A new take on the oldest profession

A new take on the oldest profession
The Girlfriend Experience TV series is about a legal intern who earns extra money as a call girl at night
PHOTO: Starz

The new TV programme inspired by the Steven Soderbergh film follows other films and TV shows that offer different perspectives on prostitution, writes Keith Uhlich.

They call it 'the oldest profession'. Certainly in film and television it's one of the oldest plots: prostitution. What is it about the fallen woman - it's almost always a woman - that provides such enduring fascination?

In fiction, the narrative tends toward the judgmental. Whatever pleasure the prostitute might experience will eventually be supplanted by either the pain of societal condemnation or an ignominious death.

There are variations, of course, and it's to the credit of Starz's superb new limited series The Girlfriend Experience ("suggested," as the end credits state, by the 2009 Steven Soderbergh film of the same name) that it keeps viewers continually off-balance as to its overall intentions.

Our protagonist is Chicago law student Christine Reade (Riley Keough), who, over the course of 13 chilly and cerebral 30-minute episodes, makes a name for herself as a high-class call girl while interning at a prestigious law firm.

Does the series - co-written and directed by indie film-makers Lodge Kerrigan (Keane) and Amy Seimetz (Sun Don't Shine) - celebrate or castigate its heroine? Or is the project a distancing, clinical dissection of a character who becomes more and more mysterious the longer we spend in her company?

Perhaps looking at some of Christine's precursors might sharpen the picture. Most Hollywood depictions of prostitutes, from Butterfield 8 to Pretty Woman border on exploitation, with an implicit attitude from the film-makers that suggests a mix of the prurient and the puritanical.

Turn first to Lulu (Louise Brooks), the sexually and spiritually uninhibited protagonist of GW Pabst's silent melodrama Pandora's Box (1929).

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