A Wink and a Smile
Running time 91 minutes
Directed by Deirdre Timmons
Deirdre Timmons’ A Wink and a Smile purports to take us behind the velvet curtain of Seattle’s Academy of Burlesque to show us 10 “ordinary” women who take a six-week course in the art of burlesque dancing and strip-tease. Coming in all ages, shapes and sizes, the group includes a homemaker, a reporter, a doctor, an opera singer, a taxidermist and a college student. I was frankly surprised to learn that burlesque shows were still thriving in Seattle in an age when female and male frontal nudity are being splashed all over the screens of movies, late-night cable television and DVDs, not to mention the pole-dancing and lap-dancing antics of so-called gentlemen’s clubs all across our reportedly declining and falling empire.
The apparent rationale for Ms. Timmons’ enterprise is contained in her response to a question from Scott Bastian of Onscreen Magazine: “I just wanted something fun, and musical, and sexy, and sweet, and sort of female-based. That’s important to me. Somebody might want to make films that might be a lot more alluring to a male audience, but I wanted to make something that might appeal to me and my girlfriends.”
Ms. Timmons has certainly succeeded in making a film of very limited appeal to the proverbial trench coat brigade, of whose members Ms. Timmons speaks condescendingly. My strongest reservation about her film is that I am never allowed a glimpse of the actual audiences for the Seattle burlesque shows. I hear all the yahoo sound effects for the various acts, but these sound suspiciously prerecorded and monotonously alike. I cannot believe that many women go in for this sort of entertainment. I suspect instead a sizable gay nightclub orientation for such undeniably fascinating “boylesque” acts as Ernie von Schmaltz and Kaleb Hagan-Kerr. In general, however, the stripping down to pasties for the breasts, and coverings for the nether regions, in order to conform with Seattle’s liquor-law restrictions, is only incidental to the lavish costuming and gimmickry in accordance with the stripper’s song from Gypsy, “You Gotta Have a Gimmick”.
I never saw Gypsy Rose Lee perform her ecdysiast’s art on the burlesque stage, but I did see her once on an early television panel get a big laugh by ceremoniously stripping off her gloves à la Rita Hayworth’s Gilda in 1946 while Hayworth’s satiny-smooth rendition of “Put the Blame on Mame” played.
One of the elements missing from the Seattle burlesque scene is the presence of baggy-pants comedians in between the strip acts I grew up with in the ’40s and ’50s. After Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia drove burlesque shows from New York City in the ’40s, we stags would cross the Hudson River to Union City and Newark, N.J., where burlesque was still legal. The bad joke among us was that we went across the river for the comedians. Still, old burlesque clown Bobby Clark, whom I once caught in a Broadway revival of Victor Herbert’s Sweethearts, was the funniest comedian I ever witnessed live. My favorite stripper was the redoubtable Rose La Rose, who had a marvelously sweet rapport with her mostly male audience.
So despite the undeniable talents of Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque’s headmistress, and the professional performers she shows in action on film, A Wink and a Smile struck me as 90 minutes of narcissism with a hyper-feminist slant, and no erotic charge whatsoever. Still, my adverse judgement can be dismissed as that of an ancient male erotomane who can still find it in his heart to mourn the recent death of Marilyn Chambers, the original Ivory Snow girl on Procter & Gamble soap boxes and star of Behind the Green Door, the most beautiful porn performer since the days of Candy Barr.