Leslie Zemeckis (wife of Forrest Gump director Robert, here executive producing) has pitched her passion project to be the definitive story of burlesque in America. But don’t get your nipple tassels swinging just yet. Behind the Burly Q rightly explains that this sexy, ribald-humored brand of variety theater—which hit its golden age in the early-to-mid-20th century—was more about creative entertainment than just the striptease. The doc then treats its subject as a musty artifact under glass by glossing over both its early rough-and-tumble roots and today’s neoburlesque resurgence.
During the film’s poorly shot cavalcade of talking-head interviews, we’re given access to the disrobing talents of yesteryear—from Tempest Storm (a fiery-haired performer for more than 50 years who claims to have slept with both JFK and Elvis) to Blaze Starr, the notorious mistress of Louisiana governor Earl Long. Almost as entertaining is the seemingly inexplicable appearance of Alan Alda, who chats about his father, Robert, an actor who briefly made a living as a burlesque “tit singer.” The sauciest of anecdotes are illustrated with faded vintage photos, all tiresomely filtered through the Ken Burns roving-cam effect and making for one chaste and unsexy cultural portrait—the biggest tease of them all.—Aaron Hillis