Sex Work on Film
Waterloo Bridge (1931)
Myra (Mae Clarke) is an American chorus girl down on her luck in London at the end of World War One. As she struggles to make ends meet picking up men on Waterloo Bridge, she meets and falls in love with a young Canadian soldier. Directed by James Whale, and remade in 1940 with Vivian Leigh.
The Goddess (1934)
An early Chinese silent film, this tells the story of a nameless woman in Shanghai who becomes a prostitute to provide for her son, and ends up in the clutches of an evil gambler who controls her life. Mandarin language. Directed by Wu Yonggang.
Marguerite (Greta Garbo) is a beautiful Parisian courtesan whose extravagant lifestyle is funded by a wealthy baron. When she falls in love with a young man, his father begs her not to marry him and ruin his chances of success. Directed by George Cukor, this film has been remade and the story retold several times.
Les Dames Du Bois de Boulogne (1945)
Hélène (Maria Casares) has been jilted by her aristocratic lover and, in revenge, manipulates him into marrying a former prostitute and cabaret dancer. French language. Directed by Robert Bresson.
Le Plaisir (1952)
Made up of three short stories about pleasure, one of the tales in this film follows Madame as she takes her "girls" to the country to attend her niece's first communion. French language. Directed by Max Ophuls.
Akasen Chitai (1956)
'Street of Shame' follows the personal lives and struggles of five women working at Dreamland, in Tokyo's Yoshiwara district. The film gives a strongly feminist - and negative - view of Japanese society. Japanese language. Directed by Kenji Mizogushi.
Nights of Cabiria (1957)
Cabiria (Guiletta Masina) is a street prostitute in Rome searching for love (but never quite finding it). She eventually meets a man who promises her a respectable future - but things don't quite work out in this Oscar-winning film (Best Foreign Language Film). Italian language. Directed by Federico Fellini
Never on Sunday (1960)
Ilya (Melina Mercouri) lives and works in the port of Piraeus in Greece. She meets Homer, an American tourist who tries to steer her onto the path of morality. The title song - which won an Oscar for Best Song - is the rallying song of the Greek Prostitutes' Trade Union. Directed by Jules Dassin.
Butterfield 8 (1960)
Gloria (Elizabeth Taylor) is an escort in New York City looking for lasting love; she thinks she finds it in an unhappily married lawyer but, when she needs him most, he turns on her. Directed by Daniel Mann.
Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) and Paul Varjak (George Peppard), a socialite and a struggling writer living in the same apartment building in New York City, both keep afloat by taking money from wealthy 'patrons'. Directed by Blake Edwards.
Vivre sa vie (1962)
Nana (Anna Karina) leaves her husband and child to pursue a career as an actress, but ends up homeless, alone and working on the streets. Her story unfolds in 12 separate episodes. French language. Directed by Jean-Luc Goddard.
Mamma Roma (1962)
Mamma Roma (Anna Magnani) retires from working on the streets, buys an upscale apartment and a fruit stall in Rome, and brings her son from his sheltered life in the countryside to live with her. Italian language. Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Irma la Douce (1963)
Nestor Patou (Jack Lemmon) is an honest policeman who gets fired for trying to crack down on street prostitutes in Paris and, in a series of twists and turns, ends up penniless and living with one. Of course he falls in love with Irma (Shirley MacLaine) and, in a convoluted plan to get her to stop working on the streets, impersonates a wealthy English lord and becomes her client. Directed by Billy Wilder, this won an Oscar for Best Score.
Gate of Flesh (1964)
In a ruined ghetto of Tokyo after World War Two a group of street sex workers band together to defend their territory, living by a strict set of rules. When a thief stumbles into their midst after a fight with the police, he upsets everything. Japanese language. Directed by Seijun Suzuki.
The Story of a Prostitute (1965)
Harumi (Yumiko Nagawa) volunteers as a "comfort woman" on the Japanese front in Manchuria to shame her former lover; she is claimed by Narita, an abusive high-ranking officer, but falls in love with Mikami, his subordinate. Japanese language. Directed by Seijun Suzuki.
Belle de Jour (1967)
Severine (Catherine Deneuve) is a Parisian housewife who loves her doctor husband but cannot bring herself to have sex with him, indulging instead in dark and masochistic fantasies. She secretly starts to work in a high-class brothel in the afternoons, returning to her chaste domestic life in the evenings. French language. Directed by Luis Buñuel.
Sweet Charity (1969)
In this stage and film musical based on Fellini's Night of Cabiria (above), Shirley Maclaine plays Charity Hope Valentine, a dime- a-dance hostess (with truly terrible taste in men) trying to find true love. Directed by Bob Fosse.
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Joe Buck (Jon Voight) leaves Texas and heads for New York City, dressed as a rodeo cowboy, with the dream of becoming a kept man. Instead he ends up penniless and homeless, hooking up with small-time con artist Ratso (Dustin Hoffman) in his quest for a better life. Directed by John Schlesinger.
