EXOTIC WORLD AND THE BURLESQUE REVIVAL
A DOCUMENTARY BY RED TREMMEL
Shot between 2001 and 2010, Exotic World and the Burlesque Revival is the story of a goat farm in the middle of the Mojave Desert that became ground zero of the largest burlesque revival since the 1940s. The film focuses on former striptease dancers Jennie Lee (a 1950s labor union organizer for strippers) and Dixie Evans (“The Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque”) who transform a goat shed into the world’s first and only museum and retirement home devoted to burlesque—Exotic World (a.k.a. The Burlesque Hall of Fame). With little more than a social security check, Jennie and Dixie refuse to let the art of burlesque fade to memory.
In response, young burlesque revivalists begin making pilgrimages to the museum. The film captures the moment in time when the revivalists and elderly legends meet in the blazing hot desert and create a vibrant artistic culture that fuels the resurgence of neo-burlesque. The encounter is rich with ideas about erotic femininity; memory; feminism; the politics of history; artistic and commercial sexual performances; working-class history; sub-cultural formation; censorship; aging; inter-generational communities; discrimination; and joy.
Directed by Red Tremmel * Narrated by Margaret Cho * Featuring Dixie Evans * Satan’s Angel * Tempest Storm * Bambi Jones * Lottie the Body * Toni Elling * Ricci Cortez * Tura Satana * Mitzie St. Clair * Kitten Natividad * Dirty Martini * Julie Atlas Muz * The World Famous *Bob* Alotta Boutte * Simone de La Ghetto * Miss Indigo Blue * and many more *
“Us girls knew who we were, and we knew we were
part of an industry that wasn’t recognized, so we just decided to recognize it ourselves.”
–Dixie Evans, The Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque
During the late 1950s, burlesque dancer Jennie Lee, “The Bazoom Girl,” founded the first labor union for burlesque dancers. As burlesque faded in the following decades, Jennie Lee gathered dancers together for reunions, collecting photos, stories, costumes, props, and other significant artifacts from her fellow dancers, hoping to one day build a museum and retirement home for retired strippers.
During the 1980s, out in the middle of the Mojave Desert, Jennie’s dream started to materialize on a small goat ranch off Route 66. There, she and her husband Charlie Arroyo intended to build the world’s first museum dedicated to the art of the striptease and its performers. Over many months dancers gathered at the remote ranch and fantasized about a future museum, retirement community, waterfalls, and an American tourist public seeking to learn about their past.
Diagnosed with breast cancer, Jennie Lee enlisted Dixie Evans, the postwar era “Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque,” to move to the goat ranch, take over renovations, and keep their dreams alive. The women nailed costumes, photos, and other artifacts to the walls, dubbed the museum “Exotic World,” and waited for the tourists to come.
In 1990, Jennie passed away, leaving Dixie and Jennie’s widower Charlie to keep the dream of Exotic World alive.
As tourists slowly began making their way to Wild Road, past the lion statues and through the iron gates of Exotic World, legendary stars of the postwar burlesque era also began making annual visits with their scrapbooks for a reunion and pageant. In the meantime, dancers seeking nursing care and a home began making their way to the ranch.
Then, in the early 2000s, everything changes. After several clever national press campaigns, Dixie begins drawing crowds more exuberant than she could have imagined. Young women, from across the country, some accompanied by their mothers, arrive to meet Dixie and listen to her first hand accounts of striptease history.
Word spreads among young performers across the world about the annual reunion pageant, an event that draws legends, and dozens begin making annual pilgrimages to meet their predecessors and compete at the reunion for the title of Miss Exotic World. These young women grow dedicated to the museum, seeing in burlesque a shared sexual sensibility, and in Dixie a fairy godmother.
In the blazing desert, each dancer, whether an elderly legend or young revivalist, in spectacular hand-made costumes, bursts out on the sun-drenched wooden stage to perform short, sexy and often comedic dances about desire and femininities.
Collectively, performers across generations spectacularize their varied responses to being sexual subjects/objects of attention. Performing a wide variety of roles—dominatrix, goddess, waitress, daddy’s little girl, vixen, diva, housewife, glamour girl, racialized exotic, seductress, virgin, soldier, starlet, cross-dresser—performers use tricks of their trade, such as comedy, magic, gymnastics, stunts, and choreography, to create compelling ideas about gender, desire, power, pleasure, beauty, and aging in American culture.
A national burlesque community starts to take shape. Performers connect with one another at Exotic World, share ideas, and create a performance network through New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Denver, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Seattle, Tokyo, and London. Together they launch an international revival among thousands of women, men who perform boylesque, and performers who identify as transgender.
In the meantime, however, the years are taking a toll on both Dixie and her beloved museum. County regulators threaten to shut down the operation. As a new generation of dancers fall in love with the elderly museum curator and her history project, they begin to realize that they may have arrived just in time to experience Exotic World’s last days.