Monday, July 21, 2008

Storyville Story

In February I wrote about films featuring photographers as main characters. A few nights ago I watched another: Pretty Baby, a film made in 1978 by Louis Malle loosely based on E.J. Bellocq's involvement with a New Orleans brothel. Featuring Brooke Shields as a 12 year old prostitute, this is a movie that would never get made in today's moral climate. Today we realize that kids have absolutely no curiosity about sex, but back then the question was still up for discussion.

Anyway, what makes the film interesting for photographers is that, unlike most of the movies mentioned in my earlier post, Bellocq's Storyville portraits play a central role in the film, forming the speculative background for several scenes. One shows the making of this photograph, perhaps Bellocq's best known image

Another shows Bellocq making this one

A third scene shows the young Brooke Shields scratching out the faces on several exposed glass plates, a reference to one of the more mysterious features of Bellocq's photographs.

Of course, all of these scenes are speculative. This is not meant to be a documentary about Bellocq, and since we know so little about his life it would be difficult to ever make such a movie. Yet based on the limited amount we know, this probably comes as near as possible. Bellocq's primary legacy isn't his biography but his photographs, and it is these that Polly Platt has based her screenplay on. It's as if she leafed through Storyville Portraits and fleshed out scenes straight from the images, and these form the structure of the film.

I have been making a ton of photos and thinking a ton about photography but I can't blog much until next week after Photolucida. Stay tuned...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

last night I watched "Storyville"--a documentary about prostitutes, jazz and their relationship in that New Orleans neighborhood. Of course there were a bunch of Bellocq's photos, plus a lot of film footage (both documentary and Hollywood) from that time and soon after Storyville was destroyed. Worth seeing for sure!