Nights of Cabiria
seen on TV @ TCM
Years ago, I saw a Broadway musical, one of the very few Broadway musicals I've ever seen, called The Life. It was about the old Times Square, centered around a group of pimps and hos and hustlers making their way the only way they know how, hoping to one day escape "the life." It was an ensemble, but if any character was the main one, it was this ho named Queenie who has the most to lose and everything to gain in trying to leave the life behind with her lover - but, of course, it's not that easy.
I never gave much thought about the lives of those in the streetwalking trade until New York, under former mayor Rudy Giuliani, started renovating Times Square and kicking out the pimps and hos. I remember talking to Jenny about it at the time. She was, as you might imagine, no fan of Giuliani and was completely sympathetic to the working girls whose lives were being turned upside down. Regardless of what you may think about them from a moral perspective, the fact is that they didn't ask for this fate. Nowadays, Times Square doesn't really have a red light "district" as such; you can, of course, find porno theaters and hookers in the area, but they're not quite as prevalent as they were 30 or 40 years ago.
The working girls in Nights of Cabiria don't appear to have it so bad, all things considered. I don't recall seeing any pimps, they have decent places to live, and they get by. We see them hanging out with some of their tricks, and we see some of them trying to attract johns on the street, but that's about the extent of it. We never see any of the harsher realities of the skin trade, but then, one could argue it's not that kind of movie. That's okay, though...
...because I was really impressed with it on the whole. I remember seeing some of the films of Federico Fellini when I still worked in video retail, but that was a long time ago and I can't say I remember a great deal about them. I remember liking La Dolce Vita and being indifferent towards 8 1/2.
Cabiria, however, was different. I completely believed in Giulietta Masina's performance and I was caught up in it from beginning to end. No hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold stereotype here; she felt like a three-dimensional character, with passions and desires, sometimes happy, sometimes crabby, sometimes sad or innocent or nasty. And even when things don't turn out well for her, the film still manages to find a hopeful grace note to end on. Remarkable film.
So, of course, somebody has gotten the bright idea to remake it. I like Juliette Lewis, and I have no doubt that she would do a good job, but after seeing the original, I have to wonder if a remake could possibly touch it. I guess we'll find out soon enough, but man, I wish they'd leave this one alone...