Friday, August 30, 2019

A More Detailed And Rather Vigorous Exchange On The Film Body Heat


Well, I was wrong about Body Heat. It's not porn, it's smut. And Kasdan did care about the plot. In fact the plot has so many twists and turns it's hard to follow. And harder to believe. Still, I was very impressed with Kasdan's eye and craftsmanship. Visually the movie is stunning. I loved the opening titles. And the music is perfect. It's the script that sucks.

The authenticity of the Florida setting is undermined by the phoniness of the inhabitants and the theatricality of the dialogue. Everyone in this one-horse town sounds like he or she is auditioning for the Algonquin Round Table; even a greasy-spoon waitress. Ted Danson is supposed to be a prosecutor but could as easily have been a wise cracking bar tender. There wasn't one moment when I was under the illusion that he and William Hurt were lawyers, or that the black actor was a cop. They were just 3 actors reciting their lines. And often so quickly (i.e. "realistically") that I couldn't figure out what they hell they were saying.

Not that it mattered. Virtually nothing they said, at least in first half hour, advanced the movie's storyline. It wasn't conversation, it was repartee. The only "one-liner" I found the least bit natural was delivered by Kim Zimmer, who played Marry Ann. "This sure is a friendly town," struck me as something Matty's friend might have actually come up with, under the circumstances. But Kasdan even blunts the effect of this "one-liner" by burying it in a forest of pedestrian verbiage."Hey lady, y'wanna fuck?" Racine says, to the back of the woman in the white dress.

She turns and says, provocatively, "Gee, I don't know (pause) maybe."
Racine laughs, uncomfortably and begins to mumble an apology.
Mary Ann keeps going. "This sure is a friendly town."
Racine continues to mumble and fumble.

"Y'mean, the offer's no good?" Mary Anne says, then notices Matty approaching the gazebo. "Maybe you should deliver it next door." Then, as Matty arrives, "Maybe you were looking for the lady of the house. I don't know..."

This is typical of all the dialogue in the movie, as well as the camera work and editing. In his untiring effort to out-noir his predecessors Kasdan engages in overkill. On the principle of "less is more" this is how, IMHO, this genuinely amusing scene should have played out:

Racine: "Hey lady, y'wanna fuck?"
Mary Anne turns and laughs: "This sure is a friendly town."
Racine, embarrassed, mumbles an apology.
Matty, having emerged from the house, approaches the gazebo.
Mary Anne: "Maybe you were looking for the lady of the house."
Racine turns to see Matty.
Matty: "I see you've met my friend, Mary Anne."

Of course even the long drawn-out version is refreshingly brief compared to what preceded it. The first 30 minutes of this movie was like watching paint dry. Instead of making his point, and moving on, Kasdun is like a dog with a bone. Yes, it's hot, Larry, we get it. Yes, Racine is horny, we get it. Yes, he and Matty are fucking like two dogs in heat, we get it. You don't have to shove it in our face. Over, and over, and over...

Ironically, when Kasdan finally get's down to actually telling his convoluted story it's like he's just trying to get it over with, as quickly as possible. He leaves out so many essential details it's hard to follow. Or believe. The plot of this "steamy" thriller has more holes than Swiss cheese. As you know, Racine's brilliant scheme is to murder Matty's husband and make it look like he died in a failed arson attempt. This involves recruiting a "client", played by Mickey Rourke (whom I found one of the few truly colorful and convincing characters) to build a time-delay device that will set the fire, after the victim has been killed, at another location, and the body transported, in the trunk of his car, to some shack, and dumped.

What could possibly go wrong?

The first part of the plan is for Racine to sneak into the victim's house, at 3 am., creep up the stairs to his bedroom, where, hopefully, he's lying asleep beside his wife, and hit him over the head with what looks like a wooden fence post.
What could possibly go wrong?

Having come up with this hare-brained scheme Racine has the good sense to nix Matty's idea to draw a new will, and forge her husband's signature. The grieving widow shouldn't do anything to draw the attention of the authorities to her wealthy husband's untimely death. "We're going to kill him," Racine says, as if she hasn't figured it out yet. "It's the only way we can have everything we want. A man is going to die. For no reason, but that we want him dead. He doesn't deserve it. Let's not ever say that. We're doing it for us. You'll get half of everything he owns. We're going to kill him. And I think I know how..."

Racine delivers this Shakespearian monologue at a rendezvous with his accomplice, but he's really talking to us, the moviegoing audience. In case we haven't been paying attention. True, Kasdan's hand isn't quite as heavy as Tarantino's but Body Heat doesn't exactly have "the Lubitsch touch". 

