First Run Features | 2010 | 98 mins. | NR

With roots in 19th Century vaudeville and minstrel shows, burlesque became a popular form of entertainment in the 1930’s. At a time when America was mired in a deep economic depression, people could pop into these shows and have a laugh. Filmmaker Leslie Zemeckis (wife of Robert  Zemeckis, who served as executive producer), interviews such stars as Blaze Starr, Tempest Storm, Candy Barr, Lili St. Cyr and others, who remember the era quite fondly.

Behind the Burly Q

We get a real sense of why some of these women got involved in burlesque. “Hunger is a very good motivator for learning to dance,” says one former performer. Beverly Anderson, billed as Beverly Arlynne, couldn’t type because of rheumatoid arthritis. Though she wanted to be an actress, she found she could only get work as a stripper. Most of the women interviewed came from hardscrabble backgrounds, and saw burlesque as a way to earn a better station in life.

Many of the performers began when they were underage, if they thought they could get away with it. Burlesque shows where often traveling affairs, so the girls had to learn the legal statues of each city to avoid running afoul of the law. It’s interesting to note that every interview subject claims to have been too tired to have partied or engaged in any ‘unsavory’ activities.

There is also a section that perpetuates the long held belief that comedians were a big draw at the burlesque shows. Chris Costello, daughter of Lou, discusses the famous duo’s first pairing at one of the shows. She also tells the famous story about how Costello once went through with a network radio broadcast even though his infant son had gotten out of a playpen and drowned that afternoon in the family swimming pool.

Also on hand is actor Allan Alda. He spent much of his childhood backstage at burlesque shows, because his father, Robert, spent his early career working that circuit. Though he speaks of that time with some fondness, one can’t help but pick up some tinges of bitterness. He probably saw a lot of unusual things at a young age!

Because the Behind the Burly Q largely consists of talking head interviews, things do tend to jump around a bit. Despite that, Leslie Zemeckis has crafted what amounts to a lovely time capsule of a bygone era. All of these women have interesting stories to tell, and Zemeckis has given them a great forum in which to do that.

The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this DVD is mixed. he newly shot interview footage runs the gamut from crisp and clear to fairly soft. The archival footage, all of which was probably shot fullframe, is cropped to fill the 1.78.1 frame – they’ve done a reasonably good job of doing this to ensure that heads aren’t cut off, but there are definitely spots where you’ll notice things missing The transfer is watchable, particularly when you consider that this was made on a modest budget, shot on video and that the archival clips are are going to be rough.

The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track is fine. The levels are generally properly balanced and you won’t have any trouble understanding the performers. This is a front heavy mix that really sounds like a stereo track save for some occasional bits where the rear channels are used to spread out the music a bit. Optional subtitles are supplied in English.

The special features consist of three featurettes.  The first is The Reunion which is seven minutes of footage shot at a ‘class reunion’ of sorts held in Las Vegas where a group of retired and former burlesque performers got together to stroll down memory lane. Memorabilia And Costumes is a five minute look at vintage costumes, many of which are incredibly ornate, and other ephemera. Behind The Scenes is a seven minute piece in which Leslie Zemeckis discusses the origins of the picture and the process of putting it together. There are also some Bonus Interviews here, roughly twenty-two minutes. Rounding out the extras are a Burlesque Timeline, a Photo Gallery and a trailer for the feature.