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Prostitution in Film

The following discussion about representation of prostitution in film
took place on WMST-L in March 1995.  Some messages elicited a lengthy
response from Carol Leigh, which is included as Part 2.  For additional
WMST-L files now available on the Web, see the WMST-L File List.

Date: Tue, 7 Mar 1995 20:36:27 -0600
From: gretchen wood <gretchen @ UXA.CSO.UIUC.EDU>
Subject: movies about prostitution
Can anyone suggest some movies that address prostitution (not pretty woman)
that could supplement a seminar presentation?
Please respond in private.
gretchen  @  uxa.cso.uiuc.edu
Date: Wed, 8 Mar 1995 08:17:55 -0500
Subject: Re: movies
Angel (1984 or 1985)
Date: Wed, 8 Mar 1995 11:38:28 EST
From: Andrea Austin <3AJA1 @ QUCDN.QUEENSU.CA>
Subject: Re: movies about prostitution
          I was going to suggest Theresa Russell in _Whore_, but perhaps
     it is too graphic for use in the classroom (although it does provide
     a badly-needed antidote, in some respects, to _Pretty Woman_.)
          Also, how about movies "representing" (I use this word loosely)
      Victorian prostitution?  this would include several movies about
      Jack the Ripper, some Sherlock Holmes stuff, and perhaps even
      _Edge of Sanity_, starring the fellow who starred in _Psycho_
      (Anthony Perkins?)  _Edge of Sanity_ is a variation on Jekyll and
      Hyde, and is a *very* strange take on the whole issue of Victorian
      prostitution--very postmodern in look and feel.  Could lead to
      some interesting discussion about why prostitutes are "favourite
      victims" in this sort of movie.  Actually, I've just read an
      interesting article about the virgin/whore syndrome in slasher
      films, but I'm afraid I can't remember what issue of _Representations_
      it was in.  If you're interested, let me know, and I'll try to dig up
      the reference for you.
                                       Sorry not to be of more help.
                                                        Andrea Austin
                                                        Dept. of English
                                                        Queen's University
                                                        3aja1  @  qucdn.queensu.ca
Date: Wed, 8 Mar 1995 11:59:24 -0500
From: David Merchant <MERCHANT @ UTKVX.UTK.EDU>
Subject: Re: movies about prostitution
1) the book _From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the
Movies_ may help.  It is by Molly Haskell (Penquin books: New York, 1979).
2) A non-profit organization that works to help prostitutes would be
another excellent source to contact:
        PO Box 65796
        St. Paul, MN 55165-0796
        (612) 644-6301
Ta Ta, for now,
Merchant  @  utkvx.utk.edu.us         
  @   School of Information Science   
  @   University of Tennessee         
Date: Wed, 8 Mar 1995 12:12:25 -0500
From: Gail Dines <WHE_DINES @ FLO.ORG>
Subject: Re: movies about prostitution
there is a great movie called the chicken ranch which is about a brothel
in nevada. it is a documentary of sorts and shows real prostitutes. it looks
a lot less pretty than pretty woman. gail dines. whe_dines  @  flo.org
Date: Wed, 8 Mar 1995 11:31:43 -0600
From: Rachel B Martin <mart0167 @ GOLD.TC.UMN.EDU>
Subject: Re: movies about prostitution
Have you thought about taping any one of the numerous talk shows which
deal with sex workers?  I've been using daytime talk shows (+jerry
springer) to look at alternative public discourses which deal with women,
relationship issues, gender/race/class, etc. in my classroom.  While the
"sleaze" factor can get high in many of those formats, if students watch
a range of shows, they seem to come around to identifying subversive
moments, spontaneous exchanges between host-audience-guest, and the
ambiguous dynamic surrounding women's sexuality and the moralizing which
often goes on -- whether by "experts" or pious audience folk.  I
particularly prefer the genre because of the discussion/public debate
aspect of them... good luck!
Rachel Martin,
Dep't of History
University of Minnesota
mart0167  @  gold.tc.umn.edu
Date: Wed, 8 Mar 1995 13:43:47 -0400
Subject: Re: movies about prostitution
One of the best and most disturbing films I have ever seen relating to
prostitution is a Dutch film called "Broken Mirrors" which was made in
the very early 1980s.  I saw it when I was barely out of my teens and it
had a profound effect on me and everyone else I know who saw it.  It is
not pretty and it certainly does not romanticise the profession.
