A Wink and a Smile: Seattle Burlesque Documentary Shows Its Slip

Made in Seattle, A Wink and a Smile combines a survey of the underground burlesque resurgence, where the traditional striptease style is often subverted to ironic effect, with a look at the gradual mainstreaming of that fringe revival and the decidedly above-ground women who are attracted to the form for the least ironic reason imaginable: self-empowerment. Local director Deirdre Timmons follows 10 women—including former SW writer Rachel Shimp—enrolled in a Seattle burlesque class taught by one Miss Indigo Blue, who helps them prepare the performance that will cap six weeks’ instruction. The film focuses on the body, sexuality, and confidence issues the women face down, and while that’s easy to applaud, why pasties and something called a “pussy check” have to enter the equation is a bit problematic. The tension between wanting to root for these women and ultimately being faced with what you’re rooting for—a pair of pinwheeling boobies—goes completely unresolved. The “triumphant” finale only reinforced my suspicion that whatever delicate balance the fringe neo-burlesque revival maintained between art, intellect, and good old titillation (and Timmons includes footage of some fascinating performances by female, male, male-as-female, female-as-male, and female-as-male-as-female burlesquers) is imperiled by its absorption into the masses, who have never much cared why you’d want to show us your tits, as long as you do.