The oldest profession on earth... Whilst there is nothing alluring about prostitution in reality, filmmakers have tried to glamorise the “craft” for decades, especially in the 60s as I found out. I recently came across a trailer for an upcoming film called “Sleeping Beauty” which seems to be the modern version of “Belle de Jour”, it looks very enticing, enigmatic and seductive and I cannot wait to watch it. But it got me thinking about other famous onscreen call girls, or whatever you want to call them. It appears that some of them became rather iconic figures in pop culture. Let’s see who they are!
BUtterfield 8, 1960.
Dir.: Daniel Mann
With: Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey.
I regret not writing about Liz T after she passed away, but to be honest, how many times can the facts about her life be recycled? This beautiful, multi-married, talented, substance-abusing and philanthropic woman and billionairess is one of my favourite actresses. Although I only watched a few films with her – “Cat on a hot tin roof”, “Cleopatra” and “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” – clearly, not enough to write about her work in the industry. And I could not really give any more insight into her life, for those curious enough to read about it, since Liz and I weren’t exactly bosom friends. Suffice to say that I deeply admire her and love her talent. Here she plays Gloria who seems to waste her time on many one-night stands until she wakes up one morning and finds 250 dollars left for her on the bedside table. At first insulted, she then starts to slowly see the advantages of charging for her services. However, she grows to hate it all, including herself. Although this film must have seemed quite risqué at the time, it appears quite tame now. A bit of a moral fable, it is nevertheless worth watching for Liz T’s performance in it, for which she’s won an Oscar that year.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961.
Dir.: Blake Edwards
With: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard.
This much beloved and copied film has radically downplayed the fact that Holly Golightly was a call girl, something which is made much clearer in the book. Here she is depicted as eccentric, naïve and innocent, occasionally taking 50 dollars from men for her trips to the powder room. Not much to say about it really, simply because you must have all seen it, or the film stills from it, about a dozen times.
Marriage, Italian Style, 1964.
Dir.: Vittorio De Sica
With: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni.
I’ve written about this film in my compilation of the best Italian movies. Quite happy to bring it up again and hopefully make some of you watch it! It is a comedy about a girl from a poor family who ends up working at a brothel after WWII. She is then picked up by a sleazy Neapolitan businessman, wonderfully portrayed by the handsome Marcello Mastroianni. The film follows their turbulent relationship, which goes on for the rest of their lives, and the girl’s struggle to get married to her lover. The two actors have made many films together and their onscreen chemistry is really something. Absolutely hilarious and morally dubious in the best way possible!
Belle de Jour, 1967.
Dir.: Luis Buñuel
With: Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Claude Carriere.
This is my favourite film of the lot. It is very artfully done and it explores dreams, the subconscious and female sexual drives. Catherine Deneuve plays Severine, who is very beautiful but in an ice-queen, cold sort of way. She is an overprotected, bourgeois wife of a brilliant doctor. They seem to love each other but she refuses to consummate their marriage. So, after some internal debate, she goes and works in a brothel (as one does), but only during the day, hence the name of the film. There, she can explore all her desires and push her boundaries, so to speak. In a way, it is a story of a bored rich girl, but because of its surrealist aspect, the film becomes much more than that. Very alluring.
Pretty Woman, 1990.
Dir.: Garry Marshall,
With: Julia Roberts, Richard Gere.
Funnily enough, this story originated as a drama about a prostitute who dies in the end. The producers judged that this was too depressing, changed the script and decided to hire America’s sweetheart to play the title role. As far as chick flicks go, this is not bad at all, despite its predictable and unrealistic story line etc. The cult status of the film is mainly achieved through Julia Roberts’ portrayal of Vivian, who is warm, good-spirited and endlessly charming. The plot itself is a mixture of Pygmalion and Cinderella with a touch of illicit sex.
And so we've come to our times. There haven’t really been films made about this topic recently, if you don’t count the terrible TV series “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” with Billy Piper, which I am ashamed to admit to have watched, for whatever reason. But let’s not talk about it, the series depresses me. This new film, “Sleeping Beauty” bears more than a fleeting resemblance to “Belle de Jour” and I am very excited to see the end product. It is released in May at the Cannes Film Festival and the proper release dates will be finalised later. Enjoy!