Gillian Rodger
gmrst8  @  vms.cis.pitt.edu
Date: Wed, 8 Mar 1995 14:30:31 -0500
From: sam morgan <samorgan @ UTKUX.UTCC.UTK.EDU>
Subject: Re: movies about prostitution
Check out Brooke Shields's first film, _Pretty Baby_ and a Brazilian film
entitled _Erendira_.  Hope this helps.
Samantha Morgan
English Dept.
Univ. of TN
samorgan  @  utkux.utcc.utk.edu
Date: Wed, 8 Mar 1995 16:12:11 -0500
From: Kristi Coulter <kristic @ K.IMAP.ITD.UMICH.EDU>
Subject: films about prostitution
There's a rather odd film starring Kathleen Turner and Anthony Perkins (him
again?) called _Crimes of Passion_.  It's a Ken Russell film and was made
in the late 80's.  Also, try Lizzie Borden's _Working Girls_, which does a
wonderful job of portraying the day-to-day *business* of prositution.  And
what about Scorcese's _Taxi Driver_, with Jodie Foster as the young
Kristi  Coulter
kristic  @  k.imap.itd.umich.edu
Date: Wed, 8 Mar 1995 17:44:28 -0500
From: Karen Bouwer <bouwerk @ STU.ADMIN.USFCA.EDU>
Subject: Re: movies about prostitution
Mona Lisa (Bob Hoskins?  he's a cab driver, she's a prostitute, love story)>
Date: Wed, 8 Mar 1995 16:26:33 PST
From: Theresa <60840883 @ WSUVM1.CSC.WSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: movies
Movies on prostitution: My Own Private Idaho -- men also do prostitution, after
Date: Thu, 09 Mar 1995 01:37:02 -0600
Subject: Prostitution films
Could the address be reposted please? I don't intend to fill the list
up beyound this message.
Ones that come to mind: Vice Squad, brutal in some aspects, poor in others.
Note: once came across the paperback for the movie, more scenes, more
In the 70's, saw part of a movie on CBS late night called "Hustling"? that
had brutal angles.
The tv show, Forever Knight, illustrates Janette's (?) past as a prostitute
in the middle ages, of being forced to work by her pimp, being pawn to
returning soldiers, of nuns and priest turning their backs on her. I'll
try to look up the title for that one.
A Walter Matthau film in the 70's (Raw Cut?, the Friends of Eddie ?????(?))
has a scene of a brothol in Nevada that the hitman uses. I don't know
how accurate of a protrayal that is.
Books: Six Days of the Condor. Condor drops out of site for a few hours
by hiring a prostitute. Prostitute is drawn out on drugs (heroin), using
prostitution to pay for habit.
Movies, brutal. The Exterminator. Scene where a prostitute is tortured,
burned when she doesn't obey orders at a chicken place (young boys)
immediately. Midway thru the movie.
Episode of Hunter, Lullaby, of a traveling photographer killing English
prostitutes in LA.
Melrose Place, Sydney. From glamour to whips and chains John to her
madame coming down hard on her.
Cat People had a prostitue scene, but that would seem rather neutral,
except, an underlying theme. Prostitutes and female runaways were the
kind of women that Paul fed on, people who wouldn't be missed.
Two other examples of that, using people who wouldn't be missed:
Fright Night's Vampire (Saradon) fed on prostitutes.
Friday the 13th, the series "Better off Dead", an unethictical
scientist was using prostitutes for his experiments (anothe Hyde
example). The Night Stalker (movies, series) also occassionally
followed this theme.
Reality: Before his conviction, news films illustrated that Kevin McDuff
of Texas was rough on prostitutes, the film showing that not all prostitues
are beautiful.
Movies: The Intercine Project (James Coburn), The Mechanic (Bronson),
and the Gauntlet (Eastwood/Locke) all had prostitute underlying themes
of various intensities, but not known how useful they would be.
