Instead of whacking Stucky across the chops for his boner-boy harassment of Vivian, here Edward tells him that he is quite welcome to have a crack. Vivian’s body is a democratic locality for men with money, and like all commodities, one that can be ritualistically exchanged. That is the nature of prostitution.
But Disney didn’t want you to see that.
Garry Marshall’s Pretty Woman (1990), was originally based on a script by J.F.Lawton and given the working title, 3000. However, having been bought by that purveyor of all things unholy, Disney, the tone of the original script shifted dramatically. Before the effervescent ingénue could be (re)constructed by Julia Roberts, Vivian Ward was a troubled crack addict. Before Richard Gere could play the handsome and sophisticated Edward who just ‘happens’ upon the prostitute, and becomes beside himself with her, he is man who regularly buys the attentions of prostitutes, and pointedly seeks her out. And rather than saving each other, instead Edward rejects Vivian’s refusal of the money paid for her time and body (borne, presumably, of her foolhardy attachment to him) drags her out of his car and tells her to bugger off and get a’hold of herself. Dejected, she uses the $3000 to take her friend, Kit de Luca, on a bus to Disneyland.
Because just as the punter buys the sexual fantasy, so too Vivian must by the fairy tale.
Yes, optioned to be performed by the ‘edgier’ acting double Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeifer, the narrative was softened into a bubble gum bit of romancing for adolescent girls the world over. Key to this transition, was indeed the casting of Roberts – significantly younger than Gere – whose almost bottled, clean linen loveliness mitigates any realistic prickliness that remains in the film. Unlike all the street walkers I’ve ever met, she looks impossibly confident, in good health and of course, free from drugs. Because Disney’s heroine could sell sex for a living, but heaven forbid she ever got intoxicated in order to cope with that reality!
And we never see her actually ‘trick’, taking it as a given that Edward is not really a trick in the ordinary sense. No, we can casually forget prostitution was ever her material reality and emotionally fix on the idea of this impossibly beautiful Hollywood star, drenched in whore’s garb, and playing at prostitution as though it were a form of street theatre. Pretty Woman is a film created in order to appease the Anne Summers style reveries of the relatively privileged, who imagine (and want to consume) prostitution as a set of outfits and paraphernalias , not as an activity as done to, usually, poor or otherwise disenfranchised people.
She is not like other prostitutes, no, she has some shinning inner aura that bleeds through the noir streets of night time LA, with its pimps and its clubs and its dead hookers in dustbins. Like Lady and the Tramp, she is just too beautiful to be in that kennel. Unlike her earthy, drug addicted friend, Kit – who is the tinge of pessimism that exists on the periphery – she is in position of the right kind of feminine charm to give her the currency to escape that nihilistic, Bukowskian landscape. Towards the end, the idea is floated, that Kit might become a beautician. A more fitting aspiration for the lesser whore, in the unlikely event that she ever get off drugs long enough to do it. And should the spectator ever really care.
Of course, there is a subtle self reflexivity in Pretty Woman. An awareness that Hollywood is the paragonic Fatherland of fiction over fact, that marbles together the predominance of grimed poverty, with intermittent speckles of gold licked fortune. It is in the city’s very topography, from the dilapidations of Downtown to the pretty penny streets of Beverly Hills. It defines its cultural texture; a ground zero for a contemporary value system that would sooner remake unedifying, truthful tales into out of reach fantasias. To settle our necessary anxieties about the world. Indeed, the feminism of today has come rooted out of this very bulb, with many wishing to re-orchestrate in their minds, films like Pretty Woman to become Feminist staples. Tales of empowerment and chutzpah. As Edward and Vivian save each other atop the staircase, that leads up to her grotty pad, a local man crosses the street and declares, “Everybody who comes to Hollywood got’a dream, Wass your dream? Wass your dream?”
And with it seemingly so out of reach, it is easier to pretend we are already living it.
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