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Portrayals of prostitution in books and movies?
January 17, 2013 2:24 PM   Subscribe

Looking for fictional characters that are engaged in mid-level prostitution

...with an emphasis on "mid-level".

On the low-end side: Fired from her retail job, Terry (in Donald Goines' "Dopefiend") becomes a street walker to support her heroin habit. Or club kids slide into prostitution in "Christiane F" with tragic results. Or a cowboy's dreams of being a NYC gigolo fall apart in "Midnight Cowboy".

On the "high-end" side: Isabelle Huppert's character in "Special Treatment" is an under-the-radar fetish courtesan who buys artwork and collectibles with her earnings before lapsing into ennui. Perhaps "Belle du Jour" goes here, too?

So to be clear, I am looking for books or movies that portray a fictional prostitute who is somewhere between the extremes -- not living in complete desperation but also not supplementing their extensive art collection or doing it only for curiosity.

Any suggestions? Thank you!
posted by 99percentfake to Media & Arts (45 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Pretty Woman.
posted by box at 2:27 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Elizabeth Shue's character in Leaving Las Vegas? Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman? Jaime Lee Curtis in Trading Places?
posted by mskyle at 2:27 PM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Australian TV series Satisfaction
posted by Perplexity at 2:29 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sleeping Beauty
posted by joboe at 2:32 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jane Fonda in Klute

Night Shift, with Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton


Fanny Hill


Not exactly fictional, but who knows how much to believe:

The Happy Hooker, Xaviera Hollander
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:34 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does it have to be a female prostitute? ...Patrick Dempsey in Loverboy.
posted by AlliKat75 at 2:38 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. In the novella, not the movie.
posted by book 'em dano at 2:40 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought immediately of the novel The Crimson Petal and the White, if you're interested in an extremely long novel set during the Victorian era.
posted by leedly at 2:40 PM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Going Down, by Jennifer Belle.
posted by dilettante at 2:42 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


The OP mentions Midnight Cowboy, so no it apparently doesn't need to be a female prostitute.
posted by XMLicious at 2:43 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Firefly has the character Inara. In this fictional universe, "Companions" are well trained and respected in society so definitely isn't at the streetwalker level of prostitute. Likewise, she makes he living tagging along with the crew of this ship which strikes me as definitely not at the crazy high end.
posted by mmascolino at 2:45 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bridget Fonda's character in Kiss of the Dragon.
posted by meronym at 2:45 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jeanne Dielman
posted by Rykey at 2:47 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mildred in Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage"
posted by timsneezed at 2:52 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tillie (and others) of Let the Great World Spin?
posted by notyou at 2:57 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nana by Zola. Several of the stories in Colette's The Pure and the Impure are about middle-class and working-class sex workers; Gigi and Cheri are set in the world of higher-class demimondaines.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is an intensely naturalistic movie about a woman who is a sex worker and homemaker.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, musical and movie musical book by Larry L. King based on his short story. Pretty Baby stars Brooke Shields as a child working in a New Orleans brothel.

Personal Services stars Julie Walters as a London madam catering to a kinky clientele.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:58 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rent Girl, a graphic novel/memoir by Michelle Tea.
posted by sively at 2:58 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's lots of good stuff in Steinbeck. Canary Row and East of Eden both give portrayals of brothel life in early-20th-century California.
posted by colin_l at 3:05 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thomas Jane in Hung. Financial pressure leads to the choice but he isn't destitute.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 3:07 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


since you mention her, Isabelle Huppert in Heaven's Gate.
posted by perhapses at 3:12 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lauren Slaughter (Sigourney Weaver) in Half Moon Street.
Dr. Lauren Slaughter, a research fellow at the Arab-Anglo Institute in London is utterly frustrated by her job. To supplement her income, she starts moonlighting at the Jasmine Escort Service, where she has more control over men and money than she does at the office. On one of her 'dates', Lauren meets the politician Lord Bulbeck who is trying to mediate a peace accord between the Arabs and Israelis. Bulbeck falls in love with his escort, and unwittingly, Lauren becomes a pawn in some very dirty politics. [Summary] Written by Thorsten Roskowetz
posted by likeso at 3:21 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maggie (Marianne Faithfull) in Irina Palm.
Maggie, a 50-year-old widow, desperately needs some money to pay for a medical treatment for her ill grandson. After one attempt at trying to find a job, Maggie finds herself roaming the streets of London Soho. Her eye is caught by a small poster in the window of a 'shop' called "Sexy World" which reads: "Hostess wanted". Too desperate and lost to realize what she does she enters. Micky, the owner, is embarrassed at first, but intrigued by Maggie, he decides to have fun and offers her the job. Maggie courageously gets to know her first anonymous customers, eventually using Irina Palm as her stage name. Maggie, who applies herself in order to keep her job, fascinates Mickey. [Summary] Written by Anonymous
(N.B. The "stage" name reflects her speciality: handjobs.)
posted by likeso at 3:31 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


