Monday, January 22, 2007

Twisted and Tortured Romance Double Feature: Bitter Moon & Blue Velvet

There’s Romance, that sweet thing, that Meg Ryan thing that’s warm and fuzzy and hot chocolate on a brisk autumn morning. That romance is nice. Outside of the obligatory second act misunderstanding, no one’s getting hurt in that romance.

Then there’s romance, that obsessive thing, that thing that’s cold and prickly and a Big Gulp of engine additive on a sweltering August day. That romance is painful. That romance is all about the hurt. That romance is unkind and unfriendly and unrepentant and unjust. That romance destroys.

Color me masochistic, but I prefer the second kind of romance--maybe not so much in real life. I mean as visceral and passionate and evocative as that kind of romance can be, it kind of sucks to have your heart ripped from your body and shown to you, still beating. In the movies, however, I like the kind of romance that brings with it financial ruin, bizarre sex rites and restraining orders.

Bitter Moon (1992)
Roman Polanski is no stranger to sexual peccadilloes and personal tragedy, nor is the director afraid to plumb the depths of his sordidness. With Bitter Moon, depravity is on parade, exposed through the story of a torturous sexual relationship between expatriated writer, Oscar (Peter Coyote) and his exotic French girlfriend, Mimi (Emmanuelle Seigner). Wheelchair-bound Oscar corners young, proper British couple, Nigel and Fiona who begins to assail them with his horrid tale of sexual degradation. Shocked and horrified, but drawn in nonetheless, the young couple is compelled to listen to Oscar’s fascinating descent into sexual obsession and ultimately murderous rage. Bitter Moon is beautiful, disturbing, erotic but, above all, handled with a subtle camp humor that keeps this from becoming, like so much bad erotica, something that takes itself seriously.

Blue Velvet (1986)
In Blue Velvet, fresh-faced college boy Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) returns to his hometown and his sweet, innocent girl Sandy (Laura Dern), only to find a severed human ear. Jeffrey’s discovery inspires him to play junior detective, his rationalization for budding voyeuristic tendencies. The trail leads him to Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini), a beautiful and mysterious chanteuse. Jeffrey becomes her “secret lover” and is sucked into an abyss of degeneracy inhabited by Dorothy, her ether-sniffing boyfriend Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), and his posse of fringe element roughtrade. Jeffrey is torn between his seedy relationship with the alluring Dorothy and the staid Sandy, but is swayed further by Dorothy’s manipulative appeals for Jeffrey’s protection from Frank. The results of Jeffrey’s obsession are, of course, disastrous. As opposed to Polanski’s Bitter Moon, with Blue Velvet you get the feeling that maybe David Lynch does take the world of Blue Velvet seriously, but somehow that’s okay because Lynch doesn’t see the world the same way we do. Or more importantly, Lynch doesn’t see the same world we see.

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