The following are simply a few new movie reviews which are being incorporated into the filmography page; I realized that if I didn’t call attention to them regular readers who had already read that page would miss them, so I felt it was better to feature them in the column. Besides, it gives me a break from having to write a full essay today!
Doctor Detroit (1983) is an absurd 80s comedy whose heart and head could not be farther apart. In heart, the movie borrows heavily from Man of La Mancha; Dan Aykroyd portrays a timid university professor with a powerful sense of chivalry who embarks on a Quixotic mission to protect three beautiful hookers from gangster domination by posing as their flamboyant “pimp”, the titular character. At heart, therefore, the film portrays whores as women just as worthy of love, respect and chivalrous protection as any other woman. Factually, though, it is populated by the usual silly Hollywood “hooker” and “pimp” stereotypes moving through a ridiculous series of settings and situations which resemble the real lives of whores about as closely as The Blues Brothers resembles actual church fundraising. But if you’re a Dan Aykroyd and/or 80s comedy fan and can check your brain at the door, you’ll probably find it an amusing way to kill 90 minutes.
Full Metal Jacket (1987) features what must be the most widely-remembered portrayal of a streetwalker in the past several decades, namely the Vietnamese whore who opens the second half by sauntering on to the screen while “These Boots are Made for Walkin’” plays on the soundtrack. Her “me so horny” and “me love you long time” advertising spiel quickly became standard catchphrases for anyone portraying a stereotypical Asian prostitute, and they were made even more famous when rappers 2 Live Crew sampled the lines for their 1989 hit “Me So Horny”. I feel compelled to point out, however, that though the hooker’s approach is rendered comical by her poor command of English, it is actually the same strategy employed by many porn stars, sex writers and whores: The appeal to male fantasy by the pretense that one’s primary motivation is lust rather than profit.
An Indecent Proposal (1993) was, IMHO, an awful, depressing movie; a couple in dire financial straits (Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore) see a way out of trouble when a billionaire (Robert Redford) offers them $1,000,000 to spend one night with the wife. After some deliberation they agree, and the rest of the movie is nothing but Sturm und Drang as Harrelson’s character is eaten up by jealousy and the ease with which his wife took to whoredom. Obviously, I’m prejudiced; my husband would never have inflicted emotional torture on me for rescuing our entire economy by one night of work (or even several years of work), but then he’s not a shallow, two-faced dickhead like the husband in the movie. Another fatal flaw in what could’ve been a provocative exploration of the falsity of the Madonna/whore duality was the way that the edge of the dilemma was dulled by a typical Hollywood reductio ad absurdum; the fee isn’t simply generous, it’s a MILLION DOLLARS; the couple couldn’t just use the money, they’re sunk without it; and the billionaire is played by freaking ROBERT REDFORD, for Aphrodite’s sake! I daresay few people could’ve declined the offer, no matter what they claim in public, and that totally invalidates the moral dilemma.
Incidentally, the one thing I liked about this movie was that it gave me the opportunity to blatantly state my true feelings about prostitution in a socially acceptable manner; it was the subject of discussion among the women in the library staff room, with most women claiming that they would never take such a deal. I of course piped up, “I would,” then in response to the scandalized looks I said, “And so would most of you no matter what you say. You know how much money a million dollars is? You and your husband could both retire and live better than most people just on the interest. Hell, most of us would sleep with Robert Redford for free, much less for that kind of cash!” Of course that speech was greeted with blushes and nervous laughter, because most of them knew I was right.
Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) is Norman Jewison’s screen version of the seminal Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice rock opera released three years earlier. I review it here because, as in so many popular treatments of the life of Jesus, it portrays Mary Magdalene as a prostitute; in fact, my first encounter with that tradition was in listening to the album at the age of 12. In the number “Strange Thing Mystifying” Judas takes exception to Jesus’ relationship with her, provoking a musical argument which is followed by “Everything’s Alright”, in which she massages Jesus’ feet with ointment in order to calm him down; later in the film she sings “I Don’t Know How To Love Him”, in which she expresses confusion and frustration over her inability to think of Jesus as dispassionately as she does her clients. This view of Mary appears to have been influenced by the Gnostic Gospels, except that here it is Judas rather than Peter who argues with Jesus over his treatment of Mary. The music is just as good as it ever was; personally, I thought Webber was better when he was partnered with Rice but that’s just IMHO. As for the film itself, well, the fact that it was made in 1973 is amply demonstrated by its hippie-style costumes, minimalist sets and heavy-handed symbolism. Even so, it’s still worth re-watching if you’re over 40 or enjoying for the first time if you like early ‘70s rock.
