A Girl (d. Simon Black) – Near the beginning of his review of a theater piece of some sort by performance artist Karen Finley, critic John Heilpern, by way of context, said of Finley “She has also been known to shove yams up her ass. I don’t know how I feel about that. As a good friend of mine asks: ‘Why yams?’” It’s a good question, and one whose broader philosophical implications occurred to me as I watched A Girl. This “film,” which was “developed” by director Black and star (and virtually the only actor in the thing) Hannah Short, lasts about an hour, is filled with a kind of ambient industrial score that early on evokes Tom Waits if Tom Waits never developed anything, is decidedly not filled with dialogue, and seems more than anything to want to pretend there is some sort of disconnect between the outwardly prim public face of Short’s character, and the wild, disturbing, solo sexual shenanigans she gets up to behind closed doors. If that really was the idea, Short and Black may have wanted to up the prim quotient by, for example, removing her nose ring. If that wasn’t the idea, then I don’t know what the idea was.
There’s nothing like a plot to be found here (though at one point she finds a briefcase); it’s just a series of I guess you’d call them “self-contained” set-pieces featuring Short in various stages of undress, doing any number of odd things, culminating in a very long sequence in which Short is absolutely as naked as one could possibly be, in a room where one would much rather be clothed, crawling about and messing around with a raw chicken. “Why yams?” Though honestly, given the level of subtext that Black and Short are willing to reach for here, the answer to “Why a raw chicken?” seems clear enough.
A Girl has just been released by Kino, as part of a series called “Satanic Sluts.” I’m well aware that I have no one to blame but myself.
The Teenage Prostitution Racket (d. Carlo Lizzani) – I realize that pairing these two films is just asking anyone reading this post to wonder what my deal is. I refuse to apologize, but I will say that the screener game can be unpredictable. This 1975 film, one of dozens made by the late Carlo Lizzani (who among other things worked as a writer on Rossellini’s Germany, Year Zero) has quite a bit more going for it than A Girl by simply being a watchable film. It also has an interesting structure: the film is comprised of a series of short stories, each about a different teenage girl (played by young women like Cinzia Membretti and Cristina Moranzoni, neither of whom appeared in another film after this) who is tricked or forced into becoming prostitutes. Lizzani and his co-screenwriter Mino Giarda find a surprising variety within this basic storyline, and each method used by the vile and unscrupulous to send these girls down a path they would reject if they saw any way to do so rings true. Even the most dubious, which involves a party in which the women are urged to strip naked and have their pictures taken as a sort of game, which ultimately leads to the youngest woman there being blackmailed, is obviously based on reality to some degree.
The problem with the film is how one views the motivation behind its creation in the first place. Though it pitches itself as a kind of expose of a specific kind of white slavery, and a warning to parents throughout Europe, it’s still full of female nudity. With a premise like this, how could it not be? Yes, but must it leer? At any rate, it does, quite often. This makes The Teenage Prostitution Racket no different from any number of Italian genre films of the era – and whatever else it may be, this is a crime film, of a sort – and I won’t pretend that I usually object to this. But as the title suggests, these women do seem awfully young, and even setting that aside, being acutely aware of the hypocrisy inherent in the film you’re currently watching doesn’t often pave the way towards a favorable opinion. Or so the well-known saying goes. At best, The Teenage Prostitution Racket, now out on home video from Raro Video, is a curiosity.