Celebrating pin up culture and all things vintage, the annual Miss Viva Las Vegas Pin Up Contest sees 1950s enthusiasts battle it out onstage out for the chance to win the coveted crown. We follow twelve contestants from all over the world as they prepare for the biggest day of their lives in sunny Las Vegas!
The music, clothes, and cars of the 1950s have long held an interest in contemporary society. In nearly every decade since, the Second World War and subsequent decade have been dramatized onscreen, picked over by academics, and celebrated at festivals worldwide. One of the most prominent elements of this time period is pin up culture. Unless you have immersed yourself in the socio-cultural movement, chances are you know little about it other than having seen a few seductive pictures of women in advertising, films, or photos from the 1950s. However, pin up culture is about more than titillation. It was vital to changing the image of women in society. This was typified in the media through characters like ‘Rosie the Riveter’, a campaign showing that woman can embrace feminine beauty AND roll up their sleeves to help the war effort.
Bombshells & Dollies celebrates pin up culture’s ability to empower women and offer a body-positive and inclusive space for individuals to revel in their love for the 1950s. Directed by relative unknown Daniel Halperin, the documentary spans three editions of the Miss Viva Las Vegas contest and follows a dozen hopeful contestants in their efforts to become the face of pin up culture. Focusing primarily on the 2018 competition, the film offers fair insight into the background of each hopeful entrant. Crucially Bombshells & Dollies avoids the pitfalls of other people-focused documentaries by not hamming up each competitor’s personal struggles – the documentary is a celebration of each woman’s love for pin up culture, not a sympathy arms race for the biggest sob story. Because of this we come to really see the passion of each contestant and root for them all equally.
The documentary shines when grounding the contest’s place in contemporary pin up culture but falls when trying to contextualise the movement’s historical roots. While this wasn’t the film’s purpose, it would have been helpful from an outsider’s perspective to learn more about how pin up culture formed and what it meant for women in the 1950s. It may have taken a significant amount of time to cover this background in any worthwhile detail. However, Bombshells & Dollies‘ short 71-minute run time means Halparin could have included a few short interviews with historians without contributing to viewer fatigue. Another (very minor) failing is the kitschy scene transitions that give the documentary a school-project vibe.
Bombshells & Dollies is an interesting and very human insight into the world of much-misunderstood pin up culture. Lovingly shot and edited (even if the production value belies a limited budget), the documentary is a worthy watch for those interested in learning about the movement and the women who embody its values of empowerment and body positivity.
Bombshells & Dollies is available on numerous streaming platforms, including Amazon Prime Video. Click below and enjoy!