Saturday, October 31, 2009

Film Review: Greek Pete

Greek Pete
dir. Andrew Haigh

Peccadillo Pictures DVD

Reviewed by Max Fincher


Greek Pete gives us a glimpse into the world of Pete, a very popular London-based escort who was voted best escort at the World Escort Awards in Los Angeles in 2008. A mix of documentary and fiction, we see the real personalities behind the profiles, and an original view of the escort world.

Pete admits, unsurprisingly enough, that he wants to make ‘as much money as possible’. We see how using Internet chat rooms and websites, and being London-based are essential to being successful. Included is footage of Pete fucking one client, participating in a threesome for a film and some erotic photographic shots of him acting out fetish fantasies involving boot sniffing. He gets through as many clients a week as he possibly can, even taking a call while tucking into his Xmas turkey dinner.

The film challenges any expectations or prejudgments the viewer may bring that the escort is to be pitied, condemned or seen as somehow having no feelings or the perception that they are unintelligent. Pete is perhaps smarter than the viewer gives him credit for as we can infer from Pete’s opening monologue to the film. He asks why we are watching. If our motivation is for voyeuristic reasons, this is ok, ‘as long as you pay me for it’. Good-looking, sexy and well-hung, Pete ticks all superficial boxes to be an escort. But there is something more to him as a person. And it is here that the film’s strength lies in showing us that Pete is more than just a good fuck or wank fantasy.

What emerges distinctly is that, despite his ambition, Pete comes across as very likeable and charming. Confident and articulate about being an escort, he clearly takes a pride in doing the job well, boasting that his many clients return to him repeatedly. One scene in particular shows him chatting with an accountant, describing how excited he is to be going to Los Angeles and the importance of having a work-ethic in life. At no point do we doubt that he takes his work seriously, but perhaps sometimes too seriously. The film at no point patronises him or us.

However, Pete’s matter-of-fact, self-aware attitude does make the viewer question whether Pete really wants to be an escort. There is a sense that something is missing. Particularly after the ‘high’ of being in the spotlight of the World Escort Awards. We see him watching himself alone in his apartment and calling up his friends to proudly tell them how happy he is. In an earlier monologue to the camera, he reflects somewhat regretfully on how he was surprised that his Mum doesn’t accept his ‘choice’ of career, and tells us that his father would be ‘ashamed’ of him. We are left to our own conclusions as to whether Pete is in the right job or not. He never indicates whether he enjoys his work or not. However, what emerges strongly is that he enjoys sharing stories and experiences with his friends and his new family. At times, his melancholy mood suggests that possibly his feelings about being an escort are more complex than they appear.

By contrast, Pete’s boyfriend (also an escort) whose screen name is LondonboyKai, appears withdrawn, vulnerable and more susceptible to his emotions. Dependent on Pete for somewhere to live, he dislikes Pete’s business interrupting their lives. We see a side of Pete that is less pleasant in his treatment of Kai who takes second place to his work. Kai is subject to Pete’s rules and his criticism of his drug dependency. The film draws our attention to the fact that there are darker sides to escorting. When he receives a call from someone in Vauxhall who asks whether Kai can take ‘hard fucking’, Kai says he can and agrees to do ‘G,K or C’ and golden showers. However, he laughs nervously while talking to the client. The film does not shy away from the fact that many escorts need so many clients to pay for their drug dependency. Pete is aware of the realities and dangers escorts face, including ‘gift-giving’ (the deliberate passing on HIV). He tells us that some of the younger boys will ‘say yes to anything’, and we are in fact left to wonder if Kai has in fact been abused in some way.

This honesty is moving and refreshing. The director, Andrew Haigh, commented that ‘I wanted the film to be truly authentic’ and that he wanted to ‘try and get closer to the reality and focus on the everyday nature of things, the nuts and bolts of the job, the real personalities behind the online profiles and magazine adverts’. Undoubtedly, this is achieved. We see that escorts have lives, histories and aspirations like any other person’s whose job does not define who they are.

Max Fincher wrote his PhD at King’s College London, a queer reading of late eighteenth-century Gothic fiction that was published as Queering Gothic Writing in the Romantic Age by Palgrave Macmillan (2007). He has taught part-time on eighteenth-century fiction and women’s writing, at both King’s College London and Royal Holloway, and is an occasional book reviewer for the TLS. He is currently writing his first novel, tentatively titled The Pretty Gentleman, a queer historical thriller set in the Regency art world.

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