Instead of whacking Stucky across the chops for his boner-boy harassment of Vivian, here Edward tells him that he is quite welcome to have a crack. Vivian’s body is a democratic locality for men with money, and like all commodities, one that can be ritualistically exchanged. That is the nature of prostitution.
But Disney didn’t want you to see that.
Garry Marshall’s Pretty Woman (1990), was originally based on a script by J.F.Lawton and given the working title, 3000. However, having been bought by that purveyor of all things unholy, Disney, the tone of the original script shifted dramatically. Before the effervescent ingénue could be reconstructed by Julia Roberts, Vivian Ward was a troubled crack addict. Before Richard Gere could play the handsome and sophisticated Edward who just ‘happens’ upon the prostitute, and becomes beside himself with her, he is man who regularly buys the attentions of prostitutes and pointedly seeks her out. And rather than saving each other, instead Edward rejects Vivian’s refusal of the money paid for her time and body. Indeed he drags her out of his car and, knowingly, tells her to take the money, because otherwise she would regret it the moment he drove away. Dejected, she uses it to take her friend, Kit de Luca, on a bus to Disneyland. A potent, telling reminder that real life – especially for a street prostitute – is no fairy tale.
Yes, considered to be played by the ‘edgier’ acting double Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeifer, the narrative was softened into a bubble gum bit of romancing for adolescent girls the world over. Key to this transition, was indeed the casting of Roberts – significantly younger than Gere – whose almost bottled loveliness mitigates (not unlike in the case of the film Erin Brockovich) any narrative prickliness that remains in the film. Unlike all the street walkers I’ve ever met, she looks impossibly confident, in good health and of course, free from drugs. Because Disney’s heroine could sell sex for a living, but heaven forbid she ever got intoxicated in order to cope with that. Added to which we never see her with another trick, other than the accidental trick Edward. No, we can casually forget prostitution was ever her actual, lived business and just emotionally fix on the idea of this impossibly beautiful Hollywood star being drenched in whore’s garb, as though it is merely a form of street theatre. Not really to be taken seriously.
She is not like other prostitutes, no, she has some shinning inner aura that bleeds through the noir streets of night time LA, with its pimps and its clubs and its dead hookers in dustbins. Like Lady and the Tramp, she is just too beautiful to be in that kennel. Unlike her earthy, drug addicted friend, Kit, she is in position of the right kind of feminine charm that gives her the currency to escape that nihilistic, Bukowskian landscape. The idea is floated around towards the end that Kit might become a beautician. A more fitting aspiration for the lesser whore, it would seem, should she ever get off drugs long enough to do it. And should the spectator ever really care.
To a Disneyfied mind, the formerly impoverished prostitute’s (have you ever noticed how seldom that word appears in the film?) ideal happy ending is one wherein she can fall in love with a man who paid her for sex and live, most likely, out of his pocket for as long as she is a novelty to him. We forget that Edward has a history of short relationships and emotional constipation. We ignore the likelihood that even if this narrative could happen in the way that it does, that he would most likely just become bored with her after a time and find another much younger woman to provide his narcotic substance.
What if, in the original pathos riddled ending, Vivian pulls herself up from the curb, up and away from Edward’s cruelty, and brushes herself off? What if she takes her $3000 and uses it to leverage a new life for herself? Without either the glamourized or openly sadistic punter as the heritor of her very existence?
Of course, there is a subtle self reflectivity in Pretty Woman. An awareness that Hollywood is the paragonic Fatherland of fiction over fact, that marbles together the predominance of grimed poverty, with intermittent speckles of gold licked fortune. It is in the city’s very topography, from the dilapidations of Downtown to the pretty penny streets of Beverly Hills. It defines its cultural texture; a ground zero for a contemporary value system that would sooner remake unedifying, truthful tales into out of reach fantasies. To settle our necessary anxieties about the world. Indeed, the feminism of today has come rooted out of this very bulb, with many wishing to re-orchestrate in their minds, films like Pretty Woman to become Feminist staples. Tales of empowerment and chutzpah. As Edward and Vivian save each other atop the staircase that leads up to her grotty pad, a local man crosses the street and declares, “Everybody who comes to Hollywood got’a dream, Wass your dream? Wass your dream?”
And with it seemingly so out of reach, it is easier to pretend we are already living it.