Saturday, February 27, 2021

Neo-Noir Erotic Thriller Madonna Watch Party Watch: Body of Evidence (1993)

When I was 17 years old, and a curious kid, and back when movies had all sorts of content in them - I saw all sorts of stuff on the big screen.  In general, I think it was actually a good thing.  I learned about the adult world, how sex looked under professional lighting, and that my ex-girlfriend was right about that nice lady in the Crying Game the second she showed up in the film.

And since the video for Lucky Star, I'd also thought that nice lady rolling around on the floor seemed like a pretty good idea.  By early 1993, the videos for Vogue and Express Yourself had done nothing to dissuade me of this opinion, let alone when my pal, Phil, taped the HBO concert special of Blonde Ambition for me. 

In 1992, Rob, Scott and I had gone to see a sold-out showing of Basic Instinct on opening night (I thought it was "meh" - and I have 10,000 words on what this did to the notion of noir for a decade), and at the time we did not anticipate that Hollywood would see gold in them thar hills and spend the early 90's trying to recapture the magic in a series of erotic thrillers.  

Simultaneously, Madonna had found she quite enjoyed freaking out America's moms via the Like A Prayer controversy (which seems both inappropriate and stupid rewatching the video now), and decided she would now say the word "sex" a lot, very much upsetting Tipper Gore.  She liked it so much, she made a picture book about how much she liked the word, and in a field trip to the Houston Public Library downtown, we got one of the people who was already 18 to get it for us to all look at at the reference desk.  And, man, were the librarians cheesed.

But in January of 1993, with "erotic thrillers" now a genre, I decided to spend my dough and go see the aforementioned Madonna co-star with Willem Defoe (who we all knew from a handful of movies, including the amazing Streets of Fire and the critically acclaimed Platoon), in her take on sexy times in the movies.  

Previously, I'd seen Madonna in Dick Tracy, and she was... fine?  She accomplished looking like Madonna and sprawling across a piano, I think.  But no one was expecting her to turn in Oscar gold in that movie.  And this movie was going to surround her with fancy talent.  Defoe was widely respected, the movie had Jurgen Prochnow, who had kind of been slumming in villain roles since Das Boot.  It would also not advertise, but contain Frank Langella as a surprise witness in the film.  Not yet famous, really, Julianne Moore played Defoe's wife (and this is a reminder that Moore was very *whatevs* about also appearing naked in movies during the 90's).  And, heck, there's much respected Anne Archer helping keep this ship upright.

So, Hot Tamales and jumbo Coke in hand, I settled in for Body of Evidence (1993).  

I'd mostly blanked the movie out since then, and re-watching it, it's not hard to see why.  Someone decided that all this movie needed was belabored court room scenes that just go on and on and on and feel remarkably not at all how court rooms work.  And then it punctuates the film with three scenes of Madonna and Willem Defoe making sure you absolutely will not find their sexy times fun to watch.  

"did you or did you not find this movie weirdly boring?"

The structure of the movie itself doesn't make a ton of sense.  Is the murder trial happening the next week?  A year later?  Why is Madonna not in jail pending the outcome?  Why is the press seemingly so disinterested when the gallery is full of easily offended pearl clutchers?  What, exactly, does Joe Mantegna, our DA - who is aware that entusiastically sexually active women are a threat to society and will not stand for it - think he's charging Madonna with?  Sexy times?  

There are basic supporting characters, like the aforementioned Julianne Moore as Defoe's restaurateur wife, but there's a very confusing line about how "word got around that you car was down by the docks".  It's Portland, not Mayberry.  She's not bad in the movie and does what she can, but oh my god, what a thankless role.  And the movie has the gall to suggest she's going to take Defoe back at the end.

Girl, you're Julianne Moore.  You will have no problem moving on.  But I also think you had a whole storyline that was probably cut where Defoe didn't quite trust you, but we'll never know.  Because the movie wants to spend all it's time in court.  

And if there's one thing people love and find titlillating, it is CROSS EXAMINATION with many objections and a judge who keeps having to warn everyone and their dog that "this better be going somewhere" or "you know better".  And, oh my god, do they spend an interminable amount of time in the giant courtroom, which somehow has late afternoon sun coming in windows from two completely different directions.  

But... I assume you want to know about the sexy times in the movie.

