Como aperitivo, lo que sigue es un artículo inspirado libremente en la brillante sordidez del burlesque. Un encargo de la revista The Balde para su número veraniego sobre viajes. El artículo esta escrito en inglés, ya que la revista publica todo su contenido en euskera e inglés. En la revista encontraréis la primera parte del artículo en euskera e inglés. Este ha sido mi viaje, en versión original:
So here I am. Lying dead in the dark, in a backyard in the middle of a rainy night, somewhere in London.
I came here tonight for a sleazy Grind a Go Go! burlesque show.
I came here tonight to meet Corinne and now, alas, the game is up.
But before I get ahead of myself let me get back to where this deadly trip through Burlesque started. I got to know Burlesque by chance last summer when I was on my first ever visit to New York City. I’m a Basque independent filmmaker and I was in that dreamy city with the strange sensation of having travelled in time. So many films have been shot here over the years… being in New York I had an unending sense of jet-lag without ever getting on a plane. My mind was in a whirl and I was lost in a sensory overload- and loving it.
So one night when a friend I’d made suggested we go to Galapagos in Brooklyn, some kind of art space where they had interesting shows, I jumped at the invitation. Suddenly I was watching my first burlesque show. I was captivated at once. One particular performer seemed to have just stepped from the screen of some black & white Fellini movie. I tripped out completely lost watching her perform live. It was a flashback with a Super 8 texture. The costumes, the music, the props, the stage and the language… it all flowed through me. My pulse quickened. It struck me then that I somehow had to spend time with this creature and if possible try in some way to capture an essence of what I was witnessing now, on film.
When the show ended and I saw her standing at the bar surrounded by hangers on, I moved towards her, attracted it seems, I proposed we make a film. This wild thing that I had just seen on stage, who had held me so plainly mesmerized was Miss Dirty Martini, the international burlesque sensation, a.k.a. “The best body in burlesque”.
She accepted the deal. My heart skipped a beat.
And so the filming started. Dirty got me into some of NY’s more infamous nightclubs, from the Lower East Side through to off-off-Broadway and down to Coney Island. I got to know her chosen family of burlesque performers; Tigger!, Bunny Love, Legs Malone, World Famous BOB, Jo “Boobs”, Nasty Canasta to name a few. Little by little I got to see a bit of what burlesque was all about.
I always think it’s a good sign if you can’t summarise something with just one word, but burlesque takes it to a new level…
Here’s my attempt to summarise what can’t be summarised: Burlesque, or at least what I saw during those weeks, is a sophisticated retro-striptease with a touch of fetishism combining classical American popular cabaret, vaudeville theater and 50’s pin up naïve eroticism.
I’m out of breath just thinking about it.
And if that isn’t enough then there is neo-burlesque, up-dating this antiquated universe and introducing a love for extravagant lingerie and yakuza style tattoos, throwing into the mix a hint of sadomasochism and a touch of post feminism. And what’s more, it is all put together as some bizarre entertainment extravaganza.
Glitter and doom I would say… if we bear in mind how my trip comes to a conclusion.
Before I had a chance to realize how deeply I had fallen under Dirty’s spell of intimate drag and the art of tease, she suddenly had to up and leave for gigs in Budapest and Amsterdam… I was sorely tempted to pack my bags and cameras and follow her and the rest of the troupe around Europe with that traveling circus spirit but, to put it frankly, I didn’t have the balls to do it.
My burlesque star had left me but I still felt I had enough footage to make a short film that offered an insight into her world.
During the shooting in New York I had met a young Finnish filmmaker who was also working on a documentary on burlesque and who kindly invited me to present my film at the Helsinki Burlesque Festival in February of this year. The frozen land was going to be next stop on my retro-trip.
In my last days in New York I had stumbled upon a performer from London who had me totally smitten. I was so taken with this new character- Corinne Baker- that I’d discovered, that I was minutes from missing my plane home. As the clock ticked I filmed her compulsively in situ in Coney Island up to the last possible moment of my stay in New York . At that point my main concern was that our paths would again someday cross…
Be careful for what you wish for my friend…
As soon as I was back home I set to work editing the footage I had. It was to take the large part of autumn and a wet winter to prepare for the opening night in Helsinki. Polar Burlesque… now that sounded exciting, exciting enough to push me through the editing process.