Contrary to her accomplice's warning Matty prepares the bogus will and Racine only finds out about it at a meeting called by her late husband's lawyer, to inform the beneficiaries that it's invalid because the bequest Matty inserted contravenes "the rule against perpetuities". Matty did it deliberately, because she wants to be the sole beneficiary. So this evil legal genius has to feign shock when her late husband's lawyer delivers the good/bad news. "Since the will is invalid, your husband died intestate".

There's only one problem; an earlier will. If the bogus will is invalid the first will is reinstated. Yet this big shot corporate lawyer, who ridiculed Racine's incompetence, not only ignores the earlier will (which he drew) but manages to liquidate all of his late client's investments and real estate holdings in matter of weeks. "The lawyer called," Matty informs Racine, before her husband's ashes have cooled off. "I'll be able to get the money. He apologized for the delay."
The delay? Seriously? We're expected to believe her late husband's lawyer is apologizing for not only acting against his late client's wishes but for winding up his estate quicker than most lawyers can probate a will? And we're expected to believe Matty's sister-in-law, who lost several million dollars, would just roll over and play dead? This plot twist is beyond implausible, it's absurd. In real life this estate would be tied up in court for years, if not decades.

But this isn't real life; it's a movie, right? Yes, but it isn't Star Wars. It doesn't take place in "a galaxy far away" but in Kasdan's home town, in the 20th Century. So it doesn't require the same "voluntary suspension of disbelief". The first 1/3 of Body Heat is so "cinema verite" you can practically smell the sweat. Unfortunately, as it dragged on, that's not all I could smell.

Look, in spite of my previous misgivings, I approached your favorite movie with an open mind. I wanted to like it. I'd have gladly overlooked a few implausibilities, if I'd found Racine and Matty the least bit engaging. But they made my flesh crawl. He's a creep and she's a slut. And there's a difference between implausible and impossible. For instance how did Matty survive the explosion of the shed where she claimed she'd stashed her husband's glasses? In order for the device to go off she had to open the door, right? 

Yet she not only came away unscathed but managed to get to her car, and drive off, without Racine seeing her. Since she'd told him that she'd parked her car right next to his didn't he notice that it was gone? And wonder why?
Or maybe that's what prompted his Eureka moment, a couple of months later, when he's lying in his jail cell. "She's alive," he cries, like young Dr. Frankenstein. The whole nefarious scheme had come to him, in a dream, as it were. The woman who had played him for a sucker wasn't really Matty Walker. 

The conniving bitch had pulled this scam before, so she had assumed another woman's identity in order to land another fish. Racine's theory is confirmed by a package that comes in the mail. A high school year book, in which another girl's picture is above the name "Matty (Whatever)". And a different name is below a picture of the girl whom Racine knew as "Matty". According to the yearbook, this homecoming queen's ambition was to become rich and move to a tropical Island. Cut to a tropical island, where Matty (or whatever her name is) is lounging in a beach chair, beside some Latin lover. She's wearing her late husband's glasses. (I guess they had the same prescription).

Coincidentally, last night, I watched The Glass Key, on TCM, and even though I had seen it at least twice before enjoyed it. Implausibilities and all. Allan Ladd survives a beating that would have killed any ordinary mortal, with nothing more serious than an abrasion on his ruggedly handsome face. Then, after a few days, he gets out of his hospital bed and walks back into the lion's den, unarmed. And I was willing to accept these bizarre plot devices even though I didn't believe them. 

Because Allan Ladd isn't an ordinary mortal, he's a movie icon. 5 foot 6 and larger than life. Ditto Veronica Lake. And William Bendix. And Brian Donleavy. I knew "the cavalry" (i.e. Donleavy) would arrive at the last minute to rescue his lifelong friend, not because I'd seen The Glass Key before, but because I'd seen countless other movies. And that's the formula. I was willing to "suspend my disbelief" because I was being entertained. I didn't find Body Heat entertaining. It was mildly interesting, visually impressive, but basically boring. I suspect the reason you can watch this pretentious "neo noir classic", over and over, is to see if you can figure out that fucking convoluted plot.


Ok, you’ve moved me to a granular response to your comments on Body Heat. 

