Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ken Russell's Whore (1991, Unrated version) review


The comments over the years on this film are both amusing and frustrating, and I just hope Mr. Russell has read a few of them, as it would probably tickle him to-no-end. Come on, people: this is the real deal here, and these are most of the realities of prostitution. It isn't pretty or glamorous, is it? How much value is attached to the life of a prostitute?

Ask the King County sheriff's Department and the Seattle Police Department--they allowed the Green River killer to run riot for 20+ years thanks to their own rampant hatred and bigotry towards prostitutes. That hatred also exists throughout our culture and in the minds and attitudes of many Americans.
 
This is a pure film for Ken Russell, and a compassionate statement for the victims of prostitution, namely, the whores. Legalization is (wisely) advocated, and we even treated to a few of the arguments for it (from a pimp-character himself) and what some of the drawbacks would be: no bribes for the dirty cops and politicians, no control by pimps and politicians (the same thing) of these women over their own bodies, proper regulation of sexually-transmitted diseases, and-so-on. In other words, there are numerous elements of our society who benefit from the status quo of prostitution. But what other reasons for keeping prostitution illegal are there? The emancipation of the victims. This doesn't support the current social order, therefore...
It would also mean the prostitutes would get the biggest-cut, which is anathema to these bastards. If prostitutes controlled the business as many of them did before the early-20th century, they would be very powerful women indeed, and a social force to be reckoned with. They would be revolutionaries. Sex is a nexus of control as well as a doorway to liberation. At one time, so-called "madams" were some of the greatest benefactors to charities and progressive social movements. Legalization of prostitution is a key towards emancipation of its victims, offering needed regulation of STDs, as well as a previously untapped flow of tax-revenues that would be dramatic.

Currently, several developed nations are going in this direction, but
the USA prefers sticking with policies that the Saudi Royal Family would approve of. Leave the whores alone, just ensure that they have health care, are taxed like everyone else, and aren't vulnerable to murder anymore. It seems that that's asking too much, so demands are going to have to be made eventually. There are other reasons why prostitution is illegal...

 
One should remember that it was rich women in America who got the profession criminalized--partly to stop their rich husbands from frequenting them. Not that it ever worked--they're still doing it anyway, even as I write this. Prostitution is illegal for means of social control, period. Ever notice how the rich and powerful are obsessed by what the "other-half" does in the bedroom? Puritans are the most sexually-obsessed people there are. Watch this film, and you will understand that Mr. Russell is a genuine Christian with a heart. After all, Jesus consorted with such people, didn't he? They need our help and our compassion, which is the main theme of this film.
 
Ken Russell appears to enjoy the inherent bawdiness of the material-at-hand, or he wouldn't be Ken Russell, would he? The dialog itself is a dream, and David Mamet's plays/screenplays would be a good analogy, very hardcore and street level. This is because the dialog came from real prostitutes and their stories, almost making this a social document of when it was made, and it will surely still be relevant so long as it's a crime in this nation or any nation. As a matter of fact, the original play it was based on was written by a former lady of the night.

While some have commented on the low-budget look of the film, I don't think that this is accurate. It compositions look slick and well-conceived for maximum impact, and cinematography-wise it's simply gorgeous. Many of the scenes are shot in a color-coded style for various characters and scenarios, and it works well as it did in Russell's "Crimes of Passion" (1984). The reasons for these opinions come from the fact that no new format versions have been produced, and so we're left with shoddy-transfers from VHS and Laserdisc copies from the early-1990s.

All that aside, Theresa Russell (no relation to the writer/director) is astonishing in her portrayal of a woman trapped in "the life," she wants out desperately, and it's more than she ever bargained for. This is anthropologically correct. Like Kathleen Turner, Russell is easily one of the greatest actresses of her generation, and she proves it in this role as Turner did in "Crimes." She shows us the sorrow of prostitution, while simultaneously projecting her sexuality as an actor, which is a real trick. 

 
If you enjoyed Crimes of Passion nearly as much as I did (I consider it a masterpiece), this will be a wonderful companion-film for you, dear viewers. You either love or hate Ken Russell, and he has always been my favorite form of a high-stress personality endurance test. Most tend to fail this test, but it takes all kinds, doesn't it? Russell's genius in this film is using the iconography of our sexualized culture (including crass imagery from advertising), and throws it in our face showing the ugliness and emptiness behind the commodification of sex and our bodies.

This is a real accomplishment considering how great the film looks and its stress on stylization and an interesting aestheticizing of sexual imagery pack a potent punch. Nonetheless, Russell succeeds here, and the ultimate lessons on prostitution are significantly different from the hollow Hollywood portrayal of the trade in "Pretty Woman" (1990). In fact, it's the obverse. "Whore's" grim portrayal brings us the core-truths of prostitution through style and composition on a classically-structured silver platter.


We are confronted with many of the reasons why women become prostitutes (from their perspective), why many can never escape it, and how many of them--because of their vocation--can never enjoy sex ever again. Once it hits DVD (sometime around the Apocalypse), it will finally be able to be reassessed properly, as some of Russell's canon has recently.

That it shines so brightly on my unrated VHS copy is a testament to its inherent brilliance, and to the genius of director Ken Russell. "Whore" contains a message to be heeded regarding the "world's oldest profession," and that's that sex has little to do with the motivations behind it.

Puritans, take heed: it shouldn't be a problem to say it. Give this man money to make another feature film! Ken recently discussed the making of Whore on the UK's version of Celebrity Big Brother, and he was a hit!
Revised 08.31.2008