Gary Beeber and Dirty Martini Revealed!
Dirty Martini is a tassel twirling veteran you’ll want to have shaking things up at any cocktail party. Noted as a founder of the neo-burlesque movement in New York City, the New Jersey native is one of the most entertaining and downright mesmerizing sights you’ll ever spot on stage. From sultry fan dances, to making apples appear in places that would make both Eve and the snake blush, there’s a reason why any curious viewer who attends one of Martini’s performances instantly becomes a fan. Finally, renowned filmmaker Gary Beeber debuts a documentary on Karl Lagerfeld’s muse in Dirty Martini and The New Burlesque, which also explores the many characters resurrecting the art of bump ‘n’ grind. Here Beeber and Martini give us the lowdown on why this seemingly forgotten art is here to stay.
How did you discover Dirty Martini?
Gary Beeber: I knew about burlesque, but I wasn’t familiar with Dirty Martini. I was doing another film on Angelica Insectavora from the Coney Island Sideshow. We never ended up finishing it, but I was looking for other people to talk to about her and Angelica suggested Dirty. I was just so impressed with her because she wasn’t anything at all that I thought someone in burlesque would be. She’s very well spoken. I started asking her questions about herself and I thought she would make a great film. Dirty agreed to the idea and that’s how it started.
How did you get involved with burlesque?
Dirty Martini: I didn’t, it found me! I was trying to be a dancer in New York City and I would do one show a year with the company that I was involved with. I began watching old videos of burlesque from the 1950’s and something just clicked. I noticed how all of these women had different body types. It made a lot of sense to present my body, which is very curvy, in a form accepting that iconic image. Almost nobody knew what burlesque was. Most people thought it meant topless dancing. I felt that was a shame considering all the contributions to theatrical history burlesque offered. That’s why I wanted to revive it. It was just me and three or four other people in New York City doing that at the time.
You could have had your pick and focus on anyone from the neo-burlesque scene in New York City. Why Dirty Martini?
Gary Beeber: Burlesque was dead in New York City. There was just pole dancing in gentlemen’s clubs and they were calling that burlesque. Everyone in the film might not have known they were creating burlesque at the time. With my other films, which are all about New Yorkers, I like to pick people that are at odds with what you think they should be. That’s Dirty. When you’re doing a documentary, you want to get all the sides, so you would expect someone to say something bad. However, Dirty is like the Mother Theresa of burlesque. Everybody loves her. Also, Dirty doesn’t care what people think about her. What she cares about is people respecting her.
In your film, you also show clips of burlesque legends like Lili St. Cyr, Sally Rand, and others that influenced a lot of today’s performers. Did you have any difficulty getting those clips?
Gary Beeber: There’s a section in the film where Dirty is talking about where some of her moves came from. These performers are doing the exact same moves that Dirty would later do on stage. A lot of the footage is extremely rare, like those of Tura Satana, which was considered softcore porn. I guess that’s what they did back then to make a few extra bucks. I also got some help from Lisa Petrucci of Something Weird Video.
How did these performers inspire your routines?
Dirty Martini: There’s this company called Something Weird Video based in Seattle that took all of these old porn and burlesque reels and put them into video format. Kim’s Video in the East Village would stock them under their ‘Cult’ section, so that’s where I found them. Lili St. Cyr instantly caught my attention because she was also a classically trained dancer and a showgirl who happened to be mentioned in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I became sort of obsessed with Lili St. Cyr and the way she performed. I was also introduced to Jennie Lee, an over the top performer who died in 1991. I didn’t have the chance to meet her unfortunately, but she is one of my idols in burlesque not only for her beautiful persona, but because she was also a union organizer for exotic dancers.
What were some of the challenges that you faced in pursuing a career in dance?
