Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Starring: Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke
By Alan Bacchus
The career of Adrian Lyne fascinates me. He's a man of immense cinematic talent, who has made some of recent cinema’s most recognizable films. Whether it’s boiling Michael Douglas’s cat or having a barrel of water dumped over Jennifer Beals, Lyne has a knack for iconic imagery. And in 30+ years, despite many hits, he’s made only 8 feature films.
Lyne, of course, was part of the new wave of British commercial directors of the '70s, which included Ridley Scott, Tony Scott and Alan Parker, celebrated for their stylish lighting and moody atmospheric visuals. Lyne’s visual style is unmistakable and remarkably consistent over all his films. Looking back on his work, he’s also a filmmaker who has improved and matured considerably since his first two successes, Flashdance and the topic of this piece, 9½ Weeks.
As a curious seven-year-old, this film's reputation preceded itself. I never saw it as a child, only heard about the rumours of salacious sex scenes, nudity, etc. That said, I’m not surprised to be disappointed that the film is significantly less salacious than expected. There’s actually very little nudity and the sex scenes are so stylized and melodramatic it’s almost laughable. There’s also very little holding this film together other than the softcore pornographic plotting of a hip New York art gallery administrator (Basinger) who shacks up with an aloof Wall Street banker (Rourke) for nine-and-a-half weeks. I imagine it was pitched as Last Tango in Paris for the '80s, right down to the use of the city as a character and a sexy food sequence. But sadly, it’s merely a handsome piece of fluff, interesting to view only in the context of Lyne's career and its place in the creation of '80s pop culture.
The food sequence is probably the most recognizable scene, wherein Mickey Rourke feeds syrupy liquids to Kim Basinger, not so subtly mimicking the excretion of our sexual bodily fluids. It's the stuff out of The Red Shoe Diaries. This is no coincidence, mind you, as the film was written and produced by that czar of soft core filmmaking, Zalman King.
The entire film would be as completely laughable as The Red Shoe Diaries if it wasn't so well directed by Lyne. The fact is, 9½ Weeks exemplifies the 1980's visual aesthetic as well as anything filmed in that era. Mickey Rourke's awesome stand-up hair is rivaled only by Val Kilmer's Ice Man cut in Top Gun, and Kim Basinger's messy blonde locks are also seductive as hell. Lyne’s visual hallmarks are front and centre. His colour schemes consist of bone white tones representing the polished but soulless lifestyle of Mickey Rourke's character. The intense backlighting gives his characters a beautiful halo-like glow, and the use of long lenses creates dense and rich visual compositions.
The other grossly exaggerated scene is Basinger's backlit strip tease sequence, a ridiculously long music video sequence to the music of Joe Cocker. Instead of being teased I just couldn’t help but think where the hell that enormous backlight in the apartment was coming from. Nearly as ridiculous is the chase scene with a couple of frat boy homophobes resulting in a hand-to-hand fight scene in front of a backlit wind turbine in a rainstorm.
Adrian Lyne would go on to make much better films, including Fatal Attraction, Jacob’s Ladder and Unfaithful. These were all successful films, and yet he hasn’t made one since 2002’s Unfaithful. Maybe he’s hard to work with, or maybe he’s just picky and respects his own legacy as a commercial auteur and provocateur. Either way, there's some admiration in having a near pristine filmography of quality films (even including 9½ Weeks).
9½ Weeks is available on Blu-ray from Warner Home Entertainment.