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Burlesque - The Real Story
Leslie Zemeckis Talks New Documentary
 
by Troy Maillis

Behind the Burly Q, which is a documentary about the real story of burlesque told by the performers themselves, will be available on DVD April 12. The film is written, directed and produced by Leslie Zemeckis, Academy Award Winner Bob Zemeckis’s (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump) wife.

During the Great Depression, for a dime a man could fall into a gaudy burlesque show and forget his troubles. From theatres to nightclubs, burlesque was a raucous sexy show filled with gorgeous women, strippers, comedians, acrobats and singers. Though tame by today's standards, the shows were considered risqué, and most performers were looked down on as second rate. Because of the sexual innuendo and the barely-there costumes it has largely been left out of the history books. Behind the Burly Q goes behind the scenes, and for the first time it will tell the real story of burlesque, with actual footage and interviews from the dancers and performers.  Leslie caught up with Mark's List to discuss her new documentary and the process of uncovering the real story of burlesque in America.

 

(Photo: Director Leslie Zemeckis)

Why did you feel the desire to tell this story?

 

Because no one had. I interviewed dozens of former performers that had never told their story, because no one had asked and no one understood what burlesque was. Today there is still the stigma, people think it was merely strippers and is somehow connected to prostitution and pornography. I think Abbott and Costello, who got their starts in burlesque, would disagree.
 
What are you hoping audiences learn or take away from watching the documentary?

 

What exactly a burlesque show is. That there would be no Carol Burnett show without it. There would be no Saturday Night Live without it. Our comedic history comes directly from burlesque. There were hundreds of comedians that got their start in burlesque. They worked on their craft. They were artists, as were the women. They tried to make it beautiful, and it might be naughty, but it wasn't nasty. It was an important part of our entertainment history. It entertained thousands and thousands of people during the depression when they could not afford a Broadway show. It was a fun, gaudy show. I think the viewer will find humanity in these performers and discover who they were. Not second class citizens.

While directing the film, what did you learn about burlesque that was surprising or inspiring?

 

How rich the history was and how much work in burlesque there was. These performers could work nearly year round for 20 years. They were a close knit group. They had a real love for what they had done and they missed it, and they mourned the fact no one today knows what it is.

 
How did you pick the dancers that you wanted to use for the documentary? 
(Photo: Dixie Evans Backstage)

 I interviewed EVERYONE I could find that was still alive. I spent two years traveling across this country at a moments notice to interview people quite literally on their death bed. I did not want their stories lost. In many cases they picked me. Once I was known in the community - which is small, and getting smaller every day - people contacted me and wanted me to tell their story. It was a privilege and they have since become my friends.

Did you get any advice or assistance from your husband while working on the documentary?

 

Just to go do it, and don't listen to any negativity. He sat in on the final edit sessions, as he's brilliant at story telling. And to come home soon, as we have three little babies he was taking care of while I was gone.

Hollywood sensationalizes many stories. Do you think there is a need for more documentaries telling the REAL story?  On that note, what are some of the stories that you feel need to have the real story presented to the public?

 

Absolutely. I love documentaries, and usually they are stranger than fiction. And I am currently developing two that NEED to be told. More on that later.

 
Find out more about Behind the Burly Q.
 

 
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