One of the intentions of art is to defy expectations. And yet there are far too many who are quick to place definitive parameters on what it is and isn't. Liv Osthus, better known around Portland as the beloved, longtime stripper Viva Las Vegas, has devoted her life thus far to shredding the artistic expectations of others and committing herself to finding art in all endeavors.
In the documentary Thank You for Supporting the Arts (now available for streaming and on DVD), directors Carolann Stoney and W. Alexander Jones take Osthus/Viva's famous catchphrase—a farewell request often said following her performances—and employ it not only to highlight the eternal question of "what is art," but as a gracious nod toward the subtle beauty of this person who lives boldly and on her own terms.
Quick to point out that her opinions and experiences do not reflect everyone who participates in sex work, Osthus nevertheless is a staunch advocate for those in every corner of the industry, sweetly encouraging her customers and onlookers to view their occupations through an artistic lens, and what they offer to society at large. And while Osthus is primarily known for her Viva Las Vegas alter-ego, that boisterous, fun-loving persona is only the tip of what she's accomplished.
Besides being a highly regarded dancer and activist, the documentary reveals Osthus as an accomplished writer/editor (whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Mercury), as well as a talented singer whose vocal range is just as at home harmonizing 12th-18th century French popular music (with her trio Bergerette) as she is squealing sex-positive punk as the lead vocalist for Coco Cobra & the Killers. But the doc goes deeper still, relating the story of Osthus' religious upbringing, her battles against depression and breast cancer, as well as her journey of self-discovery and acceptance that comes from motherhood.
While a consistently interesting and deep look at a very worthy subject, the film is occasionally plagued by uneven pacing, stilted narration, and a few unwelcome male perspectives that should've been left on the cutting room floor. However there are plenty of smart people saying smart things, some deliciously awkward interviews with the parents, and most importantly, a laser-beam focus on its subject, a beautiful soul who speaks with searing honesty about the price that's paid and the bravery needed to experience a life that's worth living.