Klute (Donald Sutherland) is a small-town private eye looking for a missing friend; his only clue is an obscene letter that leads him to Manhattan escort Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda). Several escorts have been killed and Bree herself has been attacked by a violent punter, who may or may not be the missing friend. Fonda won an Oscar for this role. Directed by Alan Pakula.
Taxi Driver (1976)
Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is a taxi driver in New York City who suffers from depression and a rather uncertain grasp on reality. After being rejected by a woman he tries to date, he becomes obsessed with a child prostitute he sees on the streets (Jodi Foster). Directed by Martin Scorsese.
Pretty Baby (1978)
In 1917, during the last days of legalised prostitution in New Orleans, 12 years-old Violet (Brooke Shields) and her mother are the only ones in their brothel awake when a photographer, Ernest Bellocq, comes by. Directed by Louis Malle.
American Gigolo (1980)
Julian (Richard Gere) is a shallow, materialistic hustler in Los Angeles who finds himself being framed for the murder of one of his female clients. Directed by Paul Schrader.
La Balance (1982)
Nicole (Nathalie Baye) is a street prostitute in Paris at the centre of a dispute between her pimp boyfriend Dede and his mob bosses. When a police informant is murdered, the police choose Dede to replace him, and begin to put pressure on them both. French language. Directed by Bob Swaim.
Risky Business (1983)
Joel (Tom Cruise) is a yuppy teenager in Chicago whose parents go away on holiday; he meets Lana (Rebecca DeMornay), an escort, sinks his father's Porsche into a lake and turns the family home into a brothel. Directed by Paul Brickman.
Crimes of Passion (1985)
Bobby (John Laughlin) is a PI hired by a fashion house that suspects their employee (Kathleen Turner) of selling designs to their competitors. She isn't - but she is working on the street using the name China Blue. Anthony Perkins is a disturbed priest with some dangerous sexual hang-ups. Directed by Ken Russell.
Mona Lisa (1986)
George (Bob Hoskins) is a newly-released petty criminal who gets a job driving Simone (Cathy Tyson) to her escorting jobs, forming an unlikely friendship along the way. She then enlists him to help her track down a friend from her past. Directed by Neil Jordan.
Working Girls (1986)
This film provides a detailed view of a day in the life of a brothel in New York city, looking at the personal and working lives of three women there. Directed by Lizzie Borden, the film is fictional but based on six months of interviews with real women.
Personal Services (1987)
Christine Painter (Julie Walters) is a madam in a suburban brothel catering to older men, throwing discreet sex parties until the law starts to interfere. The film is based on the story of Cynthia Payne, of the "House of Cyn". Directed by Terry Jones.
Pretty Woman (1990)
Vivian (Julia Roberts) is a street sex worker who finds her Prince Charming in wealthy corporate raider Edward (Richard Gere). This fluffy, sacharine bit of rom-com was originally written as a dark drama about prostitution in LA before the studios began tinkering with the script. Directed by Garry Marshall.
My Own Private Idaho (1991)
Mike (River Phoenix) is a narcoleptic gay street hustler and Scott (Keanu Reeves) is his best friend who rejects, and then returns to, his privileged background. Directed by Gus Van Sant.
Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
Lenny (Woody Allen) and Linda (Helena Bonham-Carter) are a childless couple who adopt a baby boy; as Max grows up Lenny later becomes obsessed with finding his biological mother. When she turns out to be part-time porn actress and prostitute Linda (Mira Sorvino), Lenny tries to persuade her to quit working and settle down. Directed by Woody Allen.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Ben (Nicholas Cage) is an alcoholic who moves to Las Vegas to drink himself to death; Sera (Elizabeth Shue) is dropped by her pimp. Their friendship is based on the rule that they're not allowed to judge the other. Directed by Mike Figgis.
LA Confidential (1997)
A twists-and-turns film noir set in 1950s Los Angeles; among the many storyline threads is the Fleur-De-Lis agency, whose escorts (including Kim Basinger) have had plastic surgery to make them look like film stars. Directed by Curtis Hanson.
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Satine (Nicole Kidman) is a courtesan and cabaret actress at the Moulin Rouge in 1899 Paris who falls in love with a lowly writer (Ewan McGregor) while being pursued by a nasty Duke. Directed by Baz Luhrmann.
Charlize Theron portrays real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a street sex worker in Florida who kills a client after he tries to rape her. She tries to find other work but is uneducated and unskilled; frustrated, she returns to the street but, traumatised and confused, continues to kill. Directed by Patty Jenkins.
La Vie En Rose (2007)
Marion Cotillard won an Oscar for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in this film about her life. Although the film doesn't deal with Piaf's own (hotly contested) experience of prostitution, is does cover her childhood in her grandmother's brothel in Normandy. Directed by Olivier Dahan.
Love Ranch (2010)
Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci star in this loose adaptation of the true story of a couple who opened Nevada's first legal brothel. Directed by Taylor Hackford.
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