Anyone with triggers might want to skip this one, but Choir Girl is a gritty Australian drama which deals with the serious subject of exploitation. Not the jolly excesses of exploitation cinema, previously catalogued in Not Quite Hollywood, but the kind of desperate, agonising story of the streets that’s happening right now in most countries. Writer/director John Fraser’s film doesn’t hide from responsibility in looking at situations where few of us would want to see, but Choir Girl deserves credit for fearlessly looking at the worst kind of sexual matters without resorting to shock tactics.
Played by Peter Flaherty, Eugene is a downtrodden creature on the bottom rung of society’s food chain. He’s a gifted photographer, but can’t seem to get his work into the magazines he targets; the setting is a few years back. A chance snap of a prostituted teenage girl called Josephine, played by Sarah Timm, offers Eugene a chance at professional respectability, but the snapper can’t resist getting involved with her plight, and finds himself assailed by the sharks who surround her, including veteran Mad Max star Roger Ward.
Just as urgently, questions are asked about Eugene’s complicity in Josephine’s situation. By reporting immorality, and selling it, to what extent does the photographer become infected by the material he captures? Is he attempting to help Josephine, or just help himself? As things turn out, it’s hard to avoid the potential conflicts; Eugene wants to do the right thing, but his intentions are cruelly twisted as the situation becomes more complex…
Comparisons may be drawn with Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, which also looks at a loner obsessed with a prostituted girl. But Choir Girl doesn’t lead us to a consequence-free, violent, shoot-em-up ending that ends our frustration and satisfies our blood-lust, and that’s a good thing; we don’t need another anti-hero like Travis Bickle, and it’s to Fraser’s credit that Eugene’s plight stays grounded in the painfully-realised, low-life world without escape.
Choir Girl is a recommended film, but with warnings about the content. While many films on this theme slide into sentiment (Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa for one), Choir Girl retains a troubling edge, and offers no easy answers as to how male-attitudes to women can be reformed in today’s slick, sick society.
Link for US itunes is below.
Thanks to Mick Wormald and Nexus for access to this film.