First off, I’m not sure of any substantive difference between porn and smut in relation to explicit sex. They’re just two different words saying “it’s dirty.” I’ve already canvassed the role sex plays in this film to dismantle any suggestion of it being pornographic, that is, being merely for own its own and merely to titillate or arouse. So of course the same comments apply to the charge of smut. But insofar as smut has a more pernicious connotation, my comments apply more strongly and that characterization, smut, betrays an even bigger failure to understand the film. 

If sufficient attention is paid, or the movie is seen again, the plot falls nicely into place. Not the first movie that demands close watching or reviewing. And the plot’s intricacy, as you note, is the manifestation of Kasdan’s care and concern with it. I agree with your being impressed by the director’s eye and craftsmanship, with the movie’s visual brilliance and the music. By the way, the script is just fine. 

I don’t see where the setting is undermined by any phoniness of the characters or by how they speak with each other. The talk is just fine, maybe slightly dramatic or heightened but that effect blends beautifully with the literary quality of the film, an elevated depiction of human burning and the cool, calculated exploitation of it, as I’ve already explained. And exactly why can’t a greasy spoon waitress get off a good line? Racine comes off easily as an incompetent lawyer. So does Lowenstein as a prosecutor of a certain detached kind, a nice, odd duck kind of guy with sweet dance moves doing his job. 

The one trial scene over the slot machines or whatever works perfectly and we get a bird’s eye view of Racine’s legal mediocrity, which is of course pivotal to the plot. So the scene is good in quite a few ways: it’s funny; it socks us into the daily ways of the town; it’s realistic enough; and it sets up nicely that pivotal mediocrity. 

I can’t for the life of me see how you had any trouble seeing Oscar as a cop. He has a rumpled, sweaty, serious, sober sense of duty, which the film shows convincingly in tension with his friendship with Racine. And I have no trouble understanding what they say. Honestly, your complaint here seems from left field, idiosyncratic and out of whack with the movie. 

The notion that nothing “they said” in the first 1/4 of the film advances the movie’s story line is hard to understand. Who’s this “they”? By thirty minutes in, we’ve had the trial, which sets up, as noted, the pivotal aspect of Racine’s legal haplessness; Racine has had first encounter with Maddy; everything’s hot; and we’re well underway into the film’s arc. So, really, what are you talking about? 

As for the blunted one liner, I’m sorry but you’ve got it exactly backwards. And it seems by your comment, “a forest of pedestrian verbiage,” you’ve failed to understand the scene. When Racine approaches Mary Ann, he thinks it’s Maddy, who he has in fact been fucking and with whom he believes he’s on intensely intimate terms. And he thinks they’re alone. 

So it’s perfectly natural for him to say that to her. It’s the most natural and believable thing for him to say and it’s hardly a “forest of pedestrian verbiage.” It’s plain talk. And then comes the good one liner, but one that doesn’t stand out as exceptional in the script. Rather it fits right in with an absolutely fine script as a whole. Of course Racine lapses into apologetic mumbling out of sheer embarrassment and too because he’s aghast in thinking he’s blown his and Maddy’s secret, which it turns out right away he hasn’t, and which concern is a tremendous piece of irony considering how Maddy’s scheming and villainy work themselves out. So your poking ridicule at the mumbling is beside the point of what’s going on in the scene. 

The scene works perfectly. The dialogue and trialogue, ranging from mistaken intimate plain talk, to mumbling confusion, to sophisticated and flirtatious one liners, are on the money. With all due respect, the scene doesn’t need your rewrite. 

Back to the first thirty minutes, of course we see all the manifestations of heat and sex. Btw, we don’t see Racine and Maddy “fucking like dogs in heat.” We see them together a lot, and we see them in intimate poses a lot, more poses that suggest lovemaking and intimacy than actual explicit sex scenes, But as I first noted, refuting any charge of the pornographic, now apparently become smut, we’re seeing the deliberate reeling in of Racine, Maddy slowly but surely bringing him to the point of utter malleability to her wishes with such control that she has him believing it’s his idea and decision to kill Edmund. You gloss over this and don’t appreciate how skilfully Kasdan sets this up. It’s simply anything but boring. You keep saying, “we get it.” But I’m not sure you do, or at least not well enough. 

I don’t at all see Kasdan trying to get his story over with as quickly as possible. I don’t know what details are left out or what the holes are. The plan for the film’s purposes is the plan. It does go initially wrong because Kasdan intends it to as Edmund comes downstairs with a gun. But it gets executed in its initial phase however clumsily and however with a struggle. So, so far 0 has finally gone wrong. You point to missing details and and Swiss cheese holes. But you identify none of them, being content merely to repeat your rhetorical question, “What could possibly go wrong?” without answering it to reveal the movie’s shortcomings here. 

