pretty baby

have you all seen the 1978 movie Pretty Baby? 
addie has been telling me about it for years and finally darin and i watched it.
i directly fell in love with the lush new orleans ambience, and you all know i fancy old brothels.
the hats, slips, corsets, bloomers, petticoats, stockings, eyelet lace and cleavage...i was dying.

the subject matter is somewhat difficult. brooke shields plays 12-year-old Violet, growing up in the brothel with her mother's (a glorious Susan Sarandon) nonchalant guidance. 
saucy young Violet is over sexualized and objectified, and the film doesn't seem overly concerned about that fact. i kind of appreciated that indifference, as if glimpsing some other world with a completely different set of values, without judgment. however the scenes are shown with such grace and beauty that you get the feeling the director Louis Malle was somehow getting off on the whole thing. i guess that's what i found a tad disturbing.

if you've seen it, did it bother you? they say it was meant to be shocking in the 1970s, but i don't really think so. it is too dreamy, moves too slowly through its thoughtful and provocative scenes. more like the filmmaker didn't find it so shocking at all, just a portrait of a (highly romanticized) bygone time. 

i was interested in the photographer who comes to stay at the brothel (even though his character totally creeped me out and disgusted me). E.J Bellocq was a real turn of the century New Orleans photographer and some of his images of the Storyville prostitutes survived.  

following are a few of his real portraits. storyville was bellocq's pet subject, the red light district of new orleans from 1897 to 1917. i love to think about these women, the real women, their lives, the moment of the photograph, the babies being born and their grief and struggles, their cats and ruffles and breasts and men, all different kinds of men, rough and kind alike.

prostitution is such a strange and complex piece of human history, a tormented crossroads between sex and commodity that leaves behind scars and stories.
i am interested in art that dares to take on such haunted histories.


Teeny said…
I haven't seen that movie! Since having kids I've become extremely sensitive to the merest hint of child I wonder if I could watch it the whole way through. I understand what you're saying though...the movie is an artistic representation. And those stills and photos have me wanting to watch it, for all of the romantic connotations one might hold for times past. I was reading up on beautiful Punjammies just last night (pyjamas sewn by Indian women in aftercare facilities who were forced into prostitution) - and it had me thinking about the history and prevalence of prostitution as a labour force in society, so it's interesting your post coincides! Love the pic of the ladee with the stripey stockings and tstrap shoes. Maybe you'll write a paper on it for us one day. xx
i loved the looks, but i had to turn it off once they paraded out a 12 year old child greased up on a platter. i don't really care if your mom says its okay or if it's "art" or if the child is now and adult and says it was "fine". it's gross. it made my tummy hurt. exploiting a kid to show how kids were exploited before just doesn't work for me. but yeah, loved the outfits and hair and man was brooke sheilds amazingly lovely.
anne said…
i have not seen or ever heard of this movie. the stills are quite beautiful. i'm not sure if i could watch it or not. i think i'd probably be disturbed.
the real photos are quite interesting . makes me think of east of eden.
Jennifer D said…
You have such a lovely way of describing exactly how I feel about brothels of the past. I have a natural interest in the Red Light Districts of our fabulous local Cali Ghost Towns... I always have. I am curious about the women and their stories. I also have a weird love of graveyards.What can I say?

I haven't seen Pretty Baby yet but I am going to now! I had heard about Brooke and how young she was, maybe that is why I haven't wanted to see it? Now that I know the era it is set in I MUST see it ASAP.Hats, slips, corsets, bloomers, petticoats, stockings, eyelet lace and cleavage all in New Orleans...I am sooo there.
Violet Folklore said…

How was Brooke Shields so damn beautiful at that young age?

I'm so glad you posted some of the old photos!

I want to read this:
i must have seen this movie in college, though i don't remember if i even watched the whole thing!? the costumes are lovely and super inspiring, but to me, i watch young brooke shields in this film and can imagine exactly why she later became estranged from her mother/manager. it is interesting to revisit these kinds of films as my daughter enters preteen age--i came across that stupid 90s movie "the crush" with alicia silverstone and cary elwes on tv a while back and couldn't stop watching it. i'd seen it before becoming a parent but now all these years later wanted to know how old silverstone's character was supposed to be and what all happened...

p.s. it would be great to get together and talk about raising vegetarian kids and every other little thing :) i hope you and yours have had a beautiful spring!
p.p.s. how'd you know my grandma is a bad ass?!

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