TightRope's targets were prostitutes and sex workers. 48 hours and
Red Heat had, what I would call, unglamourous prostitute themes.
And the list goes on and on as memory is applied to this subject.
Time magazine has an article a few months ago on Children on the
Street, prostitution.
Etc., etc, etc.
(th06  @  academia.swt.edu)
Date: Thu, 09 Mar 1995 06:50:26 -0500
From: "Terry Hoople." <THOOPLE @ CONU2.BITNET>
Subject: movies about prostitution
the canadian broadcasting corporation showed a film called "the diary of
evelyn lau" (not sure about the spelling) last year sometime i believe.
it is based on lau's autobiography (which has the same title) and deals
with her upbringing in a traditional chinese-canadian family and her
rebellion against it which eventually resulted in her becoming a prostitute
in vancouver.  i am not sure where you could find it, but i would recommend
it as a movie about prostitution from a prostitutes perspective.
Date: Thu, 09 Mar 1995 11:30:16 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Movies about Prostitution
My friend Priscilla Alexander responded privately to this request, but I
thought  that others on the list would want this information.  Rosie
Rosa Maria Pegueros             e-mail: pegueros  @  uriacc.uri.edu
Department of History           telephone: (401) 792-4092
217C Washburn Hall
University of Rhode Island
Kingston, RI 02881-0817         "Women hold up half the sky."
----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Dear Gretchen Woods:
One of the best films about prostitution is _Working Girls_, directed by
Lizzie Borden.  It is about a group of women who work in a brothel in a
large American city (I think New York), how they relate to each other,
their clients, and the woman who owns/runs the brothel.  Prostitutes who
have seen it felt pretty good about the film, although some thought the
clients were treated too harshly (mostly as idiots).  The film is
available on videotape.
Another is Lina Wertmuller's _Love and Anarcy_, which was interesting
because of the camera's point of view, which was from the woman, the
prostitute, and formed a nice counterpart to Fellini's rather sexist view
of women.  I think this is also on videotape.  Could be a problem for
class, however, as it is in Italian, with English subtitles.
There is a video documentary about lesbians who work in the sex industry,
_Straight for the Money_, which is available from Himaproductions.  I'm
afraid I can't find the address, but I think you could get in touch with
her through Carol Leigh, see next item.
Carol Leigh is a sex worker/filmmaker/performer who uses the name Scarlot
Harlot.  She contributed several pieces to the book I co-edited, _Sex
Work:  Writings by Women in the Sex Industry_ (San Francisco: Cleis
Press, 1987), as well as to _October_, and edited an issue of _The
Gauntlet_ devoted to sex work.  She has produced a number of videotapes,
including one entitled _Outlaw Poverty, Not Prostitution_.  One of her
films was among the works in the exhibit at the University of
Michigan/Ann Arbor, that was cancelled as a result of pressure by
Catherine MacKinnon, which was later mounted in response to protests,
although not in conjunction with the conference for which it had been
planned.  Anyway, you can reach Carol Leigh at:  carolleigh  @  aol.com.
FYI I will also send you a bibliography in a separate posting.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
Priscilla Alexander
National Task Force on Prostitution
P.O. Box 2113
New York, NY  10025-2113
Phone/FAX:  +1-212-866-8854
e-mail:  pja14  @  columbia.edu
Date: Thu, 09 Mar 1995 12:20:49 -0500
Subject: prostitution in films
The fairly sympathetic documentary about Aileen Wuornos (the "first female
serial killer") makes mention of her background as a prostitute.  I'm pretty
sure it's titled "Aileen Wuornos: the selling of a serial killer."  As the
title suggests, it also addresses the way in which she is prostituted by
various figures in her life for their individual gain, plus--oddly
enough--it's often bleakly humorous.  I don't know how literally you're
addressing prostitution, but I think students would find the film interesting.
