She is no stranger to film, either, as the subject both of a 1995 Nick Broomfield documentary and a 2004 TV movie starring Jamie-Lynn Sigler. The occasion for the current film is Fleiss' ongoing attempt to open a brothel -- a brothel for women, staffed by men, that she calls the "stud farm" -- in the hamlet of Crystal in Nye County, Nev., where prostitution is legal yet not free from controversy. (Pahrump, Nev., where Fleiss lives, is the big city compared to Crystal's cross-hatching of dirt roads and was the setting of the Sundance Channel's documentary "Pleasure for Sale.") Her plans for the place, inspired by oysters and monasteries, are impressive -- it's like Bugsy Siegel's dream of the Flamingo all over again, with sex.
Fleiss encounters both local resistance and local support and becomes friends (after a fashion) with her next-door neighbor, a retired madam whose house is given over to exotic birds. There is a kind of caged/free allegory that runs through the film, somewhat oversold by the filmmakers -- portentous images of shadowy cages, shots of birds flying free. "I do feel I carry the soul of someone who was exterminated in a concentration camp," says Fleiss, who inherits the birds when her neighbor dies and sets about building them a proper aviary. Unexpectedly, the film becomes a kind of interspecies love story: "His soul was human," she says, remembering a parrot she loved. As for the "stud ranch," Fleiss finds her plans sidetracked because of her association with Pahrump brothel owner Joe Richards, who is under investigation for bribery. Also, she's just been charged with felony possession of drugs, resulting from a February traffic stop.
In the meantime, she has opened a laundromat in Pahrump, called Dirty Laundry. It appears to be doing well.