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‘Heidi Fleiss Hollywood Madam’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 12, 1996


Nick Broomfield
Heidi Fleiss;
Madam Alex;
Ivan Nagy;
Daryl Gates;
Victoria Sellers
nudity, excessive profanity and descriptions of lewd sexual acts

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IN "HEIDI Fleiss Hollywood Madam," British documentarian Nick Broomfield pulls into Hollywood with a movie camera, intending to probe the enigma of the infamous sex operator—charged in 1993 with operating a call-girl ring that catered to movie producers, actors and other Tinseltown players.

"I wanted," he narrates in a somewhat grandiloquent, pseudo-Chandler tone, "to get some idea of what kind of person she was and how she had become Hollywood's Madam."

At the beginning, his mission seems fool-hardy or, at best, quixotic. Not only is the 29-year-old Fleiss in the middle of drug rehabilitation when he arrives (for violating her parole), she's unwilling to talk when she does get out.

Undeterred, Broomfield sets about interviewing anyone he can find who can give him a clue about his subject. (The movie takes place between Fleiss's June 1993 arrest and her May 1995 trial.)

He's not always successful, but his discoveries are always interesting: One streetwalker threatens to spit into his camera lens. He talks by phone with a slippery, apparent hit man called Cookie who may have inside knowledge about Fleiss's arrest. He has an absurdly comic conversation with Victoria Sellers, the out-there daughter of Peter Sellers and Britt Ekland, and a former Fleiss employee and friend. He even touches base with former LAPD Chief Daryl Gates (shown counting the money Broomfield paid him as an interview fee), who turned a blind eye to his brother's alleged dalliances with Heiss hookers.

The movie (which aired last year on cable's Cinemax) finally comes into its own when Broomfield establishes the central triangle in Fleiss's personal life. It all began when Ivan Nagy, her middle-aged, Hungarian boyfriend, "sold" the young Heidi (she was in her early twenties) to a certain Madam Alex to pay off a $500 debt. Madam Alex then groomed Fleiss into the flesh-peddler we know today. (For this evolution into madamhood, Fleiss faces up to eight year's imprisonment for conspiracy, tax evasion and money laundering.)

Now, all three players—apparently estranged from each other—have a maddening assortment of claims and counterclaims. It becomes clear they are liars, manipulators, schemers, denial artists and back stabbers—and frankly, they deserve each other.

Fleiss, who finally agrees to be interviewed, is easily the most appealing of this bizarre trio. She confesses to an overwhelming attraction to older men and is simply hooked on Nagy, despite his abusive treatment of her. She claims to have split up with him, but—in recorded telephone conversations Nagy treacherously makes available to Broomfield—she still keeps very cozy tabs with him.

Madam Alex, who ran brothels for movie stars for years, and who died last June at the age of 60, despises Nagy for supposedly stealing her business from under her. To this and other charges, Nagy, who wants to be thought of as a film director (one of his projects: a pornographic CD-ROM about the Fleiss prostitutes), states, "If there is pure evil, it's Madam Alex." Coming from this oily individual who (this movie strongly implies) beats women and possibly was instrumental in fingering Fleiss to the authorities, that's quite a compliment.

"Heidi Fleiss Hollywood Madam" is a whirlwind, free-form, enjoyably unconventional documentary that wins the day by dint of Broomfield's bewildered-Brit act (which seems to charm everyone) and his tenaciousness. Of course, paying his interviewees helps most of all. Madam Alex is particularly cooperative until she feels she has earned the $2,500 Broomfield paid her. Then she tells him where to get off.

If the movie is about the mysterious lure of abusive relationships, it's also about Broomfield himself—and us. Starting off as a complete outsider, he tumbles willingly into the sleazy vortex he's trying to understand. Then his over-the-top determination gets the better of him. We become implicated, too, just by watching. This movie is like the tar patch in the Tar Baby story. We all get stuck to each other, either as participants, voyeurs or camp-appreciative onlookers. And after this movie, most of us will have a strong compulsion to jump into the shower.

HEIDI FLEISS HOLLYWOOD MADAM (Unrated) — Contains nudity, excessive profanity and descriptions of lewd sexual acts.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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