Many times I’ve been asked who my favorite filmmaker is, and oddly enough I never mentioned Ken Russell. Why is that odd? Because every time I’ve seen one of his films I’ve loved them to the degree I’ve felt they’ve changed my life. The first one was Crimes of Passion, which I actually think my father and his partner rented when it came and I happen to see it with them, later I bought it on tape and then on DVD. Where’s the blu-ray? Come on! Give it to me! And then we have Tommy, The Girlfriend, The Devils, Lair of the White Work, Trapped Ashes and so on… but it wasn’t until the other day I watched Whore for the first time.
We follow Liz (Theresa Russell), a sarcastic and not that stupid prostitute in her daily work as the “employee” under the evil and disgusting pimp Blake (Benjamin Mouton), who consider him to be a protector of his girls...but instead is just another violent, abusive man. During her nights on the streets she befriends the weed smoking Rasta (Antonio Fargas), who doesn’t want to have sex with her, just be her friend. Around this storyline is a series of smaller stories, some just a minute or two, others a bit longer. We meet customers, friends, family and cops - and we get to see another form of prostitution than what we saw the year before in Pretty Woman.
And what I’ve heard Ken Russell did Whore as an answer to Pretty Woman, and to quote The Los Angeles Times, August 19, 1990: “This is not going to be 'Pretty Woman.' It is not glamorized, it is unglamorized. This will be the gritty version of a whore's life.” ... "I think the male ego is going to suffer quite a shock.". And he’s true. This film speaks directly to those who have a glamorized view of prostitution and maybe most of all to the men who buy women for sex. I just need to close my eyes and see the carpet pulled from under the feet of certain men. Many times Liz, and Blake, speaks directly to the camera. In Liz case it’s to say it like it is. She’s not trying to either defend what she’s doing or put the blame on other people. It’s all about society, and what’s wrong with it. Blake on the other hand one time after another tells us what all abusive men think, that these women does it because they can’t do anything else, that they need men to survive, that they are oversexual etc etc. The same nonsense as usual. Rasta comes of as a pretty decent man, even if he’s crazy. He smokes his pot and enjoys life as much as possible.
But don’t worry, as usual there’s a lot of humor here. Whore borders to a black comedy, with some fantastic set pieces providing us with a dry, British sense of humor. Ken Russell himself shows up as a snarky waiter and there’s a lot of interesting cameos along the way, for example Jack Nance and Ginger Lynn. Oh, and an early part by Danny Trejo! Whore is an absurdist comedy mixed some pretty sharp drama. Theresa Russell rules this film, she’s perfect and delivers her monologues with an unique sharpness, often echoing the stuff Kathleen Turner did in Russell’s Crimes of Passion (aka China Blue), but doing it her own way. Their characters could be siblings actually, but in opposite ends of the red light district.
If people now could understand that humans aren’t merchandise this world we live in would be a lot better. But I doubt it will happen any day soon...