Josh Dragotta’s documentary Satan’s Angel: Queen of the Fire Tassels tells the story of pioneering burlesque performer Angel Walker. A fiery personality (and not just for the tassels lit on fire she twirls in her act), Angel’s life runs the entertaining gauntlet from being openly gay in a time when folks were far less tolerant, marrying men for shits and giggles (and the cache of being with certain celebrities), getting banned from a hotel and casino in Las Vegas and ultimately realizing her status as a living legend of burlesque greatness.
While Angel’s life, and the context of much of the major events in her lifetime, paint an engaging and entertaining picture, the documentary takes some time to ramp up. My first impressions of the film’s opening minutes was that the edit was unfocused. We were introduced to Angel, and immediately thrown into her story, but with little context as anecdotes hopped around.
Luckily, the edit doesn’t keep on this somewhat wandering path, and the narrative begins to assert itself in a more comprehensive way, giving proper context to Angel’s life and role in burlesque as both a performer and pioneer. What seemed confusing in the opening makes all the sense in the world once the film finishes, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t off-putting at first. Still, as long as it comes together, it’s all good.
Aesthetic-wise, the film has a brash roughness to it that works considering the personality of its main subject. If you’re expecting one of those documentaries with slick imagery and animated footage fleshing out the story, you’re not going to get that here. For the most part, it’s talking head footage mixed with old photos and the occasional performance. Again, it works, but this is not one of those overly polished endeavors that have become so common in recent years.
If the subject is interesting, however, and you can see and hear things okay, then you don’t need too much more. Having Angel at the center of the film, walking you through her life, more than makes up for any tech-side roughness. While I’m not a burlesque aficionado, despite having known a few performers in my day, I felt the film painted a quality picture. Sure, I could’ve gone for more overall perspective on what burlesque is and why it intrigues so many dancers today, but, again, Angel’s life more than keeps things engaging throughout.
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