Monday, December 20, 2010

Film Review: CRIMES OF PASSION (1984, Ken Russell)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 112 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Kathleen Turner (ROMANCING THE STONE, SERIAL MOM), Anthony Perkins (PSYCHO, THE TRIAL), John Laughlin (THE ROCK, FOOTLOOSE), Bruce Davison (APT PUPIL, X-MEN), Annie Potts (GHOSTBUSTERS, CORVETTE SUMMER), Stephen Lee (THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, WARGAMES). Soundtrack by Rick Wakeman of Yes.
Tag-line: "Her name is China Blue. She is watched. She is worshipped. And, she must remain a mystery."
Best one-liner: "If you think you're gonna' get back in my panties, forget it. There's one asshole in there already."

CRIMES OF PASSION is ridiculous fucking and it's fucking ridiculous. It's not often that I'm afforded the opportunity to generate such elegant prose, but, hey- we're talkin' Ken Russell.

Kathleen Turner plays 'China Blue,' high-powered fashion designer by day and fifty-buck pavement princess by night. Anthony Perkins plays a street preacher who's dippin' his big toe in the red light district, and subsequently lightin' his fire with a little hellfire and brimstone, if you will.

John Laughlin is a disaffected suburbanite who's about to be inducted into a ramshackle world of peep shows, grubby 'hos, and immodest clothes.

It's cheap n' gritty sleazefest with Argento lighting, dildo-shaped weapons, weapon-shaped dildos, and an evocative Rick Wakeman soundtrack that's a reimagining of Dvorak's New World Symphony- which may or may not be an in-joke on 'New World Pictures,' who produced the film.

I can try to explain this movie using cultural touchstones like PSYCHO and DRESSED TO KILL and SWEET CHARITY and NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, but you know what, I'm simply gonna come up short. Suffice it to say that I learned a lot from CRIMES OF PASSION. I definitely learned more about the anatomy of perversion than in, say, my sixth grade health class. Allow me to share a few kernels of wisdom with you:

#1. "There are three things you gotta know to be a fifty buck hooker: how to act, how to fuck, and how to count to fifty."

Kathleen Turner counts to fifty.

#2. J&B can be informally used as mouthwash, if the occasion permits.

And check out that awesome fucking wallpaper.

#3. Ken Russell is insane, and unapologetic about his insanity. I really respect that.

#4. But on a related note, who would have guessed that we'd have to wait until the fifty-four minute-mark for a have a nun-themed sex scene?

That shows uncommon restraint. I take back the insanity comment.

#5. Kathleen Turner starred in the #8 box office performer of 1984, ROMANCING THE STONE. It takes brass balls to- in the same year- star in a movie where she has brutal handcuff sex with a police officer and then sodomizes him with his own nightstick.

As a side note, CRIMES OF PASSION could have easily been titled ROMANCING THE STONE. Of course, the stone in question would probably have been a weapon-shaped dildo, but still, that's still quite something to consider.

#6. "I never forget a face, especially when I've sat on it." This thing is a veritable font of streetwalkin' one-liners.

#7. A bizarre man-phallus reenactment is a common occurance at family cookouts.

#8. There is an uncanny connection between Anthony Perkins and Jeffrey Combs that I never realized until I saw Perkins, in nerd glasses, acting like a lunatic.

#9. Anthony Perkins can and will flagellate you with a "Beat 'em and eat 'em licorice whip." Does this sort of thing actually exist, or is it a figment of Ken Russell's fevered imagination? Debate in the comments section below.

In the end, silliness aside, it's a fine film. Atmospheric and strange, it's Russell's meditation on society's obsessions with artificiality and debasement. From casual, thrill-seeking perambulators of the red-light district to yowling 'performance artists' at group therapy to those who prefer plastic flowers to real ones (because they don't die), Ken Russell takes aim at your synthetic lifestyle and fires a nutty salvo of eye-candy, genius performances, social commentary, and random freaky nonsense. It doesn't always hit home, but it's bold enough for me to recommend. Four stars.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

Watching a Ken Russell film is akin to taking some really bad acid. Or so I've been told.

Truth be told, this is one of his more tamer efforts but still gonzo but normal standards. LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM is still my fave. Man, what an odd movie THAT is.

Sean Gill said...

Gotta love Ken Russell. I am a huge WHITE WORM fan, but from a serious cineaste's point of view, I have to bow down to THE DEVILS and THE MUSIC LOVERS as the best, THE MUSIC LOVERS occupying an unbudgeable spot in my all time top ten. There are not many directors who I think belong in the Sight and Sound Top Ten yet also have works that I'd reserve for a drunken Saturday night, but Ken Russell is definitely one of them, which may well be the measure of a truly great director!