Title: America Stripped: Naked Las Vegas
Director: David Palmer
David Palmer’s “America Stripped: Naked Las Vegas” follows photographer Greg Friedler as he undertakes a most unusual mission — trying to corral subjects of every shape and socioeconomic stature to pose for his fourth city-specific book of nudes. In doing so, the documentary assays the differences between nudity and nakedness, and also takes the elevated temperature of a highly transient town of fabricated bliss.
Friedler’s previous “Naked” books focused on New York, Los Angeles and London, with simple side-by-side black-and-white photos of subjects from all walks of life, both clothed and undressed. His plans for Las Vegas include color, perhaps unsurprisingly, but otherwise remain the same. Doing local press to help publicize his work, Friedler slowly but surely rounds up a fairly eclectic group of sitters (well, standers), including his one white whale — an Elvis impersonator. Along with the expected roster of escorts and adult industry-types (a dominatrix, a fetish companion with fangs and a woman with natural 48E breasts who wants to get them enlarged to 54GG), there’s a college professor who lost her boyfriend in the Iraq War, several musicians and casino workers, a seemingly buttoned-up lawyer whose suit covers dozens of tattoos, a homeless man, pre- and post-op transsexuals, and even a 6’7″ accountant who stops by to pose on a whim.
Palmer’s movie chronicles the photo shoots and some of Friedler’s ruminations on the process (a lack of female pubic hair seems to cut across barriers of class and occupation), while also then spinning off asides on some of the more colorful subjects. It may sound tawdry or like “art” of the most convenient, winking sort, but Friedler’s skill with portraiture and interest in the human condition come through (one participant smartly describes his work as “a book with no words that you can read”), and the film is legitimately engaging on an intellectual level.
Still, one wants more. Friedler’s parents, Cecille and Jerry, are glimpsed briefly in one little soundbite clip, but — some of its prurient delights notwithstanding — “America Stripped” would have benefited from a more committed exploration of its protagonist’s thought processes and frustrations. His sense of sincerity is readily apparent, but the specifics of some of Friedler’s feelings remain muted, even as he confesses to a rising tide of anxiety and depression just from staying in Las Vegas for the duration of his shoot. There are moments he complains about emails bouncing back and other subjects related to both his schedule and vision for the work, but Palmer pulls back politely rather than ever press the issues. An even hungrier film would have tried to strip away a bit more, and reveal more starkly its main character.
NOTE: “America Stripped” is also available on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu and VOD. For more information, visit www.AmericaStripped.com.
Written by: Brent Simon