Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Erotic Thriller: Bodies in Motion - First Brief Notes

 CRUISING (1980)

There may have been others before. PLAY MISTY FOR ME (1971) comes naturally to mind. But it was in the early to mid-Eighties of the 20th Century that (sub)urban males got to explore the late-night urban fantasyland, a seedy neon-lit world of night-clubs, strip-clubs, whorehouses, femme fatales, sex, crime and violence. More precisely, in 1980, fresh out from a series of successes in such films as THE GODFATHER (1972), GODFATHER II (1974), SERPICO (1973) and A DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1976) Al Pacino played an undercover cop hunting for a killer that was staking the homosexual underworld as his killing ground in William Friedkin’s CRUISING. The film was based in real life police officer Randy Jurgensen (who plays detective Lefransky in the film) who, in the early sixties, had gone undercover into the homosexual community in order to (successfully) capture a similar killer. Friedkin’s hypnotic update of the story into the Eighties presented a fascinating world of leather and neon, dress and sex codes, and tremendous sexual ambiguity that converted the night into an alluring new frontier to be explored by a generation of bored middle-class men, bound to routine by the shackles of their well-paid rat racing, mortgages, marriage and children. 

Soon several of those men were looking for an excuse to cruise the empty streets of the neon-night-world in films such as BEDROOM EYES (1984), AFTER HOURS (1985) or INTO THE NIGHT (1985), there to find a roller-coaster ride of danger, adventure, and, sometimes, even horror; but also sex with sultry vampire-like women or modern-day femme-fatales, who combined in their sensuality both the erotic and the terrifying. In those initiation trips, white middle-class men were confronted with the staleness of the American Dream. Conformity and boredom were the price to pay for financial security, upward class mobility and freedom from venereal disease. The candy-colored suburban dream was lacking in the excitement that only the marginally dangerous, the dark underside of the dream, could provide. And provide it did, in spades. 

 Linda Fiorentino in AFTER HOURS (1985)

Suddenly, barbecue-loving wannabe-Kens were leaving their imagined-to-be Barbie wives in search of the dark, risky pleasures promised by nipple-pierced punk nymphets of the likes of Linda Fiorentino’s character in Scorsese’s magnificent AFTER HOURS. However, it soon became clear that, sometimes, the darkness would follow you in. And it did in the shape of FATAL ATTRACTION (1987)’s über-psycho-bitch Glenn Close. Delighted with the illicit pleasures of extra-conjugal bliss, this recently freed man cannot imagine that this new amazing world he has just discovered can harbor among its denizens someone who might aspire to the shackles of suburban conformity. The collision of two separate worlds, much as in George Costanza’s famous dictum, dictate the annihilation of this new “independent man” and threatens to collapse the very distinct life-lines of safe family environment by day, and exciting thrill-seeking by night. Those two spheres had to remain separate in order to avoid all risks of contamination. To avoid that night-side inhabitants (like FATAL ATTRACTION’s Close) should cross the dark mirror to the sunny side. When that happens, amidst the violence and familial and personal mayhem of Adrian Lyne’s opus, the middle-class trespasser in the land of dreams goes back to his shell. 

Worlds colide in Adrian Lyne’s FATAL ATTRACTION (1987)

The newly-free man of the Eighties retrenches in suburbia and becomes the c.u.n.t. (caring uninteresting nineties type) that Nicholas Royle so appropriately christened. The thrill of the adventure is substituted by the fear of getting caught. Risk taking is not an option anymore. He has to go back to his old comfortable ways. More than that, he even fights back – the same Michael Douglas that pisses out of the pan in FATAL ATTRACTION, is then played as a patsy in Paul Verhoeven’s BASIC INSTINCT (1992) and finally turned into a cry-baby that is ‘raped’ by hot-boss Demi Moore in Barry Levinson’s DISCLOSURE (1994). 

With men thus dully chastised, it was then time for women to explore the dark new world with which they had had a first brush by their husbands’ tribulations. After all, it was to be expected that the same dangerous thrills that so enthralled their men would also have a mysterious allure for them. Women would then embark in the same initiation voyage, through the dark labyrinth of sensual danger to the ultimate goal of personal enlightenment and sexual fulfillment. Perhaps not surprisingly, that trip would closely mimic that of their male counterparts. It is thus absolutely natural that said journey should also begin on the same professional realm, with a police woman going undercover to the seedy world of strip-clubs to hunt down a killer that’s been preying on strippers.



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