Movies

Ah, those dreams about crying tears of sperm--a sure sign of sex worker burnout (gif made out of screenshot of House of Pleasures)

Ah, those dreams about crying tears of sperm—a sure sign of burnout (.gif made out of screenshot of House of Pleasures)

House of Pleasures (also called House of Toleration or L’Appolonide: Souvenirs de la Maison Close in its native France), directed by Bertrand Bonello, is a film depicting the last year of a legal French brothel, a maison close, at the turn of the 20th century. While the film does predictably illustrate the old prostitution-is-inherently-miserable motif, sex working viewers will find much to enjoy in the close examination of brothel history and the dynamics of women’s spaces that the movie offers. Then, of course, there are the costumes and the intense outfit envy they engender in any hooker with a pulse. The brothel workers wear diaphanous, clinging gowns that look like proper dresses in shadow but reveal their transparent naughtiness in candle light, and look even more temptingly gorgeous draped along with their wearers on the lush upholstered furniture of the maison. These elements, along with the sharp dialogue that director Bonello gives the workers, kept me watching, even when the crude, supposedly “feminist” analysis and the all-too-voyeuristic violence against sex workers he inserted into the movie made me want to hurl my remote control at the screen.

C’mon!  Take this scene, for example:

Client: [After long, tedious description of the plot of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds—this guy is obviously the Victorian antecedent of people who blurt out spoilers] Have you read it?

Brothel Worker: No. My only two books are Sade’s diaries and the Bible, and I don’t read the Bible.

My kind of girl!

And at first I thought that House of Pleasures might provide the audience a nuanced economic analysis of its protagonists’ work: Early on in the movie, it’s made clear through a close up of the madam’s ledger book and the women’s anxious conversation among themselves that most of the workers are deeply in debt to the house. Throughout the narrative, the women and the brothel itself struggle to survive in the face of the crushing reality of a raised rent. There are even some interesting insights about the unpaid emotional labor involved in the work, as it’s implied that in this upscale environment, what’s being sold as much as the sexual services themselves is a cheerful, carefree attitude of refined femininity. While the women tally their success at the end of the night by the number of men who took them upstairs, they must linger for hours in calculated languidness downstairs, making conversation and cozying up with idle clients, playing board games with them and seeing how many party tricks can be performed with a champagne flute. “Try to be joyful,” the madam chides them at the beginning of the evening.

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(poster via axxomovies.org)

(poster via axxomovies.org)

There’s a scene in which under-the-weather-feeling, anti-heroine protagonist Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) describes the way she feels as “shit city.” Afternoon Delight, directed by Jill Soloway, is shit city. This film screamed “rescue project” from the very start. Rachel is a bored, restless, wealthy, vaguely hipster stay-at-home mom living with her husband and young son in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. Her contemporaries are mostly other jobless, Jewish, “hip” housewives who spend their time doing volunteer work, if only to thoroughly document it on social media; organizing play dates amongst their elementary school-aged children, and running something called “Craftacular.” Thing is, Rachel doesn’t like this life and she doesn’t like these women. She wanted to be a war journalist. In a scene near the end she wails, “I was so bored I could have died!!!!” One of this film’s only saving graces is the fact that her therapist is Jane Lynch, whose character is truly the only “delight” Afternoon Delight has to offer.

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(image via imbd.com)

(image via imbd.com)

I love Lindsay Lohan. When her issue of Playboy dropped I raced to the corner store to buy it. Who doesn’t love a Disney princess gone porno? In I Know Who Killed Me, released in 2007, Lohan plays a stripper who, through a twist of events, winds up an amputee. When LiLo accepted the role everyone was scandalized, but when she scored her first D.U.I. a few months before the film’s release, it seemed that everyone’s shock about the movie was overshadowed by her lezzie-make-out-drunk-driving-panty-flashing-coke-snorting antics that summer. The film also has quite possibly the worst script ever written. But, I can’t mention this enough, Lindsay Lohan plays an disabled stripper. I don’t know how I waited this long to watch this movie. [READ MORE]

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myawkposterMost readers will not have heard of the low-budget Canadian movie My Awkward Sexual Adventure. I had to review it because a) it was filmed in my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba b) one of the protagonists is a stripper (in fact, the club she works at in the movie is one that I work at regularly) and c) I found it infuriatingly filled with utter nonsense.