Although you wrote off Pretty Woman, I've taught that film in conjunction
with La Femme Nikita and Pygmalion as transformations of the same thematic:
mentor/student as basically pimp/whore (works well with Irigaray's Women on
the Market).  And interestingly all works are by men, hmm...  I don't know
if this angle would interest you.
flat5  @  nervm.nerdc.ufl.edu
Date: Thu, 09 Mar 1995 11:33:27 -0500
From: John Kellermeier <KELLERJH @ SNYPLAVA.BITNET>
Subject: movies about prostitution
In discussing prostitution in an Intro to Women's Studies course, I use a
video from Minnesota Public Television.  It's an interview with Evelina
Giobbe, a founder of WHISPER.  I think it makes a great counter to popular
movies like Pretty Woman.  Ms. Giobbe speaks quite frankly and graphically
about her experiences as a prostitute, discussing, among other things, her
"induction" into prostitution, her first trick and a typically encounter in
a brothel.  Since it is an interview, it avoids the problems of using
graphic visual images in a class.
The video runs about 20-25 minutes.  It's available from
        Twin Cities Public Television
        172 East Fourth Street
        St. Paul, Minnesoat 55101
        (612) 229-1253
John Kellermeier
Date: Thu, 9 Mar 1995 11:19:15 LCL
From: Lothar Froehling <lfroehling @ MITTELN1.WINNET.DE>
Subject: Re: movies about prostitution
"Klute" with Jane Fonda.

Date: Fri, 10 Mar 1995 09:03:40 -0500
From: "Kathleen Marszycki." <Kathleen.Marszycki @ TRINCOLL.EDU>
Subject: prostitution in film
In regard to PRETTY WOMAN, it is interesting to note (and this was an
interview on NPR about two-two 1/2 years ago) that the script originally
had a marxist perspective in that the woman, after being wined and dined
and introduced to the "good life," was left back on the streets in the end
-- Prince Charming ditched her.  Of course, the irony was that she could no
longer go back to her previous life and rather than hang between two
worlds, she commits suicide.  Obviously, the version that finally made it
to the market was much different -- why?  This movie was produced by a
DISNEY subsidiary (TriStar Pictures?) and the producers/backers (probably
the hegemonic disney folk!) wanted the proverbial "happy ending" a la
Cinderella.  I think this would bring up an entire host of discussions on
how popular culture and the media industry "shapes" society's thinking re:
women/prostitution & the dichotomy of good girl/bad girl/woman as
commodity. This interview, by the way, was with a film director who was
discussing how he handled working with backers yet still attempting to
maintain his own aesthetic approaches to his work.  Yet, he was quite clear
on what the PRETTY WOMAN machinations were all about.
As you can probably guess, I've got a "thing" about the growing Disney
conglomerate -- interesting that they've recently bought out Miramax Corp.
which was the company that actively distributed and promoted great films
that probably wouldn't have made it, such as MY LEFT FOOT and THE CRYING
GAME -- wonder what they'll be "distributing/NOT distributing" now that
they're under the umbrella of the almighty Disney?
Sorry to rant -- I hope this helps.
"I have lost friends, some by death...others through sheer inability to
cross the street."   (V. Woolf)
kathleen.marszycki  @  trincoll.edu
Trinity College Library
Hartford, CT  06106
Date: Fri, 10 Mar 1995 15:20:51 -0500
From: Bonnie Mosher <bmosher @ CCE.CORNELL.EDU>
Subject: Prostitution movies
I just subscribed to this list two days ago so I don't know what was asked
for, but another movie which delt with prostitutes that was out last year
was Unforgiven with Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman.
Bonnie J. Mosher             Phone:  716-433-8839
Secretary                    FAX:  716-438-0275
bmosher  @  cce.cornell.edu
Cornell Cooperative Extension, Niagara County
4487 Lake Avenue
Lockport, New York   14094
Date: Fri, 10 Mar 1995 14:39:25 -0800 (PST)
From: susan ryan <susan_ryan @ CCGATE.INFOWORLD.COM>
Subject: Re[2]: movies about prostitution
     Another movie representing the sex trade is a documentary that was
     premiered at the Asian Film Festival last week here in SF:
     Straight for the Money
     It is about lesbians who are sex workers, particularly lap dancers.
     The filmmaker is also a lesbian and a student who supports herself in
     the sex industry.    
