Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Pretty Baby

I am not sure if the closing down of the Red Light District of Storyville in New Orleans centre on the Jazz community of Basin Street occurred at the same time as Prohibition or was a separate development. Accounts of the lives of many of the famous New Orleans musicians and singers is that they were asked to perform regularly in what was known as the Cat Houses, the whore houses which were more like clubs with bars and gambling as well as social saloons with live music often just a Honky Tonk pianist but also bands. Here civic and national political figures, service personnel and other social figures openly attended and met up with each other to buy sex from the residents presided over by a Madam and her financial backers if she needed them. Such establishments continue to day in every city on the planet in various forms although they tend to be controlled by criminal syndicates, often importing girls into a form of slavery and where drugs are used both to control and to provide significant additional income. There have been attempts to create “safe” legal or licensed establishments and some exist in the some USA states and in Europe and no doubt elsewhere. They also have advantages from the public order and control aspect from the more traditional activity of the street walker and the motorised client although much of the trade is now conducted via the internet in various forms and guises as well as strip and the clip joints and the massage parlours. Apart form the moral and legal aspects it is more often a sordid, dangerous and unhealthy world.

This is context in which Louis Malle created his sumptuous photographed attempted insight into the lives of the girls, their children and the clients in one such establishment in New Orleans just prior to the closing of the district in 1917. He paints a picture of 24 hour pleasure and I say paints a picture, using a photographer and with girls more akin to those of present day electronically altered glossies than the more realistic portraits of Toulouse Lautrec although in fairness I believe he wanted to convey the beauty of the female form a la Renoir, There would no criticism if this is what the film is primarily about. Nor is the damning aspect that he shows the impact on children of both sexes including those of black domestic employees of spending all their lives in such an establishment.

The 1978 film achieved its notoriety because it featured nude scenes of 12 year of Brook Shields and of her sold at auction when a virgin and thereafter to other clients posing as a virgin. She is portrayed as willingly prepared for the event and for the life and the only censorious aspect was when she attempted sexual play with the younger black son of a staff member and her backside tanned for such unacceptable behaviour. Given that the First World war was still at its bloodiest at the time and adolescent marriages were still permitted in many states and they were elsewhere in the world and in the film the photographer wants to marry her after she becomes his mistress) it could be that intention of Malle was to highlight the kind of hypocrisy which continues to this day, but I suggest he could have shot the film including the presence of children in the film in a different way and it is unlikely such a mainstream commercial film could be made to day. The film had its supporters in terms of the strength of the acting which includes David Caradine and one the outstanding albeit controversial actors of my time Susan Sarandon as the mother of Violet played by Brook Shields.

The Rocky Horror Pictures Show, Atlantic City, A dry White Season, Thelma and Louise, Lorenzso’ oil. Little Women, Dead Men Walking, the Alfi remake , Wall Street Never Sleeps and The Lovely Bones recently reviewed are part of a list which goes on and on of Sarandon‘s work. She is also a strong humanitarian on the Christian left who works as a Uniceff Goodwill ambassador. She has been married and among relationships was two years with Louis Malle who also Directed Atlantic City. More recently she had an eleven year relationship with Tim Robbins producing two children plus a daughter the actress Eva Amurris from a relationship with the Italian Director.

As for Brooke Shields some would argue she was exploited by her mother who arranged for her to become a child model from infancy. She hit the headlines again with the remake of the Blue Lagoon although she subsequently testified that body doubles were used for some scenes. She stated that she remained a virgin until 22 because of her reputation arising from the two films. She was married to the tennis star Agassi. She is now married to a TV write Chris Henchy and they have two daughters. Now in her late 40’s she remains an extraordinarily beautiful young looking woman.

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