Local Filmmaker Douglas Proce Talks "Beautiful Women," Burlesque and Beauty

Left: "Beautiful Women" poster, Top: Kara La Fleur, Bottom: Mercy Beaucoup
Left: "Beautiful Women" poster, Top: Kara La Fleur, Bottom: Mercy Beaucoup
Photos courtesy of Douglas Proce

If you've seen the 2010 musical film featuring a double dose of diva - Cher and Christina Aguilera - then you might think you know about the sultry, theatrical and sometimes humorous world of burlesque.

Local filmmaker Douglas Proce wants to shed a different light on the scene through his documentary, "Beautiful Women." It's not about the boobs, or the glitter, but the people ... and the art.

"Burlesque is the art of the tease," Proce explains. "It's showy, innocent, campy, it's costume ... it's like nothing else you've ever seen."

The "rough around the edges," independent documentary will be showing at FilmBar from September 7 to 9. And since Proce says he didn't want his film to be "known as the boobie film," the documentary focuses on the human sides of the dancers rather than their risqué dancing or (as they call it in the biz) "the reveal".

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The 63-minute work is Proce's first feature length film - and the first showing has already sold out.

Proce says he initially set out to make a simple performance video, but as he began asking questions he noticed recurring themes from the dancers answers. Femininity, beauty and the mass media, and empowerment cut through to the heart of the questions, and quickly enough he found himself with over 16 hours of footage.

Through a series of interviews with dancers from local Arizona groups Romantasy Cabaret, Burlescapades, and Provocatease, the documentary explores the relationships between modern feminism, the media's perception of beauty, and the ability of women to become empowered through dance.

In the age of stick skin models and in the capital of plastic surgery, many of the dancers say performing is their way of rejecting the common standard of beauty.

"It's a defiant stance against not being enough," Harlowe Starr says in the documentary.

For some, burlesque allows them to accept their bodies. Unlike in everyday life, when they feel pressured to suppress their sexuality, the dancers take on-stage characters that become outlets for their less inhibited personas. They even take on catchy names (yes, like strippers) such as Stiletto De Milo, Maxi Millions, Sable Switch and Mercy Beaucoup. Our favorite? Lucy Morals.

You can view Proce's first short film, "Angels of the Asylum," on YouTube. The 18-minute documentary looks into the unique culture of self-expression through suspension, or body hooking.

For more information and/or tickets to the Saturday and Sunday screenings, visit the FilmBar website. Tickets cost $10 and the event is ages 21 and up.

A portion of the proceeds from the screenings will benefit Child Crisis Center, a local non-profit that helps protects abused, abandoned, and neglected children and provides adoption and foster care resources. For Proce, who grew up in boys and foster homes, it's an especially important cause.

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