The opening night was in the Dubrovnik lobby-lounge-kino owned by the Kaurismaki brothers in front of a sophisticated audience, expert in the ways of burlesque. The screening went well and the film got a warm reception. So that alone made the trip worth while.
Funnily enough Finland has its own slant on burlesque. I was party to a Frankenstein inspired number by a Finnish boylesque, live drawing of burlesque poses and entire audiences dressed to the nines echoing the performers’ outfits. The contrast between the frozen sea and the hot bump & grind shaking the festival’s venues was striking and more than enough to tingle this spine of mine.
The icing on my Finnish cake is Little Brooklyn’s take on King Kong. We all know the story, but Little Brooklyn gives it her particular slant. She comes out half King Kong/ half starlet. Seeing is believing- believe me... It’s a great act and a great performance. However what hit home wasn’t so much the performance itself but the New Yorker who’d travelled x thousand kilometres to be with her and act as prop in this scene. There he was, x thousand kilometres from home, and his job was to hold up a cardboard Empire State Building. The climax to his substantial journey was fifteen seconds of fame wafting planes around a crude representation of the building. At this moment I realise, that his dedication and the fluttering of these planes is, the essence of Burlesque.
So it’s clear… I’m now officially registered as addicted to Burlesque. Just when I had got back from Helsinki to my everyday muggle life, I caught wind of the London Burlesque Festival happening in April… and the blood started rushing through my veins again. I missed being whisked back in time by burlesque. I remembered Corinne. My final days in New York and my near-miss return home.
|Corinne Baker performing in NY.|
She wasn’t to disappoint… and finally she would give me the finest of femme fatale performances…
I arrived in London just a week ago.
First impressions of the burlesque festival were in all honesty quite disappointing. Here, in the festival at least, burlesque looks closer to high culture, it feels less real than what I’d first encounterd in NY; VIP nights, tickets swapping hands at exorbitant prices (5 times higher than in NY)… Even Corinne, who was performing at the festival, couldn’t get a film pass and so I decided to change plans and look for some other raw burlesque experience, far from the festival’s VIP glamour.
Plan B in London needed some conjuring. I plotted filming a short B-movie mixing Burlesque and Bollywood ingredients with the 24 year old newcomer Corinne of course in the starring role. Provisionally titled “Another day, another man”. As we started to develop the idea I began noticing a side to Corinne and elements of professional jealousy towards the other burlesque stars in town. There’s more money involved in the business here in London and you know how it is… money talks! I pictured vamp burlesque women clawing each other like wild cats scrapping for the best deal…
But revenge comes in many disguises...
Corinne talked of a performances that a group of performers from NY had given at the festival. She said they had crossed the line. They had gone too far. All the New Yorkers had got completely naked in a scene at the end of one of the numbers- burlesque legal licenses and more importantly its unwritten code don’t allow for that. Even worse one of them had done an outlandish number with a tampon she had first had to extract before throwing it into the audience… Corinne told me about some kind of row there had been between the performers from NY and the organizers in London, and it seems this was to have been their repost the revenge of the New Yorker-used tampon…
But let’s cut to the last scene of this burlesque trip as things are clearly getting out of hand.
Last night Corinne invited me to the Grind a Go Go! show at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club here in London. I was to film the first shots of our B-movie project during the night, but something or someone got in the way…
During the same show, a 16 year old sensation of the London burlesque scene was also performing and, given the chance, I couldn’t resist including her in the movie… it was too good to miss. Sadly, my dear vixen, was not of the same opinion. She saw it as high treason to film this new upstart and again her jealousy rose. She started sharpening her claws… there were hushed conversations with imposing club doormen… looks cast across the fast- filling club. I got on with my filming but one thing was clear… something was afoot.
So here we are. There’s this amazing 16 year old performer letting loose on stage.
The sensation is of my blood rushing, my pulse.
Action. (Camera is rolling…)
Before I know it, I’m attacked from behind. Strong smell. Cloth. Out into a backyard. Rain. I make out an out of focus Corinne. A gun. And though everything else is maelstrom this I hear, clear as day- I’m so sorry darling, but I’m afraid our film is over. Don’t fuck with burlesque.
This is the end.
So long sweetheart…
KISS, KISS, BANG, BANG!!!
And the femme fatale gave me her kiss of death…
Fade to black.
Iban del Campo, april 2009