1991 - NC-17 - 85 Mins.
|Director: Ken Russell
|Producer: Dan Ireland and Ronaldo Vasconcellos
|Written By: Ken Russell and Deborah Dalton
|Starring: Theresa Russell, Antonio Fargas, Jack Nance, Sanjay and Frank Smith
|Review by: Bill King
If ever there was a movie made in response to another, then that movie is "Whore." Ken Russell, whose films are characterized by profane content combined with a lurid imagination, found the fairy tale antics of "Pretty Woman" hard to swallow, so he responded with this seedy account of what life for a prostitute is really like. Mostly comical but with an underlying seriousness, "Whore" is at times revealing, brutal and sad.
Theresa Russell in "Whore"
Theresa Russell (no relation to Ken) truly throws herself into this role with absolute conviction. It is unlike any performance I've ever seen. She plays Liz, a Los Angeles hooker roaming the streets in an endless search for income. She tells her story with one foot in the movie and one foot out of it. That is, she talks to the camera and regards her surroundings with little attention, yet she inhabits the movie and interacts with other characters. It's a unique first-person perspective that allows Ken Russell to explore Liz's situation from her point of view in the present, rather than use a voiceover which would imply that the speaker is looking back at these events.
Liz tells us everything about her current state, from how she got started to how she feels about the men she sleeps with. Most of them, she reveals, are married men whose wives won't fulfill their sexual fantasies. She understands the absence of love and is sometimes baffled by her partners' vile requests (one scene shows Liz and a stranger having rough sex, with the guy demanding that she admit to deserving it for the whore that she is), but she doesn't see any way out of her situation. It's a life that she slipped into and before she knew it, the world's oldest profession had consumed her.
She's very forceful and direct with her words, as if unafraid that her vocabulary will offend. To Liz, genitalia are the tools of her trade, like hammers for a carpenter or torches for a welder. She discusses their use with straightforward frankness, and her dialogue alone is the reason for the movie's NC-17 rating. Surprisingly, there's not a whole lot of nudity and the sex scenes aren't as explicit as you might suspect. Tone down the swearing and this would get an R rating. Her dialogue is necessary, though, to provide all the information we need without seeing what she goes through on a daily basis. There are several difficult scenes, which range from weird perversions to sudden violence, but Ken Russell refrains from graphic depictions, instead allowing Theresa Russell to describe these events.
Theresa Russell plays Liz with assured confidence. She speaks her lines as if trying to convince us that she's not as bad as her contemporaries. What she's really doing is hiding her character's misery by projecting a confident exterior. She's not ashamed of what she does, but she probably wishes she were doing something else. Liz has a six-year-old son from a failed marriage (and who currently lives in a foster home). Part of her pain is the inability to visit him, because she doesn't know how she would explain herself. The life of a prostitute isn't all glamorous and upbeat as shown in "Pretty Woman," and Ken Russell wanted to expose us to some of the harsh realities.