Date: Fri, 10 Mar 1995 23:29:28 -0600 (CST)
From: "Pauline B. Bart" <U17334 @ UICVM.BITNET>
Subject: Michigan conference on prostitution
In the bibliography of films about prostitution the statement was made
that Catharine MacKinnon caused a film to be withdrawn or shut down at
the Univ. Mich. in a display of pictures and films.  The Conference was
completely STUDENT run.  The students just ask Prof. MacKinnon if she
thought it a good idea to show a film about  prostitutes talking about
prostitution and Kitty said that seemed fine to her.  When the film was
shown the women at the conference who were former prostitutes (at least
most of them) said the film upset them kand they thought it left them
vulnerable to physical attack, or something like that.  At any rate they
didn't want it shown together with the rest of the display.  The
students then decided to put it in a separate room.  I saw it with some
other people.  I don't know if it was the same film Pricilla is talking
about because other films were being shown in the  display room. The
film, lkwhile starting ooff about poverty and homelessness then became
ordinary hard core  or at best medium core pornography.  Once in a while
it would lcut to a woman whosaid she was a prostitute by choice .  After
the lunch break, at which time I had seen the film, the filmaker rose
from her seet and said she was going to take kall her films back because
the film lkwas being shown in a separate room  (as I said-that was
because some women attending were too upset by it)  She went to the
media and a mkess of sitortions followed.  I suspected she knew what
would happen and did it for the publicity but I don't know.  But the
important thing is that P:rofessor lMacKinnon did NOT make the decision.
I was there.  I saw the film.  I saw her talk to the
media and I saw the aftermath and the publicity which was distorted.  I
wish people would stop lieing, either out of ignolrance or out of malice
about Catharine MacKinnon, who now is working on, among other things
important for women, the rapes in Bosnia Croatia and Herzogovena.  She
was called and asked to do so lby the Croatian women and is doing it
free.  And remember, it was MacKinnon who wrote the book and did the
analysis that made sexual harassment illegal as sex dis-crimination.  So
even if you don't like her anti-pornography work, in myu opinion you
should respect her other work enough to  try to get the facts.  You can
read my review of her and Dworkin's book about pornography ordinance in
the NWSA journal,II 3, Summer 1990, pp. 516-518.
   Broken Mirrors, a Dutch film, is excellent about prostitution, and I use the
"The Chicken Ranch" video, available at some video stores, for class, as well
as the Video Evalina Giobbe made interviewing four prostitutes, probably availa
ble from the same address given, in Minneapolis, and I agree that the British
film, Mona Lisa is supurb and should be available.  Thanks for the info re
the real "Pretty Woman".
Pauline B. Bart
U17334  @  UICVM.UIC.EDU (University of Illinois at Chicago)
AKA (also known as) Cassandra / Iphigenia
Don't kill the messenger!
Date: Mon, 13 Mar 1995 14:06:58 -0800
Subject: Re: movies about prostitution
besides jane fonda's "klute" (good movie but not educational i don't
think) there is a very seventies film with lee remick called "hooking,"
in which remick is, i think, an investigative reporter doing a story on
prostitution; as i recall, the film tried to present prostitutes
Date: Tue, 14 Mar 1995 10:47:47 -0500
From: Trevor Holmes <nosfer @ YORKU.CA>
Subject: films on prostitution & address inquiry
First a partail list of films on prostitution off the top of my head.  Please
note:  I think that some of these films are patronizing to sex workers and
make unfounded links between, for example, serial killing and prostitution
because it serves the ourpose of their fictional, narrative structure.
However, each film makes the point (some do it better than others) that sex
workers are *workers*, frequently women, who turn tricks to finance their
lives (their children, their schooling, ailing parents,.. whatever...) and
the stereotype of drug-addicted whore is, I think, dismantled.
Thus my list
_Broken Mirrors_, This is a German made film with subtitles and is, I think
from the late 80's.
-_Virgin Machine_, dir. Monica Treut... features Susue Sexpert.
_5 Feminist Minutes_ from Canada's NFB, studio d.  A Toronto woman by the
name of Gwendolyn has a piece included which is titled, I believe, _Prowling_
-- deals largely with police abuse of street-walkers.
_Hookers on Davie_.  Canadian documentary on Vancouver street prostitutes.
Late 80's (I think).
