Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Working Girls (and Boy): Our Five Favorite Movie Hookers

Originally posted at SpoutBlog:

Working Girls (and Boy): Our Five Favorite Movie Hookers

From the turn-of-the-century Northwest to seedy 70’s NYC, from an 80’s morgue to 90’s Japan to the modern-day midwest, the oldest profession in the world is onscreen to stay. Here are five timeless performances that are worth the peep show.

Julie Christie as Constance Miller in Robert Altman’s “McCabe & Mrs. Miller”

Julie Christie is exhilarating in her Oscar-nominated turn as the smart and sexy Constance Miller, a no-nonsense businesswoman in the wild and wicked Northwest who just happens to be in the business of selling sex. In fact, it’s Warren Beatty’s dream chaser John McCabe who is the bimbo to Miller’s sly fox. Like a whore himself, he needs the professional madam’s charms and chops to make a living more than she needs him as a partner in their bordello/tavern venture. Sex-positive feminism at its finest.

Jodie Foster as Iris Steensma in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver”

Oscar loves hookers. Astonishingly wise and mature beyond her years, Jodie Foster delivers an Academy Award nominated portrayal of teen prostitute Iris Steensma in Scorsese’s 1976 “Taxi Driver” that is both streetwise and viscerally vulnerable. Whether Iris is slow dancing with Harvey Keitel’s pimp Sport Matthew, or conversing with Robert De Niro’s damaged Travis Bickle she is always the focus of attention in the scene, the object of desire, less an underage “sex slave” than a screwed up Lolita who’s learned far too young how to use her sexuality to control any situation. That Foster intensely studied the girl who played Iris’ best friend, a hooker in real life, is readily apparent by this focused, nuanced, nonjudgmental performance.

Shelley Long as Belinda Keaton in Ron Howard’s “Night Shift”

Normally I’m not a fan of director Ron Howard, but his bizarrely funny 1982 “Night Shift” allowed Shelley Long to shine as hooker Belinda Keaton in a way that showed she could hold her own onscreen opposite heavier hitters like Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton. So what if the premise of a nerdy Joe named Chuck Lumley (Winkler nerdy? Take that, Fonzie!) becoming a pimp to a fur-clad, cliché wrapped whore, turning the morgue he and Michael Keaton’s Bill Blazejowski work at into a brothel, is silly? The ensemble cast pulls it off, ushering in the crazy entrepreneurial 80’s in screwball style.

Miho Nikaido, Ai in Ryu Murakami’s “Tokyo Decadence”

Ryu Murakami’s 1991 “Tokyo Decadence” is one of my all-time favorite S&M flicks, not least because Miho Nikaido gives a refreshingly understated performance as Ai, a professional slave/call girl whose highly erotic acts of submission blew the mind of even this hardcore pervert. No need to “act sexy” if the script calls for your character to be forcibly fitted with a vibrator while being degraded at the hands of a sadistic yakuza john. Nikaido sizzles in collar and heels.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Neil McCormick in Gregg Araki’s “Mysterious Skin”

“Mysterious Skin,” the 2004 movie based on Scott Heim’s novel about two teenage boys forever haunted by their respective childhoods, is the film with which director Gregg Araki finally grew up, his most mature and poignant flick to date. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s young hustler Neil McCormick is the male Iris Steensma with more of a back-story. The fact that Neil was abused by his Little League coach – and embraced that abuse rather than allowed himself to become paralyzed by it – is apparent in every downward spiral move Neil pursues. Joseph Gordon-Levitt invests the character with the same sexual knowingness as Foster does Iris, that of a child whose only power in the world is through simultaneously wielding the body as instrument of seduction and red-blooded weapon.

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