Freak flags are flying at full mast in Exposed, the new documentary from celebrated underground filmmaker Beth B. that pulls back the curtains on the weird and wonderful world of the New York alternative burlesque scene.
"There’s freedom in vulgarity," says one of the film's subjects, Bunny Love. This remark is made shortly before taking to the stage dressed as a Southern Belle, smearing lipstick all over her genitals and wrapping herself in tape. Love’s compatriots include Rose Wood, a transgender performer whose act involves a stripping Rabbi, and Dirty Martini, who begins her show Patriot Act dressed as a star-spangled Lady Justice, only to end it naked, pulling a chain of one dollar bills out of her anus, all to the tunes of Dolly Parton.
Like most of this director’s work, it’s safe to say that Exposed is not for the prudish or faint of heart (although Love and co. might tell you that’s exactly who would benefit most from watching it). The film celebrates non-conformists of all shapes, sizes and sexual identities; human beings whose performances push the boundaries of normality in an attempt to highlight what a ridiculous and outdated concept ‘normal’ really is.
In an insecure world dominated by images of perfection in our media and advertising, the self-confidence these performers exhibit is remarkable. Of course, while there are some pretty eye-opening acts on display, what is most revealing about Exposed are the scenes of its subjects when they’re not performing. Articulate, passionate and politically motivated, each member of this merry band of outsiders is as compelling offstage as they are on. They have no shortage of things to say about body image and self-respect.
The project does run out of steam a little towards the end, with Beth B. tending to hammer home the same points over and over, so much so that even at a scant 77 minutes, the film feels a tad on the long side. Still, the charisma of these subjects ultimately sees the film through. These individuals aren't just outrageously entertaining, they’re immensely likeable as well.