Kool Kat of the Week: Dangerous Curves Ahead with Atlanta’s Tori Rodriguez as She Bends it Like Bettie and Releases Her Inaugural Bettie Page Fitness Workout Video

Posted on: Aug 1st, 2015 By:

by Melanie Crewdvd cover image for web
Managing Editor

Tori Rodriguez unleashed this past week, the first in a series of Bettie Page fitness videos,Bettie Page Fitness: Total Body Strength & Cardio” on DVD (digital version also available), which can be purchased on the Bettie Page Fitness website. Tori, local psychotherapist, wellness coach, freelance journalist, singer-songwriter (as Aneles) and all-around Bettie aficionado, is the social media editor for several Bettie Page (1923-2008) websites including BettiePage. Three more videos are on the horizon, so shake a tail feather and keep your eyes peeled! For a peep show of stills from the first video, take a peek here.

Experiencing Mary Harron’s 2005 film, THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE for the first time ignited the unquenchable flame leading Rodriguez to becoming enraptured with the life of Ms. Page. Not only has Rodriguez written oodles of articles exploring the life, times and images of history’s notorious bombshell Pin-Up [“The Pin-Up Model’s Guide to Body Confidence” – REFINERY29, Feb. 2015; “Male Fans Made Bettie Page a Star, but Female Fans Made Her an Icon” – THE ATLANTIC, Jan. 2014, just to name a few], she’s also worked alongside Academy Award-nominated director, Mark Mori, during Atlanta’s kick-off screening of his documentary, BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL (2012). Mori’s documentary headlined Rodriguez’s BettieFest at The Plaza Theatre in December 2013, which also included her debut tribute to Bettie Page, “Bettie Loved.” Rodriguez’s current Bettie-venture, and labor of love, Bettie Page Fitness, encompasses a desire to reinforce positive body image while stepping away from conventional female role labeling and embracing Ms. Page’s ability to reconfigure and redefine societal views on health and beauty.

ATLRetro caught up with Tori Rodriguez for a quick interview about her Bettie Page affection; her new series of “body-positive” Bettie Page fitness videos; working with Academy Award-nominated director, Mark Mori; and the influence Bettie has had on the life of women in the past and present.

bettie fit ab still for promo with logoATLRetro: We see that you are an all-out Bettie Page lover, and who wouldn’t be? She was gorgeous, ferocious, independent and strong! Can you tell our readers a little about your first introduction to the “Queen of Pin-Ups”?

Tori Rodriguez: A dear friend who knows me well, who knows I have thing for radical women, suggested we watch THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE, in which Bettie is played by Gretchen Mol. Immediately after watching it, I started learning everything I could about the real Bettie–and of course, she was even more mind-blowing than the movie demonstrated, though I think Mol did an excellent job.

You wrote an article for THE ATLANTIC titled “Male Fans Made Bettie Page a Star but Female Fans Made Her an Icon.” What do you think Bettie symbolizes to women then and now?

I don’t think many women back then knew about Bettie, because they generally didn’t have access to the men’s mags she appeared in. But today she represents all those wonderful traits you mentioned, and she’s so free, confident, authentic and joyful. All of those are things that people struggle with, so it’s compelling to see a counterexample to what we assume is normal and inevitable. She’s also insanely hot, but still imperfect–a little cellulite here and there, bags under the eyes at times, imperfect teeth by today’s standards–which makes her confidenceThe-Notorious-Bettie-Page even more inspiring! And it reminds us that we can also be beautiful even in our imperfection. It’s more about how you embrace and work with what you’re blessed to have.

Why do you think her popularity has only increased over time?

I think it’s because those traits are timeless and universally appealing. One of the most important ways in which Bettie is inspiring is that she rejects false dichotomies–the commonly promoted and accepted notion that women can only be one thing or the other. She’s strong and soft, sexy and sweet, smart and silly, sexual and virtuous; all kinds of seemingly conflicting roles. So, in fact, we can be both, neither, everything, at different times. And she’s always so sure about whatever she’s doing–even when it’s like, “Who would ever think of doing that?!” Ha!

Would you say that the widespread burlesque revival, rife with “liberated sexuality” and “unflinching body positivity,” has kept Bettie in the limelight longer than most sex symbols/icons of her day? And why?

bp fit video still 2That’s a good question, and I’d be curious to know more about that. I do know that, yes, many in the burlesque community absolutely love Bettie and definitely support her legacy. I think she stands out and her legacy endures because of those unique characteristics mentioned above, and because of her depth and range of expression compared with, really, any other model ever.

Who, besides Bettie, are your other vintage role models?

Of course there’s Marilyn Monroe, who I know much less about, but plan to learn more. I do know she was much smarter and more interesting than people might imagine. I adore funk singer and producer Betty Davis, ex-wife of Miles Davis, who influenced changes in his sound and look. I’m a complete and utter fanatic for Jackie Wilson; he’s a huge influence on me as a singer.

In December 2013, your alias/band, Aneles, released its first single, “Bettie Loved,” through Sneer Records, which was performed live atBetty-Page-Reveals-All-poster Atlanta’s screening of Academy Award-nominated director, Mark Mori’s BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL. Can you tell our readers a little about the song and its importance?

It’s funny you ask because the song plays during the credits at the end of the workout in my video! It was such a huge honor getting to sing it at the screening of BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL. It all started when I learned that Bettie loved Western movies, and for some reason I thought “Bettie loved Westerns” (which is the first line of the chorus) would be a cool, simple line that would capture something specific and colorful about her personality. I wrote the whole song from there – lyrics, melody, vocal arrangement – and I felt compelled to make it a true tribute song, a bio in a nutshell that, if someone hears it now or in a hundred years, they’ll have a clear idea of who she was and why she was and is important, especially to and for women. I was fortunate to get to meet with Mori around that time, who has always supported and helped facilitate all my Bettie-related projects, starting with letting me create BettieFest, which I organized around the screening of BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL. It’s a documentary about Bettie’s life, which she narrates. It’s captivating and visually stunning – nonstop photos of Bettie, many of them previously unreleased – and it really captures her personality and spirit, while giving her the opportunity to tell the story that had only been told on her behalf.

Will there be additional Bettie-inspired tunes in the future?

I’m sure I will write more Bettie-inspired songs in the future!

Photo by Wayne Ackerson

Photo by Wayne Ackerson

The first video in the Bettie Page Fitness series, “Bettie Page Fitness: Total Body Strength & Cardio” will be available on DVD on August 4. Can you tell our readers a little about the workout and what to expect with the workout?

Amazingly, production finished ahead of schedule, so I released the DVD this past week! When I designed the workout, I based each move around specific photos of Bettie–all of which appear in the video. She’s either doing an exercise move or just a pose that resembles one. I also incorporated lots of moves and tips to work toward the excellent posture, balance and core strength that she had. Viewers will get a fun and challenging total body workout while being encouraged and entertained with photos of Bettie throughout.

How many videos will be in the series? And how can our readers get a copy of the DVD so they can empower themselves, Bettie-style?

I don’t know how many videos there will ultimately be in the series, but I already have three more planned. I’m strongly leaning toward yoga for the next one; inspired by this article I wrote about Bettie and yoga in June 2014, for “You Beauty”, which you can read here. Readers can order the DVD or digital version of the video at Bettie Page Fitness.

You state that your workout videos embody a “body-positive workout,” inspired by Ms. Page. Can you explain a little about what this means and give a little detail about Bettie’s views on body image?

It’s a body-positive workout in several ways. One is that I encourage viewers to respect their body’s limits, to challenge themselves but not overdo it. The point is to be healthy, feel alive and enjoy our bodies like Bettie was and did and not to punish or push ourselves too hard. It’s also body-positive in that the point is not to look like her or anyone else, but to be inspired by her to be the best version of ourselves. I haven’t read anything about Bettie’s view on body image specifically, but she’s known for defending nudity as natural, and she loved to take naked “air baths” as she called them!

Pin-Up Tori Rodriguez, Photo by Bettina May

Pin-Up Tori Rodriguez, Photo by Bettina May

What’s next for Tori Rodriguez?