Pretty Woman (1990): It’s nigh-impossible to find an internet discussion on this film without at least a few would-be critics complaining that it is “unrealistic”. This would merely be a case of “No shit, Sherlock” if they actually knew what they were talking about, but they don’t; none of them ever mention that Julia Roberts’ character Vivian is a Hollywood whore who looks like a call girl but acts like a streetwalker. Nobody talks about how the film makes her only barely a prostitute by saying she’s very new at the job, was pushed into it by extremity and cried through her first call; nor how it cheats by having Richard Gere’s character “accidentally” pick her up rather than simply hiring her. Few of them even seem to notice that the plot was lifted straight from Shaw’s Pygmalion (on which My Fair Lady was also based); you didn’t think that real-life Eliza Dolittles actually made a living just by selling flowers, did you? No, these jackasses bray that the film is unrealistic because it doesn’t show Vivian as a pathetic, diseased drug addict who is dominated by a pimp. In other words, they denounce the film for following Hollywood’s unrealistic stereotypes rather than the ones preferred by governments, neofeminists and bluenoses, and thereby reveal themselves as nothing but opinionated ignoramuses. It’s a romantic comedy about a hooker made by Disney and you expect cinéma vérité? Please, get a life.
Total Recall (1990) is a science-fiction adventure set in a future human colony on Mars, where prostitution is legal (at least in the red-light district called “Venusville”). Not only is the heroine Melina (Schwarzenegger’s love interest) a working whore, nearly all of the positive female characters are! Their brothel is a front for the resistance movement dedicated to overthrowing the evil dictator of Mars, and a number of the girls (including some mutated ones) are active and even heroic members of the resistance (as were many French prostitutes during the Nazi occupation). In addition to enjoying the clever plot and sci-fi Arnold action, I must admit I really enjoyed seeing the whore cast as the “good girl” and the wife as the “bad girl” for a change!
Whore (1991) was billed as “The dark side of Pretty Woman”, and that is an apt description; where Pretty Woman portrays a sort of Disneyfied Hollywood hooker stereotype, Whore portrays a Ken Russell-ized social purity activist hooker stereotype. Both characters are supposed to be streetwalkers, both are innocents who fall into bad ol’ prostitution because of hard knocks, and both have to be rescued from their terrible lives by men. Both films make the typical assumption that most whores are controlled by pimps; Pretty Woman’s Vivian vows never to have one (implying that most others do) and Whore’s Liz is controlled by a rather nasty one (though to the movie’s credit, he’s white and dresses like a businessman). But while Pretty Woman is a Disney fairy tale with a happy ending in which the heroine is rescued by a handsome prince, Whore is a Grimm fairy tale in which the heroine’s life is one horrible misadventure after another. I’m sure there really are girls whose lives are as horrible as Liz’s, but for most of us that portrayal is as much a fantasy as Vivian’s life is, despite the opinions of film critics who wouldn’t know a call girl if one sashayed up and kissed them on the nose.
The Wicker Man (1973) has been called “the Citizen Kane of horror movies”, and it certainly transcends its genre. It would be more precise to say “genres”, because it actually falls into several simultaneously. To describe very much about it would ruin the experience, so I’ll limit myself to saying that the film portrays a zealously Christian policeman (Edward Woodward) investigating a possible crime on a remote Scottish island which is home to a fully-developed pagan society (ruled by Christopher Lee). What makes this movie interesting for our purposes is that it contains what is to my knowledge the only positive cinematic portrayal of a sacred prostitute (Britt Ekland), if not the only cinematic portrayal.