Ask Suzanne Ramsey to suggest a film that gives a legitimate taste of burlesque and she won’t be touting the recent Hollywood outing starring Cher and Christina Aguilera.
Instead, she recommends “On Tour” — and not just because she stars in it.
Her film, by French actor and director Mathieu Amalric, closes this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival and, according to Ramsey, is a lot truer to the world of new burlesque, for which she is an active proponent.
“It’s sad,” she said. “Steve Antin, the director of ‘Burlesque,’ had this great opportunity and he didn’t use it. There’s really nothing very burlesque at all in that movie.”
Better known by her alter ego, Kitten on the Keys, Ramsey has been performing on the San Francisco alternative-arts scene since the 1990s and these days appears monthly at Madrone Art Bar. She tours regularly, which is how the singer-songwriter crossed paths with Amalric.
“Mathieu is an intellectual,” Ramsey said. “He wanted to write a script about Colette and her life in the music halls.”
During his research, Amalric became intrigued by the concept of new burlesque. In 2007, he attended a performance by Ramsey, who was on tour in France.
“We had no idea who he was, but the French audience certainly knew who he was and was making this big to-do about his presence,” Ramsey said.
The Bay Area native learned of Amalric’s project, but harbored a healthy dose of suspicion.
“I thought he’d steal my essence and creativity and schtick, and then hire a bunch of skinny French actresses who don’t eat and smoke too much to be up there playing the piano and telling our jokes,” Ramsey said.
Amalric won her trust by traveling to different performance stops, including San Francisco’s Tease-O-Rama burlesque convention.
“I ran into him backstage at Bimbo’s,” she said. “He hired our troupe and the next thing you know, the film is accepted at Cannes and he wins best director.”
The screening May 5 is a rare chance for local audiences to see the film. “It’s huge over there,” said Ramsey, referring to French audiences, “but because of a music-rights issue, it’s not shown over here except at festivals. Last time I heard, it was around 300,000 euros to settle it, and that’s a lot of money.”
Ramsey has become a popular spokeswoman for the film, trekking from Hong Kong to Helsinki for festivals and events. Earlier this year, she presented at the César Awards, France’s Oscar equivalent. “I don’t even really speak French,” she said, laughing, “but I feel like I’m living some crazy French Cinderella fairy tale!”
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