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Sleeping Beauty (2011)

It's merciful to sleep through this, trust me.

Does anyone need a reason to be sexually reckless? I’m not sure. For much of my adult life, I’ve been sexually reckless (or careless, or heedless—take your pick) and I don’t know that a camera following me around would have picked up on any explanations as to why. But we expect more from art than we expect from life, which is why Sleeping Beauty, an Australian film about a young woman who will submit to anything for money, is such a disappointment.

Main character Lucy (Emily Browning) is like a lot of college students: pretty, promiscuous, apathetic, and broke. She holds a variety of odd jobs, including cafe janitor, human guinea pig, and Girl Who Operates A Xerox Machine, yet she never makes enough to pay her rent. Her family situation is uncertain, though we are let in on the existence of an equally broke astrologer mother. We have no indication of what she’s studying in school, what matters to her in life, or who matters to her, except for an alcoholic peer named Birdman whom she brings groceries and pointless chat. She and Birdman go back a few years. We know there’s an unfulfilled promise of a romance between them because Birdman says as much, but that’s about it. When we’re first introduced to him, Lucy casually makes him a bowl of vodka and cereal as they banter with each other in affected tones (“And how are you?” “Oh, I’m very well.”) It’s so dumb.

Why I Love Pretty Woman (1990)

There are a million implausible moments. The scene in which Vivian and Edward run into Kit’s pimp is Crocodile Dundee levels of ridiculous, and the white knight climbing up the fire escape ending is utter dreck. But frankly, I don’t care about the standard criticisms of Pretty Woman. It’s less sexist than My Fair Lady and yet no version of “Pygmalion,” including that classic musical, takes as much flak as this one. And that makes me suspicious. Beyond the obvious pleasures of songs like “King of Wishful Thinking” and insane late ’80s women’s wear, let me outline a few of my favorite aspects.

Vivan’s giant curly hair. I am a naturally curly girl and never once in my adult life has my hair been in style. It’s all blowouts and permanent relaxers for me for the foreseeable future, at least until I’ve seen a client enough times that they’ll think seeing my natural hair is being let in on some intimate secret about me. But part of Vivian’s transformation involves her flaunting her armload of curls around Richard Gere like it’s a mink stole. This is pro-curl propaganda and the world needs more of it.

Stripper Music Monday: Lords of Acid

Played in strip clubs more than AC/DC, Kid Rock, and Prince combined, the songs of Lords of Acid are a peeler staple. I’m not a particular fan, but a new Lords of Acid record is definitely stripper news.

That being said, I have very little desire to search out any of the tracks here, so. Maybe I’ll hear it later? In the meantime, I’m in Austin for the South by Southwest interactive, film and music conferences, and will certainly update if I discover any amazing new music for work. I look forward to seeing current work faves Das Racist, Ellie Goulding,  Liturgy (kidding! I wish) and others.

In My Skin (2008)

in-my-skin-kate-holden-paperback-cover-artIn My Skin by Australian Kate Holden is an example of the “my drug whore hell” memoirs to which I am both attracted and repelled. I’m an IV drug-using sex worker but do not subscribe to the NA model of addiction-as-disease and don’t define my life as hell. Most media doesn’t show anything true about my life at all, but instead falls back on depictions of drug-using sex workers as dead hooker jokes, grotesque caricatures of secondary characters with barely any lines. So I eat up all the tell-alls about them I can find, because even if their perspective on drugs and sex work isn’t mine, someone like me is the main character.

Holden’s pre-heroin self was the middle-class girl many of us once were: a scholarly teetotaler, a bohemian who looked up to Anaïs Nin. Her college friends began to experiment with heroin, and, feeling left out, she tried it. She developed a habit and fell into stereotypical behavior: Workplace theft (and a subsequent firing), breaking up with her recovering boyfriend and attempting to quit herself. When she was kicked out of her parents’ house, she became a street sex worker and then a brothel worker. After some time she enrolled herself in a methadone clinic, and eventually weaned herself off both heroin and methadone. While that sketch might sound like a sensationalist women’s magazine article, In My Skin manages enough powerful nuance to transcend genre. 

Support Hos: The Americans (2013-)

Phillip and Elizabeth showing off sex worker skillz with their wig stylings (Screenshot from The Americans)
Phillip and Elizabeth showing off sex worker skillz with their wig stylings. (Screenshot from The Americans)

Whether we’re dancers or dommes, escorts, cyberworkers, or some combination or variation thereon, we don’t see ourselves on television very often, and when we do, it’s often a balancing act between how disappointingly horrible the portrayal of people who do what we do is, and our excitement that we’re there on screen at all (I’m looking at you, entirety of  Satisfaction season three). Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a show that’s all about sex workers, but puts the lives of sex workers ahead of the work of sex workers? Wouldn’t it be cool to see sex workers managing romantic lives, children, and the ups and downs of a weird job that not a lot of people understand, without the underlying hysteria of  “everyone you see is in the process of ruining all that’s good in their lives”? A show that covers jealousy between sex working partners, and violations of trust, and even clients who act out, sometimes violently, without the implicit sentiment behind it all being “well, what did you expect?”

I have good news and bad news for you. You need look no furtherThe Americans is just what you’ve been waiting for: a wonderful, heavy-hitter cast; gorgeous, tight scripts; a miraculously not-grating commitment to early 80s period production design; overall, a show that has as much effort and love poured into it as a Deadwood or a Twin Peaks. All of this, lavished on an ensemble cast of sex workers from a variety of different backgrounds. And while dead bodies certainly abound, not a single one fits patly into any of the dead hooker tropes that make up the bulk of our representation on television, given that nearly all of the bodies are rendered corpses by our intrepid band of sexually laboring heroes. This is a show about men and women performing professional sexual labor that’s garnering millions of viewers, critical acclaim and has a third season around the corner.

What’s the catch? If the lead couple, Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings (née Nadezhda and Mischa) filed their taxes honestly, they’d list themselves as “spies,” not sex workersthe show opens in 1981, just after Reagan’s election, as the two of them struggle to raise two children who have no idea that their parents are deep-cover Soviet spies. But a huge portion of their work is emotional and intimate labor, as they manufacture both long and short term sexual and romantic connections in service to their calling. In this sense, Phillip and Elizabeth represent the epitome of the “empowered, happy hooker,” working not just for personal fulfillment, but to further a world-changing, patriotic cause. Lest you tune out in understandable boredom at this point, never fearthe viewer doesn’t get even as far as the end of the pilot before this rosy view of sleeping with the enemy is challenged and complicated, as Phillip tries to convince Elizabeth to defect after a mission goes awry and unexpectedly kills a colleague. While the existence of further episodes spoilers the fact that they ultimately stay on task and loyal to their homeland, the debate accurately oracles the murkiness of transactional sex for a cause that characters continue to struggle with as the seasons progress. Like anyone with a difficult job, both Elizabeth and Phillip sometimes fall prey to doubts about the rightness and value of what they’re doing, but even as they grapple privately with their life choices, they publicly keep chugging through their work without faltering, not unlike the way we all manage to finish that call despite dealing with burnout, frustration, or not liking our job in the first place.