Black & White & Sex
Details: (MA15+), 91 mins, In Cinemas 6 October 2011, Australia, English
Synopsis: Prostitute. Hooker. Sex Worker. Whore. Candid and seductive, Angie is determined to set the record straight about sex. As she reveals herself, layer-by-layer, she also exposes the man who is interviewing her...
Experimental film eventually becomes what it aims to counter.
BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: In a large, stark production studio space, a woman stands under lights, surrounded by cameras, the filmmaker’s identities hidden in the shadows. The woman’s name is Angie and she holds a science degree. Angie is also a prostitute. Off-screen, a man, a film director, played by a largely unseen Matthew Holmes, asks questions. He wants to know what it’s like to be a prostitute, he wants to probe the myths and the clichés. His aim is to challenge the “movie-image” of the sex-worker, those dogged archetypes of character that supposedly neatly ‘explain’ why women engage in the practice like the psychologically damaged woman, the drug-addict, the nympho, the control-freak, the man-hater…
Sassy, bright, vulgar, sophisticated, angry, sweet, innocent, disingenuous, giving, tolerant, temperamental: Angie emerges as all of these under the director’s questioning. Meanwhile, it becomes apparent that this ‘director’ is out of his depth; the dialogue becomes a kind of duel. Angie attacks and rebuts; the director struggles with assertions about “widely held beliefs”. (One of the film’s big problems, one that stops it from becoming a truly valuable cerebral experience, is how empty and obvious this ‘doco filmmaker’ actually is. Holmes’ character is a dill.)
Consisting of one 80-plus minute dialogue scene, Black & White & Sex is an ambitious experimental film. Its premise and disposition is a blunt irony: here’s a movie about the movie image of sex. It understands that the ‘prostitute’ in all pop culture is often a cipher; a character who embodies both male and female fantasies about power; and a character that is more symbol than flesh and blood, a figure always used in intellectual and moral discourse, but, as the film would have it, is never really accepted as human…
This then is a movie dependent on dialogue and performance, and a certain intellectual rigor. But as directed and written by John Winter, the film’s more weighty propositions and allusions come off as hack work. The film assumes that the viewer accepts that prostitutes are a movie-construct (as opposed to a real-world experience). And the ‘doco movie’ within a movie premise comes off as phoney and a little corny; Holmes’ doco maker is an insensitive dolt who hasn’t done his homework. Perhaps it could be read as an ironic gag – as in, interviews of this kind are only ever just a moment in time. They are a superficial performance, not an occasion to reveal its subjects inner workings… Still, it plays like a cheap shot.
Aside from the interview technique idea, Winter’s other major formal idiosyncrasy is to have Angie played by eight different women of different ages, looks, and ethnicities, and they are, in order of appearance: Katherine Hicks, Anya Beyersdorf, Valerie Bader, Roxane Wilson, Michelle Vergara Moore, Dina Panozzo, Saskia Burmeister and Maia Thomas. Within the context of the film the acting is fine, but the premise is a little crude. It suggests, obviously, that the sex-worker is ‘every woman’.
Much of Winter’s dialogue is concerned with the difference between men and women, the difference being what turns them on. The argument isn’t very interesting, mostly because Winter actually buys into the very cliché he wants to damage, that of the ‘professional woman’. Here, Angie is always right about absolutely everything; a “Super-Sex Worker”, all seeing, all knowing. Still, half way through, Winter introduces an irony that has some bite: the ‘doco-maker’ is perhaps no longer interested in making a film, but is simply engaged in his own kink. That means that Angie is ‘acting’, not being; she’s providing a service (she is thus a movie prostitute after all). It would play better, though, if the dialogue had a bit of punch. But most of the talk has the dry, pre-digested, lifeless feel of a self-help manual – it’s all catchphrases and aphorisms.
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