In addition to making more Bettie Page Fitness videos, I’ll continue in my roles as psychotherapist and wellness coach, freelance journalist, blogger and social media editor for the BettiePage website and related sites, and singer-songwriter… and I’m sure I’ll find more pursuits to have fun with!

Anything else you’d like to tell ATLRetro readers about yourself and your loyalty, appreciation and love of Bettie Page?

I take great pleasure and privilege in finding new ways to honor Bettie’s life and legacy, and I hope everyone enjoys my labors of love!

All photos courtesy of Tori Rodriguez and used with permission. Photos of Bettie Page used with permission by CMG Worldwide.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Sizzlin’ Dames Aflame Alum Josette Pimenta Gets Swanky and Shakes a Tail Feather While Singin’ For Her Life

Posted on: Dec 16th, 2014 By:

by Rex Reverb,9 poster Josette 12-18-14 show
Contributing Writer

Get entertained this Thursday, December 18, at Atlanta’s Jungle Club by our Kool Kat of the Week and one of Atlanta’s new young singers, Josette Pimenta (often just “Josette” or “Josette P”) during her and her co-headliner, Christy Clark’s Sing for Your Life performance at 8 pm! A noted dancer with several local Atlanta dance troupes (including the Dames Aflame), Josette combines cabaret, burlesque and high-energy dance with a powerful voice to create her own unique brand of entertainment. Josette will be doing at least five numbers at her upcoming show, which is part of the Sing for Your Life competition, where she’s a judge this year. Josette‘s shows are always full of surprises, and ATLRetro readers will get the chance to experience her unique rendition of Peggy Lee‘s song, “Black Coffee.” More information about the show can be found here.

For those too young to remember Peggy Lee, she might be best known today as the singing voice for Jessica Rabbit. For those who haven’t seen Josette perform, imagine Jessica Rabbit combined with Cher, along with another classic cartoon character, RED HOT RIDING HOOD from the ‘40s.

Josette’s tale is like something out of a movie. She was told as a child that she didn’t have a good voice and couldn’t sing, causing her to shy away from singing in public for almost a decade, but now suddenly has a singing career. Although Josette is only 23-years old, this diminutive dynamo brings fresh energy and excitement–and more than a touch of burlesque and cabaret–to songs ranging from retro classics to recent hits to her own compositions.

Before diving into Josette‘s story, check out her rendition of Peggy Lee’s “Coffee” here!

Josette wanted to be a performer since she was a small child. She remembers at age five, jumping on her parent’s coffee table in her underwear, putting on a show by singing at the top of her lungs like her idol, Cher. Her parents, grandmother (who’d been a vocalist with a band) and uncles filled the house with music from many eras, and Josette began a passion for retro music that continues to this day. Josette also loved to dance and becoming a singer/dancer became her main goal in life. Her supportive parents helped her begin dance lessons at age 9, but she soon faced her first obstacle.

"Black Coffee"

“Black Coffee”

Josette‘s ballet teacher took the youngster aside after class, and told her while it was clear she loved to dance, “you’re never going to be a dancer.” That was a hard thing for a child to hear, but she managed to get past it, and continue her dance training.

Josette never had voice lessons or vocal training, but when she was around 12, she took a class in musical theater. During one of her first classes, when all of the students were singing, the teacher singled her out, saying “Josette, can you just stop singing? You’re a lot louder than everyone else and you just don’t sound good.”

Such criticism, in front of the whole class, really stung the young Josette. She took it to mean that she didn’t have a good voice and couldn’t sing. It crushed her dream of becoming a singer/dancer like Cher, and for years afterward, she “shied away from singing.” For Josette, there was no chorus, no high school musical, no Glee Club, no singing lessons. She only sang at home with her family or close friends, or in the privacy of her own room. Instead, she focused on her dancing, working hard to pursue her scaled-down dream of becoming a (non-singing) professional dancer.

In high school, Josette experienced mostly success, but also some bullying, on the Dance Team.   She was so focused on her goal of becoming a performer after high school that she really didn’t have a back-up plan. She taught dance for a year, then became a bartender, to have the flexible schedule needed for dance auditions.

She first landed a spot with Davina and the Harlots, the local burlesque group with a flair for comedy, at which Josette also excelled. Josette then auditioned for the Dames Aflame, one of America’s premiere burlesque/cabaret groups, and was thrilled to be accepted. Josette‘s first public performance with the Dames Aflame took place at Trader Vics Atlanta in August, 2011, supporting the great “Big Mike Geier (See his Kool Kat feature here) and Tongo Hiti. The rookie Josette was joined by long-time Dames Aflame veteran Shockaboom, whose Polynesian dance performances at Trader Vic’s are legendary.

"Married to Medicine"

“Married to Medicine”Polynesian dance performances are legendary.

Josette wasn’t content to merely put on a good show, but worked hard to make sure that everyone had a great time. Shockaboom always goes all out for Mike’s finale, and I was surprised to see Josette keeping up with Shockaboom’s Samba-like gyrations, shake-for-shake and shimmy-for-shimmy.

Josette‘s performances with the Dames Aflame, and Davina and the Harlots, averaged only two or three per month (including a few seconds on Bravo’s MARRIED TO MEDICINE, shown in the accompanying photo). So Josette continued to audition for full-time, professional dance roles, in touring Broadway shows, cruise ship shows, and major theme parks. Sometimes, the auditions would go really well, but she would never get a call back–perhaps because Josette was only 5′ 2″, while most Broadway-type dancers are at least 5′ 7″ (the minimum height to even audition for a group like the Rockettes).

Away from those auditions, Josette gradually tried singing in public again. It had been nine years since she’d had her singing aspirations crushed, but once or twice a year she would work a comedy or novelty song into a burlesque skit, usually with a group or another singer.

By the fall of 2012, she’d sung a song in public less than a handful of times. When dared by fellow dancer Sarah Blackman to enter a new singing competition, Sing for your Life, Josette–perhaps helped by the bottle of wine they were sharing–said “sure, why not?” The next day, she realized she had less than 24-hours to pick a song, figure out how to perform it, film it and submit the tape by the contest deadline.

Josette had her mother tape her singing “Half Breed” by Cher, and gave it a comedy/novelty treatment by performing it on a rocking horse. Still plagued by doubt over her singing ability, she almost didn’t submit the tape, but finally entered at the last minute with no expectation of success. To Josette’s surprise, she made it into the contest. She performed “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse at Sing for Your Life‘s live auditions held at Atlanta’s Jungle Club. Halfway through the song, the judges told her to stop singing and summoned her to come down off the stage. Worried about what would come next, Josette was relieved when they asked her to sing a standard. Drawing on her love of retro music, she sang “Almost Like Being in Love” by Nat King Cole, and made it into the final 12 contestants.

"Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend"

“Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”

For the first week of the 12-week long competition, she chose “Someone to Watch Over Me” by George and Ira Gershwin. Josette planned an arrangement that showed her range in the middle of the song, and even though it was cut for time at the last minute, Josette advanced to next week’s round.

Josette began hoping she might have a future as a singer. Though she lacked the vocal training or singing experience of most of the other singers, from her dozens of dance recitals, she knew how to put on a show.

Week Two’s theme was “Divas” and Josette chose the “ultimate diva,” Marilyn Monroe. Josette planned to sing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in an elaborate production. She’d sing the preamble while wearing a coat, then–when the main part of the song began–she’d drop the coat to reveal a sexy, jeweled costume. Josette planned to sing all over the stage and even go down the steep stairs into the audience. Despite all her planning, a huge problem arose once she began performing the song in front of the audience in the actual competition. She was so new to singing, that she didn’t know how to make sure the microphone was turned on!

The Jungle Club is a huge, warehouse-like space, so even her powerful voice could barely be heard past the first few rows. For most of those in the audience, she was almost inaudible, and not even as loud as a phone ringing. Finally, just after Josette dropped her coat to reveal her sexy costume, a sound technician went onto the stage to turn on her microphone, but her problems weren’t over. When the song started to replay from the beginning, Josette had to break character, explaining to the DJ that she wanted to resume where the song had originally stopped. The curtain even started to close on her, before someone pulled it back. Then, more agonizing seconds ticked by, as she stood in silence on stage, while the DJ tried to re-cue her music.

