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LIVE NUDE GIRLS UNITE!

Review by Michael Jacobson

Directors:  Julia Query, Vicky Funari
Audio:  Dolby Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  First Run Features
Features:  See Review
Length:  85 Minutes
Release Date:  August 21, 2001

Film ***

When Al Gore’s parents sang him to sleep with the Union song, it’s probably safe to say they didn’t have Julia Query in mind.

Julia is an unforgettable girl.  She’s funny, energetic, creative, and loves to help people.  She also happens to make her living as a stripper.

Sex entertainment, as it is referred to often in Julia’s documentary Live Nude Girls Unite!, has been around in one form or another throughout history.  At Julia’s place of business, the Lusty Lady, she and her co-workers dance in a small mirrored room for shifts sometimes as long as twelve hours.  Customers outside the room in private booths feed quarters into a machine that opens a peep window, at the rate of about 15 seconds per 25 cents.

The women of the Lusty Lady have issues with their employers.  They are not allowed sick time or holidays.  If a girl misses a shift, she can’t just call anybody to take her place…her replacement has to be roughly the same size, shape and hair color.  Customers are supposed to be forbidden from bringing cameras into the booths, but no one is really enforcing the rule, and pictures of the girls begin showing up on the Internet as a result.  The dancers’ wages are reduced for any minor infraction.  In a special private room, where the ladies stand to make the most money, the club’s black dancers are never scheduled.  For that matter, rarely are white brunettes.

That last fact really blew my mind, because it’s obviously out-and-out racial discrimination.  No company in America could get away with such a blatantly illegal practice; how does the Lusty Lady?  The answer is probably a simple one:  people who DON’T work as strippers tend not to think of stripping as a job.  Let’s face it, the clients who frequent such establishments probably like to think of the dancers doing what they do simply because they like to do it…it’s part of the packaged illusion.  As one girl in the documentary humorously recalls, a male customer actually asked her what she did for a living!

Julia decides the only answer is to unionize.  The story of the Lusty Lady girls made news across the country a couple of years back, mostly as a lighthearted piece…but these women were serious.  The Lusty Lady, however, was equally serious about not having their girls unionize, and the fight was on.  The future of the sex entertainment industry could very well have been in the balance; particularly with the girls’ fight against club practice of calling their dancers “independent contractors” instead of employees, thus negating their rights to benefits or security.

Julia’s camera captures a wide array of moments in her and her friend’s struggle for better working conditions.  It’s surprising how engrossing some of it turns out to be, as when the club makes an example of one girl by firing her for her Union activities (though they claim it was for other reasons).  This leads the entire staff, some 85-90 workers comprised of dancers and support staff, to picket outside the club for their comrade’s job back.  I’d love to share some of their chants with you, but trust me, they’re not quite suitable for reprinting. 

As with any Union deal, contract negotiations are lengthy and stressful, particularly over one point Julia and company are unwilling to budge on:  they want all employees of the club to be required to join their Union.  The Lusty Lady prefers Union membership to be optional, but as Julia points out, another club failed when they agreed to that:  the owners merely hired girls who promised not to join the Union, until the Union was effectively broken.

Apart from the legal matter, there is also a personal one involved in the film.  Julia’s mother is a renowned New York doctor famed for her work with prostitutes.  She has even appeared on national television with Barbara Walters.  While Julia’s mother knows of her daughter’s work on behalf of Unionizing strippers, she has no clue that Julia herself is an exotic dancer.  It’s a secret that comes out when both Julia and her mother are invited to speak at the same benefit…Julia and co-director Vicky Funari capture the moment on camera.  It’s not one with an easy resolution.

Julia and company fought the good fight, made a success of it, and became an inspiration to other entertainers across the country.  Their efforts weren’t always as fruitful, but Julia at least planted in them the will to fight and the belief that they could succeed.  If you strip (no pun intended) Live Nude Girls Unite! of its more exotic material, the basic message is universal and appealing: stand up for what you believe is right.  Sometimes, even small victories can make a big difference.

Video **

This picture seems to have been shot on a standard video camera available at any neighborhood Best Buy, so the quality is naturally less than stellar.  There were obviously no cinematographers, no professional lighters, no focus pullers or any technical hands involved in making the movie.  For what it is, it looks fine, and should garner no real complaints as long as you understand going in that this disc isn’t going to look much different than the video you shot of your last family Christmas.  Except for the naked women, of course.

Audio **

Again, the technical limitations means the soundtrack is workable though unspectacular.  You can understand the dialogue, and for an inexpensively made documentary, there’s really no other criteria to judge by.

Features **

There is some bonus footage included with this disc…okay stuff, but nothing terribly exciting.  There is also a very short photo gallery and a trailer.

Summary:

Norma Rae she may not be, but Julia Query proves everybody deserves their day in the sun…even your friendly neighborhood exotic dancer.  Live Nude Girls Unite! is an amusing, entertaining, and even somewhat inspiring documentary about a plucky group of ladies who felt they deserved better, and did something about it.