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Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Retro Review: Crimes of Passion (1984)

Crimes of Passion
Cast: Kathleen Turner, Anthony Perkins, Bruce Davison, Annie Potts
Genre: Erotic Thriller
U.S box office gross: $2.9 million 

Plot: By day Joanna Crane is a prim workaholic fashion designer. At night she becomes China Blue: a kinky hooker on the streets of Los Angeles. But when she finds herself being followed by a private investigator and stalked by a fanatical preacher, Joanna's depraved double life threatens to explode. In a world ruled by mad passion and holy obsession, can one woman survive the most dangerous emotion of all?

'This Is Anything But A Sleazefest: It Is Tale Of What Love & Sex Means To Different People'

Crimes of Passion was released two years after erotic thriller, Body Heat and was Turner's highly- charged follow-up film to the hugely successful, Romancing The Stone. and yet, it was also not the type of film I'd expected out of it. All I am aware of is this is supposedly an erotic thriller/drama, and in the late British director Ken Russell, - of whom wasn't one to shy away from making movies and doing it in a way that was so in-yer-face provocative -yet with a creative slant to it -, there is more to this film than just sex and nude scenes. But rather it contrasts the two different scenes between a happily married couple and a woman, Joanna who leads a double life as a hooker with a heart of gold, under the alias of 'China Blue' at night and by day, works as a fashion designer. Her dual roles attract the attentions of two men: a married man and a psychopath priest.

When Joanna falls in love with a client, things get more complicated, as well as dangerous for her. Anthony Perkins character is a religious fanatical reverend trying to save her from hell. Yet this same character pays visits to live sex shows. The image of him holding a vibrator in his hand, whilst stalking Joanna is both amusing and creepy. The Psycho actor - no pun intended- brought a great amount of fear, loathing and menace to that role. 

China is in need of sexual fulfilment and uses it to fill an emotional void in her life. Married Bobby meanwhile is becoming sexually frustrated, yet longing for honesty and happiness from his wife and sees sex as nothing more than a physical act, rather than something that goes beyond the physical and transcends the emotional aspect too. The spark and passion have gone out of their marriage, and he is under no illusions to reignite it. But it is only when he is with Johanna that he sees love and happiness as the crux, than just sex - which is nice to see in a film such as this, wherein an erotic thriller or drama, male characters would be far more interested in the sex than everything else. 

This is a brazen tale of love, sex and commitment and the film also explores the themes of human relationships, sex and religion. Some of the scenes are shot like a music video and it's not really softcore porn, but rather elements taken from it and the sex scenes themselves are rather discreet looking. The score by Rick Wakeman appropriately compliments the occasionally sleazy and sordid tone the film evokes in various scenes. The way Ken Russell shoots and directs this film and presents events as it is, exploring the thrills, needs and desires the characters want, is done in a way that doesn't make this film as outright erotic as Basic Instinct, 9 & 1/2 Weeks, but a film that stands on its own merits. It's unconventional and it works. That mix of softcore porn elements with its colourful, vibrant visuals gives Crimes of Passion a sense of uniqueness. 

Usually a film about a man (or woman) who leaves their partner (and with some cases children) to find sexual fulfilment that their relationship or marriage doesn't offer & with another person and not make them out to be complete b*****s, without coming across as trying to endorse or acknowledge it, is a tough sell (case in point, Eat Pray Love). It complicates matters further when children are involved as well. Yet in Crimes of Passion, I supposed it is argued that this ought to be an exception, because of Annie Potts's character, Amy is such a bore and so unlikable, so much so that when Bobby wants to talk to her about his feelings, she chooses to shut him out. & still, she complains & whines. Thus far, I was even gladder when her marriage didn't last long. It's even more striking to think that the film reverses the roles of the stereotype hooker: a type of character that apart from the film Pretty Woman, in general, they would be perceived in an even less flattering light and in addition to that of the happily married couple, who have been together for many years & seeing their marriage disintegrate in front of our very eyes. 

Crimes Of Passion is a unique gem of a film and though it is labelled as an erotic movie, it offers far more than just that. It is a tale of intimacy, lust, human behaviours towards the notions of love and sex, and beyond that finding your true calling as a person that is anything but about sex alone. It is a film about what love means to different people. It is an unconventional take on the formula and it is a smart one that the late Ken Russell has succeeded in tackling, head on. 

Final Verdict:

At times quirky, even bonkers and other times intriguing. Crimes of Passion wasn't what I'd expected it to be, and yet it turned out in such a way that I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a film of different contrasts and oppositions and though it is sexual at times, it's never too overly explicit or hardcore. 

This amazingly seedy yarn has some really great moments and scenes and the performances by Kathleen Turner and Anthony Perkins are effortlessly brilliant: Turner is so believable in the role of two halves but more so as China Blue and comes across as more sympathetic and understanding than Body Heat's femme fatale Matty. I didn't care for Bobby and his wife or the things that happened to them, but the manner they unfolded, really upped the intrigue of this film. 

The interesting plot and narrative elevate it beyond being a porn and sleaze fest. It's atmospheric and occasionally strange, yet this strangeness is also entertaining & susceptible as it is provoking, and one that demands further exploration. For all the sexual liberation there is also an emotional disconnect, as well as detachment that manifests, as we see both Bobby and Joanna each trying to come to terms with their own actions and decisions.  

Crimes of Passion is not a straight up porn fest, and thank goodness for that: it is unorthodox, together with being thoroughly and highly enjoyable, entertaining with moments that make you think and plus, it's hugely deserving of its cult status; that and it is a film that should be discovered. 


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