Whore Leave

 

vlcsnap-2015-01-07-10h15m44s161

“If she’s not a whore, she’s a bore,” was one of Billy Wilder’s writing rules, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. In an era where women were typed as sexually virtuous or otherwise (unlike today, of course), Wilder excelled because he rejected such black-and-white distinctions, always looking for the lustiness of the virgin or the romantic leanings of the slut.

THE WORLD’S OLDEST PROFESSION is a 1967 compendium film which largely misses any such nuance, but it’s of some interest since it’s one of the few places where you can see the nouvelle vague and the Cinema du Papa butting up against one another. What makes the whoring boring is that nearly all the (male) directors adopt a jocular tone which seems quaint to the modern viewer, and not particularly funny. It probably doesn’t help that the film’s chronological traipse through history prevents the producers from leading with the strongest short. Michele Mercier dons fur bikini for Franco Indovina, showing prostitution to be as old as the sabre-tooth, Mauro Bolognini visits ancient Rome ahead of Fellini with Elsa Martinelli as an aloof empress, Philippe de Broca posits Jeanne Moreau in the age of the French Revolution, but none of them has any real wit, perhaps because none of them really has anything to say about the subject. It’s sometimes the case in anthologies that the one with the least reputation will try the hardest, and here German TV director Michael Phleghar Pfleghar transcends his unattractive surname, which sounds like a nasty lung infection, with a jaunt through the Belle Epoque in the company of Raquel Welch. For all its breezy tone, trendy technique (zooms AND freeze frames, Herr Pfleghar?) and luscious art nouveau sets, this earns points for daring to suggest that making a living on your back might not be all jollity and multiple orgasms.

vlcsnap-2015-01-07-10h17m28s162

Claude Autant-Lara tackles sex work in the sixties. Perhaps he was desperate to show himself up-to-date and with it. But actually, though he doesn’t have any point to make in particular, his tall tale about a belle de nuit and her chauffeuse/poncette is the most amusing of the film’s chapters. It has a walk-on by the great Dalio, who outclasses everyone around him, and it has a number of daft ideas bolted together in a ramshackle but at least unpredictable manner.

The next transition is where it gets exciting, as we cut directly from a director who dates from the avant-garde scene of the twenties, to Monsieur Contemporaire himself, Jean-Luc Godard, who effortlessly blows his predecessors out of l’eau with ANTICIPATION, OU L’AMOUR EN L’ANS 2000, a slight reprise of ALPHAVILLE and a farewell to wife/muse/collaborator Anna Karina. I’m sure I read somewhere that the movie was a contemptuous send-off, with JLG humiliating his straying wife with a shot where she drinks from a spray can, framed to look as if she’s being urinated on. I’m not sure I buy this. One would have to ask what Godard has against his male star, since he films him the same way, and one would have to assume that Karina had no idea what was going on and was incapable of defending herself. The spray is a fine mist, not a squirt of liquid as it easily could have been, and just seems part and parcel with the movie’s bizarro sci-fi nonsense.

vlcsnap-2015-01-07-10h14m07s201

Judge for yourself. Hmm, it may be a tiny bit sexual.

vlcsnap-2015-01-07-10h14m43s66

Heh heh heh.

Whereas Lemmy Caution drove into Alphaville from outer space in a car, our slow-talking hero (from a world where time moves at a different rate) jets into planet earth by plane, in shots recalling LA JETTEE, only moving. As with his ETRANGE AVENTURE, the director conjures his future world entirely from available locations, in this case CDG Airport and an anonymous hotel. The first woman provided for our weary traveller doesn’t stimulate him because she won’t talk, though she does have a remarkable dress, which she removes — Godard serves up b&w photography, avant-garde soundscapes, and full-frontal nudity, making his segment seem like not just a different era but a different century of cinema from the rest.

(It’s interesting that when intellectual filmmakers like Herzog (in WILD BLUE YONDER) and Godard do scifi, the science tends to be completely bogus pulp nonsense. The genre conventions of sci-fi are ripe for satire always, but are these smart guys really so ignorant or uninterested in the way things work? And throwing in random science words is only a very vague approximation of how pulp space operas operate.)

Karina is shipped in as replacement and explains that in the far-flung year 2000, prostitutes all specialise, so that they either do physical stuff or just talk. So Karina just talks, or rather recites. Like Captain Kirk, the visitor must show her the ways of love… The show isn’t any more progressive politically than those before it — Godard was pretty slow to “get” feminism (BRITISH SOUNDS, made for Granada Television in the UK, addresses women’s issues with a short discussion in voice only while the camera stares impassively at a naked pubic triangle, as tone-deaf a visualisation as you could wish for; and as late as ARIA he was still using naked women as set dressing) but cinematically it’s advanced, alright. The writer B. Kite once suggested to me a good way to view the old and new waves. There was undoubtedly brilliant popular music before rock ‘n’ roll, but its arrival released a lot of energy.

Advertisements

8 Responses to “Whore Leave”

  1. Fiona here – To be really vacuous, I loved that goddam dress in the first screen-grab. I couldn’t understand why she had to take the collar off.

  2. I hope Pfleghar, the correct spelling, still passes as a nasty lung infection …

  3. Just as good if not better, thanks!

  4. That’s Marilu Tolo in the first screen-grab — a noted girlfriend of Carlo Ponti’s.

    Anticipation exists in two forms: the regular release one, and another in which the colors are so over-saturated that it looks like a Brakhage.

    JL-G adores prostitutes. Vivre sa Vie emerged from his obsession with them. One pops up briefly in Une Femme est Une Femme when Brialy, exasperated with Karina, goes to one to talk philosophy. The of course there’s 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle, Alphaville (Christa Lang-Fuller with Akim Tamiroff), and L’eloge d’Amour among others.

  5. La Faustin Says:

    2:52 – 3:08. Heh heh heh. John Waters, you sly puss.

  6. Ha! That’s pretty obscure of him!

    Anticipation also features Leaud in a non-speaking role, whose enthusiastic support of the sex industry is well documented, I believe (onscreen, for sure).

  7. Glad to see your observation on Godard’s “pulp” science fiction ideas. The science fictional aspects of ALPHAVILLE seemed incredibly simple-minded to me for such an otherwise intellectual movie. William S. Burroughs was much more astute at using science fiction tropes in a non-genre way.

  8. Burroughs was also prone to using words just for their sound, but that’s part of his schtick anyway. Given Godard’s sophisticated use of literary allusion, it seems likely that he just sees sci-fi as junk, like the semi-porn texts quoted in 1 + 1 / Sympathy for the Devil (where DO they come from, anyway? They seem to point to a whole alternate dimension of weird sexploitation writing!)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: