Accustomed to HBO’s adult programming, I thought that documentaries on the sex industry were just an excuse to show naked ladies. But STRIPPED, Jill Morley’s documentary about strippers, bypasses the flash and trash of boobs and thongs for in-depth interviews with exotic dancers. Billie, a ’50s-style burlesque performer, Vicki, who has an MFA in dance from NYU, Angela, an artist, Susan, a writer for the Village Voice, and Ms. Morley herself, all supplement their incomes by stripping.
They each discuss their reasons for getting into the business, the plastic surgeries they’ve had, how it’s changed the way they view men, their addiction to the craft, and how the money it brings in keeps them from quitting.
While the strippers are sometimes shown at work, what differentiates this film from most tawdry voyeurism is that Morley was actually a stripper in the business when she began filming. It gives Stripped a voice that’s rarely heard, turning those who are normally paid to be objectified into totally compelling subjects. After watching the film, I couldn’t stop thinking about these women for days.
Stripped is honest and impartial in its portrayal of the industry as something a lot more complicated and damaging than we’re often led to believe. Morley, who was, at first, very gung ho about stripping (even trying to talk her roommate into it), comes to the conclusion halfway through the film that stripping is actually not all that great or empowering, and ends up quitting the biz. Most affecting of all is the surprise ending. I won’t give it away—just be sure to have a box of tissues on hand. Even though Stripped looks cheaply made (it was partly filmed with a camcorder), it proves to be a valuable addition to our open sexual discourse as feminists. —Tracy Egan