The Celluloid Bordello

Year: 2019
Director: Julianne Piccillo
Cast: Annie Spinkle, Julia Piccillo

It's a very worthy conversation to have but one that could only come out of the post MeToo movement world where we're so fiercely determined to understand and politically platform every racial and professional minority.

The Celluloid Bordello looks at the history of sex workers in movies, showing clips and presenting ideas about the narrative devices sex worker characters have fulfilled, all while real people form the profession talk about the pros and cons of the way it's always been done.

There are some very interesting ideas in the thesis, like the one that pervaded the entire 20th century of cinema history – that women who do sex work are either cautionary tales with sordid lives of economic slavery or grubby male fantasy figures.

But aside from what you already know if you're informed and sensitive enough (many sex workers do it by choice, are perfectly happy doing so and aren't doing it as a direct result of dealing with child abuse or past trauma while waiting to be rescued), there are still some interesting things in it.

One is that the film talks its own talk. The sex workers interviewed about the content and its relationship to their work are more varied than you'd imagine, not all of them young and female.

The other is our tendency to pathologise sex work, even to the extent that an Oscar winning documentary appears to have invented danger and violence in a sex work community in India where none existed just to extract some drama.

And your eyes will pop at the 20s-era short where a guy pulls up on a country road next to two flappers and bangs them both, full frontal and with the filmmaking technology of the day the only reason you have to squint to see anything.

If you're at all right wing you'll dismiss it as another orgy of snowflake representation, but if that's the case it was never going to convince you anyway.

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