Lights! Camera! Twirling tassels!
Vibrant dance and political satire—along with a flurry of feathers and an assortment of those mesmerizing (to some) tassels— are headed to the East End this Friday, August 13, at 11 p.m., when “Dirty Martini and the New Burlesque,” an independent feature-length documentary film by Gary Beeber, is screened at the Sag Harbor Cinema on Sag Harbor’s Main Street.
The film goes backstage behind the curtain to reveal the world of the neo-burlesque movement in Manhattan and cities
around the globe, after virtually disappearing in the 1970s. The spotlight is focused on Dirty Martini, an internationally recognized star and curvaceous, size-16 performer who has reached the pinnacle of her art by earning the title of “Miss Exotic World” in 2004. The annual pageant held in Las Vegas provides the crowning glory for burlesque performers.
The film, shot mostly in Manhattan but also in Los Angeles, follows other burlesque stars as well, some of whom have also won the coveted title. Featured are Julie Atlas Muz (“Miss Exotic World” in 2006), Angie Pontani (“Miss Exotic World” in 2008), World Famous *BOB*, Bambi the Mermaid, Jo Weldon (Jo Boobs), Murray Hill, Bunny Love and Kate Valentine (Miss Astrid).
Also appearing in the documentary are Scotty the Blue Bunny, Selene Luna, Pleasant “Princess Farhana” Gehman, Fred Kahl (The Great Fredini) and James and Camille Habacker. One of the stars, Tigger!, a former theater performer, performance artist and stripper, holds the distinction of being crowned the first-ever “Mr. Exotic World” in 2006.
A pre-movie gala reception from 9:30 to 11 p.m. at the Richard J. Demato Gallery next door to the cinema will offer guests an opportunity to meet Dirty Martini, who was recently photographed by fashion designer Karl Lagerfield, and Tigger!, who once somersaulted from a stage in Manhattan into a seat in the audience. Following the screening there will be a live burlesque performance at the movie theater.
In addition to the bawdy numbers, the documentary takes a serious look at the performers struggling to pay their bills, find stable romantic relationships and attempting to envision a life after the curtain has come down. Mr. Beeber, 59, who lives almost year-round in Sag Harbor, is both the producer and director of the film, which he said also examines the relationship between sex work, which often includes prostitution; burlesque, which includes comedy, satire and dance; and feminism.
“How can these women do this and be a feminist? The answer is it shows women that all body types are beautiful,” the filmmaker said. “They’re doing it in such a way that it is not a striptease act for some men in a club. It’s about what they do and their act. It’s not simply taking their clothes off; it’s an art form,” he said, adding that there will be no nudity in the Sag Harbor show.
“Vintage footage” of early burlesque stars, including Tura Satana, Lili St. Cyr, Dixie Evans, Sally Rand and Dee Milo, is included, the filmmaker said, as are Dirty Martini’s updated interpretations of burlesque performance.
His original goal in making the film, which he said took about three years to complete and cost “a lot of sleep” and $100,000 to produce, was “to show these people in a human sort of way, that they’re not freaks. I think I hit the nail on the head, because people who know a lot about burlesque said I did it in a way that was very considerate and supportive,” he explained in a recent phone interview.
His aim has since evolved, he explained, into something broader, namely “to keep working with this film and go around the world with it.” After premiering in March at the Moisture Festival in Seattle, “Dirty Martini and the New Burlesque,” with a running time of just under 60 minutes, has been screened in Manhattan at the Abrons Arts Center, reportedly for a sell-out crowd, in Dallas, and in an international premiere last month at the Toronto Burlesque Festival. After the East End show this weekend, Mr. Beeber said a screening is planned for Houston on August 24 and he is in talks with theaters in Chicago and Philadelphia. He eventually envisions crossing the pond to France and England.
In bringing the burlesque tradition to Sag Harbor, Mr. Beeber hopes to make this commonly misunderstood art form more mainstream. “The ‘new burlesque’ is not a fad and is much more than just vintage nudie cuties brought to life, It is performance art, modern dance and political satire. It is the new punk rock,” according to a synopsis of the film.
Mr. Beeber noted that when burlesque seemed to have become “passé” around the 1970s, he and a friend were looking for a burlesque show in Manhattan, but could find only strip clubs, “places that do lap dancing and pole dancing,” and “gentlemen’s clubs.”
“These people have actually brought back what burlesque was and have done it in a modern way. This is all good stuff with great performers.” He noted that a lot of comedians originally got their start in burlesque and, though it used to be predominantly women who performed, now there are growing numbers of male and transgender performers as well.
“I know they did some burlesque in Amagansett,” Mr. Beeber said, “but I believe it will be the first time having it in Sag Harbor. Dirty Martini is one of the most famous stars in the world, and people will be lucky to see her.”
“I had been in the art world for a long time and a photographer for a long time,” Mr. Beeber said. “It seemed like artists were very cutthroat, but in the burlesque world, as I came to discover, getting to know these people, they’re not jealous of each other at all. They’re happy when something good happens to another. They watch each other’s backs. That was a real insight.” He added that this realization caused him to reflect on his own behavior toward others.
A Coney Island fire-eater whom Mr. Beeber was interviewing for another film had suggested he speak with Dirty Martini.
When he did, he said, he was immediately impressed with her character and how well-spoken she was—nothing at all like the show girl he had pictured, since he had not yet had a real taste of burlesque.
A classically trained dancer who hails from southern New Jersey, Dirty Martini got her start in New York City’s downtown drag scene, honing her skills in the drag clubs of the East Village. Her legal name is Linda Marraccini, and she said she chose her performance name because “I thought it was a very classic cocktail from the ’50s, and it was an ironic name because I wasn’t doing things that were dirty,” she said, laughing demurely.
She studied dance at Purchase College and said with another laugh that “all my years of school led me to burlesque.”
Mr. Beeber said her modern twist on burlesque includes such unusual moves as twirling her tassels while en pointe, a nod to her background in ballet.
Now a resident of Manhattan, the platinum-blonde star said the August 13 show will be her first time in Sag Harbor. She said she is planning to perform an ostrich feather dance, as made famous by 1950s burlesque star Sally Rand.
“The best part is that we’re doing what we want with our bodies and lives,” said Tigger!. “We’re living out fantasies and jokes onstage, sharing them with an audience of real people, and encouraging them to do what they want with their own lives and their bodies.”
Born James Ferguson, a native of the Chicago suburbs who now lives in Manhattan, Tigger! said his name chose him during his first night go-go dancing at the Pyramid Club in the 1990s when the drag queen hostess asked him his name. “I liked the sense of humor, even whimsy, the playfulness and energy implied,” he said, adding that the terminal exclamation point serves as a way of further distinguishing himself. “That way, if you don’t say my name with enthusiasm, you’re mispronouncing it.”
In addition to being an actor, dancer, stripper and performance artist, he is also a part-time librarian.
“Burlesque is art for real people, not prissy academics ... Sex plus humor never goes out of style,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Tickets to the 11 p.m. August 14 screening and burlesque show are $15 in advance and $20 the day of the show, available only at the Sag Harbor Cinema box office.
One fine body…