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[whitespace] 'Live Nude Girls Unite!'
Look for the Union Label: The exotic dancers at the Lusty Lady in San Francisco turn out to be union pioneers, in a new documentary.

Union Forever

'Live Nude Girls Unite!' looks at the power of group action in the sex-work industry

By Richard von Busack

AN ARMY OF NAKED WOMEN can never be defeated. Certainly, the documentary Live Nude Girls Unite! beats the hell out of Cradle Will Rock as a statement in favor of union organizing. Co-director Julia Query--ex-New York lesbian Jewish grad-school dropout, writer and stand-up comedian--took a typical San Francisco rent-paying job in a windowless cubicle. That the cubicle was surrounded by quarter machines and housed in a building called the Lusty Lady Theater really didn't change the facts.

As strip clubs went, the Lusty Lady was a little better than average. There was no direct contact with the customers--the job involved dancing, not wheedling. The bosses didn't hit the women with the sometimes ruinous surcharges that some unsavory clubs use to keep dancers docile and broke. But the Lusty Lady scheduled the dancers on the basis of race and breast size--and refused to give them sick days. Julia, accompanied by other Lusty Lady dancers, began the process of legally unionizing.

This engaging documentary opens up the San Francisco sex-work scene. Through interviews and animation, directors Query and Vicky Funari unveil the long negotiations and even a picket line ("Two, four, six, eight--don't go in to masturbate!"). But Live Nude Girls Unite! has its drawbacks. A chronology of events would have helped, and I have grave doubts about the wisdom of confronting family members on camera, thus enlisting them into a projected film. Query's mother is the noted prostitute-rights advocate Dr. Joyce Wallace, and she didn't have any idea what her daughter Julia did for a living until she was informed of it on camera. What can you say about this kind of thing--that the mom puts on a good show?

The fact that articulate, middle-class women go into sex work doesn't change its nature as, often, the last refuge of the desperate. Nevertheless, Query and her fellow dancers' efforts to turn their working conditions around are inspiring and fun to watch. The dancers have witty things to say: "Suddenly, she's heterosexual!" exclaims one stripper, putting on a flouncing blonde wig in the dressing room. And as always there are those who have found a positive side to a tough business. A woman named Tara says, "I've used sex work, and there is life force in it; it is healthy, and I consider myself to be providing a spiritual service." Query also seems to have found satisfaction in this fight to help her fellow women. As she tells her mother, "My intelligence and personality didn't provide me with good working conditions--being part of a group, did."

Live Nude Girls Unite! (R; 95 min.), a documentary by Julia Query and Vicky Funari, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the November 2-8, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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