Vet experimental helmer Beth B turns her all-embracing camera on the alternate burlesque scene in the intelligent and enjoyably outrageous “Exposed.” Freedom in vulgarity is the motto of performer Bunny Love, and the cast of characters here embody that idea to the hilt, using the stage as a way of challenging “normal” notions of body type and gender. Several performers are familiar from previous pics, including “On Tour,” yet their cogent articulation of their work makes the material feel fresh in all sorts of ways. Brisk sales have been reported following Berlin screenings, and niche arthouse play is a certainty.
As Rubenesque performer Dirty Martini explains, burlesque is about making a statement, whereas striptease is simply voyeurism (her whiz-bang number on American consumerism is a case in point). All the artists interviewed, steeped in identity politics, project their difference on a grand scale, cannily using body type or fixed notions of gender to entertainingly confront auds’ insecurities about their own perceived flaws: As persuasively asserted by Mat Fraser, a British performer with malformed arms from thalidomide, “I become more normal by highlighting my difference.”
Fraser is one of the most expressive of the bunch, clearly expounding on how alternative burlesque upends traditional presentations of so-called freaks to the point where he’s now the P.T. Barnum figure rather than the sideshow geek. The disarming act of whimsically appearing nude onstage allows viewers to focus on the man rather than the disability, turning nudity into a source of empowerment on both sides of the footlights.
While all the characters here could be called misfits, their point is that everyone, in some way, is a misfit. World Famous *Bob* talks about spending her teen years surrounded by drag queens and wanting to be one as well; now freely exposing her female form after several years presenting herself as a gay man, she discusses gender as a choice rather than a permanent assignment. She may not win skeptics over with her reasoning, but her charm is undeniable and her advice to those wondering how to hide their cellulite — cover it in glitter and stick a spotlight on it — can be liberating for anyone overinfluenced by beauty marketing campaigns. For these men and women, pride starts from inside and then, literally, becomes skin-deep.
Beth B enjoyably alternates formal and informal interviews with performance numbers that peak with explosions of anarchic outlandishness. Bunny Love comes on stage as a Southern belle and ends naked, smearing lipstick where Estee Lauder never dreamt it would go. Bambi the Mermaid can be said to put all her eggs in one basket, but it’s Rose Wood’s Hasidic rabbi number, in which he does unprintable things with a Manischewitz bottle, that must be seen to be believed; it’s not for the faint of heart. Tech creds are unimpeachable.