Monday, January 14, 2008

Movie: More 52 Pick-Up

Turns out I’m not the only one who’s watched the sleazetastic Elmore Leonard adaptation 52 Pick-Up lately. So did Filmbrain and Premiere’s Glenn Kenny, who notes that the movie includes a veritable who-did-who of late ‘80s porn. I missed that aspect of the movie entirely. Yours truly, a good Irish Catholic boy, doesn’t take an interest in such prurient matters.

Book: Gilded Lili: Lili St. Cyr and the Striptease Mystique, by Kelly DiNardo (2007)

On the other hand I did read a biography of a stripper, so maybe I’m lying.

Lili St. Cyr is primarily remembered now as a reference in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But she was America’s greatest ecdysiast. (I’ve always wanted to use that word.) One glimpse of Lili plying her trade in Irving Klaw’s burlesque films Varietese and Teaserama and you can see why. She had a cool elegance and a sense of the theatrical that elevated her performances above the mere bump and grind ... although she had va-va-voom to spare. (Check out the NSFW Varietease trailer for a sample.)

But a life rich with incident – six husbands, multiple suicide attempts, and a sad end as an elderly heroin addict – doesn’t necessarily equal a compelling story. Lili never fully registers as a person in these scrupulously researched, rather academic pages. DiNardo wants to use Lili to make broader comments on evolving attitudes toward sex and the role of women in society, but the dancer born Marie van Schaak doesn’t provide enough of a foundation.

Still, there are plenty of great tidbits. A nicely fleshed-out portrait of Montreal as the Sin City of ‘40s North America. Sally Marr, Lenny Bruce’s mother, taught at the Pink Pussycat College of Striptease in Los Angeles, including a course called ‘Dynamic Mammary, Navel and Pelvis Rotation.’ Lili’s numbers in the film adaptation of The Naked and the Dead were so arousing that they allegedly made director Raoul Walsh’s glass eye pop out.

I didn’t need to know that Lili possessed a “high-pitched, Minnie Mouse-like voice,” though. Shades of Lina Lamont.

Kelly DiNardo is interviewed by Rick Klaw, grandson of Irving, here. DiNardo’s blog The Candy Pitch covers the contemporary burlesque scene and is worth a look. Or several.