Ken Russell's Whore: If You Can't Say It, Just Upgrade

Alright, readers, get your Ken Russell Completist hats on again, and I'll get my Obscure, Foreign DVD hat on. I've spent a considerable amount of time researching DVD releases of Whore, one of the more controversial films by Russell. And, the situation is pretty dire; just look at its dvdcompare page... all more or less fullscreen, all cut. Presumably all taken from VHS. Just one low quality, dodgy import after another. And many of those don't have the original English audio track. Of course, it's never been released at all in the US or UK. Well, I've dug deeper, and I believe I've found... the least worst DVD option available.

Update 1/28/16 - 8/4/22: It's a whole new ballgame (pun? I'll let you decide)!  Whore is now out as a special edition blu-ray from Australia's Imprint.  How is it?  We'll take a look, but you can bet it's miles better than what we had six years ago.
Whore is based off a theatrical monologue called Bondage by English writer David Hines. Here, Theresa Russell (no relation) talks to the audience directly, telling us her unglamorized account of her life as a prostitute. But rather than being on stage, she's out on the streets, in peoples' homes, and everywhere else during the the course of her story, while constantly breaking the fourth wall. She has scenes with other characters, and during one uncharacteristic moment, another character is even allowed to monologue to the audience. It's actually a rather unique and effective combination of the faithful, theatrical piece and the additional opportunity afforded to the cinematic medium: a play that moves out into the world. And as it's Ken Russell, it's also quite stylized and provocative.

Oh, and look for a cameo from the one and only Jack Nance - is his appearance a deliberate reference to his role in Twin Peaks, finding Theresa's abandoned body just like Laura Palmer's (albeit, not "wrapped in plastic")?  You decide!
The cut/ uncut nature of this film is so complex, movie-censorship has had to create two separate articles on this film. But the short version of it is that there are essentially three cuts of this film: 1) the original, uncut version, 2) the heavily censored R-rated cut and 3) the less censored NC-17 cut. The completely uncut version doesn't seem to be available anywhere outside of VHS. Believe me, I've looked into it, so just give up on trying to find a copy of that. But, at least, it seems like almost every DVD release includes the NC-17 cut as opposed to the R-rated. The difference between the unrated and NC-17 is mostly dialogue, actually, and seems to have been cut for pacing rather than censorship. As opposed to the R-rated version, which is all about cutting down the sex, violence and swearing. So the R is to be avoided, but while the uncut would be ideal, the NC-17 isn't so bad.
Now, the dvdcompare article I linked to earlier mentions several foreign discs, including an Italian one. But the DVD I've landed on is actually a newer Italian disc from a label called Pulp Video (this one, not this more common one). It's still cut, but at least it's the NC-17 cut, and like all the others, it looks like it's sourced from VHS.  And Imprint's new blu-ray?  Yes, it's still the NC-17 cut, but it's from an infinitely more attractive, widescreen source.
2011 Pulp Video DVD top; 2022 Imprint BD bottom.

So we shift from the fullscreen 1.34:1 of the DVD to the BD's widescreen 1.85:1.  The matting does shave off a little on the tops and bottoms, but it reveals a bunch more on the sides; and overall, the framing is much more attractive.  This has to be the intended framing.  The colors and contrast are also nice and strong, as opposed to the faded and washed out DVD.  And it's so much clearer; you can now clearly read on-screen writing (like the bar rules in the bathroom scene) that were a pixelated blur before.  So it's a massive gain for us fans.  But it's not exactly a showroom floor blu.  Grain is soft and there's a lot of unfortunate edge enhancement, both of which betray an older master.  So this isn't the kind of disc that other blu-ray sites would rate an A+ - and they're correct not to - but just looking at the overall situation of Whore on the home video market, this is a really exciting upgrade.

The DVD has 2.0 English audio, plus 2.0 and a 5.1 mix of the Italian dub, and optional Italian subtitles.  Imprint drops the Italian stuff, naturally, but bumps the stereo mix up to lossless LPCM and adds optional English subtitles.
DVD featurette.
The reason I latched onto the Pulp DVD as opposed to any other is that it actually has extras. None of the others could say that (beyond bonus trailers and other fluff). Now, don't get me wrong; there's no Ken Russell commentary... this isn't exactly The Lord Of the Ring extended appendixes here. But there's some stuff; an effort was made. And looking back at the transfer, it's not interlaced. The menus are animated. I feel like with this release, they at least tried to make the best disc possible given the materials they were limited to, which is more than you can say for most of their competitors.

