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Top 10 Movies Featuring Prostitution
Prostitution has gone hand in hand with Hollywood ever since the first actor sold out his thespian integrity to play screen candy time and again. Just ask Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage at what point his genuine passion for his craft was replaced by loveless compromise, the kind of materialistic drive that makes a call girl sleep easy knowing she can afford a faux leopard-print handbag, and movies like Ghost Rider and Drive Angry don’t make you drown your soul in shame. Cage, who has worked with the uncompromisingly artful likes of the Coen Brothers and Spike Jones, has steadily been filling his resume with septic run-off and, in the process, exposing the lifelessness and corruption that lies at the heart of the industry; it is, then, appropriate subject matter to make a movie about a seedy practice that’s as iniquitous as it is rampant in the shallow haven of Tinsel Town. We all love some good ironic commentary, even if it is more applicable than originally intended. Nonetheless, here are the top ten movies about, or involving, prostitution, which offer grim, neutral as well as light-hearted portrayals.
I could’ve included Midnight Cowboy for an entry that challenges gender conventions, but Deuce also makes for a fitting contemporary farce that makes light of the occupation, adding a certain level of class and dignity. Such characteristics aren’t what usually comes to mind when you think of prostitution, but that furthers the effect of the satire. Ignoring the sequel, this movie was very amusing, even if it was not quite grounded in reality. The gag was seeing the type of WOMEN that would require the services of a call…boy, whereas you usually imagine a sweaty, desperate (perhaps wealthy) pig of man succumbing to pay-per-sex. If anything, this entry serves primarily to shake things up, as well as not take everything so literally. Laugh in spite of the fact of the matter.
Tom Cruise and those infamous shades (not to mention tighty whiteys). That is the icon which prevails through time, despite the plot of this movie: a teen crashes his Dad’s Porsche and decides opening a brothel is the best way to finance the damages. Never mind a loan, a plea for forgiveness, or credit application, the wily Cruise’s go-to plan is to stock his house with a pantry of hookers. Granted the eighties was all about excess and impulsiveness, hookers seemed to be as harmless as Pepsi-Cola and Rick Astley, according to this movie. Then again, every hooker was apparently a part-time super-model, less than crack-addicted baby mamas.
In accordance with the music genre this film caters to, Hustle and Flow glorifies pimping, as a source of lyrical inspiration rather than what it really is: peddling women, often abandoned teens, and exploiting their bodies for financial gain. Extortion masked as “protection.” The song this movie revolves around (which even won an Oscar!) is called “Hard Out Here for a Pimp.” How hard can it really be? I’d imagine, not as hard as earning your own keep, lifting more than just the back of your hand.
This movie is all about being at the end of your rope and confusing fantasy with reality. The reality for Jennifer Connelly’s character was that she’d eventually have to find her own, albeit seedy, means of paying for her drugs (her source of escape) and physical well being. So she settled on degrading sexual acts and prostitution, a far-cry from a legitimate modeling gig. There’s nothing reassuring about this movie, except in the glimpses at the cold hard truths that lurk, reluctantly, in the real world’s soot-stained underbelly.
Stanley Kubrick’s quintessential Vietnam epic does little to soften or homogenize the facts of war. Dead bodies are treated without remorse, even with crude levity; insanity, torture and panic are presented as mundanely as if they were bowel movements; and prostitution is played-down to the ultimate degree. After all, there are worse things to a person caught in a delicate, circumstantial balance between life and death; morals are all but absent. So when a Vietnamese prostitute comes slinking along to the tune of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking,” while suggestively promising to “love you long time,” it almost comes as a comic relief, a release of some kind of tension, in the face of what kind of Hell has made itself abundantly known up to this point.
