In an eerie coincidence from which my hit count will surely benefit, photographer Gary Gross has passed away at the age of 73. He died of natural causes in his Manhattan home on December 30th, just two days after this post was written. I’d like to think I shed a little well-deserved light on his tumultuous career before he passed, and that it comforted him. Full story HERE.
Despite it’s chronological year of release, this is the gray-bushed, great grand mammy of them all- Louis Malle’s “tasteful” love letter to child prostitution, Pretty Baby. The controversial film starred a 12 year old Brooke Shields as the daughter of a N’awlins prozzie whose virginity is sold to the
highest bidder. Hijinks ensue.
Unfortunately, the controversy overshadowed some of the better aspects of an otherwise mediocre film- namely Susan Sarandon’s glorious breasts! I’ve wanted to see those magnificent milk mounds since The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and they do not disappoint. She puts her young costar to shame in that department (although she could have shaved the pits.) I guess that’s what you get when you hire a French director.
Brooke’s boy body also overshadowed the small but pivotal role of Highpockets, a problematic pussy patron portrayed by the one and only Gerrit Graham. The master thespian is best known for playing effeminate cock-rocker Beef in Brian De Palma’s campy rock opera, Phantom of the Paradise. BEEF! It’s what’s for dinner.
But if it’s straight controversy you want, let us not forget that two years before the hubbub over Pretty Baby, a ten year old Brooke posed completely nude in the tub for photographer Gary Gross. We’re not talking baby’s first bath, here. We’re talking tarted up and oiled down. The pictures were to be published by Playboy (!) in something called Sugar and Spice. Seriously. Not only that, in 1983 a US court ruled the pictures were NOT child pornography, so viddy with impunity, ya pervs!
The controversy doesn’t stop there. Also in 1983, a photograph of one of Gross’ original pieces was taken by Richard Prince, an artist famous for his “reproduction photography.” Prince called his version Spiritual America, after a 1923 photograph by Alfred Stieglitz that depicts the genitals of a workhorse (WIKIPEDIA). While Gross’ photographs basically ruined his career, Prince’s photo of his photo was heralded as artistic genius and a bold statement on the complex nature of human sexuality. Go figure.
Which brings us back to Malle’s film. Its prepubescent lead ensured it a place in the annals (anals?) of film history, but is the uproar justified? Is Pretty Baby just child pornography gussied up as art? Personally, I prefer my sexually exploited children a year or two older, so I don’t see the danger in it. But if you want someone to vilify, I’d suggest pointing the chubby finger of blame at Teri Shields, who pimped out her own daughter to sate her dreams of vicarious stardom. Thanks, mom!
PREVIOUSLY ON FILMS I’VE SEEN THAT CONTAIN UNDERAGE NUDITY: