“‘Tis a Pity She’s a Whore…”
DIRECTED BY CARLO LIZZANI/1975
STREET DATE: MARCH 27, 2018/RARO VIDEO
There’s a hideous underbelly, and we all know it. We know of it, we have it, and some are churned through it.
Actually, there are several. Hideous underbellies, that is. That is, as far as this particular work is concerned. This particular work being one that is equally obscure and notorious, hideous yet alluring. Not unlike an ancient hydra with every head fixed upon the same prey, but each processing it differently: Helpless. Naive. Promising. Delectable. Exploitable. Tender. Doomed.
Never mind that the movie in question has been obscure for good reason, filmmaker Carlo Lizzani’s unconventional 1975 plotless tragi-drama, The Teenage Prostitution Racket, is now available on Blu-Ray. This is thanks to Raro Video, a small but venerable label dedicated to a no-holds-barred approach to unearthing every odd bit of Italian cinema it can legally clear. Raro does fine work, handsomely restoring and gussying up each and every one of their releases, even The Teenage Prostitution Racket. Yet, as trashy and perhaps tone deaf as that title is – and as the film at times is, quite frankly – it is no mere celluloid blanket of objectifying insensitivity heaped upon the several young girls it profiles.
Entirely a work of dramatized fiction, yet based upon a legitimate article devoted to uncovering the horrible truths of the lives of female teen prostitutes in Milan, The Teenage Prostitution Racket exists not to shame or humiliate the girls. Repeatedly, these characters, all played by new or non-actors, are suckered into “the life” by a predatory guy who feigns affection before morphing into her pimp. It’s a racket alright, complete with a chain of command, time tested recruiting methods, and a willingness to let the girls self-destruct. Operating the exploitation is an equal opportunity affair, with a nearly equal ratio of men to women pulling the manipulative strings. The men are pigs, sure. But even the older women that the girls feel they should be able to turn to as lifeguards are only there to push their heads further underwater.
With its garish 1970s film grain and flat lighting aesthetic, the inner grotesqueness of this film is all the more apparent.
Told in a grim and seedy anthology-like docudrama style, Lizzani covers every major prostitution-related social problem at the time, and some lesser ones: abuse, parental abandonment, cultural and religious-based manipulations, teen pregnancy, dangerous fetishism, and more, all under the weathered umbrella of Harsh Truth about the oldest profession.
Some of it might just be industry expectations and low cultural mores of the day, but The Teenage Prostitution Racket manages to harness all of the above while simultaneously leering at the girls as they undress and apply their trade. No girl isn’t unclothed and bedded before being subsequently churned our to her inevitable consequence. The film isn’t punishing them so much as portraying the fall, a kind of perverse Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames where no one is saved.
With its garish 1970s film grain and flat lighting aesthetic, the inner grotesqueness of this film is all the more apparent. Factor in the English language overdub (the only language track included) that sounds straight out of an old Speed Racer cartoon, and the unsettling nature of The Teenage Prostitution Racket becomes all the of an more unsettling experience, albeit for reasons unintended but nonetheless butting up against those wholly and/or somewhat intended. The great Ennio Morricone provides a dizzying score, something perhaps better suited for an espionage film, but not wholly out of place, either.
The Raro Blu-ray looks better than a movie of this ilk has any business looking. The doom-infested corners, streets and skies of Milan permeate throughout, as intended. The anthology-esque film feels every bit of its grueling two hours, but at least Raro made no effort to integrate the ten minutes of additional hardcore footage, shot after the fact by co-screenwriter Mino Giarda in order to “appeal to audiences in Northern Italy, whom demanded an even more explicit picture.” In a 2005 half-hour documentary about the film’s making, which is included as a bonus feature, Giarda claims to be not proud of this, wanting to quickly move on to another topic.
A blatantly pornographic film was never Lizzani’s intention, though looking back, he himself seems to shrug off the insertion. Raro has included the footage in very rough work print form. It’s quite incorrectly labeled as “deleted scenes” on the Blu-ray’s menu, so beware… there are no outtakes from the film proper, only this hideous material. Quite a shock for anyone expecting the usual editing room floor outtakes discs so often include. With a slipcase and booklet, complete with an informative essay by Bret Wood, Raro digs itself out of that hole to some degree.
1975 Milan is portrayed throughout a miserable urban semi-wasteland in the making; a grey and drippy containment devoid of morals or hope. Indeed, Lizzani and his cast and crew were both curbing and exposing the salacious storm cloud of teenage female prostitution of that time and place. The Teenage Prostitution Racket gets points for not beating around that bush, and avoiding at all costs any kind of fantasy Pretty Woman syndrome. It is a feel-bad and sometimes sickening gaze into a cancerous underbelly that has always been, and will not go away. But rebuke it, we must.
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Prostitution Research & Education (PRE) is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization that seeks to abolish prostitution and provide real alternatives.
The images in this review are not representative of the actual Blu-ray’s image quality, and are included only to represent the film itself.