Fleshpot on 42nd Street (1973)

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A street whore desperately seeks love and acceptance against the backdrop of the criminal element of early 1970s Times Square.

For all its technical brilliance, not to mention its finely-crafted script, this film is rather stolen by the mesmerizing performance of Joe Powers (aka Richard Towers – known to us all, of course, as Gaylord St. James). It is difficult to pin down quite what makes him such a screen presence, but he is one of the most criminally under-rated actors Hollywood has produced. He just commands the screen with a quiet but charismatic majesty. He has no Oscars – unbelievable.

The rest of the film is a slick, thoughtful meditation on the nature of identity, sexual freedom, and the radical indeterminacy of language. It poses questions about 1970s urban ennui that other films dared not whisper, and its aesthetics – that hazy, kinetic cinematography and beautifully jarring camera-work – put in mind of a young Godard. But, in the end, Gaylord St. James trumps all this.

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