Ken Russell’s much-maligned 1991 docudrama Whore is the cynical tale of a sex worker retelling her story through flashbacks during an average night on the streets. Starring Theresa Russell Russell, Benjamin Mouton, and Antonio Fargas the film is more comedic monologuing than sleaze making this hidden gem from Ken Russell more entertaining than expected. The Blu-ray from Imprint Films features a solid A/V presentation with a bevy of new bonus features. Recommended.
“The Toilets I Have Known.”
The story of jaded sex worker Liz (Theresa Russell, Wild Things) is monologued while she goes about a night in LA seeking clients and avoiding her pimp, Blake (Benjamin Mouton, All the Real Girls). She details her routines and fends off creeps while diving headfirst into her failed marriage, strange clients, and the sheer mundane life of a sex worker. The film examines the many aspects of her exploitation without placing the blame on Liz or society at large. Her roles as a mother, wife, and sex worker are all laid bare from her words and flashbacks which are as funny as they are heartbreaking.
In the early 90’s I can remember the marketing for this film at my local video store being very salacious. The tagline "This is no bedtime story" was easy fodder for curious audiences. At the time I was new to the slate of late-night SkineMax offerings so Whore seemed like truly forbidden fruit. However, Russell’s film is anything but that. While nudity and sexual situations abound it isn’t concerned with titillation or arousal in any form. At the time Russell’s film challenged the sexual images of women in media and the glamorizing of sex work caused by Pretty Woman. “It’s kinda like being a hostage” Liz would say describing her life walking the streets under the watchful eye of her pimp.
The term “whore” implies the desire to make money from something you won’t want to do. Liz operates with rules and limits in her profession that she never compromises no matter the client. We do cut to seedy corners filled with people and life but she is rarely seen in these spots offering an insight into her strict sensibilities with picking johns. Theresa Russell’s performance as Liz is brassy and honest even during the weird fetish scenes with her clients. She is able to slyly navigate the heavy emotional lifting with feisty confidence that allows us to digest the weighty themes easily.
Those familiar with director Ken Russell will no doubt recognize his dynamic productions and flair for visual storytelling. Russell was slammed for this film because failed to deliver that same gusto. However, multiple viewings will reveal the simple art direction like Bill’s home with an exhausted Liz and the surrealist shot of Liz sideways on a bench with her hair flowing back like the Bride of Frankenstein capture the same intent. Similarly, the setting of a cold LA landscape awash with barren concrete structures and office buildings betrays the “street walker” cliche, but Russell uses these barren settings to imply the loneliness and desolation of a 90’s sex worker'ss existence.
Historically sex workers were a danger to polite society and their tales would often be considered a form of feminist rebellion. Whore disembowels the cis male sexual fantasty and dissects the realities of sex worker lives. Liz as the conduit uses her comedic frankness and fourth wall focus allows the audience to connect with the “tart with a heart” as critic Kat Ellinger would put it in her visual essay on this disc. If the film truly succeeds at anything its showing that sex work is work. Would you rather waitress at a grim diner or spank a grandpa in your undies? In the words of Liz, “If you want passion, that costs extra”.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Whore arrives on Limited Edition Blu-ray thanks to Imprint. This Region Free BD-50 disc is housed in a transparent keepcase with slipcase cover. Loading the disc presents the production logos before landing on the static Main Menu screen with typical navigation options.
Ken Russel’s Whore is brought to Blu-ray with a solid 1080p HD image in the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Film grain levels are consistent throughout the feature with adequate depth. Fine detail is evident offering plenty of skin textures and costuming details. For example a quick pause on Danny Trejo will reveal the actor’s trademark facial marks and tattoo details with ease. Colors are accurate with primaries offering strong representation in costuming like Liz’s bright red pleather skirt. Inky backs provide a pleasing presentation of nighttime settings and scenes within shadows. Detail within shadow is surprisingly good coupled with contrast levels that never tip the scales.
Whore isn’t presented with a striking HD image that blooms with color and dynamic intensity but there is an obvious uptick in clarity, texture, and detail from SD sources. This release is the NC-17 version which cuts a few seconds from the original version of the film. Those seeking that cut will have to wait or pick up the rare VHS edition.
Whore arrives on Blu-ray with a surprisingly great 24-bit linear PCM 2.0 channel audio track. Dialogue exchanges are clear and without hiss or pop detected. Music tracks blend into the texture offering a pleasing experience without detracting from the dialogue and effects.
Included on this Limited Edition disc is a collection of new bonus material which shines a light on the significance of the film and explores the prevalent social themes that resonate today. Start with the commentary track before moving through the interview segments to gain more insight into Russell’s film.
Entertaining without being vulgar or titillating Whore presents itself as a stark look into the life of a sex worker without any glamorizing effects. Ultimately, Russell’s docudrama is more comedic monologuing than sleazy verite which renders the work far more exciting given Theresa Russell’s brassy performance. Rarely has the life of a sex worker been displayed with such raw honesty coupled with the mundane transactions of life.
Courtesy of Imprint Films Whore finds its home on Blu-ray with a solid A/V presentation offering an uptick from SD releases of the past. When combined with the bevy of new bonus features this release is Recommended.