Many amateurs would have panicked at that point, but Josette’s dance training made her comfortable on stage. She slipped back into character, vamping for time until the music was finally ready. Still, Josette faced a daunting task: To avoid being the contestant sent home that night. She had only two minutes left of her song to impress the audience and the judges. A lifetime of hopes and dreams came down to those two minutes.

And then it happened! She started off good, becoming very good in a few more seconds. Soon, the amateur singer was performing the song as if she were a seasoned professional who’d sung it dozens of times. With the powerful delivery of a Broadway star, Josette unleashed a decade of pent-up singing talent in an amazingly confident performance. For the final note, her voice soared, as she sang longer and with more power than she

"I'm a Fool to Want You"

“I’m a Fool to Want You”

ever had before. It was as if she was determined to give the audience and judges something to remember instead of her microphone problems. And she did! See her performance here, which blurs the line between cabaret, burlesque and Broadway.

Needless to say, Josette advanced to the competition’s next round. It was as if that final powerful note had pierced her own personal sound barrier, because from that point on, she could seemingly sing anything. Her next song was an even more elaborate production of “Roxie” from CHICAGO, complete with two back-up dancers. Josette, the young woman who’d never sung in a musical, looked like an experienced pro.

For Week Seven, she chose “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga, rendering an even more elaborately choreographed production, again with back-up dancers. But this time, the audience voted Josette down, into the bottom two. Whatever the reason, Josette found herself Singing for her Life against the other low-rated contestant (like Josette, also an excellent singer). Josette barely survived, and advanced to the next round.

As if determined to show that she could win on her voice alone, the next week Josette sang Pink’sGlitter in the Air” while seated. Using her body, hands and facial expressions, she still delivered an incredible vocal performance. In the coming weeks, she showed her increasing versatility (and growing confidence) by giving good performances of songs by Billy Joel, Pat Benatar and Willie Nelson.

"Black Coffee"

“Black Coffee”

In Week 10, she took the art of burlesque and cabaret to a new level, by singing the Billie Holiday classic “I’m A Fool to Want You” in a unique way. Not only did she not dance, she again didn’t even stand up! And near the end of the song–well, you’ll have to see for yourself. Take a peek at Josette’s rendition here.

Finally, it was down to Week 12, the final week, when Josette faced off against only one other contestant, Amber Renee. Each had to perform three songs, and for Josette‘s final song of the competition, she made a very unlikely choice: “Black Coffee” by Peggy Lee. In addition to being very obscure for most of the audience, it’s definitely a “downer” song and not an obvious crowd pleaser.

But she trusted her instincts. It was one of her favorite songs to perform alone in her room, in the not-too-distant past when she was afraid to sing in public. She always envisioned herself performing it in a sultry way, in a suitably lurid setting inspired by old movies and pulp covers she saw on the internet.

In her introduction to “Black Coffee”, the strain of the twelve grueling weeks of intense competition is evident. She knew all of her recently-revived hopes and dreams were riding on the outcome of that night’s performance. There was a cash prize, but more importantly for her, the first prize also included a producer and studio time to actually record three songs, plus a life solo show of her singing.

Josette found a way to make an obscure, downer of a song, the hit of the evening. You have to see her performance of “Black Coffee” for yourself. The effect on the audience was electric. I’ve studied burlesque for 25 years, and I’ve never seen a performance like that. Is it burlesque? Is it cabaret? I don’t know, but the audience loved it!

Still, Amber Renee was a formidable rival, and suspense filled the room as the last judge voted. When judge Barry Brandon finally announced that Josette had won the competition, she doubled over with emotion and burst into tears. Josette sobbed into the arms of her coach Michael Robinson, and she couldn’t have been more emotional or grateful if she’d won a million dollars or American Idol.

Josette told me that from the start, she hadn’t expected to win, and after three very stressful months, she couldn’t believe she’d actually prevailed. After regaining her composure, she tried to say a few words, telling the audience how she came to enter the contest. But when Josette started trying to explain about being told as a child that she couldn’t sing, she started to break down. Pulling herself together, she started to thank everyone, but broke down again. Pulling herself together again, she went out into the audience and gave a heartfelt, emotional thanks (and often a hug) to everyone she recognized or who came up to congratulate her.

Josette hadn’t just won a singing contest. She’d finally achieved the first step in a dream that had been shattered and shelved almost 10 years earlier.

But there was one final twist to her story, one that even Josette hadn’t seen coming. Impressed during the competition when a few contestants sang their own original songs, Josette wondered: Could she write her own songs as well?

"Here Kitty Kitty"

“Here Kitty Kitty”

Collaborating with Atlanta songwriter J. L. Rodriguez, Josette began writing her very first pop song. They worked on the musical parts together (since she doesn’t play an instrument or read music), and she wrote the lyrics, having been inspired by a drawing of cat women a fellow Harlots alum had created. Top local producer, Thomas Cary Walker Jr., pitched in and in October 2013, Josette‘s first single, “Here Kitty Kitty,” was released on iTunes.

Josette gave the first full performance of her very first song in front of 10,000 people at Piedmont Park, during Atlanta’s LGBT Pride Festival. This was a full production, with four professional backup dancers, great lighting and Josette on the huge Jumbotron screen next to the massive stage. As she admitted to the audience after the song, she was nervous when she first came out. But she quickly settled down and was soon delivering a powerhouse performance, singing and dancing all over the stage.

Remember Shockaboom‘s finale with Tongo Hiti at Trader Vics, that Josette emulated the first time she danced there for the Dames Aflame? What seemed like a Samba move to me a few years ago had another name by last fall: Twerking. On the big stage at Piedmont Park, Josette had taken what she learned from Shockaboom to a whole new level and was light-years beyond Miley Cyrus. The already-cheering crowd started to roar, and when Josette whipped her long hair around to the sound of a whip being cracked, 10,000 people went wild. Catch a video of the wild scene here!

At the end of the number, Josette paused to catch her breath and look out over the cheering crowd. Seeing 10,000 people cheering for her singing, her dancing, and her first song–less than a year after entering the singing contest–was like the improbable ending to an old Hollywood move.

Sing For Your Life Competition

Sing For Your Life Competition

While Josette is the living embodiment of Red Hot Riding Hood on stage and says she just naturally tends to dance in a sexy fashion, off stage she’s very much a down-to-earth, girl-next-door type, a kind and sensitive person. Instead of talking about becoming a star, she talks about being creative, the joy of seeing her artistic vision fulfilled, and how great she feels when she’s entertained (and surprised) an audience. Luckily, she’s got a very supportive network of people helping her, including parents, a large extended family, boyfriend, friends and fellow performers.

Josette continues to dance with the Dames Aflame, and on December 20, she’ll be performing with them as a dancer in “Big Mike” Geier’s Kingsized Holida Jubilee extravaganza at the Variety Playhouse. This past year, Josette has focused primarily on her dancing, after joining two additional dance troupes–the BELLES (from Belles Organics) and THE CHERRY BOMBS. The Cherry Bombs will be joining her for a performance at Josette‘s big December 18 show at the Jungle Club. That show marks a return to singing for the busy Josette, and she plans to get back into the recording studio in the new year.

Photos copyright 2012-2014 Whitney Fields Photography. Some have been cropped from their original appearance.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: Ooh-la-Love! Talloolah Love Embraces Her Inner Geek Girl Power and Finds It Gloriously Glamorous at Dragoncon 2013

Posted on: Aug 27th, 2013 By:

Hair, makeup and photography by Pin Up Girl Cosmetics.

By Gretchen Jacobsen
Contributing Writer

Burlesque and pin-up culture have been a part of Dragoncon back to the Bettie Page Contests of the 1990s. But this week’s Kool Kat, Talloolah Love, is taking it to another level as producer of DragonCon Burlesque, A Glamour Geek Revue and other titillating events throughout the weekend.

