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Australia 2011
Directed by
John Winter
91 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1 stars

Black & White & Sex

 Synopsis: An interview with Angie, a fictional sex-worker.

John Winter’s debut feature purports to be an interview of a “sex worker” a.k.a. “prostitute”, a.k.a. “hooker” and opens with its subject, Angie, (played by Katharine Hicks) in Marilyn Monroe wig, low cut top, mini skirt and high-heels, standing in front of the camera being “interviewed” by a seated “director” (Matthew Holmes). If one immediately wonders what interview would be conducted in this way, Angie is obnoxiously aggressive, brow-beating the superior-toned but ineffectual director who for ten minutes does nothing but parry her taunts before she pulls her top down and plays with her boobs which she calls respectively “Norma” and “Jean”.

After that first ten minutes the actress playing “Angie” abruptly changes although the character remains the same. This technique is repeated with eight actresses in all, giving us 91 minutes of posturing and largely hostile bantering between interviewer and interviewee under the guise of the former trying to understand why the latter does what she does and how she understands/feels about this. The change of actress is meant to reflect the heterogeneity of real sex workers but it is a strategy which works against this intention as much as for it. Had Winter indeed interviewed a real sex worker or sex workers, he might have produced interesting and revealing results but as all eight actresses are playing the same character (and with the exception of Valerie Bader they are all photogenic women) from Winter’s own script the result is a kind of single-voiced, self-flagellating fantasy of sexual inadequacy with the real director’s alter ego being taunted and humiliated by his imaginary subject but eventually exacting his revenge by having her strip naked and masturbating herself (although one could say that as the surrogate director remains unseen throughout and the woman is constantly under the “gaze” of the monocular camera this is only a literal summation of the entire set-up).

Ken Russell did something similar in his 1991 film, Whore, but at least that film had the somewhat mitigating quality of being laughable. Winter’s film, although technically well-made and with a consistently professional cast who perhaps enjoyed the opportunity of playing out his fantasy, is literally monotonous. Of course, all this can be read as revelatory of the director figure as a classically detached, analytical and thus ultimately sadistic male (there is a lot of talk by “Angie” about how women experience sex as pain) but if such "mirroring" is Winter's intent it does not make the film itself any less constrained by its painful “dryness” (according to Winter's script, a male quality as opposed to female “wetness”).  Conceptually flawed and sophomoric in articulation, Black & White & Sex is perhaps one for cultural studies students who should find plenty of material here for their undergrad essays on sexual politics.

FYI: If you want to see similar material given more credible dramatic form then check out Richard Hawkins’ Everything (2004).




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