Shitty Movie Sundays: French Quarter

French Quarter 1978 movie posterIn a recent article about the film Passages receiving an NC-17 rating from the censors at the MPAA, Slate columnist Sam Adams writes:


The online discourse about sex scenes often focuses on whether or not they’re “necessary.” Do they advance the plot? Do they tell us something about the characters we don’t otherwise know? Or are they just there to gratify the audience’s voyeuristic urges?

I’d…argue, though, that “is it necessary?” isn’t the right question, or at least the only one. Part of what makes movies (and art more generally) important is that they serve as an implicit rebuke to a strictly utilitarian view of the world, the spiritual parsimony that says that the only necessary things are the ones we can’t live without. We don’t need movies the way we need food or water, but we need them to remind us that being alive is more than drawing breath.

Amen. One of the greatest areas of cognitive dissonance in how we watch films has always been the embrace of violent imagery, while heavily censoring sexual imagery. It’s a reversal of a person’s real-world experiences. Despite how many pearls are clutched or how many angry harangues there are from the pulpit, your children will be having sex at some point during their lives. The continual expansion of the human population on Earth points to it being far less likely that they will ever kill someone, or be killed at the hands of another person. Yes, it happens, but if one were to watch movies as their sole basis of understanding the human condition, one would think that life entailed navigating a maze of explosions and flying bullets.

I bring this up because, in writing about films from across the decades rather than as they are released, I notice trends. A prominent one here in the States is the increasing prudishness of films released since the 1980s. That decade saw a backlash against all sorts of licentious pleasures, reverberating to this day.

The ’70s saw the peak of permissiveness in American film, to the point that it was not uncommon for actors and actresses to move back and forth from adult film to b-movies. Then the door was slammed shut by Reagan and the Moral Majority.

Not too long ago I saw a thread on reddit where OP and commenters were expressing how cringey it was seeing nudity in horror films. It was bouncing tits and bare asses that made them turn away from the screen, and not the blood and gore. Commenter after commenter came to the conclusion that unless it was necessary, there shouldn’t be anything sexualized in a movie, with commenters who claimed to be Millennials or Gen Z viewing sex in films most unfavorably. See the quote from Adams above.

I think something has been lost. Nudity and sex in film, gratuitous or not, is representative of human experience. We, as Americans, seem to now be embarrassed by being aroused, as if it’s something shameful. This is religious nonsense permeating popular culture.

Which brings us to today’s film, French Quarter, from writers Barney Cohen and Dennis Kane, with Kane also directing and producing. This is a film with a fair amount of nudity, but not at all extreme when compared with other exploitation films from the ’70s. Yet, I think it would be difficult to make this film today. It treats sex and prostitution flippantly, and that’s the rub. It’s not serious enough, and there aren’t enough punishments for being immoral to satisfy the demands of today’s potential viewership.

The film tells the story of a new whore in turn of the 20th century New Orleans, Trudy Dix (Alisha Fontaine), who is having her virginity auctioned off to the highest bidder. There’s also a wrapper story starring all the same cast that takes place in present day 1978.

This movie stinks, so readers may be curious why I chose to go on a rant while writing about this film. It’s because French Quarter is not high art. It’s a trashy film from a trashy time, with all sorts of bad acting and silly filmmaking. And it’s not embarrassed by any of it. This film comes from an era of cinema that was far less judgmental and was more concerned with having fun than making sure it satisfied the country’s self-appointed thought police. I never feel more free while watching a movie than watching one from the time when this nation wasn’t a coast to coast collection of old maids. Lighten up, America.

French Quarter takes over the #327 spot in the Watchability Index from Double Exposure.

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