Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam (1995)

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Released 23-Aug-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Audio & Animation
Introduction-Nick Broomfield
Gallery-Photo
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1995
Running Time 107:06 (Case: 106)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (55:52) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Nick Broomfield
Studio
Distributor

Shock Entertainment
Starring Nick Broomfield
Case ?
RPI Box Music David Bergeaud


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.29:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The second of the documentaries in The Nick Broomfield Collection Vol 1: Adventures in the Sex Trade is a 1995 film for the BBC about the most famous Madam in Hollywood: Heidi Fleiss. She achieved instant celebrity in 1993 when she was arrested on pandering charges, and some prominent names in Hollywood were named as clients of her service. Pandemonium seemed to erupt more because of the names that she might name, rather than the names that she did name.

    Like many of the best investigative documentaries, it is the unexpected twists and turns that raise this above the mundane. Broomfield arranged to make a film about Fleiss, but just before he was due to meet her she was re-arrested and imprisoned. In order to keep the production going he sought out people who knew her. This trail led to some very strange and shady characters in the underbelly of Hollywood.

    Fleiss seems to have been attracted to older men. One of her relationships was with Hungarian-born film director Ivan Nagy, who comes across in this film as something like a Colourful Racing Identity. He claims that he was trying to save Fleiss from a life of prostitution and drugs, while a former panderer named Madam Alex (who seems to live in bed) says that Nagy sold Fleiss to her for $500. A detective says that Nagy was involved in criminal activity and ran an escort network. Nothing more than circumstantial evidence of this is presented in the film. Both Nagy and Madam Alex paint the other as evil gutter trash.

    We also get to meet Victoria Sellers, a former drug addict and once one of Fleiss' girls. The daughter of Peter Sellers and Britt Ekland, Sellers tells that she was a close friend of Fleiss until Fleiss turned on her. However, a quick search of the internet reveals that they are more recently business partners and still close friends.

    When Madam Alex was charged with pandering in 1991, an LAPD detective helped her get a light sentence by testifying that she was a police informant. Broomfield interviews this detective, who confirms the story and also claims that Police Chief Daryl Gates' brother was involved with a prostitute. The interview was conducted in prison where the detective was facing armed robbery charges. When Broomfield later interviews Chief Gates, we see the cash payment that Broomfield had to make in order to get the interview (he had previously paid Madam Alex $2,500 for her interviews). Fleiss herself is only interviewed in the last half hour of the documentary.

    The impression I get from this film is that the only things that matter to these people are power and money. The overwhelming impression you get is that everyone is lying or at least bending the truth for their own ends, and at the end of this film I felt I knew more about the character of the people involved than I did about their life stories. Even the sex (which we don't see, obviously) seems to be less about love and more about power and money. There is barely a credible or likeable witness in this film, from the principals (although Fleiss is reasonably sympathetic) through to the peripheral figures Broomfield interviews, such as former call girls, porn stars like Ron Jeremy and even Fleiss' mother. That being said, this is a compelling and entertaining film, often quite funny, benefiting from Broomfield's droll sense of humour.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.29:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced. It was made for screening on the BBC, and looks to be shot on 16mm film, possibly later transferred to a video master from which this transfer is taken.

    As a result, the video is not very sharp. There is enough detail to prevent this from being unpleasant viewing, and the look of the film does suit the subject material. The lack of clarity of the picture matches the lack of clarity of the stories depicted. Shadow detail is not very good. While much of the film occurs in bright sunlight, occasionally the subjects are backlit, meaning there are deep shadows on their faces with no detail visible. Some of the indoor work is murky.

    Contrast levels are average as well, but acceptable. Colour is reasonable, much like any other 16mm footage shown on television. There are no vivid colours, but there is enough colour to be presentable. Blacks suffer from some low level noise and there are no pure whites either.

    The print material is of course quite grainy, but not to excessive levels. Gibb Effect is visible throughout much of the film, but apart from that the general lack of clarity means that transfer artefacts are not really visible, if they exist. There is a steady stream of film artefacts, such as dirt, debris and minor damage. For most of the first ten minutes or so there is a wavering vertical yellow line on the left hand side of the screen. This looks like something that might have affected the original negative rather than an artefact on the print used, though it is difficult to be sure.

    The film is presented on an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change at 55:52 at a cut, and it is not disruptive. There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The sole audio track is Dolby Digital 2.0. I'm pretty sure that this is a mono track; in any case, there is no surround encoding.

    The audio is satisfactory for this type of film. The sound is obviously limited, given the use of a hand-held microphone, which does not always capture the voices well. Madame Alex mumbles and is therefore often difficult to understand, which made me wish that subtitles were available. Otherwise dialogue is reasonably clear. There is no noticeable hiss or distortion.

    The score is credited to David Bergeaud. There are a few snatches of music, all bar a few sounding like they are from pre-recorded sources. A few dramatic chords were the only sounds I thought may have been original to the film.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Audio & Animation

    Animation for the menu options consists of clips from the film accompanied by the sound of a projector.

Introduction - Nick Broomfield (3:12)

    This is a brief introduction to the film, in which the director gives some background on how the film came to be made.

Photo Gallery

    8 stills of Fleiss, Nagy, Alex and Broomfield made during the production.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The US Region 1 release is available as a stand-alone release. I have not been able to locate any reviews, but it seems to omit the photo gallery, not enough to recommend the Region 4 in preference. However, if you want only this film then the Region 1 is the better option.

Summary

    An absorbing documentary about some pretty strange characters. This is the sort of thing that the phrase only in America was created for.

    The video and audio quality are acceptable given the source material.

    The extras do not amount to much.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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