Julia Query, the documentary co-director and a dancer at San Francisco peek-show club Lusty Lady, takes viewers along on her and her coworkers' quest to form a strippers union in reaction to an increasingly hostile work environment. Citing such universally unacceptable particulars as preferential treatment of white workers and threat of job termination in cases of absence due to illness, the dancers decide to ban together and enlist the aid of the Service Employees International Union in their negotiations with Lusty Lady management. Replete with protests, picket lines, anti-union lockouts and arbitration, the documentary holds as much labor drama as any Steinbeck novel, with the exception that "Two, four, six, eight. Don't come here to masturbate!" wouldn't be an appropriate protest chant in "The Grapes of Wrath."
Query is much more successful at capturing the stress and worry of the dancers in their five-month standoff than she is at conveying her fear of "coming out" as a sex industry worker to her mother, one of the documentary's most important subtexts. Complicated by the fact that her parent is Dr. Joyce Wallace, one of the country's most prominent prostitution rights activists, Query's revelation should and does--to some extent--pack an emotional punch. Unfortunately, the underlying story, while undoubtedly true, always feels forced, emphasized by Query herself pointing out that she had been considering telling her mom about her job as a "plot device for the documentary," among other reasons.
However, Query's personal narrative never comes at the expense of the documentary's main political focus, which makes for both engaging and entertaining storytelling, regardless of one's stance regarding the impact of pornography on the status of women. Highly effective in mobilizing the sympathy and support of its audience for the dancers as workers, "Live Nude Girls Unite!" is a lot more than voyeuristic propaganda--it's a good old-fashioned tale about the underdog. Starring Julia Query. Directed and written by Julia Query and Vicky Funari. Produced by Julia Query and John Montoya. A First Run release. Documentary. Unrated. Running time: 70 min.