The film begins with pale, skinny, boring accountant Jordan (played by fellow Winnipeger Jonas Chernick, who is also the writer and producer) being so boring that his girlfriend, Rachel (Sarah Manninen), falls asleep during sex due to his being a completely dull lover. Just to be clear: accountants are very, VERY boring. Chernick clearly wanted to get this point across so that when we meet Julia-the-naturally-sexually-adventurous-stripper (Emily Hampshire) later, her life comes across as even more wild and disorganized in contrast to Jordan’s tedious and meticulous existence.

After Jordan’s girlfriend breaks up with him, he travels to Toronto (clearly Winnipeg’s Exchange District, but sure, I’ll pretend it’s Toronto) to visit his friend Dandak (Vik Sahay). Soon enough, Jordan moves on to the next stage in the heterosexual man’s break-up mourning cycle: get drunk as fuck at a strip club and get tossed out into the back lane by a bouncer. Enter Julia, who, after finishing her shift, finds Jordan passed out in a pile of garbage bags behind the club. She feels compelled to help him due to the fact that he lent her some spare change so she could purchase a bag of chips from the vending machine in the club. In real life, there’s no vending machine inside this club, and I’ll admit, I was extremely distracted by the little inaccuracies of the strip club setting used in the movie (hey, that’s not where the dressing room is! The private dance areas aren’t over there! That’s not what this club is called!). I was wondering the whole time why they bothered to alter it. I mean, it’s a real strip club, why not just let it be? [READ MORE]

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Cheyenne Picardo, director of the independent film Remedy.

Cheyenne Picardo, director of the independent film Remedy. (photo by Rose Callahan)

Cheyenne Picardo wrote and directed Remedy, a film based on her experiences as a professional switch that is currently making the rounds at film festivals internationally. Her movie is an unflinching look at what it’s like to work in a Manhattan ‘house dungeon,’ in which dommes, subs, and switches work shifts for the owner, who in turn provides clients, space, and equipment. I worked as a pro-switch in a Manhattan house myself and spoke with Picardo via email about Remedy and her experiences in the sex industry.

You’re open about the fact that Remedy is based on your time working in a house. As someone who did the same job, I have to say I was blown away by just how true-to-life the movie was. In telling this story, was realism a major concern for you?

It was paramount. When I first started working on the script, back in 2007, I was preoccupied with recreating, with absolute accuracy, every detail of sessions that had happened a good three years before. Because I was producing my own film as part of my MFA thesis, I never saw the need to format the screenplay in the traditional way, so it read like a long journal entry with dialogue.

Then, a year after writing Remedy, I began to shoot the film, and the limitations of the script started to become obvious. Clients were rewritten according to the best actors I could find. Some of my dialogue was scrapped entirely because it was so laced with narcotic haze—I wrote the first draft while bedridden with a spiral fracture. Some scenes were rewritten the night before shooting, often with my assistant director Melissa Roth or the actors who would be playing the parts. For other scenes, like ones involving heavy bondage or corporal, my only direction was to hit a few dialogue points and dramatic beats but otherwise talk normally, and I shaped the acting and language as we shot. I think these methods enhanced the realism tremendously in the final product.

Whatever changes I made to “my story” were OK—as long as I retained emotional truth, and as long as what I depicted was either something I had experienced firsthand or something that a friend in the industry had told me over takeout while we sat the overnight shifts watching gonzo porn or Charlie Rose.

Ultimately—and I’m very free with this—the biggest “lies” in the film are these: I did have a dungeon boyfriend, but we didn’t actually lip-lock; the manager is not based on any single person; and the co-workers are meant to represent certain types of women who work in dungeons, not caricature the actual people I worked with. [READ MORE]

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