Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Wink and a Smile

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Revealing Documentary Chronicles Semester at Striptease School in Seattle

On the few occasions I’ve been to strip clubs to attend bachelor’s parties, I’ve always left depressed over how unappetizing the dancers were. Invariably, they’ve struck me as godawful actresses rather than the nymphomaniacs they pretended to be in order to separate me from my money as fast as possible. Furthermore, I could see right through their lame acts to the sad truth that many of these desperate drug addicts needed to sleep with customers to support their habits. Not my fantasy.
Those hardened whores cut a sharp contrast to the relatively-refreshing females to be found in A Wink and a Smile. Directed by Deirdre Timmons, this revealing documentary follows ten students as they learn the art of striptease over the course of a semester at Seattle’s Academy of Burlesque. Who knew there was even a school for this?
What makes this film fascinating is that the class is comprised of ordinary-looking, attractive women if you know what I mean, appealing but not the airbrushed models you would expect to find in Playboy. Most of these girl-next-door types are in their twenties and come from all walks of life, including a housewife, a college student, an opera singer, a physician and a taxidermist.
So, anyone watching A Wink and a Smile would naturally want to know, what makes the stars of the movie interested in exposing themselves. Director Timmons does an outstanding job at allowing each to explain both her motivations and her reservations in this regard, as they get closer to graduation. Surprisingly, their reasons turn out to be as diverse as their professions.
Casey explains that she’s not orgasmic and needs to feel luscious and voluptuous. Meanwhile, Tami is at the other extreme, recounting how prepubescent sexual awakenings had her running around the house naked as a child. Vicky says she signed up for the training because she doesn’t want to be ordinary anymore, while well-preserved, fifty year-old Diane endeavors to feel more desirable.
One of their teachers, The Shanghai Pearl, who comes from a traditional Taiwanese family, got her start out of a determination to try something out of her comfort zone. She admits that her parents would be shocked and appalled at her lewd and lascivious antics onstage, but she seems intent on evening the score for their years of pressuring her “to assimilate and be white.”
Besides the deep psychological analysis, the film does feature a lot of instruction about stripping, showing the girls learning everything from how to dance dirty (“Make believe you’re trying to draw on the ground with a pen stuck in your crotch.”) to what to do if a pasty falls off (“Never break the illusion.”). These students prove to be quick, if occasionally hesitant, learners of the bump and grind. The film culminates with their final exam which involves performing a carefully choreographed routine at a local burlesque house in front of a very appreciative audience.
Hurray to these lovely ladies for summoning up the courage to serve up an evening’s worth of genuinely erotic, yet somehow simultaneously wholesome, adult entertainment. But enough is enough. I just pray none of them are tempted to quit their day jobs.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: First Run Features

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