Anyone with a quaint tassels-and-pasties idea of burlesque will lose that innocence within the first few minutes of Exposed—right around the time Bunny Love smears bright red lipstick across her shaved vulva and violently binds herself with electrical tape.
But Beth B’s absorbing (if frustratingly brief) documentary about New York’s neoburlesque movement isn’t about shock value. Instead, the director focuses on the surprisingly soft side of some of the most notorious and adventurous players in the scene. In thoughtful interviews, almost all of the artists identify burlesque as a refuge for oddballs, outsiders and the disenfranchised—much like the city they call home. The World Famous *BOB*, Rose Wood and Tigger all speak frankly about their experiences far outside conventional gender and sexuality binaries, while Mat Fraser discusses how performance helped him accept—and eventually embrace—his physical disability.
The film lacks background and cultural context, a surprising choice considering the rich history of the art form. But the interviewees are so compelling that their stories stand on their own. And yes, the performance footage is indeed eye-popping, though the greatest jolt comes from seeing these larger-than-life iconoclasts stripped of their makeup and armorlike personas.