This movie, set as a prequel to the critically-acclaimed television series, has David Lynch written all over it, and not just because he directed and co-wrote it (and co-created the series upon which it is based): Lynch’s bizarre, yet oddly detached, approach to film-making allows for boundless interpretations, his films being so ambiguous and non-linear. While plot is kept simple at best, the meat of his film-making is in how all the chaos allows for a more wide-open selection of sense-making possibilities. For instance: when we see FBI agent Dale Cooper (played by Kyle MacLachlan) watch himself on a security monitor, as he is simultaneously and ostensibly standing in front of a security camera down the hall (as David Bowie walks past him), deeper, non-literal meanings virtually scream out the TV set. What’s odd is that this supernatural phenomenon is treated urgently, though still matter-of-factly, as if it were less notable than a footprint. The film primarily follows the character of Laura, the jealousy-inducing high school girl and central murder victim from the television series, as she unfolds the conflicted life she lives, and to what outlandish ends. She apparently prostitutes herself just for the corruption of the act, to appease a demon that tortures her to no end, visiting the local roadhouse whenever she gets the urge to be bad (snorting and throwing back illicit substances prior).
Never has a movie about a prostitute made for such a beloved chick flick and cheesy romance. This might be because Julia Roberts, hooker of note, brings to every character she plays an amount of cloistering over-acting, which sheds all traces of realism. Truth is, her Prince Charming in Richard Gere pays for her sex, and everything but a “kiss on the mouth” (which is strictly against her solicitation policy). Somehow from lude conduct, cute charm ensues, and Gere looks past the thousands of previous customers and sees true love (or else just a way to get all the same stuff AND a kiss on the mouth for free). The one believable aspect of the story is that the wealthy Gere buys Roberts everything she could possibly want, and that spells true romance to a great many women.
Seediness returns. This movie, based on a graphic novel of the same name, is about a personified evil permeating through the cobblestones of a turn-of-the-century London. Jack the Ripper is the villain, taken from history and made into a horror movie monster who thrives on disemboweling ladies of the night. Such bloodlust, the Ripper rationalizes, is warranted as a sort of moral cleansing of the streets, though it comes at the cost of an even greater sin of the flesh. As it turns out, Jack the Ripper, at least according to the film, is a surgeon (hence the anatomical knowledge and mechanical precision) and Freemason by day (sort of), and furthermore an apparent Satanic vessel, a far-cry from what might be expected from either a cold-blooded mass murderer or an upstanding citizen. This film makes for a powerful commentary on the domestic nature of evil; it can be in any given back alley or even behind a neighbor’s closed door.
This film is actually based on a play of the same name written by David Mamet. The film, appropriately, is directed by Mamet and stars the inimitable William H. Macy as as the “everyman” character for and around which the film is named and centered. Edmond is unhappy in his present living situation, affirmed by a fortune teller he visits after work, who tells him “you are not where you belong.” From there he spirals down the nine circles of Hell as New York City becomes a virtual Dante’s Inferno. After he leaves his wife, to whom he relays the information that he was never actually in love with her, he decides he wants some pleasure. He looks for it in a bar, then at a strip club, then at a peep show, then an escort service, then a pimp (cue prostitution), but gets nothing except stomped and racially/sexually frustrated until he finally has a one-night stand with a waitress…who leads him to an even deeper circle of Hell on Earth. When all is said and done, Edmond becomes an existential journey of one man, who could be any man, and how desperate a man can really be at his lowest. Prostitution, as it turns out, just happens to be one possibility amongst a handful of other terrible coping mechanisms.
This movie, also set in Martin Scorsese’s beloved New York City, does a great job of capturing the prevalent filth that runs amok in most major cities: the unabashed crimes, gunpoint robberies and sexual solicitation, both legal and otherwise. In Robert DeNiro’s character, Travis Bickle, we, the viewers, are given a protagonist to embody our disgust. Only Bickle is bold enough to not simply take it as it comes, and crazy enough to lash out without restraint. His apparent craziness is presented as he ostensibly reaches for a gun during a heavily-attended politician’s speech, convinced he is actually a secret service agent. Such craziness, however, is rewarded when it is channeled “appropriately” against the pimps and hustlers everyone so mutely condemns. Bickle’s good nature is revealed as true when he seeks to rescue the underaged prostitute, Iris, expressing horror for her forced style of life, but when he goes out on a blood-soaked shooting spree, he doesn’t really seem any better than the rest; it just seems he was itching for another excuse to kill again.