She Shtups to Conquer

Juliette Marquis and James Woods in This Girl’s Life. Photograph Courtesy of Showtime.

Never mind James Woods and Rosario Dawson, the name actors imported to shore up This Girl’s Life (Saturday, August 21; 9 to 10:45 p.m.; Showtime) against the low expectations naturally aroused by a cable-television movie on the porn industry. Juliette Marquis, the former dancer and model who plays the central character, Moon, and talks to a camera when she isn’t plugging herself in like some baroque Tinkertoy, is the only reason to keep watching—a green-eyed Ukrainian knockout who seems genuinely to enjoy her power to cloud men’s minds, who swims with equal ease through water, air, clothes, furniture, and the holes in both the script and the head of her writer-director, Ash.

See Marquis as Moon strip for action on the World Wide Web. Grin with her at a chorus line of Full Montys auditioning to serve her artistic needs. Flashback to her first meeting with porn king Aronson (Tómas Arana). Rewind her pleased surprise at seeing pleasure pursued with high heels and cowboy hats. Go home to help her father (Woods) cope with Parkinson’s and the toilet. Sit in as she chitchats with working girls who include the exceedingly authentic Cheyenne Silver (who was also a script consultant). Root for her as true love shows up (maybe) in the form of a civilian (Kip Pardue). Follow her as she tries another line of work—as a “sexual investigator” hired by other women to find out if their men can be seduced—until it almost kills her.

“There will be many nipples, one HIV/AIDS scare, and the sight of James Woods in his boxers.”

There will be many nipples, one HIV/AIDS scare, and the sight of James Woods gone Wild Thing in his boxer shorts. According to the publicity notes, This Girl’s Life asks the question: “Are female porn stars a symbol of post-feminist empowerment or the degrading reduction of women to sex objects?” The answer it gives us is “Beats me.” Especially if Moon’s near-miss with a lunatic is intended as proof positive that when sexy women are ulterior, men bug out.

We have no right to expect every movie about porn to be as good as Boogie Nights, especially since we never expected Boogie Nights to be any good. But neither should any movie aim as low as, say, Showgirls, whose recent release on DVD repackaged as a camp classic suggests a contempt for the consumer beyond breathtaking unto choke hold. (That the only character in Showgirls worth caring about gets raped must be screenwriter Joe Eszterhas’s being ironic.) Why not at least aspire to Gia, HBO’s 1998 soft-porn biopic of the fashion model and hood ornament Gia Carangi, in which Angelina Jolie fell from the heights of Vogue to the depths of Studio 54 and Kaposi’s sarcoma? Jay McInerney co-wrote the Gia screenplay, which perhaps explains a line like “Fashion isn’t art. It isn’t even culture. It’s advertising.” But Gia had been a human being before she became “sirloin,” to be packaged to look like acid dreams or industrial noise or Egyptian plague, and smell like coconuts or asparagus or the guts of a sperm whale, on her punky way to pills, spoons, needles, and the morgue.

Of 107 questionable civilian killings by New York City cops between 1994 and 1999, Every Mother’s Son (Tuesday, August 17; 10 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) zooms in on the stories of three—Amadou Diallo, of course, the West African student gunned down in a doorway by the trigger-happy Street Crimes Unit (since abolished by the mayor who came after Giuliani); Anthony Baez, who was tossing a football with his brothers in front of their Bronx home when it bounced off the wrong patrol car and Anthony got choked to death; and Gary Gidone Busch, a mentally troubled Hasidic Jew who answered his Brooklyn door with a prayer shawl and a ceremonial hammer, got pepper-sprayed, ran away, and ended up shot twelve times—after which, from filmmakers Kelly Anderson and Tami Gold, we get the P.O.V. of Kadiatou Diallo, Iris Baez, and Doris Busch Boskey, the mothers of the victims, who have become determined activists and difficult citizens.

From 1991 through 1994, college dropout John Cadigan, variously diagnosed as depressive, psychotic, manic, schizo-affective, and paranoid schizophrenic, tried every antidepressant, anti-psychotic, and mood stabilizer on the market, not to mention electroconvulsive therapy. Nothing seemed to help until Clozaril, although he gained more than 100 pounds. And then there were his woodcut prints. Cadigan is a remarkable artist. With the help of his documentarian sister, he learned to use a camera to record himself. People Say I’m Crazy (Wednesday, August 18; 7 to 8:30 p.m.; HBO) is the encouraging and enthralling result. The only thing comparable I can think of are a couple of novels by Doris Lessing, The Four-Gated City and Briefing for a Descent Into Hell.

Monday through Friday, August 23–27, is Reign of Terror Week on the History Channel. Thus, instead of the usual diet of Nazi porn, an Axis of Evil hoedown, with Osama bin Laden leading off (intelligence agents, special-forces soldiers, journalists, book writers, and insiders on the thrill of the hunt), followed by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong II (weird habits, real nukes), Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Manuel Noriega, and such bygone savories as Ceausescu, Pinochet, Duvalier, and Pol Pot. You should know exactly what to expect.

She Shtups to Conquer