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April 13, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

Bikini Revolution (German Film Festival)

Published 12/4/11 at

If you’ve ever wanted an excuse to stare at the rears of Brazilian women for about an hour and a half, Bikini Revolution is going to make you very happy. But for those who aren’t so easily distracted, it’s also not a bad little slice of history about that itsy-witsy, teeny-weeny piece of clothing that revolutionised beach culture.

Every documentary needs its ‘experts’, and Bikini Revolution is no exception. Meet the ‘bikini scientist’ Judson Rosebush, who collects bikinis of all shapes and sizes and stores them according to era and style. There’s also Miriam Etz, a ‘bikini pioneer’ who dared to wear two-pieces when baring the navel caused nothing less than moral outrage. Throw in an historian from the US-based Fashion Institute of Technology and a bikini fashion designer, and you have a collage of elements that create a dense and historically layered portrait of the bikini’s rampage through popular culture. At the very least, Bikini Revolution demonstrates that the creator of the bikini, Louis Réard, was a marketing genius so culturally aware that he could probably have sold oil to Saudi Arabia.

You’ll learn how Johnny Weissmuller and Jayne Mansfield had their input into the evolution of fashion, how the fitness craze and the atomic bomb are linked to the ‘sex bomb’ bikini, and just how much the inhabitants of the Bikini Atoll sacrificed for the world. You’ll even learn a thing or two about a fashion item so small that it should, theoretically, be able to pass through a wedding ring.

American bikinis, for starters, are utterly unrecognisable when pitted against the (in many cases) sexier cut of the Brazilian style. A bikini style is also likely to demonstrate cultural preferences, social norms, and the oddly conflicting approaches to the female flesh, as outlined by the topsy-turvy French and Brazilian responses to bikini wear.

It’s a shame then, that Bikini Revolution seems to gloss over what is a rather compelling aspect of the documentary. It’s fair to say that this film isn’t about the plight of the Bikinians, but their isolation and complete disconnect from the concept of the bikini makes for a fascinating, albeit brief discussion with various Bikinian representatives. Having surrendered their beautiful atoll to the American military ‘for the good of the world’, they are a touching and almost inadvertent addition to the story of the bikini as fashion item.

In attempting to cover so much ground, Bikini Revolution also fails to launch into any in-depth exploration of the myriad of topics they cover. The audience jumps from the Bikini Atoll to Louis Réard, through to the women’s movement, fashion, history and culture so quickly that it becomes difficult to connect the many dots required to compose a compelling picture. But if you don’t mind the speed and the shallow scoop of insight into popular culture, Bikini Revolution offers a pleasant overview of the oddly fascinating concept of the bikini, and its place within the history of bathing as a leisure activity.


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