Talloolah has long been a force in Atlanta’s burlesque revival, cabaret and Retro scenes. Known across the United States and even internationally, for her burlesque performances, the “Sweetest T in the South” is an instructor at the newly opened Atlanta School of Burlesque. She is also one of the founders of the retro arts organization, The Artifice Club, known for splendid steampunk events extraordinaire including Mechanical Masquerade: The Retropolis, Sunday Aug. 31 at 8:30 p.m. at the Westin Peachtree Plaza, as well as bringing the growing electro-swing movement to Atlanta.

The lovely Ms. Love somehow managed to find time out of her crazy schedule this week to talk to ATLRetro and share a bit about her fascinating career, her perspective on the burlesque revival today, and how she’ll be entertaining us this weekend at Dragoncon. We couldn’t be happier!

ATLRetro:What drew you to burlesque?

Talloolah Love: I grew up watching musicals, blue comedy, Carol Burnett and THE MUPPET SHOW.  My idols were Betty Grable, Rosemary Clooney, Mae West and, of course, Marilyn Monroe. But it all started with belly dancing. I had taken classes in Colorado, but when I moved here, I found the community difficult to move around in as a newcomer. Burlesque embraced me with both arms, and I haven’t looked back since.

Who inspires you as a performer?

Besides the aforementioned stars of yesteryear, my modern inspirations are Amber Ray, Immodesty Blaize and Russell Bruner [Editor’s note: read our Kool Kat on Russell, the 2012 King of Burlesque here]  All three are ferocious on stage. They leave indelible marks of inspiration on my soul when I watch them. Amber and Immodesty both for their fierce stage presence and mind-blowing costumes. Russell for his incredible timing, charisma and musicality. All of them have a devotion to their craft that really takes my breath away.

What is your philosophy as a performer?

To me, it doesn’t matter what style of burlesque you do. It doesn’t matter what size, shape, color, sex or race you are. As long as what you bring to the stage is polished, cared for, speaks from the heart, and makes you happy to do it, I call it burlesque.

Hair, makeup and photography by Pin Up Girl Cosmetics.

Does it look like they are having fun? Does it look polished? Are you having fun watching them? Burlesque is so subjective. What I love about it is you cannot like that first act, but the second one lives with you for years. All you have to do is wait five minutes, and the channel gets switched to something new and different. You may love it, you may hate it, but wait till you see what’s going on in the next five minutes. Variety is the spice of life, you know?

Do you think burlesque is “girl power”?

I do. I grew up being told I wasn’t right for one part or the next. Burlesque gives me the power to say, “Oh yeah? Well, I think I was stellar for that show, so I am going to do it and there’s no one who can tell me I can’t.” You have to have some brass balls to get up on stage and own everything you do in spite of the fact that not everyone will love you. Burlesque has given me the ability to say, “Well, I hope some of you liked my form of art.” It’s how I express myself. When I am on stage, or even rehearsing a number in my unitard, I feel empowered because I make the decisions on my hair, my costume, song, choreography, absolutely everything. Sure I want opinions on things, but I have the final say on what goes on stage. There’s something exhilarating and very empowering about that.

You’re the one of the founders of The Artifice Club. What is the club all about?

The Artifice Club is a group that DJ Doctor Q and I founded together. It’s a coalition of artists who support artists. Besides my need for passion in one’s art, I believe in collaboration of minds. In the past, the Club did this by doing shows and displays of peoples’ art in hopes for exposure. Now, it is so much more than that. It is a not-for-profit organization that facilitates grants, helps promote, donates back to the community, and holds fundraisers to assist artists in keeping their mind on their creations rather than how they are going to pay for their space, or for a trip to the next festival to show their wares.  It is now an organization with a board of directors and will be doing more good on a bigger scale for anyone who applies to the guidelines of the club.

What events are you involved in at Dragoncon? 

Thursday Aug. 29, 8:30 p.m. at the Pulse Lounge in the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, I will be strutting out in my bunny ears with the ladies at The Annual Bunny Hutch. This isn’t my event, but I am very excited about it.

Hair, makeup and photography by Pin Up Girl Cosmetics.

Friday Aug. 30 8:30 p.m. The Sheraton Atlanta pool will be the location for the Second Annual Pin-ups by the Pool Party. Presiding over the show will be the returning and illustrious New Orleans Jon (see his recent Kool Kat profile here). There will be a pin-up competition and a mermaid competition, so please come see and be seen. I expect it to be quite a spectacle.

Saturday Aug. 31 11:59 p.m. in the Regency Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta is DragonCon Burlesque, a Glamor Geek Revue. This is the second year I have been in charge of the show, and I couldn’t be more elated! This year has some really out-of-the-park acts. For example, fresh off his world tour the KING of Steampunk Funk, Montague Jacques Fromage, will be the Master of Ceremonies weaving a story of intrigue and sexy interludes throughout the entire show, along with the 2013 Queen of the Southern Fried Burlesque Festival, Lola Lesoleil, and other prestigious award-winning performers. This promises to be the show not to miss!

What is unique about Atlanta’s burlesque scene?

I feel like the scene has changed so much in the past ten years. When I first started out, Atlanta was unique because the troupes were really the only way anyone could perform regularly, and there really wasn’t a lot of cross-pollination.  Each troupe did what they did and that was it. It’s so different now. We all work together, and the independents seem to outnumber the troupe members. Personally, I think that is a great thing. It means a patron can go to a show and really not know who they are going to see. I think that a golden age in Atlanta Burlesque really is on the horizon thanks to Ursula Undress and the efforts being made with The Atlanta Burlesque Alliance and The Atlanta School of Burlesque. Plus, with social events like my Atlanta Burlesque and Cabaret Society and Sadie HawkinsCougar Crawl, we all have a real good time with each other. Kind of like a burlesque SEX IN THE CITY, only we get high on E-6000 rather than sip cosmos together.

What do you think about Atlanta being named the nerdiest city in America?

Oh, I love it. It’s appropriate too. DragonCon is huge, and it’s run privately for geeks by geeks. Besides DCon, Atlanta plays host to at least five other major fan fueled conventions. Add to that the vast LARPing communities and bookstores/comic book shops out here, then throw in that Cartoon Network is deep in the heart of Atlanta’s arteries, and you have a cultural cornucopia of Nerd-dom! I think it’s great.

What are you working on for the future?

I am always looking for what’s next. Fascination was an [electro-swing] event the good DoctorQ and I worked on together this past year, and I really loved the format. The venue was just an issue. Venues tend to be the big issue when it comes to producing big shows. My hope is that we find the RIGHT venue and that we start doing one big bang-out show – a little of the Fascination format with a few other big ideas I have cooking on the back-burner. Otherwise, I plan to do a Midwest tour next year. It’s still in the planning stages, but once it gets off the ground, you can bet I am going to social network the bajeezus out of it!

Who would you like to perform for or with?

I started to list them all out, but that would take all day. I want to perform with everybody. Then perform with them again because once is never enough!

Hair, makeup and photography by Pin Up Girl Cosmetics.

Where can we see you next?

After Dragoncon, I am going on a much deserved vacation, but I will be back at the beginning of October at The Shelter. I am going to be shaking it up as an airship pirate for this new mash-up music club night called Bootie Atlanta on October 5 – $5 admission before 11 and $10 after that.

Anything you’d like to add?

If you are interested in getting into burlesque, I have a few suggestions for you. If you already have an act and just need a venue to perform it in, I suggest auditioning. There are  a lot of troupes and even a production company in Atlanta where you can audition, and then, you’re there!  The best way to get involved in the Atlanta Burlesque community is to come out to Atlanta Burlesque and Cabaret Society meetings at The Elliott Street Pub in Atlanta. We meet the first Thursday of the month at 8 p.m., we go till 10, and at these meetings, you will meet other burlesque performers, photographers and fans of the local scene, you may even get to catch an act on the stage down there for a workshop on new and established performers. It’s a great way to market yourself. Speaking of marketing yourself, you will want to do your research and attend burlesque shows, figure out who the important people are and make sure you let them know you are serious. All of the troupes are very different and have a lot to offer the right person if they fit into their dynamic. If you don’t like how one show runs, that’s ok, check out another troupe!

