The legendary Judith Stein in the Golden Age
Two weekends ago, I came down with a very nasty flu.
When I eventually got better, I opened an email from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. She was raving in glowing terms about a documentary she had seen called League of Exotique Dancers.
It was a documentary about burlesque dancers in what is described as ‘the Golden Age’.
“The film,” Anna told me, “includes much never-before-seen footage of exotic dancers (much of it from a private collection of over 300 rare early black and white films of exotic dancers), photos from the private collections of the dancers themselves and interviews with the dancers today.
“And Kitten Natividad is in the movie!!!” she added. “She is hilarious! AND Russ Meyer!”
“Ah,” I replied. “The beloved Russ…”
“Russ, Russ…” agreed Anna. “Very funny indeed. He is wearing a snazzy jacket. Maybe it could inspire David McGillivray to make a jacket film. I wasn’t cultured enough to appreciate Russ Meyer movies when I was young. I preferred porn films with exotic locales and bad translations.”
Anna is not someone without knowledge of the world of exotic dancing. She told me:
“When Beneath The Valley of The Ultravixens (starring Kitten) was released, I was dancing at The Metro Cinema in Toronto. We did shows between the films. It was a vast, echoey, run-down place, but the owner was a nice foreign man who paid us really well.
“He hired me to do voice recordings on the answering machine to announce the coming attractions. I would make up exciting announcements: Chesty Morgan has just arrived from New York and will be here until Friday, four shows a day, starting at noon! Next week, Nurse Annie is flying in from Argentina to attend to your needs….
Anna’s alter ego ‘Nurse Annie’ caused problems
“That one didn’t work out so well because a reporter from the local Spanish paper showed up wanting to interview Nurse Annie (who was me).
“The cashier was an old lady who was practically blind and often she would accidentally let small groups of twelve year old boys into the cinema. I would get out on stage and the twelve year olds would be sitting in the front row like idiots and I would storm off the stage and call the projectionist on the intercom to get them out of there.
“The League of Exotique Dancers also depicts how the dancers coped with the dramatic industry changes over the years, the hardships they overcame and then how they reacted when they were asked to return to the stage… after absences of thirty years!
“It also showed how we used to dance to live bands. And there were comedians too ! And funny strippers…
Camille 2000 from the League of Exotique Dancers
“I was laughing through most of the movie, and crying… The film was BRILLIANT… Plus I was at a writers’ workshop for hookers all afternoon…There were eleven of us…
“On opening night in Vancouver, 66 year old Judith Stein performed a comic striptease before the movie started…
“After seeing the film (and making myself known to all in the following Q&A session) I went out with a group of directors and editors including Exotique‘s amazingly intelligent (some might say wily) young female director Rama Rau, producer Ed Barreveld and Judith Stein.
Judith Stein (left) with Anna Smith at the documentary’s Vancouver premiere
“When I asked Judith how to get into The Burlesque Hall of Fame show in Las Vegas, she asked me how old I was. I told her my age and she said: “You’re too young. You’re not allowed in until you’re sixty.“
“Don’t quote me on this, unless you can’t help it, but I have never seen a contemporary burlesque stripper move as well as the older ex-professional ones, (such as myself haha). One of the dancers in the movie noted that although she admires the efforts of contemporary burlesque dancers the fact is that, for most of them it is a hobby rather than a profession. She also admired the working strippers of today, lap dancers and pole dancers who make a lot of money and see glamorous, travel, etc. She said they work really hard for it though..
“When I see contemporary burlesque I find it usually looks a bit too contrived. Obviously, when we did the shows six and seven days a week for years on end, that experience became part of our stage presence and we became good at adapting and improvising according to the club and audience.
Anna Smith lives quietly in Canada
“Since I didn’t know anyone, but had been kindly invited along by Ed and Judith, I didn’t speak much, but sat there fascinated, listening to their astonishing and articulate discussion about film making,
“Editors are fuckers…they have to be… etc.
“Somehow, toward the end of the night, I found myself hearing two men (I have no idea who they were) talking very seriously about Mr Methane.
“Mr Methane?” I cried out. “I know Mr Methane!”
“The two men looked at me with surprise. One of them was Irish and he said in disbelief:
”You know Mr. Methane?
“Well,” I said. “I mean I know who he IS… We appear in the same blog, sometimes even on the same page… Sometimes it is a bit embarrassing.
Mr Methane – not a known exotic dancer
“I asked the Irishman who had shown an interest: “How do you know Mr Methane?”
“Oh,” he told me, a bit exhaustedly, “I have been trying to make a film about him for years… about eight years… What blog?”
“John Fleming’s blog,” I said.
“The man scrambled for a pen. After all, he was Irish.
“Just look for TheJohnFleming,” I said.
“Is he on Facebook?”
“He is on Facebook. He is on Twitter. He is on everything.”
“I promise to Skype you when I get a phone again. I keep hoping my old (lost) phone will appear and been trying to revive several old ones without success.
“My sister on Vancouver Island has a WordPress blog about dolls… “