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Ghobadi's daring film explores underground music scene in Iran

April 18, 2011
By G. Michael Dobbs
Managing Editor
Two fascinating films are featured in this edition of the DVD review column.
No One Knows About Persian Cats

One reason I love watching foreign films is to get a taste of a different culture and Iran is certainly a different culture. This film from director Bahman Ghobadi is part documentary and part fiction about the huge underground music scene in that country.
Ghobadi's film is the product of the underground. In the making-of feature, he explained that in Iran, one must obtain a permit to shoot a movie. The script and subject matter must be approved by government censors who want to make sure there is nothing that goes counter to the government or how they interpret Islam.
Tired of the bureaucracy, Ghobadi decided to shoot the film illegally and did so with a skeleton crew with their eyes peeled for the police. Despite the obstacles, the film has a very polished look and is very well edited.
The film tells the story of two musicians, Negar and Ashkan. They are trying to fill out their band, obtain a permit for concert in Tehran and then get visas and passports so they can tour Europe. Their search is a difficult one, taking them to secret rehearsal spaces and dealing with forgers to get the necessary papers.
I think they are a couple, but the film is extremely chaste. Only in the last few minutes does one get the sense they are in love.
Ghobadi filmed the performances of actual bands to present a flavor of the music scene and clearly young Iranians love all sorts of rock 'n' roll — folk rock, heavy metal and hip-hop are among the genres represented. Unfortunately, playing it can land them in jail.
The film is subtitled, although almost all of the music is sung in English, which must be the international language of rock.
Go to Netflix and check it out.
Behind the Burly Q

Director Leslie Zemeckis has produced what is clearly a labor of love. Starting in 2006, she began interviewing people who worked in burlesque — strippers, comics, straight men, theater owners and others — to capture a look at an American art form that only recently has seen a resurgence of interest.
Burlesque — a somewhat naughty combination of low humor, music and pretty unclad women — has been around in this country since the 1860s, but reached its classic form in the late 1920s and continued until the mid-1950s. Those on camera spoke fondly, most of their time on stage and generally explained how the reputation of burlesque's overt sexuality has been overstated throughout the years.
For some, burlesque was a training ground. Chris Costello, daughter of comic Lou Costello, spoke about her father's time in burlesque where he and Bud Abbott developed many of their most famous routines.
Alan Alda detailed how growing up in burlesque affected him. His father, Robert, was a singer in burlesque before he landed a movie deal at Warner Brothers and lead roles on Broadway.
Although the hazards of making a living doing something many people viewed as immoral took its toll on performers, the remarkable thing is how many of those interviewed seem to miss it.
For Springfield area residents who remember burlesque, "Behind the Burly Q" features a segment on Ann Corio, the stripper from Hartford, Conn., who used her fame to land movie roles in the 1940s.
Corio and her husband owned the Storrowton Music Theater in West Springfield for years where summer theater productions were presented, including versions of her own hit Broadway review, "This was Burlesque."
In this day of explicit entertainment, old-fashioned burlesque might seem like weak tea, but Zemeckis revealed the charms of the wink and the nod and leaving the audience wanting more.

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