Las Vegas is bewildering to the outsider: a vast semiotic puzzle. Everything in this documentary looks faintly ersatz. But then, isn’t that the essence of the American Dream? Ideas travel huge distances from their original meanings and become symbols of something else entirely. One contributor to this interesting film argues that Vegas is the realest place in the USA. No bullshit, no pretence: ‘the only currency is currency’. He might be on to something but, if so, God help America.
We begin with a wedding. An earnest minister reads the vows and the camera pans back to reveal an Elvis, standing in the corner, patiently waiting to do his snake-hipped thing. Anything, it seems, can be incorporated into this never-ending show. In the 1950s, nuclear devices were tested just 65 miles from the city: most municipalities would have objected, Vegas sold tickets. It’s this kind of shameless rapacity that makes the city simultaneously thrilling and revolting – this lengthy doc is only part one of the story (concluding tomorrow at 9pm) but then, where Vegas is concerned, there are plenty of good stories to tell.