- Marked Women: Prostitutes and Prostitution in the Cinema
The cinema has long been fascinated with the women of the world's oldest profession. Many of the most beautiful and powerful actresses in the history of cinema have played prostitutes—Lillian Gish, Bette Davis, Greta Garbo, Sophia Loren, Simone Signoret, Anna Magnani, and, most recently, Julia Roberts. Some were victims of brutal male pimps, some were good-hearted gals who enjoyed their work, and some were depressed alcoholics or drug addicts. Films about prostitutes have given cinema fans many classic performances—Jean Harlow in Red Dust (1932), Mae West in a variety of films, Melina Mercouri in Never on Sunday (1960), Shirley MacLaine in Irma La Douce (1963), and a teenaged Jodie Foster as a child prostitute in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976).
Yet despite the worldwide popularity of films featuring prostitutes and/or prostitution, few film scholars have written monographs on this important genre of film. It was amazing to this reviewer to read about the huge number of films produced by filmmakers from all over the world on this subject. In Marked Women Russell Campbell notes that James Limbacher found some 1,400 film titles dealing with prostitutes in his 1983 filmography on sex and the cinema. While Campbell makes no claims to producing an exhaustive study, he warns the reader that he has "attempted to include a large number of examples" in each of his chapters to "demonstrate the widespread extent of the patterns discussed" (7).
It should be no great surprise that Campbell, drawing heavily on the work of Nancy Chodorow and Dorothy Dinnerstein, concludes that the image of the prostitute in cinema is the creation of the male imagination. The prostitute, Campbell notes, is "created and sustained by patriarchal society to service men's desires . . . and then condemned by society for doing so" (3). [End Page 563]
The main body of the book is organized into sixteen chapters, each dealing with distinct types of prostitutes in film: Gold Digger, Siren, Avenger, Comrade, Happy Hooker, Baby Doll, Junkie, Martyr, Adventuress, to name but a few. These chapters then detail world cinemas that fit into each of these types.
Campbell's decision to cite as many examples of films dealing with prostitutes as possible (most of which I am certain readers will have never heard of, let alone seen) creates a major problem. In one short chapter he mentions eighty-eight different films. Most of the other chapters include fifty or more films. The result is that the reader is given an almost endless number of films to digest with little analysis beyond a brief plot summary. The films become nothing but a blur as they race past the reader. Each individual chapter is a stand-alone unit with little or no transition to the next. Campbell also ignores, for the most part, any real analysis of directors, and while he has done an admirable research in discovering films from all over the world, he rarely attempts to provide the reader with any sense of film as a visual art form.
The book will be an invaluable reference source for anyone interested in an historical overview of prostitution in the movies. Unfortunately, while the endnotes are detailed, there is no bibliography or filmography.