Pretty Baby
Dir: Louis Malle
'Pretty Baby' takes us into the world of a 1917 brothel in Storyville, New Orleans.

It was based on two sources - firstly Al Rose's definitive book on the subject - and secondly the photographs by E.J. Bellocq.

The brothel area started up in the late 1890s and was a full entertainment zone by 1900.
The 'houses' varied from cheap one-room dives to luxurious homes which would cater to even distinguished gentlemen.
Apart from the obvious service on offer, the brothels also employed some of the finest jazz musicians of the era. Jelly Roll Morton, Buddy Bolden and Pops Foster played Storyville.
Louis Armstrong started his working life hauling coal to the houses of Storyville, and it was hearing the great music coming from within their walls that inspired him to play.

Louis Malle's depiction is remarkably non-judgmental, and as such is faithful to the reality as told in Al Rose's book, in which many women being interviewed told how they did not feel exploited and even enjoyed their work.

Part of the film shows the auctioning of a young girl's virginity, the role played by Brooke Shields. This was shocking when the film was released in 1978, and is perhaps even more shocking now.
But again, this story is taken from an original interview in which a mother told about the organisation of her daughter's deflowering.

By the 1920s, a new morality had swept America, and Storyville brothels along with liquor were now considered an undesirable element in society.

Just as Storyville itself became unacceptable and disappeared, so 'Pretty Baby' is now rarely shown, discontinued on DVD, and unavailable on Blu Ray. Old stock DVDs still available are all cut versions.

The controversy that surrounds 'Pretty Baby' unfortunately eclipses the film itself, which is a beautifully shot and fascinating insight to a world long gone.

Paul Spurrier