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Whore (1991, Theresa Russell, John Diehl)

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Streetwalker Russell, who plies her trade in Venice, California where she is on the run from her sadistic pimp BENJAMIN MOUTON, tells her story directly to the camera. She strikes up a budding friendship with itinerant Rasta ANTONIO FARGAS and recounts various incidents from her life. She recalls how a seemingly innocent teenager lured her into a van where she was gang-raped and left for dead and then found by a friendly schoolteacher who took her home and gave her money. She becomes involved with a moped-riding Indian prince (SANJAY) but refuses his offer of twice her usual fee to have unprotected sex. She recalls her favourite client, 70-year-old gardener FRANK SMITH who enjoys being caned and she remembers an appalling evening with Mouton at a chic restaurant before she was tattooed with his brand and went to work for him. And she recalls her bad marriage to JACK SAUCIER which led to her becoming a prostitute. Mouton believes her friendship with beautiful lesbian ELIZABETH MOREHEAD is bad for business and ends it forcibly. Then, when one of her clients dies of a heart attack during sex, Mouton arrives, robs the dead man and attacks Russell – but before he can continue to beat her up, Fargas comes to her rescue and kills him …

Whore began life as a 40-minute dramatic monologue written by London cab-driver David Hines who based his play on the stories told him by prostitutes in the King’s Cross area of London. The play, Bondage, was well received at its premiere on the fringe at the Edinburgh Festival. ‘And’, wrote Russell, ‘one day in London, Hines literally jumped out of his cab and stopped me in the street, to ask if I would write the screenplay; and make it into a film. I read the play and agreed to have a go’. Almost inevitably, however, given the state of the British film industry, Russell was forced to seek finance for the film in America and, in the process, of necessity, had to change the locale from Kings Cross to Venice, California.

Russell’s control of his material and milieu was commendable, as was his highly effective abandonment of his usual florid directorial style. His direction of Theresa Russell, too, was exemplary and she gave a tough, vulnerable and riveting portrayal. She dominates the film, with effective support coming from, notably, Fargas and Mouton and an hilarious unbilled appearance by Russell as a restaurant waiter. ‘The film is almost bereft of all human life beyond the scripted characters and the odd loony,’ wrote Time Out, ‘this gives the social documentary angle an almost surreal edge; emphasizing, quite effortlessly and effectively, the central concerns of Liz’s (Russell) and by proxy, a prostitutes myopic existence’. ‘The movie certainly doesn’t glorify the profession. I confirms one suspicious’, summed up The New York Times and, said What’s On, Russell makes ‘ a surprisingly entertaining job of it’.

production details
USA | 85 minutes | 1991

Director: Ken Russell
Writers: Ken Russell, Deborah Dalton
From the play Bondage by David Hines

cast
Theresa Russell as Liz
John Diehl as Derelict
Antonio Fargas as Rasta
Danny Trejo as Tattoo Artist
Jason Saucier as Bill
Michael Crabtree as Man in Car
Robert O’Reilly as Younger Man in Car
Jack Nance as Man Who Helps Liz
Ken Russell as Waiter
Benjamin Mouton as Blake
Elizabeth Morehead as Katie
Daniel Quinn as Brutal Man
Jered Barclay as Dead Trick in Car
Ginger Lynn Allen as Wounded Girl
Charles Macaulay as Older Man in Car
Alisa Christensen as Lady in Toilet
Tom Villard as Hippie
Daniel Beer as Bill’s Drinking Partner
Stephanie Blake as Stripper in Big T’s

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