If you do not have an act, and just really want to be involved, then I suggest classes at The Atlanta School of Burlesque. Check out their teaching schedule and come to a few classes. There’s a fundamentals class for the very very basic, and then beginning choreography classes. I recommend that you look at videos of the different teachers. They are also active performers in the scene; go catch them out at a show. I guarantee you that going up to a teacher after they have performed to tell them that you will be taking a class from them in the near future is better than bringing an apple to them any day!

 

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The Engines of James O’Barr’s Art: On Returning to The Crow, Heading to Atlanta for Days of the Dead, BLADE RUNNER, Robert Mitchum and His Latest Pin-Up Passion

Posted on: Jan 31st, 2013 By:

The cover to issue #1 of THE CROW: THE ENGINES OF DESPAIR, a six-part comics series which marks James O'Barr's return to his most famous creation. Used with permission.

At the Days of the Dead convention this weekend at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel downtown, horror fans can meet and collect autographs from a rogues’ gallery of actors from a DEVIL’S REJECTS/HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES cast reunions to Butch Patrick, the former child star who played Eddie Munster. Or they can visit the table of artist James O’Barr and pick up an exclusive signed print, preview original artwork from James’ first return to THE CROW in 20 years, and muse about art, favorite movies and the Retro glory days when Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe, full of curves and class, ruled the silver screen.

While quite a few comics creators delve into the darkness, James is one of a handful who cross mediums and regularly attends horror cons as often as comics gatherings. But that’s not the most surprising thing about him. First published by Caliber in the early 90s, then reprinted and completed by Tundra Publishing and recently picked up by IDW, The Crow’s revenge saga was inspired by James’ own tragic loss of a lover. It gained an even more mythic status among fans when Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, died due to an accident on the set of the movie based on the comic. So as the creator of a vigilante antihero with an androgynous mimelike visage and Gothic black hair, James might be expected to be as tough as nails as his own hero Robert Mitchum or as dark and brooding as Trent Reznor.  But anyone who’s met the artist knows that while he’s weathered his share of adversity amplified by years living in crime-ridden Detroit and dwells creatively in the realm of the dark phantastique, James has also come through the other side. He has emerged surprisingly soft-spoken and even with a signature joie de vivre. His most common public demeanor is a smile and a wisecrack, probably more than a little politically incorrect.

ATLRetro spent a couple of hours on the phone with James this week to find out more about what he’ll be doing and displaying at Days of the Dead, as well as what it’s like to be back drawing The Crow after all these years. And yeah, we couldn’t help but ask about his own influences from Will Eisner to Bernie Wrightson, mural painting with Mark Bode, his take on the BLADE RUNNER prequel, what makes Robert Mitchum still so unmatched among men, and find out his current Retro pin-up crush.

ATLRetro: You’re one of the few comics artists who regularly does horror media cons as well. What sets the comic and horror con experience apart for you?

James O’Barr: I am one of the fortunate ones that has a crossover audience since I had a film made of my comics. I don’t consider it a horror film, but it does get grouped in. There’s a lot of surface differences between the different crowds, but in reality they are kind of the same thing – groups of fans all broken up into little subgenres. At a comics show, some guys are just there for the super-heroes and others hate super-heroes. At a horror show, some people are into slasher movies. Other people hate them and love the classic Hammer Films. It’s the same animal but just from a different continent.

Will you be have any new work or prints for sale at Days?

Yeah, every time I do a show, I do a handful of prints, maybe 20 of each that you can only get from me and only at that show. That way the fans have something special that no one else has anywhere else in the US. I have so much material that it’s not difficult for me to pick a new image for each con.

Are you doing any panels or demonstrations at Days, or more body-painting like you did at the dooGallery during DragonCon?

I don’t think I have anything officially scheduled. But the body-painting will be at the show, and I volunteered to paint some more half-naked girls because I had a lot of fun doing that last time. I’ve only done it three times, and it’s a learning process. I’m getting better each time. Body-painting is difficult because it’s like painting with makeup, and it has entirely different textures than paint or ink, plus you’re not dealing with a flat surface. It does make a difference because I when I painted Frankenstein or Dracula on a girl’s back the last time I was there, I had to take into account the arch of her back so it didn’t look like he didn’t have a chin. It’s like Michelangelo at the Sistine Chapel where he had to elongate the figures so they would look correct from the floor.

What’s the craziest thing a fan ever did to get your attention at a con?

Just the typical like a woman showing me their tits and people just trying to shock me. I’m not easily shocked. Mostly my fans are very kind and gracious and very polite. I have the greatest fans in world who have stuck with me for 25 years, and because of them, I get to do what I love for a living. So I’m very appreciative.

You’ve said that you wanted to work with Jim Terry (the artist on THE CROW:SKINNING THE WOLVES, the recently released three-issue IDW miniseries set in a Nazi concentration camp) because you liked his “Eisneresque style.” How much of an influence was Will Eisner on your own work and wanting to get into comics?

Will Eisner was a huge influence on me. It was by studying old SPIRIT stories that I learned actual storytelling. Then it suddenly dawned on me that he was taking film techniques and applying them to comics, and no one had ever done that before. So I pretty much took that basic premise, using film techniques in comics for lighting set-ups and camera angles, and I push that as far as I can into comics. As much as movies and comics have in common with each other, they also have so much uncommon or ‘discommon’ between them as well. In comics, you can’t control the timing like you can in a film, but you can slow down the pace of a page by making someone spend more time by putting more images on it. Another huge drawback is lack of sound. You don’t have a soundtrack to accentuate the emotions portrayed in the image. You don’t have the voices of the actors, and you don’t have sound effects, so you have to rely on the reader to supply those in their head. But like I said, it can also be a plus. What’s there is only what you put there, but an actor could spoil a scene or music could spoil a scene or a bad sound effect could spoil a scene. I am one of the few artists who does employ sound effects. If someone fires a gun in my comic, there’s a big boom sound effect. To me, supplying sound effects is an essential part of comics. It’s one of the charms of comics, I think.

If you had to pick five classic comics artist greats to recommend to a new reader, who would they be?

Will Eisner. Harvey Kurtzman. Jordi Bernet is not well-known in the US. He’s from old Milton Caniff (TERRY AND THE PIRATES, STEVE CANYON) school – lot of brushwork and shadows. IDW is reprinting his TORPEDO series about gangsters in the 1930s. There are so many. Bernie Wrightson was a huge influence on me. The way I look at it, Will Eisner showed me how to tell the story, but Berni Wrightson showed me how to light the scene for the most dramatic effect. And probably Dave Sim for teaching me how to include dialogue and sound effects into the artwork to where they are essential, which is why I like Dave Sim.

I still hand-letter all of my comics on the actual artwork. Since we’re talking Retro, I might as well point out I don’t use computers for anything. Everything is ink on papr or paint on paper. Nothing is photoshopped. Even my titles are hand-drawn on artwork – which is a pain because lettering is not my forte. I can do balloons, but with a three-inch font, I inevitably fuck it up. But that’s part of charm of hand-lettering. It’s not a perfect font pulled off a computer. It’s not that I have disregard for PhotoShop and those tools. I see people like Jon Foster who do great artwork with them Looking at his work, I couldn’t tell it wasn’t oil-painted or acrylics, but to me, using a mouse or a keyboard or a tablet would just drain all the fun out of comics. I love draging a brush across a blank page. For me, that’s the joy of creating comics. I sit down with a blank sheet of paper, and everything is my choice. And it has to be the right choice because there is no undo. This may make me a more confident artist than those who use computers. I don’t redo. I know what I want before I sit down.

Mark Bode's and James O'Barr's mural tribute to Frank Frazetta at Clarion Alley in San Francisco.

Do you have any more mural work planned with Mark Bode, and how does working with a spray can on a wall compare to a paintbrush on a canvas?