So what we get is essentially the film's original electronic press kit. You get a four minute featurette of on-set interviews with Ken and Theresa Russell, Benjamin Mouton and producer Dan Ireland, plus some behind the scenes footage. Then there's another four minute interview featurette just with Theresa, and a four minute (four was the magic number for Trimark, apparently) collection of promo scenes. They're like deleted scenes except they're in the movie (even the R-rated cut), just meant to be like talk show clips or other press looking for clips of the film. There's also the film's original, misleading theatrical trailer (making Whore sound like a titillating male fantasy rather than an expose of how women are mistreated) and a photo gallery. So yeah, nothing to run and alert the neighbors about; but it does add a little value.
But now Imprint really makes a proper special edition of it.  Unfortunately, they drop the vintage stuff, but they come up with a surprising amount of first class content.  There's an expert audio commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson that takes a while to find its footing, but becomes worth tuning in to after about a half hour.  And then there's even more exciting is the on-camera stuff.  I was surprised to see they got a brand new interview with Theresa Russell, and she's not afraid to be candid about her career or experiences on this film.  Former porn star Ginger Lynn, who has a small cameo role in Whore, has some rather frank memories of working with the Russells, too.  And co-writer Deborah Dalton has a revealing on-camera interview, giving us better insight into the thinking behind the film.  Then gay punk/ porn filmmaker Bruce La Bruce joins us to talk about how Russell, and particularly this film, influenced some of his work, especially 1996's Hustler White.  And finally Kat Ellinger gives us a slightly meandering video essay, but starts particularly strong, putting the film in the historical context of courtesan diaries as a distinct genre of fiction.  Finally, Imprint also has the trailer, and the first 1,500 copies comes in a limited edition slipbox.
So this is terrific; Ken Russell has finally been given an edition worthy of his creation.  Still, it could've been even greater.  A fresh scan of the film elements would've looked decidedly better.  And it's not a huge deal, but it's a little disappointing that they dropped the vintage EPK stuff.  More disappointing is that the uncut footage is still absent.  Even if they couldn't get the original film elements for a proper restoration of the director's vision, they could've at least ripped a VHS copy and included the missing material as deleted scenes.  But putting aside what they didn't do, and just looking at what they did accomplish, this is a huge upgrade with some fantastic features, giving us a quality release of this underrated feature for the first time ever.


  1. On February 4th a new german DVD-Edition of the film has been released (by StudioCanal).

    It features the film in either 1.78:1 (according amazon) or 1.85:1 (according OFDb) anamorphic widescreen. The english language track is included as DD 2.0 surround. The disc features no subtitles, but to my knowledge it should be the first ddition to feature the film in widescreen.

    The version used should be the NC-17-version of the film.

    1. Oh wow! I've got to wish for stuff on this blog more often; I've got like a 50% grant ratio so far. XD

    2. :)

      For those interested I did some screenshots:

      Unfortunataly it's not all roses. They didn't manage to restore the 2-sec-cut that was already present on the old german DVD - the moment when the pimp's throat get's cut. You can hear it but all you see is the result afterwards. So it is still cut by 2 seconds (in regards to the NC-17-version). That's unfortunate as this scene was in the german cinematic-version and in some TV-airings too (although on TV there were versions with it and without).

    3. Wow, that's heaps better! Shame about the cut, but now that a much higher quality master has surfaced, we'll see more releases in other regions.

  2. Saw this one in theatre when it was released, most unusual, even for a Ken Russell... Theresa Russell is just great in it, and it's not as though there is any hardcore penetration or even an ejaculating dick to be seen here, just back to that same old goddamned moralistic bullshit argument that the fucking MPAA continues to complain about to this very day... and that complaint seems to still be, that, to their ridiculously sensitive republican, right-wing, born-again-Christian sensibilities, any film which consists of even just dialogue scenes graphically expressing and freely describing those shameless, heated moments when humans be gettin' their groove on is EXACTLY as morally objectionable and censorship-prone as a hardcore XXX feature showing any and everything... It is the same kind of bullshit, uneducated and illogically-arrived at opinionation and clearly unjust comparison (or more accurately, lack of any kind of clear-thinking comparison) which continues to this very day, and which was also responsible for John Waters abandoning the auteur ship after they fucked him over similarly (and brutally, punishingly and unjustly) with A DIRTY SHAME, which was yet another sex-driven film that consisted of little more than a 90-minute barrage of vivid descriptions of various sex acts and only displayed two soft penises, a vagina, two pair of breasts (one set fake) and included absolutely ZERO sex scenes for the entire running time, but was slapped with the dreaded NC-17 rating over, of all childish pre-Victorian over-reactions, dialogue and potty language and toilet humor! Good old MPAA, man fuck those dumb cunts! WHORE suffered/continues to be treated like a fucking snuff film in the U.S. for the exact same, thoroughly illogical and dangerous reasoning!