The power of prostitutes on film

Every so often, the prostitution issue flares up, and is then swept back under the carpet, that being the best place for such paradoxically desired but undesirable aspects of our world. But the carpet is not the only place for such things, and cinema has been, traditionally, one of its most visible homes.

Despite, or perhaps because of, its being the central market for the fantasy trade - "There's nothing like the movies. Usually when you see women, they're dressed. But put them in a movie, and you see their backsides", as the lead in Godard's Le Mepris has it - prostitution is an unusually prominent theme in the history of film. With its vaudeville origins, of course, low-class demi-monde figures were stock characters in the early days. By 1932, though, Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express had focused the lens on the courtesan's unseemly trade....

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