VARIETY

STRIPPED

BY LAEL LOEWENSTEIN

A fascinating exposÈ of the world of strippers, Jill Morley’s docu is the gritty antithesis of glitzier items like HBO’s “G-String Divas.” While it’s regrettably hampered by a shoestring budget that ran out before pic could benefit from color correction or upgraded sound, this brutally affecting film deserves to be seen. A cable outlet like HBO or Showtime should consider adopting this item to show the dark side of a milieu that has been overly and unjustifiably glorified in cheesy Hollywood films like “Showgirls” and “Striptease.”

Inspired in part by Morley’s Gotham stage play “True Confessions of a Go-Go Girl,” “Stripped” delves deeper than its source material by incorporating interviews with women Morley knew when she worked as a stripper in New Jersey. Morley makes an important distinction between gentlemen’s clubs and low-rent go-go strip joints; on a good night, the women of her documentary might make $200 each, compared with the much higher sums accrued in more expensive venues.

The four women interviewed sound off on various issues including men, fake breasts, money, empowerment and degradation, but nearly all of them admit to being deeply conflicted about stripping. And curiously, almost all the women find stripping a kind of addiction. No one, it seems, sets out to be a stripper. Most of the women admit a deep sense of shame about turning to stripping; all of them insist that indigent circumstances prompted their decisions.

When Vicki, a professional dancer who was teased for being homely as a child, couldn’t afford to pay her medical bills, she turned to stripping to keep bill collectors at bay. Her income eventually facilitated breast implants and facial surgery that gave her a new sense of self-esteem. For the charismatic Billie, by contrast, stripping was a way to pay the bills so she could launch her acting career. It also offered a means for single mom, Susan, and aspiring artist, Angela, to stay out of debt. Morley’s friendship with her subjects, and the fact that she knows what they’re talking about, enables her to elicit remarkable personal vignettes and raw, uncensored anecdotes.

It’s powerful stuff, but not nearly as powerful as the two bombshells Morley drops toward the end of her docu, when tragic real-life events befall two of her subjects. Because Morley has spent so much time humanizing these women, their fates seem strangely personal. Intelligently, she saves the film’s strongest emotional puch for last; in so doing, it forces the viewer to recontextualize everything that has preceded it.

Produced by Jill Morley; Directed, written by Jill Morley. Camera (color), Peter Klusman; editors, Nelson Ryland/Rachel DeSario Reviewed at Santa Barbara Film Festival, March 3, 2001. Running time: 75 MIN.