Blu-ray review: “Whore” (1991)

“Whore” (1991)

Drama

Running Time: 85 minutes

Written by: Ken Russell and Deborah Dalton based on Bondage by David Hines

Direcetd by: Ken Russell 

Featuring: Theresa Russell,  Antonio Fargas, Jack Nance, Danny Trejo and Ginger Lynn Allen

Man in Car: “I wanna fuck you up the ass!”

Liz: “You can stick it up your own, asshole!”

Man in Car: “Ha ha ha ha ha, I would if I could, bitch!”

Critical Commentary

Released recently on the Imprint label on Blu-ray is the film “Whore” (1991) directed by Ken Russell who at this stage of his career was more as a curio, less as an actual director so by the early 1990s, Russell had become a celebrity: his notoriety and persona attracted more attention than his recent work. He became largely reliant on his own finances to continue making films. Many of his films at this stage on onward into the first ten years of the 21st century are a far cry from his work up to this point, which is our loss as Russell had a keen sense of right and wrong which he would put on display within cinema. For me “Whore” represents one of the last true high points of his career, I also have a soft spot for it as it was the last Ken Russell film I saw upon its initial release. I have also been a fan of Theresa Russell for years and any chance to see her in either a new film or a re-release is one that I take with vigour.

“Whore” was based on a the stage play/monologue ‘Bondage’, which was written by a London a taxi driver named David Hines based on his conversations with a London hooker. The filmic adaptation, penned by Ken Russell and screenplay Deborah Dalton, modernises the setting and moves the locale to then contemporary early 90’s where a rough and ready prostitute named Liz whom we catch up with as she attempts to evade her violent, controlling pimp Blake. This setting is not really unique but it does mean that we are with Liz for the entire movie, we experience everything through her eyes as she, literally talks us through most situations, we also experience flashbacks of her life and experiences with some meaning to explain at least part of how she arrived at her current situation.  

It would be easy to say that the movie was some kind of docu-drama or that the techniques that were used were to legitimise it in some way, but in my mind this is not the case, just because the main character breaks the fourth wall does not mean it is aspiring to look or feel like a documentary. In fact in breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience is more like the reality of Liz’s time with her clients, whilst the artifice would seem to decrease as Liz talks to us in fact if anything it is reinforcing what she does every day. I would think that Liz is so used to lying about herself and her world most of what she tells us is not true. When we see her with her clients or even her supposed friends she is telling them what they want to hear whether it be a fantasy or her situation within the world. If anything the stories Liz tells us get wilder and wilder as the movie continues, she is trying to up the stakes with every encounter.

I really enjoyed Theresa Russell in this movie, it seems suited for her and to her way of acting, not only that she is in every scene which makes her performance all the more impressive. There are a multitude of other characters that appear with Liz such as a hippie (Tom Villard) who roles up in a VW Beetle, another smiley creep looking for anal, and Liz attempting to stop a streetwalker from bleeding to death after she’s stabbed on the street (Ginger Lynn Allen). There’s also some terrific cameos by way of late Jack Nance, Danny Trejo as a tattoo artist, John Diehl as a derelict, and Antonio Fargas as a Rasta street-urchin whom Liz continually encounters on her street walking adventures. 

Ken Russell has a reputation for making films that challenge not only conventional storytelling but also taboo subjects, when you couple those two elements together you have some very special movies and their success depends upon how well everything comes together in a complete package. This is the reason Ken Russell’s films can be divisive as well the overall quality being a bit sporadic. Making movies is expensive and when you have an auteur like Russell he requires time and the two do not necessarily compliment each other. In an earlier part of his career “Whore” would have been a very different film, but the director and his cohorts obviously believe in his vision and so this movie is the best it could be with the resources at hand. Whilst this is definitely low budget Russell does not rely on the overuse of graphic imagery to make the movie titillating or anything else a lesser director may use. What Russell does do is incorporate any nudity or sex scenes as part of the plot and narrative and in fact there really is not much sex or nudity considering the name of the movie.

Apparently there are three known cuts of the film, there was the original full-strength cut, an R-rated cut, and the NC-17 version, and what we get on disc here is the NC-17 cut which is reportedly trimmed by a few seconds compared to the original version, this is what I gather from reading about it as I’ve never seen it, but the uncut version has seemingly only ever been released on VHS and has never had a proper disc release. 

Whore (1991) is a wonderfully vulgar and uniquely executed slice of voyeuristic cinema that gives a disturbingly intimate fly-on-the-wall portrait of the seedy life of a sex worker. Theresa Russell absolutely dominates the film and gives a strangely charming turn as the jaded non-nonsense prostitute who encounters all manner of violent perverts and scuzzy street urchins while trying to turn a buck. This is the first time that Ken Russell’s film has been available in widescreen HD and Imprint Films do it up right with a proper special edition with a fantastic set of extras and attractive packaging that should make this a highly desirable release. 

Technical Commentary

Video

The NC-17 version of Whore (1992) makes it’s HD debut on region-free Blu-ray in 1080p HD widescreen (1.85:1), looking like an older HD master lacking the refinement, punchier details and tighter visuals a newer scan could offer, but is still quite pleasing with accurate looking colors and modest depth and clarity. The fine grain levels look consistent and fine detail is fairly strong throughout.

Audio

Audio comes by way of uncompressed English LPCM 2.0 stereo with optional English subtitles, the dialogue driven film sounds quite nice, as does the score from composer Michael Gibbs (Madame Sin), and there are no issues with hiss or distortion that I ascertained during my viewing. 

Special Features

  • 1080p High-definition presentation on Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary by film critics Alexandra Heller-Nicholas & Josh Nelson
  • Artist – interview with actress Theresa Russell
  • Dignity – interview with actress Ginger Lynn
  • Raw – interview with writer Deborah Dalton
  • Provocateur – X-rated auteur Bruce La Bruce on Ken Russell’s Whore
  • Legitimate and Illegitimate Women in Ken Russell’s Whore – video essay by author/critic Kat Ellinger
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
  • Audio English LPCM 2.0 Stereo

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