Friday, August 28, 2009

Sex Workers Working It: Amanda By Night (1981) and Model Behavior (2009)

I feel I should clarify something at this stage: I have a lot of significant concerns about pornographic mediums, and do not believe that all "pornography" - which is a very vague term in general, but I suppose I mean XXX hardcore - is inherently "good" or "bad" in terms of representations of women and female sexuality (male sexuality is another issue, and one I'm also focused on). I will say this: nowhere else in film am I able to watch movies with such rich, diverse, and progressive characterization of/for women as hardcore pornography. I routinely scour the video shelves of my local Blockbuster for something with a dynamic and interesting female protagonist, and usually I come away with something either starring a man, with a rather interesting female sub-character, or a movie intended for adolescent girls that I want to see out of curiosity (Aquamarine being a recent example). The other movies are of the The Reader ilk, which I will also watch and respect, but often get unfairly categorized as "chick flick" or something for middle-aged people. Horror films are a special breed, and of course I love them - the Final Girl, in fact, could be likened to the heroine of the porn flick. 

Anyway, my point is, in a culture that generally leaves women in all their complexity by the wayside, with multiple voices unheard in the mainstream, there is this billion dollar industry that provides some of the most challenging and dynamic roles for women that I have seen. But...of course this requires a pay-off (I'm not a "liberal feminist") - such dynamic characterization also seems to require sexualization, which is of course telling of our culture as a whole, and disconcerting in terms of how things are "progressing," what we think of as "empowering," and how we think new media representations of female sexuality are shaping individual experience. I take the stand that in a world of shit, you have to take what you can get, and if I want a dynamic female protagonist that I can identify with, then I'm likely to find it in horror, sci-fi, or...most of all, porn. And, really, is there much more wrong with that than turning to mainstream Hollywood? (Which, by the way, I find far more offensive to my feminist principles...).

Well! With all that said, I want to address an interesting topic in hardcore features - that of the narrative that deals with prostitution. I recently watched Model Behavior (2009), starring Stormy Daniels, written and directed by Randy Spears. Then, soon after, I was treated to Amanda By Night (Dir. Gary Graver aka. Robert McCallum, 1981), which I had been wanting to watch for a long time, and I was not disappointed. Both films feature a "madam" (Stormy and Veronica Hart respectively) who respects herself, takes care of her girls, but recognizes the dangers and inevitable problems her chosen career might entail. Both films are about the lead character dealing with a man who wants to kill her, as well as hurt and /or kill the women who work for her. In Amanda, the working women start showing up dead after a job Amanda arranged results on the murder of her worker, and Amanda must work with a cop to try and figure out who is behind the killings before she gets killed herself, but also so she can honor her friendship with the murdered women. In Model Behavior, an ex-boyfriend is out of jail and planning on killing Stormy's character, and violently attacks and maims one of her girls as a message. 

The differences are interesting: while both Amanda By Night and Model Behavior portray their heroines as being in control of their sexuality, and unapologetic for their career choices, Amanda is depicted as wanting to get out of the industry, while in Model Behavior it's never an issue as to whether or not Stormy will quit - the problem resides solely in the man who is terrorizing her and her girls. In addition, similar to the generational developments in horror, Amanda is "saved" by the cop/eventual lover, while Stormy a) doesn't need to be saved from her career, but rather from one particular man, and b) eventually does the dirty work herself. Granted, she gets some help from the mob, but she certainly does her part (just look at the dvd cover).

These differences might suggest that I'm saying times have changed, things have progressed, and Model Behavior is more progressive or "feminist" than Amanda By Night, but I think that would be an oversimplification of these movies. For me, they're both valuable in their own right, and give a voice to sex work in a way that is more positive than what the mainstream media routinely churns out. That doesn't mean that they candy-coat prostitution - and bear in mind, neither film are dealing with street walkers, but rather high-class call girl services (an important class-based distinction). I found moments in each film that impressed me, and further condensed what I already suspected: pornography works on a level not solely based on arousal of heterosexual men, and actively engages in politics, particularly to do with gender and sexuality. I think Amanda's "outburst" is worth quoting in full to demonstrate how radical this film was (and is) in terms of voicing feminist concerns. 

Amanda has just been informed by the well-meaning cop (soon to be her lover) that one of her workers, Gwen, has been found dead, presumed to be the result of an overdose. The cop believes it is a homicide, related to the earlier death of Bev. The cop tells Amanda that Gwen was found with semen inside her, and Bev's number next to her - which he apparently finds suspicious. At this point, Amanda becomes more angry than upset, and stands up, slamming her glass on the table:

"So hookers know hookers like cops knows cops, so what? You know, some of 'em even like each other! Did you know that? You know, some of 'em even have families who love 'em! Oh, maybe not approve of 'em, but who actually love 'em! Can you believe that?!"

"It's all right Amanda..."

"No! I once read somewhere, yeah, I think it even made the Guinness Book of Records, that they once found a hooker, oh I forget where, who actually thought she was a real person! A human being! Can you fucking believe that? Oh - no, no, you're too smart to be fooled by someone like that, 'cos you know, it's nothing but their fucking delusion. You're too smart to believe that shit...and so am I."

The last line is said in a sad and rather pensive tone, as she sits back down, making me wonder what exactly is intended by this very emotional scene. I enjoy this complexity, though, and the idea that she just might believe in the case she is passionately refusing, against her better judgment. 

These films leave me with multiple questions, which is what I like, particularly regarding a common binary that I find myself (as a "sex-positive" feminist, or however you might characterize me) wanting to perpetuate: that sex workers are "happy hookers" or that they are miserable, exploited objects of patriarchal consumer culture. I don't believe either is generally true, and I don't think that either of the films buy into this notion, which is refreshing. The fact that these films feature sex workers playing sex workers (of a different trade - and this is a critical distinction) only brings more depth to the films, and I highly recommend both of them.


atomicfox said...

well, your blog is unique, i'll give you that.
check out my horror movie blog for the latest horror news and the occasional creepy treasure!
thanks :)

Gore-Gore Girl said...