A better summary/review of Irina Palm:
Irina Palm is one of those quirky off-beat Brit flicks that you come across every now and again. Based around the life of a middle aged Maggie, widowed, one son and a grandchild dying of a rare illness. Maggie needs a lot of money to pay for the treatment the boy needs, which can only be found in Australia. However, as widow whose main employment seems to have been as a lady who lunches, her work skills are rather non-existent. Also having sold of the family silver and home some time previously there is very little in the kitty to pay for the treatment he needs. However, she eventually finds salvation in the sex trade as an unlikely sex worker however a rather talented one at that. Finding her niche in hand jobs (to be polite) she sets about becoming the best in London and the target of headhunters (or hand-hunters in this case) What I really enjoyed is the sheer brilliant humanity that Ms Faithful brought to the screen as she realizes that there are real people who work the industry, real that is with families, and homes of their own Special mention must go to Miki Manojlovic and Jenny Agutter for two of the best scenes in the film. All in all a well worth the trip out but as its now playing at Art house cinemas might be a little bit tricky to find.
posted by likeso at 3:34 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Blonde Greet (Ronnie Bierman) and Nel (Sylvia de Leur) in Wat zien ik? English title: Business Is Business.
Blonde Greet is an experienced, but kind hearted, prostitute in the Red Light District of Amsterdam. Her friend and also whore Nel lives on the second floor of her house, and is explored and abused by her pimp. When Greet meets the married Piet, they feel a great attraction for each other, and Nel decides to find a boyfriend and become a straight woman. But life is not like a Hollywood movie in the streets of Amsterdam. [Summary] Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Paul Verhoeven's first full-length movie - Jan de Bont is the cinematographer - was a commercial success at the time, now considered schlock. Still interesting for the portrait of the two women's friendship and occasional business partnership: fiercely loyal, and they are simply plying a trade.
posted by likeso at 3:55 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's been a long time, but as I recall the main character in Nawal El Sadaawi's Woman at Point Zero fits the bill.
posted by col_pogo at 4:04 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hustle and Flow
posted by greta simone at 4:16 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you don't mind Japanese movies, the search term is enjo kosai. There are a few examples listed in the Wikipedia article, and if you dig around there are many many more. One I can think of off the top of my head is AKB 48 Yuko Oshima's character Miko in last year's film Yamikin Ushijima-kun (Ushijima the Loan Shark). Bonus, it's a pretty good movie, though rather bleak.
posted by misozaki at 4:36 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sidney Biddle Barrow's Mayflower Madam.
Polly Adler's A House is Not a Home
posted by brujita at 4:41 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


La Traviata.
posted by dekathelon at 5:10 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or, for that matter, Moulin Rouge, Man of La Mancha, maybe Sweet Charity on a technicality (she's not actually a prostitute, but adjacent), maaaaaybe RENT or Jekyll & Hyde or even Miss Saigon (probably more destitute than you're looking for, plus Mimi again isn't actually a prostitute). Basically, musical theater and opera is full of this.
posted by dekathelon at 5:14 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Phedre in the Kushiel's Dart/Chosen/Avatar series. She does wind up being fairly high-end, but it's not really a something for curiosity. More of a religious calling.
posted by sperose at 5:44 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience.
posted by mkb at 6:07 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, Sweet Charity reminds me of the original film on which the musical was based, Nights of Cabiria. Magnificent movie.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:47 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Butterball by Guy de Maupassant, a short story about a prostitute set during the Franco-Prussian War.
posted by misfish at 7:16 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I highly recommend "Working Girls", directed by Lizzie Borden. Sort of a day in the life of a Manhattan brothel employee.
posted by coldhotel at 7:25 PM on January 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Rainbow Stories William Vollmann.
posted by bukvich at 7:38 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


"8 million ways to die" (the novel) fits your needs perfectly (haven't seen the movie).
posted by 445supermag at 9:03 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oddly enough I just finished reading Some Girls. It was written by Jillian Lauren about the year and a half she spent in the "harem" of Prince Jefri of Brunei (brother of the Sultan).
posted by deborah at 9:40 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naomi_(novel)
Tanizaki's "Naomi" (A fools love) is like a Japanese Lolita...
More courtesan than prostitute and very risqué when first published.
posted by sconbie at 10:40 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Grind through these entries?
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheOldestProfession
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:44 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh! I forgot to mention Keetje Tippel, another Paul Verhoeven film, based on the autobiographical trilogy of stories by Cornelia Hubertina (Neel) Doff.