_Whore_.  Ken Russel... featuring Theresa Russel circa 1991.
_Working Girls_.  Mid to late 80's.  I think , Canadian.
Working Girls, Whore and Broken Mirrors IMHO, tell an errant tale that the
only smart hooker is a retired hooker  but they are worth seeing and all
these films are far and away from *Pretty Woman*.  I particularly recommend
Gwedolyn's film.
Intersex Society of North America, Canada Chapter
Morgan Holmes, directorB
email "Nosfer  @  YorkU.ca"
Date: Tue, 14 Mar 1995 12:20:53 -0500
From: "David F. Austin" <David_Austin @ NCSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: Michigan conference on prostitution
>In the bibliography of films about prostitution the statement was made
>that Catharine MacKinnon caused a film to be withdrawn or shut down at
>the Univ. Mich. in a display of pictures and films.  The Conference was
>completely STUDENT run.
<stuff deleted>
>the important thing is that ProfessorlMacKinnon did NOT make the decision.
<stuff deleted>
>Pauline B. Bart
>U17334  @  UICVM.UIC.EDU (University of Illinois at Chicago)
A close study of the debate prompted by this conference
would, it seems to me, make a very valuable addition to any
course that discusses regulation of pornography or
There are a number of issues in dispute, and an attempt to
resolve them would introduce students, in a usefully
concrete way, to the difficulties in delineating the factual in
politically charged contexts. In addition to those mentioned
by name in Professor Bart's posting,* John Stoltenberg, Carol
Jacobsen, Carol Leigh and Veronica Vera might be
contacted for their views on what transpired (though, I
believe, only the first two of these four were at the
(*i.e., Catharine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin)
Some relevant reporting is contained in
Nadine Strossen, _Defending Pornography_ (New York:
Scribners, 1995)
Liza Mundy, "The New Critics," _Lingua Franca_, v3 n6
(Sept/Oct 1993): 26-33
but students would need to go beyond these.  When I
contacted Carol Leigh (whose video _Outlaw Poverty, Not
Prostitutes_ was one of the video segments at issue), she
responded at length (17K) to both factual and other issues.
I have her permission to post her response, but in the
interest of conserving bandwith, I will instead offer to e-
mail her response to anyone who is interested; if interest
warrants, I will seek Joan Korenman's permission to
include the response in the WMST-L on-line archive.  I
plan also to telephone Carol Jacobsen and can report back,
if interest warrants.
A key question in this debate is whether Professor
MacKinnon engaged in censorship.  Considering this
question would encourage students to think carefully about
the nature of censorship and its relation to power.  As
Professor MacKinnon's writings have emphasized for over
a decade, the ways in which power is exercised can be
nonobvious, even invisible.  Since she was known to the
students in charge of the conference as a brilliant legal
theorist and powerful political activist who has devoted her
life to changing people's behavior on the issues implicated
by this debate, the fact that she influenced the students'
behavior cannot be in dispute.  Students can be asked to
discuss the important question, How is such influencing
different from censorship and from the socioeconomic
forces that lead some women to become prostitutes?  The
latter question should lead to more general investigation
into the natures of choice, consent and autonomy in
sexualized contexts (which, of course, Professor
MacKinnon argues very forcefully are ubiquitous to the
point of saturation).
Two very recent, directly relevant books are:
Laurie Shrage, _Moral dilemmas of feminism : prostitution,
adultery, and abortion_ (New York: Routledge, 1994).
Kathy Davis, _Reshaping the Female Body_ (New York:
Routledge, 1995).
David F. Austin <david_austin  @  ncsu.edu>
Associate Professor of Philosophy and
Assistant Head
Department of Philosophy and Religion
Winston Hall 101A
Box 8103, NCSU
Raleigh, NC  27695-8103
(919) 515-6102  FAX (919) 515-7856
Date: Tue, 14 Mar 1995 12:02:04 -0800
From: Wendy Lynn Chapkis <chapkis @ CATS.UCSC.EDU>
Subject: Re: Michigan conference on prostitution
another discussion of events at Michigan is found in Social Text 37
(Special issue on Sex Work) where the woman who curated the set of videos
charges that they were removed and censored.

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