The Velvet Hammer Burlesque

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Author: Michelle Carr

Publisher: Die Gestalten Verlag

Date Published: 2008

Pages: 144

‘The Velvet Hammer Burlesque’ has put the ‘tease’ back into striptease. Based in Los Angeles, the world famous troupe kick started the current era of Neo-Burlesque, reviving the traditional American genre and elevating the classical performance.

‘The Velvet Hammer Burlesque’ opens with an intro by Michelle Carr (aka Valentina Violette), one of the founding members of the Neo-Burlesque performing group, discussing how she came to the epiphany of creating a modern burlesque troupe. Michelle describes a combination of nostalgia for retro glamour and dissatisfaction with the lifeless stripping establishment as contributing to her extremely spontaneous decision.

‘The Velvet Hammer Burlesque’ is a homage to burlesque history and the revival of the event of theatrical striptease in modern times. The book rails against plastic surgery and generic concepts of beauty. Women of literally all shapes and sizes are presented with unabashed glory and are beautifully fleshy and real. It taps into secret desires of Hollywood glamour, commanding attention and criminal amounts of sequins. The girls wear elaborate make up that could give drag queens a run for their money and extravagant costumes that ooze attitude and witchcraft. ‘The Velvet Hammer Burlesque’ is filled with quotes from the performers as well as viewers, in order to lace the book with a feel for the culture.

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Of all the sections the black and white portraiture at the beginning of the book, with the performers in their skilful glory, is the best executed. The portraits perfectly capture the eroticism, fantasy, nostalgia and humour of the burlesque performances. Backstage photography focuses on details and absurdities such as pressing sequined nipple stars on and boxes of glitter being shaken onto a performer’s skin. Although the backstage pictures probably dominate too much of the page count, both the portraiture and snapshots capture interesting elements.

At times ‘The Velvet Hammer Burlesque’ indulges in championing its perceived counter culture to the point of arrogance, which is particularly noticeable in the quotes. This is one aspect, as well as stripping being a form of post-modern feminism and empowerment, that I don’t really see eye to eye with. The two extremes of female behaviour (the clean prude wife and the lusty, sinful stripper/prostitute) have never been edgy or unusual – it’s the middle ground of modern times that is truly groundbreaking – and as such their ‘putting the tease back in striptease’ is exactly that and nothing more. It’s the common mistake of ‘showing thy titties to be subversive’ without understanding how naturally mainstream this action is, especially in the sex dominated industries of America.

‘The Velvet Hammer Burlesque’ manages to audaciously straddle the line between its many elements; circus carnival, theatre, Hollywood parody, strip tease and underground nightclub. It is an interesting, well formed and unique dedication to the extravagance of the Neo-Burlesque movement.

♥♥♥♥ – 4/5

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