Every time I see Mark, usually once or twice a year, we plan on doing something. The only difficult thing is San Francisco is finding a place to do it and deciding what we’re going to do. But the four we have done have gotten progressively better. I posted some pictures of the Frank Frazetta one on the Internet, and people thought it was the original, so we’ve gotten really good at it. They all have been tributes to our artistic heroes who have passed away –  Moebius, Jeff Jones and Frazetta. I’m going to be up there later this year, and we’re hoping to do a Jack Kirby one which will be a lot of fun — to do that hyper-stylized Kirby line. The main difficulty is not necessarily working with a spray can but it’s working that large. The shortest was like 20 feet tall, so it involves being up on a ladder and drawing, and it’s hard to tell if something is in proportion without stepping back off ladder and walkg back 20 feet. Mark and I are really good about trading off with one of us painting and the other watching. He taught me everything I know about graffiti art, even though I still do more artistic things rather than scribbles or tags. I have no idea what they say. I would rather do Monet’s waterlilies 20 feet tall than put a line of poetry up there that is so stylized that the lettering is illegible. I like mural work. It’s free, outside and for the public. It’s transient because it will only be there for a certain amount of time. And it’s been great to introduce certain artists, like Jeff Jones, to people who may not have ever heard of them before.

What has the reaction been to the return of THE CROW published by IDW?

Honestly it’s been mixed. The one I’m doing by myself (THE CROW: THE ENGINES OF DESPAIR) hasn’t come out yet, but I think some people were expecting right off the bat that the first book would be mine. The first series looks very rushed, though it had a nice script by John Shirley. THE CROW: SKINNING THE WOLVES book has done phenomenally well. The first two issues sold out, and it’s in its second printing, and I think that’s because I was involved. It sticks rather closely to the kind of thing I do even though Jim Terry was responsible for the artwork.

From the original THE CROW series by James O'Barr.

THE CROW: THE ENGINES OF DESPAIR will be six issues. I’m finishing up the third issue, but I didn’t want them to solicit until the third was done because didn’t want there to be any lags between issues. I wanted them out on a regular basis because it’s continuing story. I have to say I am more than happy with the work I’ve done on it so far. It’s far and above the best thing I’ve ever done. I have definitely learned my craft over the last two decades. With the first CROW book, I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I just sat down and let things flow out of me. There are lots of flaws in that book, but I think the love and passion which I put into that work is what made the public love it and kept it in print for 25 years. But there were things in that book that I avoided because I didn’t have the skills to do them. With his book now, if I can think of it, I can draw it. It’s not a struggle at all. With every page, I set a challenge for me. How can I make it more difficult and learn something from this page. Without exception, 60-something pages into it, I’m delighted with every page.

Will it be in black and white like the original CROW or in color this time? And can you reveal anything about the story? 

At the beginning, IDW kind of strong-armed me a little bit, saying they wanted it in color. I said it’s my project and it’s a CROW book, and I think it should be in black and white – or at least the ones I do should be. For me, it adds a certain otherworldly aspect to it with hard shadows. Honestly I don’t see it in the coloring I see in comics nowadays. If it was going to be in color, it would have to be handpainted by me, but I am hesitant to do that. However, that being said, I just did 20 black and white pages of this shootout and then in the middle, added an intermission in color – that kind of 1930s technicolor where everything is in brighter, warmer and hotter colors that don’t exist in real life. So that gives it a very dreamlike feel to it. Since I learned all the rules in the last 25 yrs, now I can break them.

Plus after 20 pages of people getting killed, it’s a nice little break for the reader as well. Still even though they are pretty and bright, happy colors, just them having been done by me has sort of a haunting creepy quality about it as well. Also I think it’s kind of funny that it’s a CROW book, but I am 60 pages into it and birds haven’t appeared in it once. I’m using rabbits this time. Not talking rabbits, but they are the animal in it. I think it’s so close in feel and atmosphere to the original book, all on a much higher level of competence, that people don’t even notice there’s not a bird in it. The bird will make a few cameo appearances.

It all looks really amazing, and in this one, the best character is the Skull Cowboy, that never actually appeared in the movie. The death character is with the woman the whole time. It kind of takes the place of the bird. The bunny man. He even scares me when I’m drawing him, probably because he reminds me a lot of myself. He’s very – I don’t want to say evil – but there are no ambidexterous morals in this. He’s frightening, but he’s a smart-ass and he’s lovable as well. It gives the bride a nice alter-ego to play off of.

I don’t want to give too much away, though. I’d rather that you come by the table [at Days of the Dead] and see what I’m doing and decide for yourselves. But I guarantee no one will be disappointed.

James O'Barr gets happy at his convention artist table. Photo courtesy of James O'Barr.

Shifting gears back to some of the pop culture you’re known for being passionate about, as a big BLADE RUNNER fan, how do you feel about Ridley Scott’s announcement that he’s going to go back to and do a prequel after all these years?

BLADE RUNNER was Ridley Scott’s vision so if he wants to go back and play in that universe, I am more than happy to sit in the audience. I will pay my $15. I really liked PROMETHEUS. I think I am one of the few people on the planet who did. I thought it did no disservice to the ALIEN film. I read somewhere he’s going to connect the ALIEN universe and the BLADE RUNNER universe or make references to both taking place at the same time. Somebody told me he read the script to PROMETHEUS 2 and that there were references to replicants in there. I’m a little skeptical about him pulling that off but I would love to see it. I have no idea what he is going to do, but I would love to see how the replicants got to Earth. He throws it all into one sentence — they escaped from an off-world colony. It would be great to see how Roy and Pris escaped from the planet where they were slave labor. I don’t know who could play those parts now, but it’s a really rich universe he created there and a lot was skimmed over the surface. I have a lot of faith in Ridley Scott. He’s made about 20 films and less than a handful have been bad. He needs to stay the fuck away from romantic comedies, though. The one he made with Russell Crowe and [Marion Cotillard] – A GOOD YEAR – that was just horrific, painful. He’s at his best when he’s exploring fantasy and science fiction and – some people probably will hate me but – nobody does epic like Ridley Scott. Even something like KINGDOM OF HEAVEN that’s factually based has more stunning imagery than all three LORD OF THE RINGS movies together.

What’s so great about Robert Mitchum?

He was the last real man, I think. He was a brute and a gentleman and a real life badass. Jason Statham would last about 30 seconds with Robert Mitchum. He just has such a presence. He’s very subtle, and he never, ever plays to the camera. Laurence Olivier could not say a line without turning to the camera and making a face. Robert Mitchum wouldn’t care if his back was to the camera. He was so charismatic, and he was willingness to take on any role. That was endearing to me. He’d play the hero or the bad guy, he didn’t care. He was truly frightening in CAPE FEAR (1962). THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) and OUT OF THE PAST (1947) are two films I could just watch any time. I do watch both of them once or twice a year. In fact, I just bought the British release poster for OUT OF THE PAST. It was called BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH in London when it was released. That was the original name of the story.

You’ve often said that you admire the style and shape of the classic actresses and models of days gone by such as Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page. Who’s your favorite right now and why?

Right now going through a mild Bettie Page fascination. I purposely avoided the whole Bettie Page parade 10 years ago because I was a little angered and disgusted that all these people were making money off this girl, my artists friends included. So I avoided anything Bettie Page. Just recently I subscribe to those vintage pinup Facebook pages, and I have gotten into appreciation. I see what it’s all about now – all the curves, and there was a really gentle innocence to her, too, where she always looks like she is having fun. I have definitely seen some pictures where I don’t think she had any idea what she was doing, such as the bondage stuff. That’s my least favorite. I love the images of her on the beach. There’s something about her eyes and her smile that is really endearing, and that silly haircut that people are still imitating today. I kind of group her in with Marilyn Monroe. I look at the pictures, and yes, I see all the right curves, but I don’t get aroused looking at them. It’s more endearing and charming to me than anything else. There’s something about both Bettie Page and Marilyn Monroe that makes me want to protect them. It makes me want to take on a fatherly role. I have never seen one so I assume it was impossible to take a bad picture of them. There’s some kind of inner beauty there which really transcends the film.

James O'Barr strikes a Mitchum pose. Photo courtesy of James O'Barr.

Given the success of THE CROW franchise, are a lot of fans surprised that you lead a pretty simple life of drawing/painting, writing, watching old movies and hanging out with cats? 

