Xaviera Hollander, the Happy Hooker: Portrait of a Sexual Revolutionary

Xaviera Hollander - The Happy HookerSynopsis: XAVIERA HOLLANDER, “THE HAPPY HOOKER”: PORTRAIT OF A SEXUAL REVOLUTIONARY is a documentary about one of the world’s most important sexual icons. The film reveals the woman behind the legend who became the most famous madam of all time. Interviews with Larry King and commentary from America’s foremost sexologists explore Xaviera’s rise and fall as a madam, her deportation from the United States and her political significance to the Feminist Movement and Sexual Revolution of the 1970’s.

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Xaviera Hollander, the Happy Hooker: Portrait of a Sexual Revolutionary 7.0

eyelights: Xaviera. her fascinating adventures.
eyesores: the brevity of the film, its limited substance. the production quality.

“I am trisexual. I am a woman who’ll try anything once.”

Xaviera Hollander. For many this name has incredible significance. If you were aware of pop culture in the ’70s, there was almost no escaping it, it was omnipresent. Her autobiography, ‘The Happy Hooker: My Own Story’, set bestsellers lists ablaze, leading to incessant interviews, more books, movies, a column in Penthouse magazine and many other ventures. Her sex-postive outlook was a fresh perspective and people wanted more of it.

Being New York’s leading madam for a few years, she was a controversial icon. Her clients included celebrities and political figures – which she didn’t give away, even after she was deported from the United States. Instead, she used her notoriety to help break down boundaries, changing people’s perceptions of prostitution and female sexuality in general. Many well-known sex educators give her credit for opening doors once closed to women.

But this wasn’t her initial intention.

When Hollander (née de Vries) moved from Holland to work in the New York consulate, after winning a competition for “Holland’s best secretary” (!), she fully intended to make a traditional living like anyone else. But she was sexually adventurous and it wasn’t long before someone suggested that, instead of casually sleeping with men for fun, she could easily make a fortune by getting them to pay for it. She followed that advice.

‘Xaviera Hollander, The Happy Hooker: Portrait of a Sexual Revolutionary’ is a concise documentary that explores the highlights of Hollander’s life. Released in 2008, and co-written by Hollander herself, it consists of archival footage, personal photos, and interviews with Hollander, her peers and admirers. It also serves up landmarks of the sexual revolution along the way, providing context to her story and accomplishments.

When I discovered that this film existed (while I was writing up the ‘Happy Hooker‘ trilogy last year), I did all I could to find a copy. It wasn’t easy: as far as I could tell, it’s only available via Hollander’s website. But shipping wasn’t available to my country, and it took months to get in touch with someone to fix that problem. When I finally got an email, it was from Hollander herself, and we soon… um… closed the deal.

I knew going in that the documentary was short. Hollander’s website was candid about its hour-long run time, and I realized that there was no way that it could do full justice to her life. Given everything that she’s experienced and the impact that she has had on our culture, at least two hours would have been necessary. Personally, I would have seen it as three one-hour parts: pre-Happy Hooker, the Happy Hooker years, and post-Happy Hooker.

Despite adjusted expectations, I still found the documentary too spare on details and quick to zip through to present time. As someone who has yet to read her books (I would like to, though), I would have appreciated knowing more about her, to cement my understanding of how everything came together. But I suspect that this would have been a time-consuming and costly endeavour – something a low-budget, self-produced film can’t afford.

Having been born in the ’70s, I was too young to know Hollander in her prime, so I really enjoyed the mixture of historical and current interviews with her; she has a very calm, soothing demeanour that I found appealing. And she’s clearly very self-aware and intelligent; she dispels all mental images one has of prostitutes. She would definitely be someone I’d love to meet and have a conversation with, and get to know personally.

There are also tons of interviews bits with Norma Jean Almodovar, Susan Block, Patti Britton, Betty Dodson, Lou Paget, Carol Queen, Candida Royalle, Annie Sprinkle and countless others. Although many were merely fawning tributes to her, I liked that some of them acknowledged the role that she played in changing social mores. By hearing different generations talk about the impact she had truly helped give me perspective.

The film also goes into more personal details. Hollander talks about her relationship with her parents, how much she adored her father and the tension this created with her mother as they competed for his attention. She also briefly talks about the shock her mother experienced when she was outed publicly. And then there’s her ectopic pregnancy and the impact it had on her health, her heart attack, and how she found true love late in life.

All in all, ‘Xaviera Hollander, The Happy Hooker: Portrait of a Sexual Revolutionary’ was a decent primer on this cultural icon. For those who know little/nothing about her, this is an excellent way to get a first glimpse. For those who already know Hollander, however, this would at best serve as a quick trip down memory lane. Honestly, I hope that, someday, a more in-depth study of Hollander will be produced.

Given the impact that she has had, her accomplishments deserve more attention.

Post scriptum: although the DVD is brief, it comes with a approximately 25 minutes of special features that include extra interviews with Hollander, as well as the filmmakers, a gallery of Hollander’s art collection and other tidbits that are fun to see. It can be purchased from her website at http://www.xavierahollander.com/

Story: n/a
Acting: n/a
Production: 5.0

Nudity: 6.0
Sexiness: 4.0
Explicitness: 4.0

Date of viewing: July 22, 2014

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