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Liberty's Booty

Vivienne Dick
1980
47mins 36 secs Colour S8mm/digibeta

Liberty's Booty

Watching Liberty's Booty is to share the fascinated, yet non-judgemental gaze of the filmmaker herself, as if you were seeing the world anew.

The camera circles textures and light, pausing as it meanders along on characters and objects that take its fancy. The film's prologue gives the flavour. There's a hermaphrodite doll in a black bin bag and a woman in a room surrounded by Christmas chintz who acts as a midwife as the doll gives birth. We cut to a shot to a woman riding in the sidecar of a motorbike down a street. She arrives at a doorway and gets out. There follows a title sequence which consists of an animation of the Statue of Liberty transforming from statuesque woman to striptease artiste to gun-toting militant; from goddess to whore to activist in three moves!

In the following sequences we see women talking together or to camera about their life as prostitutes, their reasons and their aspirations. Dick uses an undefined mixture of verité, reconstruction and talking heads without ever clarifying which of the women are prostitutes and which are not. The blurring of boundaries is deliberate since, as the filmmaker suggests, all women prostitute themselves in some way, to some degree; who's to say where we should draw a line and why. The challenge to conventional attittudes also characterises the filmmaking styles - the mixture of documentary and underground codes. Jump edits, shaky hand-held camera and long takes, strange gels and black leader between reels, intermittent sound, digressions and weird characters are all recognisable as features of underground filmmaking. interspersed with these features there is the talking head of the traditional documentary decor to die for' much more typical, in fact, of the excesses of Douglas Sirk's Hollywood melodramas with clocks, decanters, cheap trays, album covers, pictures of kittens - the paraphenalia of people's bedrooms - or are they brothels? all filmed in wild colour.
Bev Zalcock, in Renegade Sisters: Girl Gangs on Film, Creation Books 1998

Liberty's Booty (1980) uses a matter-of-fact view of middle-class, white prostitution as both a work of sexual demystification and an ironic exposition of American 'permissiveness'. (Old rock anthems and memorabilia keep surfacing like reproachful shards of the sixties.) Dick's most disturbing film, Liberty's Booty purposefully blurs the distinction between spectacle and document, license and exploitation, prostitution and daily life. Although filled with digressions and apparent non-sequiteurs, the crux of the film is its frank subversion of male-sterotyped sex roles.
Jim Hoberman, October Spring 1982

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