Dirty Martini: Well, if you’re a size 16 it’s not easy to get a job dancing! People don’t necessarily look at a girl whose measurements are 40-30-40…5. They don’t see someone like that who can move and that’s a shame because in America, which burlesque is a very American art form, represents all of the nations. We are the melting pot, especially in New York because all of the immigrants came through here. If you think about the variety in body types within all of those immigrants, you think we could come up with an ideal of beauty that wasn’t based on one look. I always felt it was a shame that the bodies in dance are very limited. That’s what pushed me into performing at intricate venues. I just wanted to reach more people than modern dance ever could.
Gary Beeber: I think the real problem is that people in our society have an image of what beauty is from looking at ads and TV. They overlook people who might be incredibly talented, but they aren’t what somebody in Playboy would look like. I feel that Dirty Martini is a tremendous talent and that’s what you have to look at.
Was it a goal for you to change the look of modern dance?
Dirty Martini: I wouldn’t say that it was a goal of mine to change anything. My goal was to perform and be accepted for the person that I am. It’s hard for me to change that, so I would create a role for myself in the world. As burlesque grew around me there’s been more of ‘Oh, you’re so big and you take your clothes off!’ I always thought that was going to be an argument for feminism, but I never thought that every time I was talked about I would be mentioned as ‘For a big girl, she’s this or that.’ That always comes as a big shock to me. It’s not easy because there are other performers in my field and their work gets mentioned before the body. For me, it’s always the body first before people peel away at the layers and look at the work. For an artist that’s frustrating. I’m happy at least to be a champion of women’s rights through it, so it’s not a giveaway. It’s not terrible.
In spending time with Dirty and the other burlesque performers, what was one thing that surprised you about all of them?
Gary Beeber: I’m an artist. I’m more thought of as a filmmaker now and it just seems to me that in the art world people are willing to stab someone else in the back if they think it would get them a little bit ahead. In the burlesque world these people are so loving and they’re not jealous of each other. They watch each other’s backs and they’re like a family.
I notice that most fans happen to be women. Do you see burlesque performances as empowering for female viewers?
Dirty Martini: I think so because a lot of women are fed up with the improbable images that they’re bombarded with everyday. You know, a thin silhouette with big tits. There’s only a small fraction of the population who have that naturally. And then the other part of the population is going through surgery, which is very extreme. Not that I’m against surgery, but it’s a go-to for people who feel bad about themselves for what they’re seeing in a male-centered culture. I think it’s important for women to live in their own skin and not be bothered by what other people think. That’s a tall order, but burlesque is helping to show people that you don’t have to be Christy Turlington to have a successful life.
How have audiences outside of the city responded to this new documentary?
Gary Beeber: We played in Seattle for the Moisture Festival, which is part of the Seattle Film Festival. We had about 400 people that loved the film. I also just got back from Dallas. I went with Jo Weldon and she graciously did a live performance there. The audience went nuts. This isn’t just happening in New York City. It’s happening all over the world. It’s like every city has a burlesque scene and people know about Dirty. I say that every city we’re going to present the film, Dirty has already been there several times.
What does the future hold for burlesque?
Gary Beeber: I’m only an observer, but I think from what I see, all these younger viewers are very into burlesque, so it will only continue to grow and change. Some of these audiences have their own ideas of what burlesque is. People will work new things and their own experiences into burlesque.
Dirty Martini: I never know the answer to that question. I hope it holds lots of money for me and fame for people that I really like. I also hope that Dita Von Teese becomes the Queen of England and her corsetiere Mr. Pearl comes down with his little angel wings and blesses me with an outfit. One thing that I really hope happens in the future of burlesque is that there’s a renaissance for smaller theater in New York City. As you know, some of the rents are going up and a lot of the theatrical spaces are closing.
What are some of your other upcoming projects?
Dirty Martini: The release of the new Tournee movie on June 30th, so I’m working on some European touring. I may be performing in Spain as well and I’m doing a UK tour in October. I’m just working on going around to as many villages as I can and spreading the word of my love for burlesque, hoping that everyone follows suite!
To more information on Dirty Martini and the New Burlesque, visit www.ten-in-oneproductions.com.
Here’s a sneak peak at the film: