“Bombshells and Dollies” is Daniel Halperin’s feature debut, a documentary following the events of the 2015 Miss Viva Las Vegas Pinup pageant, a highlight of the city’s yearly Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend celebrating the best in ‘40s and ‘50s Vintage, Pinup and Rockabilly culture. Through the perspectives of the competitors, judges, organizers and fans, the movie serves as a lean, effervescent introduction to a world where the art of yesteryear breathes new life into femininity and self-expression.
While the documentary conjures up American iconography — greasers, Chevrolet, Rosie the Riveter — the convention’s reach is international, bringing in finalists from Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Canada. One of the best parts of the documentary sees Brazilian Angie Honeyburst explaining how she embraces a Latin American take on Pinup, inspired by Mexican revolutionaries. Pinup isn’t just relegated to WWII-era coquettish white women, but rather, women of all colors, sizes and orientations.
Fans don’t go to American Eagle for the pinup dress du jour. They sift through racks of clothing at vintage or thrift shops, crafting their individual style piece by piece. While people try to remain period-accurate, ultimately, the goal is for no two pinups to look alike. This focus on detail-oriented self-expression leads to mental and emotional benefits for the finalists. For some women, Pinup helps with body confidence. For others, it’s an outlet to brazenly express their femininity in a judgment-free zone. Pinup can also provide a way for shy women to tap into a different character, a persona they can feel free to be more outspoken in than in their daily lives.
For those annoyed with pageant drama, don’t worry: The documentary completely avoids it. The atmosphere is celebratory — an inclusive and jovial affair for all lovers of the culture. Each contestant gets their moment to shine and, while listening to each of their stories, I come to the conclusion they’re passionate, accomplished women using Pinup as a vessel for their art. It comes off less as a beauty contest, more a gallery. It just so happens their bodies are the canvas.
The movie’s main structure follows the timeline of the pageant, from a few weeks before to the end of the shebang. The focus is on interviewing each finalist about their life and love of Pinup, but interspersed between are segments detailing the history of Pinup, modern influences on Vintage culture, and interviews with prominent figures such as burlesque artist Dita Von Teese and Viva Las Vegas founder Tom Ingram. The film’s short so I understand the need to give a broad overview of the culture, but the overall result feels rushed and scattered. Perhaps this is meant to echo the whirlwind of being surrounded by so many bands, fashions, classic cars and people during the weekend.
However, the stars remain the finalists, and I dare say that by the end, you’ll find a favorite. Maybe she’s Miss Victory Violet from New Zealand, a blogger using her love of Pinup to spread body confidence. Maybe she’s Little Bit, the petite Angeleno spitfire who’s a repeat finalist — a bouncing ball of joy. For yours truly, she’s Brittany Jean, a lady who shares her love with the WWII vets who painted — and pinned up — this art on their planes and in their bunks.
Regardless of who you root for, I think you’ll find room in your heart for all these women. The style is such a kaleidoscope of self-expression, I can’t imagine someone not finding something to love about everyone participating in the culture. That’s the joy, isn’t it? Pinup culture is a place where each woman can craft and express their particular brand of beauty. That’s better than any tiara.
“Bombshells and Dollies” is now available to rent on Amazon, Vudu and Flixfling.
Featured image credit: TriCoast Entertainment
Daniel Berrios watches movies in Dallas with his wife and three meowing children. When not watching movies, he’s likely writing about them or discussing them on his YouTube channel. Outside of film, he enjoys “Borderlands,” cooking and playing a guitar that desperately needs new strings.