Run Time: 71 minutes
Director/Writer: Dan Halperin
By Nicole Ackman
“Bombshells and Dollies” (2020) is a charming new documentary looking at the lives of women who take part in the pinup culture, centred around one year’s contestants at the most well-regarded pinup contest. Pinup fashion, which refers to primarily 1940s and 1950s style, has seen a resurgence in the past couple of decades. The women featured in this documentary could pass for having lived in the times of their grandmothers when they’re all dressed up were it not for some of their tattoos, cell phones, and wild hair colours. Dan Halperin wrote and directed this fascinating look at a subculture that many may not know about.
The documentary is focused on twelve women of varying ethnicities and backgrounds who competed to be “Miss Viva Las Vegas.” The competition is set during the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend, a celebration of Rockabilly music, vintage culture, and classic cars. The film follows the women from the selection process, through their preparations, and finally to the contest itself. It includes interviews with all twelve women as well as those involved in running the contest and other well-known pinup icons, including Dita Von Teese.
Pinup has existed since the late 19th century but became culturally important during WWII. It refers to a specific style of first drawings and then photography and a certain (now considered vintage) look. The modern pinup girls that we see in the documentary have characters or personas that they embody when in competition or at photoshoots. The community, while still centred in America, is very international with people coming to the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend from as far away as China and Australia.
“Bombshells and Dollies” highlights what fantastic people these contestants are. We never see them acting competitive against each other. While they might be driven to win, it’s not about putting anyone else down.”
The pinup community prizes elegance and happiness, as well as general beauty and styling. Along with photos from pinup photoshoots, the women must submit stories about their lives in their applications. Many of the women are heavily involved in charities ranging from LGBTQIA rights to suicide prevention. It’s a far cry from the beauty competitions audiences may be more familiar with like the Miss America pageants. The women are generally older than pageant girls and there is a much greater variance in size with little emphasis put on weight. The pinup culture is largely about body acceptance, self-confidence, and community. Many of the women discuss loving pinup because it allows them control over their own image and the ability to embrace their femininity in a creative way.
“Bombshells and Dollies” highlights what fantastic people these contestants are. We never see them acting competitive against each other. While they might be driven to win, it’s not about putting anyone else down and they seem genuinely happy for those who do win. They’re drawn to pinup for the ability to express themselves, the challenge of putting different looks together, and a way to participate in fashion even though curvier bodies are not the modern beauty ideal. The women discuss finding a community where they feel totally accepted for the first time. Some of them have gotten out of bad relationships, recovered from eating disorders, and moved on from being bullied when they were younger with the help of pinup fashion.
“Bombshells and Dollies” is a loving and informative peek into a niche subculture that is sure to warm your heart.
The documentary is a mix of many talking-head interviews and videos from the Rockabilly weekend. It’s an impressive amount of footage that allows you to see many perspectives on the Viva Las Vegas contest. It could perhaps be better organized and it doesn’t go very deep into the history of the recent pinup resurgence or really address how this contest differs from other pageants. The filming and editing aren’t anything exciting or advanced, but they serve their purpose. The documentary is focused on its subject, not its filmmaking.
“Bombshells and Dollies” is a loving and informative peek into a niche subculture that is sure to warm your heart. It’s a great watch simply to appreciate how this group of women have found something that makes them feel empowered and beautiful. Though to tell the truth, it is a bit of a strange experience to watch this during quarantine and see people putting such care into their hair, makeup, and outfits when I haven’t done a full face of makeup or worn proper trousers since mid-March.