Filming LEAGUE OF EXOTIQUE DANCERS is one of the most exciting experiences I've had in my directing career. I knew I wanted to capture the glamour of the lives of the Legends, the costumes, the grandeur, the acts, but I also wanted them to be human, with their weaknesses and foibles. They are some of the strongest and most interesting women I've met and most have battled with their own private demons and I'm particularly proud to say that Producer Ed Barreveld and I have had the same vision for the film throughout these 3 years of filming - that this should be a unique film with many layers, about the glitter, the pasties, the broad sexuality but also about their style, their humour and most of all, the steel under the silks that all the women had.
When I started out making this film, people were a little puzzled, a little worried, that this would turn out to be a shallow piece of fluff. But that’s precisely why I was attracted to this film. I wanted to mine the hidden depths of strength in these women. I knew that through them, I could trace an alternative history of feminism – that they were fighting their own private battles on the stage, while their sisters were standing at the picket lines, demanding fair wages and better working conditions. I wanted to look behind the acts, under the glamour and beyond the obvious.
What does it take for a woman in the giddy 50’s, 60’s and 70’s to stay sane, to use her body and know she is using it to make money and to survive? Why do we immediately assume that the topic of Burlesque would be superficial and silly, just because it’s women undressing? That these women took control, owned their bodies and their sexuality has shaped today’s modern attitudes to feminism and sexuality. They were the foremothers of girls today who don’t give a second thought to birth control or multiple sexual partners.
I set out to explore their battles, both individual and political, with this angle in mind and I was rewarded by a rich tapestry of personal stories that have never been told before.
Beyond all the political stories are the wonderful personal anecdotes, most of which have never been heard before on screen. Camille giving poison to a cheating lover, Toni admitting that Duke used to call her late at night, Kitten confessing it was breast cancer that brought her back from alcohol addiction, Marinka telling us what kind of a lover Roy Scheider was, Holiday’s crazy story of how she escaped from a motorbike gang…. They were all fantastic raconteurs and boy, did they have stories to tell!
I think our biggest problem for this film was - what do we leave out? Everything was just fantastic and we wanted it all in. DOP Iris Ng’s cinematography captures the beauty of every character as well as the frenetic energy of Vegas that’s also a character in the film. Editor Rob Ruzic’s skillful editing made sure the film had layers and traced the rhythm of the rise and fall of Burlesque, the personal and political interweaving, laced wonderfully by the music that composer Ken Myhr brought to it that infuses magic into every scene. I couldn’t have painted this picture of Burlesque without this amazing team – the unstinting support from co-dreamer Producer Ed Barreveld, the perfect sound recording from Mary Wong, in-field support from Steph Corfield, the meticulous research from Erin Chisholm, and of course, the smart and ever-smiling Shasha Nakhai who I’ve never seen once tired or grumpy, in all our years of making this film!
My biggest thanks goes to Bruce Cowley whose unwavering support of this film and my vision is something that filmmakers dream about and yearn for, so thank you to Bruce, and to CBC’s Documentary Channel.