Sept 01, 2016
By Sara Dager
Digital Cinema Report
Glitter Tribe is an entertaining new documentary that follows a wide variety of burlesque dancers as they perform at their home theater in Portland Oregon. Directed by Jon Manning and produced by Manning and Julie Livingston, co-produced by Miriam Garcia, the film seeks to give the viewer an in depth look into the lives of these modern neo burlesque dancers and the motivation behind their lurid, exciting, and occasionally dangerous acts.
Early in the 1990s, a new generation nostalgic for the spectacle and perceived glamour of the old times determined to bring burlesque back. This revival was pioneered by Billie Madley’s Cinema and later with Ami Goodheart in Dutch Weismann’s Follies revues in New York, Michelle Carr’s The Velvet Hammer troupe in Los Angeles, and The Shim-Shamettes in New Orleans. Inspired by old time stars like Sally Rand, Tempest Storm, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Lily St. Cyr, more recent performers include Dita Von Teese, Julie Atlas Muz and Agitprop groups Like Cabaret Red Light, who have included political satire and performance art in their acts.
Today, Neo-Burlesque has taken many forms, but all have the common trait of honoring one or more of burlesque’s previous incarnations, with acts including striptease, expensive costumes, bawdy humor, cabaret and comedy/variety acts. There are modern burlesque performers, shows and conventions all over the world. It has been estimated that there are currently more than 20 burlesque clubs across the United States.
With the resurgence of burlesque, we have seen a push towards not only more outlandish and extreme numbers, but also ones that make us laugh, think, or even question our own sexuality. The film splices interviews, rehearsal footage, behind the scenes tidbits, and actual performance pieces into miniature character collages for each dancer.
Glitter Tribe follows a widely diverse group of performers, among them Angelique DeVil, Babs Jamboree and Zora von Pavonine, each with their own style of burlesque to show and tell about, from the glam and near drag of boylesque, to the danger of nude fire spinning, all the way to finding out how to make a burrito sexy, these performers run the gamut and it is difficult to find yourself bored.
What is difficult about Glitter Tribe is that without the true atmosphere of a burlesque club, you miss out a bit on what makes the performances so special and instead end up feeling voyeuristic. This feeling was not consistent though, and the non-performance footage did not fall victim to this issue, instead it was raw and very thought provoking.
What really was shocking and inspiring to see was what these people can do with a few yards of fabric and a gallon sized bucket of rhinestones. Even the acts lacking a defined concept (of which there were very few) certainly didn’t lack sparkle, and the insight into the work these people put into their costumes and performances was enthralling.
Most of the performers made a point of saying that burlesque is not a moneymaking endeavor but rather an intense passion, and I find that beautiful. These are people who often work full time jobs and stay up all night, night after night, to toil over rhinestone placement and carefully consider how to design a piece for the easiest removal. It can often take hundreds of hours to produce a costume and choreograph a routine of three minutes that may never be seen again depending on how it is received. This is the part of the work that I find most intriguing. The passion these people have is beautiful and so comforting to watch.
All in all I think the film accomplished its task well, I enjoyed meeting all of these talented people and hearing their stories, which were not only authentic and funny, but also at times heartbreakingly honest.
I do wish that the film had more of a narrative line throughout, as without a thoroughly defined framing device, the film is simply a set of interviews spliced with performance footage. While this in itself is perhaps not problematic, it tends to push the film more towards a commercial television format. It felt as though it was built for a slightly braver version of PBS. I would advise watching it if you have ever found yourself interested in burlesque, and once you are fully roped in, go find the real stuff in your hometown. There are glitter tribes all across America doing crazy creative work, and this film does a great job of providing a window into their work and their world.