Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

19 July, 2005

Portrait of the Filmmaker As A Young Woman

As I sit here looking forward to seeing a performance this weekend by Cherry Pop Burlesque, I've come across an article up at Slate about a new documentary to appear on HBO about this very topic. It's called Pretty Things and premieres tonight, apparently. The author of the piece, Rachel Shteir, attempts to deconstruct the motives of the film's director, Liz Goldwyn.

Front and center is Goldwyn's Third Wave feminist point of view, which projects onto the octogenarian burlesque strippers a glamorous sheen: For Goldwyn, who is in her late 20s or early 30s, burlesque is "liberating." And then there is the often hilarious, politically incorrect, and anti-psychological point of view of the octogenarian strippers themselves, who are baffled by Goldwyn's naiveté and her, er, naked, interest in their lives. Their outlook exposes how dramatically our ideas about sex have changed since the 1960s, and not all for the best.

The interviews with the former burlesque performers "...are interspersed with Goldwyn's own attempts to perform a striptease." It seems that the director has gone the Ross McElwee route and created a confessional of her own. According to Shtier, the confession is that "striptease transformed her from ugly duckling to sexually confident swan" and she seems to have a problem with this, Goldwyn's "true" aim. Not having seen the film, it's difficult for me to comment. I will say, however, that, if Shtier's problem is that the documentary is too personal, then I find myself at odds with her. Her critique of Goldwyn's viewing of the glory days of burlesque through the lense of Third Wave Feminism is fair enough but to say that the film fails because it should be about the glory days and not about its author is ridiculous. Is it a film about burlesque 50 years ago or is it a film about a young woman's transformation? Or does it attempt to do both? It's impossible for me to read a film I've never seen but it sure seems to be the case that Shtier's critique on the whole was constructed by looking at the film through a lense that only allows a limited view of what a documentary is or can be.
|| Palmer, 12:23 PM

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