I'm really not sure what to make of this. It has ideas, it just doesn't seem that any of them hang together. It does so many things in such an odd way that I have to think they must be intentional, and yet I can't understand what the point could possibly be. I suppose I should sit through the director commentary.* and yet I'm not sure I care enough to do that. Maybe I can put it on while I sleep and it'll sink into my unconscious.
Let's start with what we DO know. One subject of the movie is how these modern liberated women won't put out with the poon for their husbands. The movie begins with John Laughlin [who also starred in The Hills Have Eyes, Part II, but again, a lack of interest in going back to figure out which one he was] at a support group [apparently] for married men and women who hate each other. He bitches about how his wife won't serve up the snatch. Then we're introduced to Kathleen Turner as prostitute China Blue, who is pursued by this crazy preacher/pervert played by Anthony Perkins.
Laughlin is hired by Turner's boss [she works as a fashion designer by day] to follow her. He finds out her secret identity, sleeps with her as a client, and [like every man, apparently] is so taken with her mad skills that he immediately falls in love with her. His wife is portrayed as this sullen, sarcastic bitch who is not happy with one tiny little thing in her life. Laughlin continues to see Turner and supposedly they develop this relationship, though fuck if we see any of it [they're just suddenly in love], and Perkins is out killing strippers [or fantasizing about it, can't be sure which] and eventually shows up for a freaky religious time with Kathleen, which serves as the climax.
Maybe we should start with the notable elements:
This is 1984, and Kathleen is supposedly a hardened whore in a tough city… and yet she just trusts her john to “put the cash on the dresser.”
Laughlin's friend believes that a recording of an INSANELY busy shootout, complete with screaming cops and multiple gunshots, will scare potential robbers into thinking the cops are just outside.
ABRUPT transition into music video about how married men and women hate each other, live in spite, and finally die with the few possessions they've held onto throughout life. Watch as it begins [at 23:14] with the screaming guitar sound coming out of the little girl's open mouth!
Note how OBVIOUS Laughlin is in following Kathleen, and how correspondingly OBLIVIOUS she is to it.
It is a HOOT when he whips out his 15-pound video camera!
The Human Penis: Performance Piece. ‘Nuff said.
Amazingly and completely unintentionally, this is the second film in a ROW that I've watched which features a man getting raped in the ass by a woman with a phallic object [the first was Myra Breckenridge].
In the middle of the terrifying climax, in which we are afeared for Kathleen's life, Anthony Perkins apparently pours a glass of milk over her head?
This movie seems to be about how marriage makes men and women hate each other, but if you can have an exciting and open relationship, and have a lot of hot sex, like you can with a woman who's a whore by night, then maybe there's a chance at happiness. The script hits the point about hatred between men and women hard and often. Laughlin's wife is really offensively one-dimensional for the majority of the film, a chronically sour and depressed whiner who DOES. NOT. WANT. SEX. It wouldn't be so bad if a) she had at least one other characteristic, and b) Laughlin wasn't presented as the perfect guy who does so many nice things for her, making her seem even more one-dimensional. This impression is shaken up by a very nice and LONG conversation about sex that the husband and wife have late in the film-wherein it is revealed that the wife had a very puritanical upbringing and is incredibly uncomfortable talking about sex. It was good, but rather than deepening her character, it makes it seem as though the script is just THAT much more disjointed, because she is presented as such a primitive, hateful shrew throughout the rest of the film.
Kathleen Turner I think is pretty much just wrong for this part. She's a Lauren Bacall kind of sexy, not a Jessica Biel kind of sexy, and she's wide, and no matter what she does, she looks older. It worked in Body Heat. [Interestingly, I think her vibe and look (though not her acting talent) is shared by Theresa Russell, who became Ken Russell's wife, and starred in another movie of his about prostitutes, Whore. Hmmm. what does that mean? Kind of woman he's attracted to. Wife. Whore. Wife. Whore.] Her character is just not carefully drawn. She has a good job, so apparently we're supposed to believe that she does the prostitute gig because she's such a fucked-up shell of a woman [we learn at one point that she was fucked by her father]. But none of it really hangs together, because when she's having one of her many "oh, the heartbreak, agony, and mortification of prostitution" moments, you just think "Well then, why do you do it?"
My favorite moment is when, after she and Laughlin have supposedly been having a torrid affair and found true love [none of the development of which we see. because it's not titillating enough?] He tells her that he'll stand by her, and she says: "It's so hard, Bobby! No man's ever given me that kind of faith before! That kind of respect!"
The MUSIC is another matter. Provided by YES member Rick Wakeman, it is very obvious, and contains a theme that sounds like a Civil War-era marching song [turns out it's from Dvorak's New World symphony], which gets repeated in various guises approximately 3,876 times throughout the movie. It is so, so wrong in every way for nearly every scene in this movie. Again, so wrong that you think it must be intentional, but you can't possibly figure out WHY. And then you shrug and look for the last crumbs of chips in the bottom of the bag.
And now, Anthony Perkins. He was obviously cast in this role because, since he was in Psycho, he must be the go-to guy to play psychos. But please recall that very little in Psycho really required him to GO PSYCHO, and his most effective moments came from just being a creepily normal fellow. Not so here. He sets the bar at 11 at scene one and only goes up. The very ending is another homage to Psycho and is. really, really dumb. Ugh.
Ken Russell used to be fascinating and strange and expressionistic and wonderful, but soon after Altered States, with Gothic and Lair of the White Worm and this, he started on this kick of just getting stranger and, I assume [I HOPE] more personal, and his films have just become inexplicable and unsatisfying. I respect that he's following his own trajectory, but like Ken man, WHAT THE FUCK!?!?!?!?
*So by the way, I went back and listened to most of the director commentary, and I think it can be summed up by this quote from Ken Russell, as he looks at one of the many interstitial shots of erotic art inserted into the film: "I can't think what that's doing there... but obviously there was a good reason for it."
It IS interesting, if unsatisfying.