After moving to Amsterdam, Keetje's family become so poor that her sister Mina resorts to prostitution. One of her clients has seen Keetje, and demands that Mina bring her along one night... The film follows Keetje's life as a young prostitute in Amsterdam through her time as an artists' model in Antwerp (the author posed for James Ensor) and eventual marriage to a wealthy man. Monique van de Ven stars as Keetje; Rutger Hauer plays a customer-cum-lover.


(The real Keetje, Neel Doff, found a patron in Antwerp, who sponsored her education. She did marry, but also divorced. More importantly, she began a new career as a writer and translator. When hearing children playing outside her window one day, she had flashbacks to her own childhood and started writing her autobiographical stories. In French, not her native Dutch, so that she could maintain a bit of distance. Her work was regarded as among the most important in the then-new genre of proletarian literature, praised by Zola, and missed being awarded the Prix Goncourt by one vote.)
posted by likeso at 2:23 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


And... due to his performance in Keetje Tippel and other Verhoeven films, Rutger Hauer was cast in Blade Runner.
posted by likeso at 2:31 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Duh!

American Gigolo

How could I have forgotten that?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:50 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Memoirs of a Geisha
posted by cass at 11:38 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for these answers!

1. 8 million ways to die (the novel)
2. A House is Not a Home - Polly Adler
3. American Gigolo
4. Breakfast at Tiffany's - Holly Golightly (the novella, not the movie)
5. Butterball by Guy de Maupassant
6. Canary Row – Steinbeck (portrayals of brothel life in early-20th-century California)
7. Cheri – high-class world
8. Colette's The Pure and the Impure – several stories about middle-class sex workers
9. East of Eden – Steinbeck (portrayals of brothel life in early-20th-century California)
10. Fanny Hill
11. Firefly - the character Inara
12. Gigi – high-class world
13. Going Down by Jennifer Belle.
14. Half Moon Street - Lauren Slaughter (Sigourney Weaver)
15. Heaven's Gate - Isabelle Huppert
16. Hustle and Flow
17. Irina Palm - Maggie (Marianne Faithfull)
18. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
19. Jekyll & Hyde – maybe
20. Keetje Tippel - another Paul Verhoeven film
21. Kiss of the Dragon - Bridget Fonda's character
22. Klute - Jane Fonda
23. La Traviata
24. Leaving Las Vegas - Elizabeth Shue's character
25. Let the Great World Spin - Tillie and others
26. Loverboy - Patrick Dempsey
27. Man of La Mancha
28. Mayflower Madam - Sidney Biddle Barrow
29. Memoirs of a Geisha
30. Miss Saigon – maybe
31. Moulin Rouge
32. Nana by Zola
33. Naomi (A fools love) – Tanizaki - like a Japanese Lolita
34. Night Shift - Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton
35. Nights of Cabiria
36. Of Human Bondage - Somerset Maugham - Mildred
37. Personal Services - Julie Walters - a London madam catering to a kinky clientele
38. Phedre in the Kushiel's Dart/Chosen/Avatar series
39. Pretty Baby - Brooke Shields - a child working in a New Orleans brothel
40. Pretty Woman - Julia Roberts
41. Rainbow Stories - William Vollmann
42. RENT – maybe
43. Rent Girl - a graphic novel/memoir by Michelle Tea.
44. Satisfaction - Australian TV series
45. Sleeping Beauty
46. Some Girls by Jillian Lauren
47. Sweet Charity - a technicality (maybe?)
48. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
49. The Crimson Petal and the White - long novel set during the Victorian era
50. The Girlfriend Experience - Sasha Grey
51. The Happy Hooker, Xaviera Hollander (not exactly fictional)
52. Thomas Jane in Hung
53. Trading Places - Jaime Lee Curtis
54. Wat zien ik? English title: Business Is Business - Blonde Greet (Ronnie Bierman) and Nel (Sylvia de Leur)
55. Woman at Point Zero – Nawal El Sadaawi – main character
56. Working Girls directed by Lizzie Borden
57. Yamikin Ushijima-kun (Ushijima the Loan Shark) - Yuko Oshima's character Miko
posted by 99percentfake at 3:36 PM on January 18, 2013


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