Thursday, April 1, 2010

Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam (1995)

Nick Broomfield


Nick Broomfield's Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam is a lively, bawdy, bizarrely fascinating chronicle - both of the life of the infamous Madam, and of Mr. Broomfield's efforts to track her down. Interviewing prostitutes and pornographers, Mr. Broomfield immerses himself so tirelessly in the hunt for Ms. Fleiss that he initially raises questions of journalistic integrity, not to mention an eyebrow or two. When the filmmaker heads for Ms. Fleiss' favorite bars, conducts motel room interviews or approaches a streetwalker (who threatens to spit on his camera), he appears to be showing several shades more investigative zeal than the subject warrants. But Mr. Broomfield, an accomplished documentary film maker whose last profiles were of Margaret Thatcher and the serial killer Aileen Wuornos, winds up justifying his interest in Ms. Fleiss and her world. Exploring the strange subculture of pimps, thugs and high rollers that nourished Ms. Fleiss and her entrepreneurial instincts, the film exposes a story that is pure Hollywood. Everyone seen here is obsessed with illusion. Everyone cares more about keeping up appearances than about telling the truth. And, as Mr. Broomfield makes clear by handing out $100 bills to those willing to talk on camera - including former Los Angeles Police Chief Darryl Gates - everyone here is for sale. Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam reveals Mr. Broomfield to be much craftier than he first appears. Seen driving through Los Angeles and trying to solicit interviews via his car phone, he seems hopelessly overmatched. The people he seeks are tough customers, like Madam Alex and Ivan Nagy, the two alleged mentors who helped Ms. Fleiss early in her career and later came to regret it. Like many of the people Mr. Broomfield approaches, they take stock of his milquetoast manner and underestimate him. Big mistake.


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