Tarantino Burlesque celebrates the lowbrow

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It’s more than a little apropos that the Straight should meet up with Tristan Risk on the day we learned of Mike Vraney’s passing. Vraney was the founder of Something Weird Video, the go-to label for obscure grindhouse and exploitation movies on tape and DVD for the last 25 years or so.

It’s the first thing she brings up. “I started with the Russ Meyer stuff and then I discovered there was this whole world of nudie cuties, B-movies, and all these crazy subgenres,” says the performer, aka Little Miss Risk, over coffee (and eventually wine) at Broadway’s Academic Public House. “And Tarantino was a big part of that.”

Ah yes, the big QT. If it was folks like Vraney who did the groundwork in turning a generation or two of pop-culture fanatics into full-bore trash aesthetes, it was Quentin Tarantino who sealed the deal. At FanClub on Friday (January 10), the burlesque queen joins Voodoo Pixie, Sparkle Plenty, Mama Fortuna, and Ariel Helvetica, among others, in Tarantino Burlesque, a live tribute to the man who found a passage from the dimly lit fleapits of 42nd Street to a shelfful of Oscar statuettes.

Risk herself has two solo pieces lined up for the show, which covers the entire Tarantino canon from Reservoir Dogs to Django Unchained. Accompanied by producer Morris Blue’s Rock and Roll Burlesque band, she’ll be adding “a little bit of stage magic; some visual flimflam, if you will” to “Across 110th Street”, from 1997’s Jackie Brown. Risk is also taking on “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”, the David Bowie–Giorgio Moroder number that was used to such fantastically jarring effect in Inglourious Basterds.

As Risk points out, Tarantino pulled a signature move with each of those selections, repurposing the first from a blaxploitation flick of the same name and the second—rather counterintuitively—from Paul Schrader’s 1982 remake of Cat People. “But he picks through different things and creates this world that’s all his own,” she says, admiringly, adding that the Schrader film happens to be a personal favourite.

Bump ’n’ grind career aside, the Tsawwassen native obviously has a natural taste for the stylishly lowbrow. She devoured the pulp fiction of Mickey Spillane and Louis L’Amour as a kid. Now she’s starting to turn up in this century’s drive-in classics—spectacularly, in the case of her role as Beatress in American Mary. It’s nothing she ever planned on, she insists—she was originally hired as the choreographer on the Soska twins’ low-budget shocker—but grindhouse is as grindhouse does.

“I have a horseshoe up my ass sideways,” she offers. “I have weird luck. But they say that coincidence is the fabric of magic, so I kinda just take it all with a grain of salt, if I can just have my West Coast hippie-raver moment there. Everything kinda happens for a reason, and I love the genre so much. I’m never going to be put in a romantic comedy. I’m never gonna get cast in a high drama. I’m in the underground where I belong. And I enjoy it 'cause these are my people, and I’m a fan.”

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