On your “Shakespearean monologue” paragraph, which is mostly plot summary, I’ll only note that what Racine says is the opposite of a Shakespearean monologue. What he says is short and to the point. 

Your problem is that you miss the point and the dramatic irony of the scene. The contrast is between Racine struggling to be honest with himself because unlike Maddy, he is, not-too-bright shnook that he is, no 100% no goodnik. He’s basically a good, hapless, guy who’s been seduced into, brought slowly but surely to, reeled into, evil by pure 100% evil. He’s trying to be clear and square with himself as to what he’s doing and he’s trying to have her see things the way he does.

Of course she’s miles ahead of him, sociopathic miles at that, and doesn’t need the benefit of looking at herself squarely and clearly. She understands herself perfectly and is empty of moral concern. The irony of this is reinforced by this being the scene, if I’m recalling things correctly, where the poor guy is under the delusion that killing Edmund is his idea and decision. So Racine is precisely not talking to the audience, which doesn’t need its head hit. Ironies abound here as I explain but which you seem not to have noted. 

With all due respect your complaint about the will and its settling is off the mark. It’s a film not a procedural. If some niceties are tripped over, no one really cares so long as what’s tripped over works in the movie, which it does. And by the way, I was no estates lawyer, though I got an A in Estates in law school, I think there’s a problem with your problem with the will. 

If a valid will fails due to violating the rule against perpetuities, then it’s not void ab initio I don’t think, the way one will be, say, if it’s a fraudulent will or one entered into by coercion or maybe executed without proper formality—not sure about that last one. In the case of an otherwise valid will falling by reason of a flawed provision, say offending the rule against perpetuities, then the previous will doesn’t operate and intestacy is at hand for that portion of the estate, or perhaps all of it, made inoperative by the violation. 

And a further btw, a friend of mine who went to the University of Chicago law school, one of the best in America, said his Estates prof showed sections of this film to illustrate the perpetuities rule. 

When you end your paragraph with what would happen in real life, you betray an error. This isn’t real life. It’s a film. The film operates on the premises of an intestacy, a rapid liquidation of assets and no legal contest. To complain about these plot premises because “it doesn’t work that way in real life” is to confuse art and life, your protestation to the contrary notwithstanding:

...But this isn't real life; it's a movie, right? Yes, but it isn't Star Wars. It doesn't take place in "a galaxy far away" but in Kasdan's home town, in the 20th Century. So it doesn't require the same "voluntary suspension of disbelief"...

Nobody I’ve ever spoken to or read, lawyers and non lawyers alike, about this film has had any trouble suspending disbelief for any part of it. 

I can’t see how you find the relationship, such as it is, between Racine and Maddy unengaging. But you’ve had a visceral response to them that to my mind, in George Costanza’s terms, means “it’s me, ie you, not you, ie the film.” You’re entirely reductive in dismissing Racine simply as a “creep.” He’s a good guy, hapless, weak, of fairly low character, but likeable. His friends like him and we, the audience, like him along with them. But he gets played big time and the movie turns on that, him getting played by a master player, which, as I note, makes his “Shakespearean monologue,” which actually isn’t one, touching, even poignant. 

Same reductiveness in dismissing Maddy as simply a slut—if she is that, and I’ll suggest to you she isn’t—it’s only a small part of her. It’s only a small part of the main thing about her, her pure evil to the point of sociopathy. Her acting, her relentlessness, her willingness, as the movie’s theme has it, “to do what’s necessary,” are what she’s about and the movie conveys it all brilliantly. I’d say she’s as good a femme fatale as I’ve seen in any film noir I’ve seen. 

It is a bit mysterious how she opened the shed without blowing herself up. I imagine she used a stick to or some such to prod the door open. It’s not a stretch to imagine that and it certainly doesn’t land the movie in implausibility. 

Why Maddy’s arguably not be a slut is that pronuncedly she’s not panting after anything in pants. She has culled out her victim and uses sex selectively and particularly in order to accomplish her ends. She’s sexually active in that but isdifferent from a woman who too easily goes with a lot of men.  

Is she at the end wearing her late husband’s glasses? My recollection of the great last scene is she’s sitting in the sun wearing a pair of sun glasses. But if she is, so what?

So anyway this is all me reacting to your objections to Body Heat. I find most of them wrong and missing the mark of this terrific film and about and how wonderfully well it works. 

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