Dir. Nimisha Mukerji; Writ. Nimisha Mukerji, Kaitlyn Regehr
Starring: Tempest Storm, Harvey Robbins, Herb Jeffries
One of the biggest stars of the 1950s American underworld scene, with its nightclubs, jazz musicians, comics and strippers, was the “classy” and marvelously endowed performer, Tempest Storm. Possibly the most renowned stripper of the period, she had affairs with Elvis and John F. Kennedy, and starred in a notorious erotic “art” film called Teaserama with the equally acclaimed Bettie Page. The Southern redhead caused considerable controversy in the late ‘50s when she married the “Black buckaroo” Herb Jeffries, a handsome African-American singer and actor. And a decade and a half later, Ms. Storm astonished a generation of rock’n’rollers by being the opening act for the James Gang when they played Carnegie Hall.
There’s no doubt that Tempest Storm is worthy of a documentary feature. Nimisha Mukerji, the Canadian director of 65 _ Red Roses, about a young woman fighting cystic fibrosis, has focused on the tragic tale behind Tempest Storm’s bawdy triumphs. Now in her early 80s and no longer able to perform after injuring her hip while stripping a few years ago, Storm is an auburn lioness in winter, ready for a doc portrait.
Mukerji has come through, offering in Tempest Storm a sympathetic feature biography of a beautiful woman who had to fight a series of abusive men in order to become a star. But while she offers a few reminisces from Storm’s exciting past and a considerable amount of archival footage, her doc concentrates on the octogenarian performer trying to connect to her long lost family. Tempest Storm does get to see her aging step-brothers and sister and visit her biological father’s grave but her own daughter won’t play along. Still bitter over Tempest’s abandonment of her and Herb Jeffries, “Trish” refuses to meet her mother.
What are we to make of the proceedings in Tempest Storm? Why does the aging burlesque queen want to visit her family? To make amends?
Mukerji can’t answer those questions. Tempest Storm is a performer pure and simple. Her relationship with manager Harvey Robbins is probably one of the best in her life. Robbins praises Storm all the time and never expects anything from her apart from a percentage of her appearance fees at burlesque/cabaret nostalgia weekends. That’s what she wants: love, and she doesn’t mind spending money to get it. An angry daughter simply doesn’t fit into her scenario.
Ultimately, Tempest Storm is a qualified success. You’d like to know what made this amazing burlesque performer tick. So, I suspect, would Mukerji. But Storm did lead an astonishing life—and Mukerji has made a solid film about her.
Tempest Storm is now playing in Toronto and Vancouver.