Wednesday, January 9, 2013
210 Has a Good Attitude
yesterday by Kino Lorber. This film is part of Glawogger's "globalization trilogy," which, okay, but at the same time, oh shit. Although if the film has some point to make beyond "Prostitution is something else, isn't it?" then it fails to make it. Whore's Glory is subtitled "A Triptych," and it is broken up into three separate sections: first, a relatively clean, but somehow eerie, brothel in Bangkok, which gives way to an enclosed, self-contained city-in-miniature of prostitutes in Bangladesh called "The City of Joy," which itself gives way a hideous stretch of poverty and dirt and awfulness in Mexico. The order and presentation of these three locations, and the mode of prostitution on display in each, is obviously not accidental, but I'm not sure what Glawogger is on about, exactly. In Bangkok, the prostitutes are shown to potential clients sitting, basically, in a glass case. Each girl wears a numbered pin, and when she is picked, their number is called through a microphone. The prostitutes in each section are desperate for clients, because of course this is how they earn their living, but the Thai women are depicted as nothing much different from your ordinary young giggly office-workers. There is a safety and some kind of cold support system in place here, due in no small part, I'm sure, to the fact that, according to the multinational johns who frequent this particular place, the women are expensive. The place pulls in a lot of money, and employs a lot of people. When they go home at night, they talk about their work as work, and nothing more horrifying than that, or they talk about which kind of foreign client they like the least (a couple of them have very specific views on this). Their brothel has a time clock. And so the structure of Whore's Glory begins to take shape when we move to Bangladesh, and Glawogger chooses now, for some reason, to include much more footage of direct interviews with the prostitutes, rather than the ostensibly "overheard" chatter in Bangkok. And the Bangladeshi prostitutes are, get this, miserable, and are treated miserably. They're poor, they're mocked, the older women who take in younger women as prostitutes on a one-year contract -- the pimps, in other words -- are callous and abusive. These women, the young prostitutes, are very sad. When being instructed on what's expected of her as her year begins, one young woman, named Ruma -- and she appears to be very young indeed -- keeps her head down during the whole process with the older woman, and when she goes out to solicit johns she stands as still as a tree, barely trying because she doesn't want to, because who would want to?
But what's Glawogger like as an artist? Well, he's not nothing, and he at least doesn't take the route Jeff Prosserman took in Chasing Madoff, which was to basically do a shitty job of ripping off Errol Morris. There are several nice shots in the film, unquestionably helped along by the exoticism, to most of the people who will see Whore's Glory, of the locations. Even if you've been to Bangladesh, I'll just bet you haven't been to this part of Bangladesh. I do think his creative side is a bit illusory, though, because a great deal of the strange, almost ghostly tone the film occasionally achieves is propped up almost entirely by the series of songs by P. J. Harvey and others that Glawogger pours over everything. Not ineffectively, but when a film relies this heavily on the music of others to creat a certain effect, is the filmmaker doing his job, or is P. J. Harvey doing hers? On the plus side, Glawogger gets a lot of mileage out of the religious lives of the women in his film (I strongly suspect Glawogger is a big fan of William T. Vollmann), and he does so without ever making a show of it (until the end, anyway, when he indulges in a shot that is, if I'm correct in my assumptions about the scene, possibly unforgivable, but which you kind of have to allow was a shot he was understandably craving the whole time he was in Reynosa). Anyway, this aspect of the film hits its peak in Mexico, where some of the girls worship a kind of voodoo add-on to their Catholicism, named Lady Death. There are skull statutes and Grim Reaper statues and tattoos and everything, all over, and one of the prostitutes, one of the most interesting people in the film, worships this figure because of its promise of a "good death." That's the dream.
Honestly, I don't want to make baseless assumptions about Glawogger -- I don't think I really believe that he meant for his Bangkok footage to be in any way enticing, for instance, because it clearly isn't -- or his intentions. I'm too aware of my own prejudices regarding this kind of film, and that I might be treating Glawogger unfairly, and beating him up with someone else's movies. But then again, rutting dogs as a metaphor in a documentary about prostitutes is simply, as alarm bells go, too loud to ignore.