League of Exotique Dancers is partly an archival piece, focused on capturing a lost period in time and partly a meditation on feminism past and present. It follows a number of burlesque legends, such as Holiday O’Hara and Kitten Natividad, who came into fame in the 60’s and 70’s as they reflect on their lives back then, the changes they have gone through and the lives they lead now. Unsurprisingly, many of these women are characters, easy to watch, fun to engage with on screen and filled with endlessly interesting insight. From stories of men to drugs to the jobs they currently have, League of Exotique Dancers feels like hearing stories of the good ol’ days from your coolest relative.
It’s easy to get on board with the sense of empowerment these women feel about their lives, their bodies and the choices they have made. At its root, League of Exotique Dancers is a celebration of women, burlesque and aging. Rama Rau is refreshingly non-judgmental about her subjects which comes through the editing. Rau is careful to construct characters and not caricatures, which can be a slippery slope when focusing on so many diverse, larger-than-life people. While we hear of their struggles, most of the women feel as comfortable bearing all at age 70 as they did at age 20. They are so candid and their stories are so compelling that League of Exotique Dancers is endlessly quotable and nearly always engaging.
There are points where League of Exotique Dancers does drag, and at some points it feels as though the film’s message is repeated but not built upon. Having insight into enclaves of important historical moments that may have otherwise been forgotten creates such treasures out of documentary films and League of Exotique Dancers is a welcome addition to the fold. The strength of League of Exotique Dancers lies in its extraordinarily mesmerizing characters, whose stories are outlandish, enthralling and ultimately a celebration of a woman’s right over her body no matter what age she is.
Thu, Apr 28 9:45 PM, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Fri, Apr 29 1:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1