By a customer
, 08 Jun 2005
Documentaries about pornography and prostitution are a mainstay of late-night trash-TV schedules, and have been for years. Without this sub-genre - usually employed as a legalistic wheeze to show porn without 'showing porn', thus targeting male libidos without falling foul of broadcasting regulations - Channel Five TV schedules would, for many years, have been bereft of programming after about ten at night, and many satellite channels would have little but true crime series and music videos (themselves often barely disguised pornography) to entice the post-nightclub audience.
Most documentaries about the sex industry are 'softcore' in every sense of the term: neither meaningful nor masturbatory.
Some films about the industry, however, are incredibly poignant and powerful; compelling explorations of living within a paradoxical cultural ghetto: at once despised and desired, utterly natural and utterly artificial.
Chicken Ranch is, happily, the latter type of film about the sex industry. Like Soldier Girls, which Broomfield made contemporaneously, it shows how living in an extreme environment can change people. Unlike Soldier Girls, however, the women in Chicken Ranch have already been changed. The women already regard both themselves and their clients as 'things', objects devoid of emotion and meaning beyond the mechanistic exchange of semen for cash. Both close friends and rivals, the relationship the Ranch 'Chicks' have with one another is as surreal and artificial as one would expect given the situation they face: holed up together in the middle of an inhospitable desert, near-captives of a vicious pimp and harsh economic, social and personal circumstances.
An air of underlying menace and malaise haunts the whole film. The tension between the girls and the sociopathic brothel owner makes for uneasy viewing. The lack of natural lighting and superficial service-caf? feel of the Ranch make it seem like a kind of peripatetic Purgatory: a live-in hell for trapped souls and fallen angels.
As far as powerful, existential films about the sex industry goes, Chicken Ranch almost works precisely because it's so impersonal. It's difficult to connect with any of the women involved because no one stays for very long, leaving one with little knowledge of the past or future of these people outside the ranch (And also because of the age of the film: from the late seventies.) In this sense, it's near antithetical to the (much superior) Sex: The Annabel Chong Story, which chronicles the ambivalent rise-and-fall of a significant US sex industry 'footnote' from a position of almost solipsical intimacy.
This is almost the opposite: it tries to be warm, but ends up feeling a bit distant.
- Was this review helpful to you?
(5) Yes |