I *think* that means you like it...but not sure.

Looking forward to reading your blog; hope you'll come back to visit soon.

T.L Bugg said...

Very interesting commentary as usual GGG. Though I have not seen either films I am always very interested in the portrayal of prostitutes in film. One you might want to check out is not porn (well, in a softcore way), but its called Dagmar's Hot Pants, a 1971 Danish sex comedy about the last day of a woman as a prostitute. Dagmar is played both very realistically and sexually powerful, and even though the comedy it gives great insight into the life of such a character. I don't this one is too easy to come across, but I got my copy from Cinema de Bizzare which you can find a link to my site. Also while you're there check out my review of Hot Summer in the City which you might find interesting.

Gore-Gore Girl said...

Hello Bugg! Glad you came to visit. I will have to check out that Danish film - sounds intriguing.

Also, I went to look for your Hot Summer in the City article a couple of weeks ago and couldn't find it. Can you provide a link? Maybe I'm not navigating that site properly.

T.L Bugg said...
Is where you can find my new batch of reviews there. I think Hot Summer is about midway down and there's a review of Dagmar's near the bottom.

Gore-Gore Girl said...

Sweet. Hot Summer really sounds like my kind of film - and Gail Palmer, of course, is familiar to me as the editor and introducer of Sly Stallone's The Italian Stallion re-release. If I knew she made Hot Summer, I forgot - now that I know, it's going to the top of my must-see list (after the fifty or so other must-sees...)

X-Ray Specs said...

Great post as usual. Your thoughts on strong females in porn made me realize while watching Dark Angels #1, that the female actors were the ones driving the story. The male characters had secondary parts to the story.

I have added Model Behavior to my rental line-up list.

Gore-Gore Girl said...

Thank you! Yeah, it's funny when people think it's anti-feminist of me to watch and be a fan of porn, but I ask them, when was the last time you saw (insert awesome dynamic female character here) in a Hollywood movie? I've had some surprised reactions - kinda like, "they make porn like that??" The assumption is that it's all gonzo-style, pizza delivery boy type shit. While it's problematic, I don't see that porn is that much more problematic than any other mainstream media form. They all stem from the same cultural ideologies.

Did you ever manage to finish Dark Angels by the way? I want to know if it's worth it before I shell out the cash.

As for Model Behavior, hope you enjoy (warn the wife, though, Randy plays a bad guy - I know she's sweet on him). It's definitely a modest achievement, but an achievement nonetheless. I enjoyed it and it's simplistic structure. It was neat, compact, and it delivered. Let me know what you both think!

X-Ray Specs said...

We're about 2/3 of the way through Dark Angels.

Mrs. X-Ray says that she has seen Randy play a bad guy before, we just can't remember the name of the movie.

The Man With No Name said...

Sex workers working it. Sound pretty good. What would you say is better old school porno like 60s and 70s or post 80s? The older stuff seems to be better, but then again im not on the shaving band wagon and "every time i cum it has to be on a face." Tell me what you think.

Plus i think i will start calling you Triple G :D

Gore-Gore Girl said...

No Name: I definitely think the 70s/80s was the best era for porn in terms of art, ambition, and taking risks (much like all film mediums, in fact). The 60s was a weird time when hardcore was technically legal, but it was still risky to put out hardcore films, so they made a lot of sexploitation and "documentaries" about sex that involved hardcore. 1969/1970 is generally the time people consider the hardcore feature film to have emerged in the U.S.

Having said that, I still have hope for the medium - it's nice to stumble across a really good porno that was made now. Of course, they aren't on film, the budget is usually really low, and they film it in 3 days, so it's probably unlikely that anything like The Opening of Misty Beethoven is going to come out of the current industry. The hair can be a problem in those oldies though - it won't stop me watching, but sometimes it can be a bit much.

One thing the oldies do that recent flicks don't is to have the sex scenes inserted in what we would now think of as unconventional. So, rather than plot/scene/plot/scene, they would have scenes that aren't really scenes, that are used as visual jokes, or are never "completed" - just a tease. Things could be fragmented and experimental, rather than the stuff they put out now that often seems rigidly structured, often to the detriment of narrative-believability.

But anyway, I'm going on a rant. In essence, I like good movies; most of the good movies come from the Golden Era, but I still buy contemporary porn for that gem that comes along every now and again. And Elegant Angel are blowing all other gonzo out of the water. Thank god for EA.

Geof said...

I like all eras of adult film mentioned (70s-present) that bad? Well the gonzo and whacked out shit not so much, but the ones that actually try to be something a little more than cut-and-pasted scenes.

I agree with you on the 80s portion as they are my favorite because the films were really like, well, films. The Lynns, Candie Evans, Barbara Dare...ok my inner perv just leaked out. Sue me. ;) Also, the parody films were better as well.

And btw - Triple G is a good moniker. Better than G3.

Roger Feelbert said...

It's been awhile since I saw Amanda By Night, so I'll have to revisit it before I could comment on it's presentation/representation of women generally or sex workers specifically, but as I recall, in terms of the craft of the story and the acting, it was fantastic.

Great post, per usual!

Gore-Gore Girl said...

Geof - no, that's not bad. Each era has its own particular flavor. And yes, I like Triple G as a monikor. Someone called me that ages ago too - can't remember who.

Roger - Thanks! You should definitely revisit it. I'm hoping to watch the sequel soon - it looks like more of the same awesomeness. Hope it's good.


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