The reality is that I grew up way below the poverty level, and so I have never been comfortable with luxury. It’s not that I don’t think I deserve it, but I don’t need it. Having expensive things does not make me happy. I’ve had a five-bedroom semi-mansion, and invariably I spent all my time in the basement in the dark drawing. There were rooms I never even went in. I like that I lead a very insular disciplined life, and I only bring things in that bring me joy and happiness—books and movies and music and artwork. I don’t need anything else. My cat’s my best friend. He never lies to me. He doesn’t cheat on me. He tries to lie to me. “You didn’t feed me. You didn’t feed me.” “Yes, I did. I did.” Just like dogs, they have unconditional love. My cat is lying on my feet right now. He wants to be close to me. I love dogs, too, but I prefer cats because they’re less needy. I can go away for a weekend, leave cat food, and he will be fine. I definitely like companionship. Being artist or a writer is very solitary. Just to have a little silent partner next to me is very comforting.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Celebrating Cinema, One Tassel at a Time with Vyolet Venom as Minette Magnifique Goes to the Movies

Posted on: May 29th, 2012 By:

Summer may officially still be a few weeks away, but things are sure to get hot and steamy Thursday, May 31, when Atlanta’s youngest and most Paris-inspired burlesque troupe Minette Magnifique presents Minette Magnifique Goes to the Movies at the Warren City Club in Virginia-Highland. So we thought there couldn’t be a more marvelous time to celebrate the rising temperatures by declaring the vivacious and voluptuous Vyolet Venom as Kool Kat of the Week. She sweetly agreed to a sneak preview of what she and the other lovely ladies will be doing once the lights go down and the curtain goes up for this cinema-tacular evening of evocative entertainment.

How did you get started in burlesque and how did you come to join Minette Magnifique?

Being someone whose life has always revolved around the stage, and also someone who has never really been a big fan of wearing clothes. Two years ago when I was approached by our Madame [Kellyn Willey] and Baroness [VonSchmalhausen, aka Shellie Schmalsabout a new burlesque troupe they were creating, I didn’t hesitate for even a moment to accept.

Why the name Vyolet Venom and how does that name embody your personal approach to the art of burlesque?

Oh, man, finding the perfect name… one of the most trying things I’ve ever experienced in my burlesque life! To be honest, and as strange as it may seem, my approach and personal style of performance is what ultimately led to the name Vyolet Venom. I’m not really sure how to explain how or why that makes sense, but when you come to the show I promise you’ll understand. (winks)

Photo credit: Jason Travis.

Minette Magnifique is very young, feisty, sexy and most importantly – classic! Every member of Minette has very different and unique talents to offer, but as a whole, it’s very important to us that we stay true to our original, French, classic burlesque roots. And our greatest strength? We are madly in love with every audience member we’ve ever had.

What can you reveal about this week’s show and why folks should come out?

There will be an overwhelming amount of glitter, feathers, rhinestones and beautiful women taking off their clothes. Need I say more?

Without giving too much away, can you give us a gentle tease about Minette Magnifique Goes to The Movies and what you’ll be doing personally?

A perfect blend of the “art of the tease,” and the “magic of the movies.” And as for my piece personally, it’s got a little something for everyone; the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads – they’ll all adore it.

Photo credit: Jason Travis.

What’s your favorite burlesque memory so far?

July 2010, our very first Hot and Sticky show at Eastside Lounge, I performed to “Pour Some Sugar On Me” by Def Leppard. And after filling an entire venue full of icing, glitter and countless beyond coundless amounts of sprinkles… I truly feel that was the night Vyolet was born.

Who are your biggest burlesque icons and role models and why?

There are so many talented people in the burlesque world it’s hard to say. Immodesty Blaize is my current obsession, but the people I have always looked up to the most are not really a part of the burlesque world – Ann Margaret, Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe and (above all) Barbie! Because of who they are, what they did and the sparkle that just their names hold.

When you’re not doing burlesque, what do you do for work and play?

It’s honestly hard to differentiate between the two.  I love to play, and I refuse to work on or for anything that I don’t love. Plain and simple: You will always find me singing and dancing, laughing about absolutely nothing, eating Skittles and drinking Cherry 7UP.

What question did I not ask that I should have? And what’s the answer?

What question should you have asked… “Should we be afraid?” My answer… “Terrified.” 😉

Minette Magnifique Goes to the Movies has doors at 8 pm with Act I at 9 p.m. and Act II at 10:15 p.m. Regular and VIP tickets are available here

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Kool Kat of the Week: A Jazz Interlude With Kayla Taylor: Why She Loves ‘30s/’40s Classics, the Unsurprising Success of Her New CD and the Pleasures of Playing the Vintage Artmore Hotel This Friday

Posted on: Nov 16th, 2011 By:

Atlantans who love classic jazz won’t be surprised to hear that Kayla Taylor’s new and sixth CD YOU”D BE SURPRISED hit #23 on the CMJ Jazz charts this week and is receiving airplay across the nation and throughout Europe. Instead, we’re liable to say it’s delovely and just one of those things that had to happen. But then local audiences have had the treat of listening to this Atlanta native and chanteuse extraordinaire resurrect top tunes from the ‘30s,  ‘40s and ’50s  live for a decade or more with musical partner/guitarist Steve Moore. And because this Friday night, Kayla will be performing at one of Atlanta’s coolest vintage venues, the courtyard of the Artmore Hotel in Midtown whose building dates back to 1924, we thought the timing couldn’t be more perfect to make her Kool Kat of the Week.

One of those rare actual Atlanta natives, Kayla literally grew up singing, in her school chorus, church choir and in the shower, but winning two awards in a 7th grade talent show cemented her ambition to make music a career. Along the way, she has performed country music, gospel, R&B and classic and original rock ‘n’ roll until she finally found her heart resided in the golden era of Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin—all of whom are represented on YOU’D BE SURPRISED’s playlist. ATLRetro caught up with Kayla to find out more about why she decided to embrace one of our favorite musical eras, what she has planned for this Friday night at the Artmore, her new CD, what’s next and where you might catch her singing while shopping…

ATLRetro: According to your bio, you always sang even as a little girl, and through the years, in addition to jazz, you’ve performed country, gospel, R&B and rock n roll, too. How did you come to embrace vintage jazz?

Kayla Taylor: I have always loved vintage jazz. The charm and romance of the ‘30s and ‘40s was something that always attracted me. I love how clever the lyrics are. When I was a kid, I watched a lot of old movies that were filmed and set during that time period and found all of it to be a natural embrace. Then in the mid-‘80s, Linda Ronstadt—one of my rock heroes—came out with her Big Band albums with The Nelson Riddle Orchestra and the romance started all over again.

Photo credit: John Lee Matney.

I understand that your earliest award was for singing Irene Cara’s “Out Here on My Own” from FAME? What’s the story and how big an early influence on you was the movie, FAME?

I wouldn’t say that FAME had a big influence on me, but the music and Irene Cara’s voice definitely did. I loved the pure emotion that was in her voice when she sang “Out Here On My Own.” The school talent show was coming up, and so I decided that I’d sing that song. I practiced for weeks in my room with the door closed. I must have played that record hundreds of times. My parents had no idea. I wasn’t trying to win—I just wanted to sing in front of all those people. I was also in a girls’ trio that performed “Sincerely”— a tune from the ‘50s. Well, the trio took 1st place, and I took 2nd place. I was so thrilled and excited. My parents had always been supportive of whatever I wanted to try, but at that point, they jumped completely onboard with my singing adventures.

Who are some of your favorite classic jazz composers and performers, and why do you think their music remains so timeless and relevant today?

Cole Porter, The Gershwins, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Johnny Mercer . . . there are so many amazing composers from that era that I adore, but these are just a few of my top picks. As far as performers, Julie London, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Peggy Lee, Etta James, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. I think the music is so well-crafted that it can’t help but remain timeless and relevant. Most of the songs are about love or the loss of love—that will always be timeless and relevant.

How did you meet Steve Moore and end up working together?

Great Story! Steve Moore was in a rock band called A Fine Line—an original rock project. They ran an ad in the Creative Loafing looking for a female vocalist. (That’s what you did 19 years ago—you ran an ad in a printed publication if you were looking for a musician.) I called about the position. They sent me a demo of some of their tunes, and I thought they were really cool, so I learned them and showed up at the audition. Later that night, Steve Moore was the one who called me to tell me I had gotten the job. That was the beginning of an amazing relationship as friends, co-writers and business partners. We went through several original rock projects together (A Fine Line, OneWithout) and even an acoustic duo (The Adventures of Kayla & Steve). One day we were talking about all these great jazz standards that we both loved and how much we would both love to play that music one day and to have our own jazz combo. Five minutes later we had made a decision to start working towards that direction. That was over 10 years ago, and we’ve been at it ever since.

