A Wink and A Smile: Movie Review (by Letha Hadady)

“A Wink and a Smile” teaser video

Despite swine flu scares and rain, a full house crowded New York’s Quad Cinema May 1st for the premier of “A Wink and A Smile” followed by live burlesque performances by four of its non-professional actors. The 90 minute musical documentary film follows the bumps, grinds and emotional gyrations of ten women, including a homemaker, reporter, doctor, taxidermist, opera singer, and a student, who took a six week course in Seattle’s Academy of Burlesque taught by the beautiful and articulate burlesque professional Miss Indigo Blue.

The normally stoic New York audience hooted, clapped, took cell phone pictures, especially in the first three rows with no one under age 60, including a woman in a wheelchair. The rest were gay and straight couples, a few burlesquers done up in fake hair and makeup, and a woman or two with a hat pulled over her eyes. The film explored, what Indigo Blue calls the “radical self-acceptance” that happens when the performer shares her entire naked self on stage. “They invite themselves to be objectified.” Indigo herself was drawn to the art, which celebrates the glamour of the 1940s and 50s, because it appeals to her “little girl, her princess, and her delight in wearing rhinestones on everything.”

The students struggle with self- and family- acceptance throughout the film: Gorgeous stripper The Shanghai Pearl has never told her family, originally from Taiwan, that she has become a stripper. “They all want to become white with big cars and houses,” she says. Her stage persona teases the audience with a taste of old world Asian elegance that, stripped away, reveals a naughty secret. Another student, a mother of two, grins into the camera and says, “I feel more sexy and desirable than ever before now that I am 50.” Viewers can identify with an opera singer who beams, “Now I feel I can do anything and become anything I want. I don’t want to be ordinary!”

Indigo Blue, during the course of instruction, stresses classic burlesque moves, characterization and the intimate connection with the audience in what she calls a “melodramatic art form.” Most of the students, very mainstream women, are having so much trouble with their sexual identity and comfort-level at performing mostly naked that they hardly notice the audience. Some invite their mothers to the graduation performance! After all, this is the West coast–the home of Esalen on California’s Big Sur and now burlesque as therapy. There is an especially burgeoning revival of burlesque in Seattle, considered by some to be America’s most liberal city.

Luckily, the film treats us to delightful clips by professionals having fun wearing balloons, feathers, lace corsets and nothing but paint and rhinestones in a world where gender-, art-, and propriety- distinctions blur. After showing “A Wink and A Smile” the writer/director, Deidre Timmons, an attractive former student at the Academy, bewailed the prudery and conservative restrictions that still exist. The New York premier will be followed by a national tour of film festivals. See the dates and locations and movie clips at http://www.winkthemovie.com.

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