it is kind of interesting and exciting to get the chance to look back at what passed for saucy and sexy entertainment just a few short decades ago. Something Weird, that reliable bastion of the gloriously off-beat, takes on the fleshy pioneers of the tasseled bump-and-grind with a towering two-disc pseudo-historical compendium entitled The Best of Burlesque.
The set, which is jammed and crammed with extras and shorts (more on that below), is highlighted by two full-length features that address the topic in entirely different manners, but with the same hip-shaking undercurrent of some forbidden taboo:
A Virgin in Hollywood (01h:01m:10s)
Directed by Klaytan W. Kirby
This hoky 1948 drama follows the exploits of small town reporter Darla Sloan (Dorothy Abbott), who is given an assignment to go undercover and infiltrate the seamy and sultry underbelly of Hollywood. Sure, her leering boss would probably get slapped with a sexual harassment lawsuit if he tried the same approach today, but back then it was apparently acceptable and condoned behavior. Once in Hollywood, the laughably naïve Darla gets an inside peek at nude models, artists, and escorts, all before coming very close to losing herself to a world of depravity.
Not much in the way of exposed skin here, except for a few towel clad models who always seem on the verge of popping out, but the laugh-inducing oversimplified dramatics of Darla's journey of discovery is delivered with a fake, wide-eyed innocence all geared to showcase some almost-but-not-quite-nude women, under the auspices of being some sort of documentary for movie-going Middle America.
A novelty portion of A Virgin in Hollywood is in the inclusion of a few stereoscopic 3-D scenes, which require the use of the included red-and-blue glasses. The quality of these sequences is iffy at best, with occasional moments looking better than others.
Too Hot to Handle (01h:02m:31s)
Directed by Lillian Hunt
Enough with the stiffly canned theatrics of A Virgin in Hollywood, because Lillian Hunt's 1950 Too Hot to Handle is the real deal in this collection, a full-fledge vaudeville burlesque show featuring baggy pants comics, song and dance numbers, and of course some wildly gyrating nearly nekkid women. The jokes and gags are well beyond corny, as you might expect, but Hunt has landed a couple of memorable performances that actually transcend the usual sedateness of the typical dancer.
One of the real highlights of this entire two-disc set is a performance by fully-stacked burlesque legend Dixie Evans, in a number called "Casting Couch." Plain and simple, the woman contributes a completely unhinged and suggestively provocative dance number while atop the titular couch. She wriggles and writhes with a kind of rarely seen 1950s sexual abandon that leaves little to the imagination as to what her "interpretive dance" is about. It's sex, baby.
Headliner Patti Waggin, the so-called Parisian Pickup, closes the show with a dance that crackles with a uniquely smoky backroom sexiness that must have really sizzled and fried a few eyeballs back then, because it still is pretty darn erotic. A lot of burlesque consisted of awkward dance moves by uncomfortable looking women, but Waggin has an unmistakable charisma, as well as some kind of weirdly timeless sex appeal, much like the iconic Betty Page.
Between the two wildly disparate main features and the mind-numbing amount of extras, Something Weird may not have delivered the ultimate historical perspective with The Best of Burlesque, but they certainly came up with something that is a hell of a lot of fun.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: As you might expect on a collection of fifty-year-old burlesque footage, the quality is certainly tolerable, but nothing spectacular. All content is presented in 1.33:1 full-frame, and the print quality varies greatly from segment to segment, especially amongst the extras, where grain, splices and scratches are frequent. As for the features, A Virgin in Hollywood exhibits quite a few splices and jumpcuts, while Too Hot to Handle has a recurring soft haze to it at times
Not perfect, but pretty much what I anticipated for a batch of fifty-year-old bump-and-grind shorts.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: All audio is provided in perfectly acceptable Dolby Digital mono, and for the most part dialogue was clear and understandable. Too Hot to Handle suffers from what is probably the harshest presentation, and some of the vaudeville gags have a noticeably flat, tinny tone. Minor hiss and crackle was apparent during some segments.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
19 Other Trailer(s) featuring The ABC's of Love, The Art of Burlesque, B Girl Rhapsody, Bagdad After Midnite, Hollywood Burlesque, Ding Dong, Vegas Nights, Bedroom Fantasy, Buxom Beautese, A Virgin In Hollywood, Teasearama, Varietease, Women's A Fool, Everybody's Girl, Shim-Sham Follies, Strip Tease Girls, The Strip Tease Murder Case, Kiss Me Baby, Her Wedding Night
Packaging: Double alpha
- Gallery of Burlesque Ballyhoo and Exploitation Art
- Photo Parade of Burlesque Glamour Girls
- 3-D Glasses
Disc 1 sports a set of five shorts featuring Spectacular Burlesque Beauties in Eye-Popping Stereoscopic 3-D, so strap on the included 3-D glasses and either enjoy or get a headache (depending on how many you watch). Of the five, swanky Persian Slave Market looks the best of the bunch. The Feature Spot houses three slightly longer segments, including the bizarre pageantry of Give This Little Girl a Great Big Hand that includes one of those horrible, horrible songs that you won't be able to get out of your head. The Striptease Showcase has nine shorts with such alluring titles as Bust-O-Rama and Unclad Cuties, and most deliver on their promise—even if some of the women look as if they're having some type of grand mal seizure as opposed to dancing. A Gallery of Burlesque Ballyhoo and Exploitation Art, featuring those sleazy come-on posters, is also included.
Disc 2 is broken down in two broad segments: Top Bananas and The Spotlight. Tomb Itmay Concern, featuring Inez Claire, is one of the three short films in Top Bananas, and is the campy vaudeville-ian highlight. It takes place in an ancient Egyptian tomb, and is showcased by the slightly poochy Claire's veiled dancing. Burlesque's big names hang out, literally, in The Spotlight, with such luminaries as Lili St. Cyr, Lorraine Lane, and Genii Young doing their special thing they do. An automated Photo Parade of Burlesque Glamour Girls and a whopping set of 19 teasing trailers wraps up this second.
Thankfully, the "Play All" option is available for each of the sub-categories on both discs.
Also included is an insert booklet containing an engaging eleven-page interview from March 1993 with legendary burlesque star Lili St. Cyr, conducted by Eric Schaefer. The two main feature films on this collection are cut into 12 chapters (A Virgin in Hollywood) and 10 chapters (Too Hot to Handle) each.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsThe presentation is a little overwhelming (with nearly 7 hours of material), and is best taken in small doses, but the retro-kitschy content is entertaining and surreal at the same time.
Rich Rosell 2004-04-14