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USA, 1990 (MIFF 1991)

Director: Ken Russell

Meryl Streep recently said that if a Martian were to visit Earth and were only to view recent Hollywood movies, it would assume the primary profession of women is prostitution. And given the glamourised portrayals in such films as Pretty Woman, a Martian might even consider such an occupation in a simple positive light.

Ken Russell brooks no such illusions. His latest feature is based on a play by a London taxi driver who often drove prostitutes to and from their clients, and who combined several of their life histories to construct the story of Liz. As played by Theresa Russell, a prostitute's life is neither glamorous nor remarkable, but just a job. Russell plays a tough, gum-cracking, working-class realist who discusses her professional life with a matter of fact sensibility that has grown weary in the face of the various abuses she must suffer. Her direct address (to the camera) adds a certain theatricality to her role which is at times disarming, but it is also distancing and thought provoking, in that it reminds us constantly of the "constructed nature" of the filmic world.

Ken Russell has rarely created a naturalistic reality in his work, and his technique can be difficult for those seeking only escapist fantasy to accept. However, its potency as a forum to present Russell's notions of sexuality, to undercut our own expectations and desires, make it specifically appropriate.

All of the characters both begin with and depart from certain accepted stereotypes, and the performance of Theresa Russell and newcomer Benjamin Mouton are particularly well developed and emotionally powerful. Whore is a film whose impact and intent are to push us away from complacent sexist verities.

This is certainly not new territory for Ken Russell, whose Crimes of Passion pondered the contradictions and schizophrenia of modern-day sensuality, but "China Blue" was a metaphor; Liz is walking the streets and looking for customers. (Geoff Gilmore)

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