CATEGORIES Documentaries
It's hard to believe it's been nearly 17 years since Heidi Fleiss entered our consciousness. In case you're too young to remember -- or know her only as one of those unfortunate plastic-surgery victims-Fleiss, aka "The Hollywood Madam," was busted in 1993 for running a brothel that catered to some of Hollywood's elite actors, movers, and shakers -- a client list that read like roll call at a SAG meeting.

Nick Broomfield's documentary recalls the whole sordid mess, getting down in the dirt by interviewing various hookers, porn stars, and most importantly Fleiss, her movie-biz boyfriend Ivan Nagy, and "Madam Alex," the woman allegedly ushered Fleiss into the oldest profession. It's hard to believe it's been nearly 17 years since Heidi Fleiss entered our consciousness. In case you're too young to remember -- or know her only as one of those unfortunate plastic-surgery victims-Fleiss, aka "The Hollywood Madam," was busted in 1993 for running a brothel that catered to some of Hollywood's elite actors, movers, and shakers -- a client list that read like roll call at a SAG meeting.

Nick Broomfield's documentary recalls the whole sordid mess, getting down in the dirt by interviewing various hookers, porn stars, and most importantly Fleiss, her movie-biz boyfriend Ivan Nagy, and "Madam Alex," the woman allegedly ushered Fleiss into the oldest profession.

But while Broomfield set out to tell the story of how a hippie-ish Hollywood girl became a notorious professional girl, he found something completely different. If you want to sound highfallutin' about it, it plays like an L.A. version of 'Rashomon.' On a less grandiose level, it's a bunch of sleazy underworld types calling each other liars at every turn.

There's a mysterious enforcer named Cookie, who's heard on the phone but never seen, but obviously strikes fear into everyone involved. We hear how cohorts, friends, and even family members managed to sell their side of the story to the tabloids. Broomfield leaves the best for last, though, pinning down Fleiss herself while she's out on bail. Here Fleiss talks as if she's merely an innocent caught in the web of sleazy characters and events. Not until she ponders the prospect of jail does she show a trace of remorse.

In the end, 'Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam' peers into showbiz's seamy underworld, and exposes plenty of dirty little secrets behind the glamour. Part cautionary tale, part tabloid trash, it manages to both illuminate and exploit an already sad saga.

'Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam' is available for free at Snagfilms.com.