Kayla Taylor and Steve Moore. Photo credit: John Lee Matney.

Can you tell us a bit about YOU’D BE SURPRISED came together, and what it means to you that it’s doing so well?

To say we are excited is an understatement. OVER THE MOON with excitement might scratch the surface. All of this came about because we hired an expert to handle it for us. We’re indy artists—SmartyKat Records—that’s our own label. We don’t have the connections personally to make this kind of airplay and exposure happen, so we hired Kari Gaffney and Jeff Williams of Kari-On Productions to handle all of it for us. Kari has over 21 years experience promoting and marketing CDs to radio and print media. I have never seen anyone work as hard as she has been working. I don’t know when she even has time to sleep. She’s done a fabulous job for us.

What’s your favorite song on the CD to perform and why?

WOW. To pick one tune—that’s tough because I love every song that’s on the CD. It’s like asking a parent to choose a favorite child. If I have to pick one, though, I’d have to say the title track—“You’d Be Suprised.” What I love about that song are the great lyrics. They are so clever!!! I love the Marilyn Monroe version.

The Jazz in the Courtyard series at the Artmore, where the building dates back to 1924, promises an urban escape with “sultry music, sexy vibes and sinful drinks.” And the signature cocktail is “The Prohibition.” Can we surmise that the goal is to create a speakeasy atmosphere, and will you be tossing some Roaring ‘20s tunes into the mix?

Artmore is a great hotel, and the courtyard is a beautiful venue. We have a great time playing there and love that they have embraced our music. We’ll still be hanging out in the ‘30s and ‘40s era but love that they have created a speakeasy feel—with a modern twist. All concerts take place in the courtyard, and there is a fabulous firepit and heaters to keep everything warm. If it should rain or turn freezing cold—we’ll move the show into their basement speakeasy lounge. I think we might be good to have this final concert of the season out in the courtyard, though.

Anything else you’d like to share about Friday’s gig at the Artmore?

Reservations are not required, but if you want to reserve a seat, you can email them at sales@artmorehotel.com. Come prepared to have a great time. I have a retro-styled microphone that is wireless so I can move all over the courtyard, and I love to come by and sing to anyone who seems like they might be receptive. Trust me, though—if it’s clear you’re there with a date and you just want to make eyes at each other—I’ll stay out of your way.

Where else will you be playing in Atlanta soon, and any plans for a tour to promote YOU’D BE SURPRISED?

Our next big show will be at Feast in Decatur on Saturday, December 3. This will be a great show because it’s the beginning of the holiday & Christmas season, and we’ll have some of the great jazzy Christmas tunes from the era to throw into the mix. This show generally sells out, so it’s a really good idea to call them to make a reservation. We play from 7:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. with the five-piece combo. The food at Feast is fantastic and we always have a great time. [Call] 404.370.2000 – for reservations.  As far as a tour to promote YOU’D BE SURPRISED—definitely something we are thinking long and hard about we just have to make the numbers work out.

Do you really burst into song at the grocery store? If yes, where do you shop?

Not every time I’m in the grocery store, but yes, I have been known to burst into song in the middle of a shopping excursion. My sweet husband, Scott, has been so good about dealing with those moments and I know they have been embarrassing—but sometimes a song just wells up inside and I have to blurt it out. For the record, my favorite place to shop locally is Publix—the stores are smaller and easier to navigate and everyone is super-friendly. If I’m going to travel away from my neighborhood to shop, you’ll find me at Whole Foods.

Finally, we’ve got to ask. What would we be most surprised to know about you?

Two things: first, I am an avid gardener. I love digging holes and putting plants in them and then nurturing them and watching them grow. It fascinates me! The next thing . . . I actually suffer from stage fright on occasion. It’s true.

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Retro Review: Eastwood, Wallach and Van Cleef Blaze Trails and Guns This Saturday at The Plaza

Posted on: Aug 12th, 2011 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Blogger

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966); Presented by AM 1690; Dir: Sergio Leone; Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach; Sat. Aug. 13; 3 PM and 7:30 PM; Plaza Theatre. Trailer here.

1966. After shooting up a storm at the European box office between 1964’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and 1965’s FOR A FEW DOLLARS’ MORE, Italian movie-making maven Sergio Leone – against his deepest desires – agreed to make a third spaghetti western. Clint Eastwood, growing tired of filming in Spain, was skeptical, but with major US money (from distributor United Artists) and a substantial salary, finally agreed to reprise his role as “the Stranger.” With Eli Wallach on board as the sweaty, foul-mouthed, primal bandito, Tuco, and Lee Van Cleef returning at Leone’s request, too, the film was a “go.”

A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS established the tone of Italian Westerns to come with its callous violence. FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE provided Leone with an expanded lexicon of cinematic storytelling which turned the classic American Western on its head. But with THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, well, Leone turned a TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE-like story, a quest for hidden gold, into a unique film which reinvented the pasta genre he had created and redefined the cinema-going experience.

Three men. One cache of Civil War gold buried in a coffin – story concepts don’t get more simple than this one. But it’s how Leone plays out the three strands of the stories, the three characters and their respective actions towards acquiring the goal which makes this movie special. Leone’s deliberate pacing – punctuated by shocking, explosive moments of unexpected violence – took a new turn. In certain sequences, seconds become minutes; preparation, psychologically and physically, became the calm before the storm. No director of Westerns had ever attempted what he achieved with THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY.

The Good (Clint Eastwood, L), The Bad (Lee Van Cleef, R), and The Ugly (Eli Wallach, center). Copyright United Artists, 1966.

Whether you love Westerns or the films of Clint Eastwood or not, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY also is a film which was designed to be seen and experienced on the big screen. The Civil War sequences are the most striking ever visualized, and the climactic scene will make your heart race (fans of the film know exactly what I’m referring to here; for those of you who haven’t, prepared to be wowed).

The copy screening at The Plaza this weekend is a pristine print of the 2004 remastered Director’s Cut,  struck from the original negative with the basic mono sound adapted into a crisp stereo mix. In 1967, when first released, United Artists cut 18 minutes from the original version to save on print costs and so they could squeeze an extra screening per day at US movie theatres. So this version of the film has barely been screened in American cinemas. A terrific experience all around. NOT TO BE MISSED!!!

ATLRetro Movie Trivia –

  • Although Leone’s first three spaghetti westerns are frequently referred to as the “Man With No Name” trilogy, Eastwood’s “Stranger” is called three different names over the course of the three movies: “Joe” in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS; “Manco” in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE; and “Blondie” – as Wallach’s Tuco loves to derisively call Eastwood in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (although Clint’s chestnut-brown hair hardly qualifies him for Marilyn Monroe status).
  • Speaking of La Monroe, rumor has it that when Eastwood first saw the Italian version of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and heard how the Roman dubbing artist had changed his voice – slower, more whispery – he decided to start delivering his lines like Marilyn (but with balls instead of boobs). So without the inspiration of a real blonde and an Italian actor who made money redubbing Americans, Dirty Harry would have sounded quite different…

And don’t forget that between the 3 PM and 7:30 PM screenings of this classic, revisionist Western, The Plaza is giving a free show (donations encouraged; remember, The Plaza Theatre is a nonprofit entity): COMING SOON! 35 Minutes of 35mm Trailers at 6:35 PM, a special, rare opportunity to see some of Plaza Manager Ben Ruder’s private collection of retro celluloid teasers! Give generously or pig out at the concessions stand!

Contributing Blogger Philip Nutman is a regular broadcaster for the The Night Crew, a podcast created and run by film journalists Sean Smithson and Thom Carnell. Over the past few months, Phil has presented “Philip Nutman’s THE WILD, WILD WEST” a multi-part, eclectic primer on must-see cowboy movies. The final installment will be live within the next two weeks.

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