Dir. by Leslie Zemeckis - 1 hr. 37 min.
"Behind the Burly Q" works better in the realm of nostalgia than as an informational documentary. Part of it is the cognitive dissonance of having women who earned a living based on their physical beauty and stage routines constantly shown at uniformly advanced ages (I should say almost uniformly - Lili St. Cyr is represented by an interview she did with Mike Wallace in the black and white days of television) - it's a trip to see retirement-aged women talking about stripping. I don't know any way around that either, the only successful way I've seen interviews conducted at a much later date integrated into such a youth-oriented subject matter was in Julien Temple's "The Filth and the Fury," where the interview segments were lit to appear in shadow only, but that would be a bizarre way to approach material that's inherently visual in nature.
So let's get to what's good and what's not so good here. There are a lot of interviews with a lot of burlesque performers, some of which were conducted not too very long before the performers passed away. There's also some attention paid to the structure of the performances (contrary to what some might believe, it was a variety show that incorporated a number of different acts, nearly always headlined by the comedians), as well as how the laws differed in different cities, and things of that nature. In that respect, there's a lot of good information, and most of the people that were interviewed didn't seem to regret their involvement in burlesque.
As for what's more problematic about the movie, some of the women that anyone would have heard of weren't directly involved. Both Blaze Starr and Lili St. Cyr were represented by archival footage (understandable in St. Cyr's case, as she passed away more than a decade before this movie was made). I don't know that it would have made a difference, but to someone with a passing interest (or less) in the subject matter, the star power isn't there. Also, some of the more negative aspects of the business were only touched upon briefly, which is appropriate for the nostalgic romp that this is, but also is an approach that doesn't lend much weight to the subject at hand.
"Behind the Burly Q" is a fairly light, fun look back at a bygone era. It is not a tell-all, it's not a substitute for late-night Cinemax, it's just an explanation of what average people looked for in entertainment in that era. So enjoy it for what it is.
3 / 5 - NF Streaming