Monday, November 19, 2012

CRIMES OF PASSION (1984) - Ken Russell

When director Ken Russell died a year ago this month, cinema lost one of its great hyperliterate pervs. Two bodice-ripping D.H. Lawrence adaptations (Women in Love, The Rainbow), a sexed-up Aldous Huxley take (The Devils), Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker works goosed with ample flesh (Gothic and Liar of the White Worm). Crimes of Passion is one of the rare few Russell works based on a screenplay and not a rock opera by The Who or an actual opera by Liszt or Tchaikovsky (two of his previous composer biopics). Of the Russell works I've seen, it may be a new favorite. At least until I watch Altered States or Tommy again.

Russell had a lifelong yen for the well-educated working girl. Here, he pits his moonlighting call girl's considerable sexual and rhetorical talents against an unhappily married man (John Laughlin) and a raving street preacher (Anthony Perkins) prone to popper-fueled fire and brimstone soliloquies. It's a familiar stand-off in the Russell universe--youthful sex straining at the bonds of complacency, Old Testament religion. Guess who wins in the end? This battle tap-dances on the edge of satire, many of the sequences purposely theatrical, stagebound, amped to the absurd. The old Russell obsessions work just as nicely in this neon Hollywood gutter as they do in pages of high literature. It seems like the product of brilliantly deranged, syphilitic mind.

You know the movie's a keeper when you stick around for the DVD commentary (a rarity for me, these days). Here are a few easter eggs that Russell drops along the way...

- On Perkins' authenticity: "The amyl nitrate was real."
- On the casting of Kathleen Turner: "It wasn't based on Body Heat, but The Man With Two Brains. I thought she had a better sense of comedy than the other leading fellow (i.e., Steve Martin)."
- On the score: "The flute mirrors every drop of urine from his penis. Which was six...six drops."

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