A documentary by Nimisha Mukerji. Rated PG
Tempest Storm is the stage name of Annie Banks, born in rural Georgia in 1928. Escaping an impoverished and abusive household, she was already married and divorced twice by 20, when she moved to California. Her gravity-defying superstructure and siren-red hair made her an instant sensation on the postwar burlesque circuit, where her bold confidence helped her to be a natural boundary-pusher in an uptight era.
All of this was pretty much by accident, according to Storm—still going strong at 88—as she recalls to Vancouver filmmaker Nimisha Mukerji, whose access to her subject would seem to invite more scrutiny, since she attained deeper intimacy in her best-known doc, 65_RedRoses. There’s some shorthand cultural context here, with archival footage and Storm’s own scrapbooks, but occasional claims about the dancer’s place in the exotic firmament are not supported by much evidence.
Typical of the storytelling here is the chapter about Storm’s most enduring marriage, to popular singer and actor Herb Jeffries, who—as we see briefly—lived to 100. Known as the Bronze Buckaroo for his singing-cowboy roles in segregated musicals, the blue-eyed Jeffries, mostly of Irish and Sicilian heritage, was paler than George Hamilton, but amid American’s racial psychosis was considered black. Several talking heads assert that the “scandal”, and subsequent birth of their daughter, effectively ruined Storm’s career. The subject is dropped as the movie proceeds to detail her many successes.
She certainly didn’t succeed where her child was concerned, and family estrangement becomes a dramatic through-line that leads nowhere, emotionally. (A potential payoff, involving a long-awaited phone call between mother and daughter, feels staged.) Storm is no more illuminating in bland anecdotes regarding her affairs with Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy, and her work with pin-up legend Bettie Page, suggesting that she has either stopped thinking about these things or learned long ago to never actually speak her mind. This doesn’t stop the filmmaker from dressing up the story with slo-mo gimmickry and syrupy music, all attending a tale that’s supposed to inspire but in fact lies on the stage like a discarded fur coat.