Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sensory Overload

You couldn’t be a teenager in the mid-80s and not be aware of the Brigitte Nielsen phenomenon. At just 22, she starred as the titular character in RED SONJA (1985) alongside genre-veteran Arnold Schwarzenegger, married his real-life main competitor Sylvester Stallone and went on to star in two of his actioneers, cult-fave ROCKY IV (1985) and macho ego-booster COBRA (1986). In 1987 she broke up with hubby Sly, starred on BEVERLY HILLS COP II and then went under the radar for the target-audience of her films.

I confess I was not a big fan of Mrs, Stallone. She was a sexy presence on-screen – that I can not deny – but somehow her Nordic androgynous looks and clearly enhanced breasts didn’t exert a strong attraction over me. I didn’t particularly enjoy RED SONJA - being a huge fan of the Roy Thomas’s version from the comics I couldn’t sympathize with her portrayal of the iconic character, and the confused politics of the film (that seemed unsure towards what kind of demographics, or what kind of feminist demographics, it wanted to please) didn’t help matters much. I enjoyed her wet t-shirt scene in COBRA and the way her long legs drew the camera when she first appears on-screen on BEVERLY HILLS COP II coming out of her stretch-limo, but it was her portrayal of the icily beautiful Ludmilla in ROCKY IV, sporting a Soviet uniform, that most pleased my feverish adolescent mind.

Not even her nude photos on the French magazine PHOTO (“La Femme Rambo Pose Nue”, January 1988) made me change my mind. Naked, she seemed more awe-inspiring than truly erotic or arousing, and I couldn’t help but think that there was something mannish in her strong, tall, athletic body.

It was only Ivana Massetti’s demented and pretentiously surrealist opus DOMINO (1988) that opened my eyes to the depths of sensuality that Nielsen did harbor. The film is a jumble of vacuous dialogue, with a kind of sub-Zalman King musing on the nature of life and love spurting at every moment from the characters’ mouths, but presents itself in a striking palette of vivid colors, strange tableaux and boner inducing erotic scenes. One such scene burned itself into my mind, never to be forgotten. That’s when young Domino (Nielsen), convinced that she is being spied from a window on the building from across the street, wants to confront the anonymous voyeur that she sees only as a silhouette backlit on the window of the otherwise dark facade. Donning a ravishing but simple white dress with white gloves, and bearing an auburn wig – intimations of a desire for anonymity on her part as well, or just a mask, another persona to help fulfill her empty nights? – she ends up meeting the upstairs blind neighbor (veteran actor David Warbeck) who tells her that the couple that used to live on the now empty apartment where she is sure she saw the peeping tom had passed away on a car accident about a month before.

When we first meet the Blind neighbor (Warbeck) he is cutting a magazine with a pair of scissors. The interior of his darkened apartment is lit with a diffuse blue light whose source is not apparent on-screen, and is cluttered by a hanging forest of wind-chimes, which doesn’t seem very practical for a blind man. But then again, he doesn’t seem like an ordinary blind man – he is something more akin to Matt Murdock or any other of the plethora of blind masters that plagues pulp fiction in general. His movements are measured, slow and deliberate, like those of a spider moving softly over her thread as not to give any intimation of its nature to the eventual prey. Domino, our unsuspecting fly – or is she? – hears on his (fatuous and unctuous) words an echo of her own loneliness. The dialogue is awkward – some would say boring, ridiculous and unreal – and for no reason other than aesthetic, the Blind Man complains about the heat and – easily, with the supernatural ability that’s born out of blind habit – turns on an electric fan, thus raising a storm of sound and paper as the swiftly moving blades send the chimes into a frenetic dance and throws all the confetti-like paper clippings into a frenzy of festive proportions.

Caught in this sensory web, Domino unwittingly uncovers an old standing mirror that draws her in as some kind of window into her personal demons. She looks like a deer caught on the headlights of her own self, as she – and us – see her reflected in the twilight-y umber of the room, the Blind Man explores her face and hair with is fingers, building is own image, an utterly sensorial one… a vision of touch, smell and sound. Only her (and us, the voyeur audience) have sight.

He unzips her dress, send his hands roaming down her sensuous arching back, and it’s only in the mirror that we see them closing like spidery shapes over her breasts, underneath the white – so purely white – dress. It’s a mesmerizing moment, an hypnotic ritual, as we are caught by the erotic dance on the screen, on the mirror, caressed by the wind chimes, a soft tingling rhythm interspersed from time to time with the staccato, final, banging of a door or a window disturbed by the wind.

The storm is internal and external as we are drawn into that fury of sound and image, bereft of touch, another point on the sensorial triangle we close with them. The hands slide under her dress, over her breasts, between her thighs… she arches her back, arms held up in sensual surrender, her own (gloved) hands reaching – not to him – but to her own body. She is the goddess being adored, homage. This is her ritual. Not a fly at all, but the Queen of us all.

Her moaning mingles with the wind, the myriad confetti a caressing creature with a thousand fingers; she moans, she writhes, she orgasms, overpowering the storm. She shatters the barriers; looking into the mirror, she became as much the voyeur as the one she was meaning to confront. And we, the viewers, the voyeurs, are satisfied as well.

I saw few of the movies she starred after this one. I somehow enjoyed her role as corrupt lesbian prison warden in CHAINED HEAT II (1993), but she never got to the sublime heights of this little forgotten scene in the annals of second rate erotic films. So I thank her for the memories, as the song goes.


Dragunov said...

Same reaction here! I watched this movie on TV in 1993 and since then I couldn’t forget the scene you describe here. I forgot the movie title, just remembered that she was Brigitte Nielsen. Now I’ve found this blog just by chance and I’ve been able to watch the scene again, after almost 18 years! Thank you.

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