Madonna looks to see if the plot has finally shown up

I was immediately reminded of our foray into Fifty Shades of Grey and how... tedious that entire film felt.  Similarly, Body of Evidence has just a sort of "oh...  so, this is what they're going to do..?" aspect to the sex scenes, which is perhaps a bit inevitable in all but the rarest film and maybe why, when cinema quit including sex scenes in every third movie as we slid into endless PG-13 territory, we never really noticed.  

Defoe and Madonna have no chemistry, and you kind of wonder if Madonna, by 1993, wasn't taking it as a given that if she showed up, that's kind of all it took (arguably, yes).  But there's virtually no build up to the first time our heroes fornicate.  There's a wildly awkward dinner (that seems unlikely between attorney and client, unless he's already planning to go for it) and feels like two nerds who read a dirty book once flirting.  There's a suggestion of BDSM-radar, which... neat, if true!

But then Madonna kinda seems bored, and Defoe looks like a kid trying to figure out if he's about to get a present (he does).

If there's a kink 17 year old me realized he was not going to, and never would have, it was getting hot candle wax (which I was already aware hurts like a bastard) poured all over me, including my dingus.  Which isn't what kills the scene, but it does not help.  Madonna's dumb speech about "we're all animals" may have worked in another actor's mouth, but Madonna sounds like someone LiveJournaling - so when it plays out...  I dunno.  The movie doesn't shy away from anything, it just doesn't know how to seduce the audience.  It has very much the same effect of actually flipping through Madonna's sex picture book where you're just kind of like "yup, there they go".  Movies are stories, and the sex matters way, way less than the seduction.  Film noir got away with the sexiness in the strictest era of the Hayes Code and neverdid more than cut away from two people talking (and, straight up, Body of Evidence is neo-noir).  

No, thank you.

The second sequence, which seemed to be Madonna telling Sharon Stone "hold my beer", includes broken glass and a parking garage - and it's here that you really begin to wonder "how badly written is this that Defoe's character is going along with all of this?"  There's some hand-jobby build up to the sequence, but no build up to the risks and embacing of pain as part of sex.  The movie does nothing to bring us along, and instead spends time in the courtroom going through motions no one cares about rather than examining something - anything - about what he's thinking or going through and how he's going along with what she's uncorked in him.  Even a line or two about the risk, and how that's what makes it super sexy times - anything - would have helped.  Or a comment about how shocked he is to be into this.  Instead, they're rolling around on the world's thickest lightbulb glass on what I *hope* is their car.*

The final scene would never, ever get made today, or at least would require some reconsideration of framing, as it plays like a rape scene that - and I actually DO buy this from what we know about Madonn'a character - she decides she's enjoying.  After all, she broke Defoe, so even while he's physically in control in the scene, she's the one pulling the strings.  So...  I mean, it's uncomfortable to watch from a "we don't do this in 2021 in movies" sequence, but it's also maybe the most narratively driven of the scenes, and mercifully briefest.

It's been a very, very long time since I tried to rewatch Basic Instinct, but that movie didn't seem to hold up very well, either.  And Michael Douglas isn't a better actor than Willem Defoe - but I can argue that, yes, Stone is much better than Madonna, who is kinda mid-tier community theater okay.  But Basic Instinct does manage to bring you along as Douglas falls down the hole, so to speak, and we can at least see how it's impacting him.  

It also doesn't hurt that Basic Instinct doesn't keep running back to a court room and playing out the driest, most boring possible way for this to play out on film.  

When the case is over and Madonna, for whatever fucking reason, immediately turns to her attorney and says "ha ha, I did, actually!", the movie spins into some simply goofy territory.  It feels like a tacked on finale to assure the audience that this evil, sexy woman won't walk free... but, ugh, it's so "morality play".  And those horses are so out of the barn by this point.

Anyway - the movie is just weird and bad and boring.  And, much like the 50 Shades movies, that's really the biggest sin of all.  "Man makes bad decision thanks to dick" has made for countless movies I have enjoyed, so there's going to be movies where it doesn't work out.  

17 year old me was not a fan, so you can imagine how 45 year old me feels on the topic.  Luckily I dragged along several people who had to suffer through alongside me.  All I can say is, thank you, booze, for making this possible

*please do not get busy on my car.  I have to drive that thing.

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