**/**** Image B+ Sound B Extras A
starring Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Anne Archer, Stuart Pankin
screenplay by James Dearden
directed by Adrian Lyne
½/**** Image C+ Sound B Commentary C-
starring Robert Redford, Demi Moore, Woody Harrelson, Oliver Platt
screenplay by Amy Holden Jones
directed by Adrian Lyne
by Walter Chaw Adrian Lyne films live and die by the success of their moments of poignant epiphany. It's why 9½ Weeks and Jacob's Ladder work and Flashdance and Indecent Proposal do not--why his obvious and constant pandering to cultural stereotypes and softcore eroticism identifies him as the premiere commercial director of his time (more so than even Ridley Scott, who sometimes tries not to be a ponce), trafficking in easy images and the kind of strained tableaux you'd expect to see in a first-year photography classes (explanation as well for why his films are almost invariably blockbusters): a pair of Converse sneakers on a lonesome, foldout kitchen table; seagulls on a fog-shrouded pier; long shots down cluttered, penthouse-suite corridors; rubbing off to a slideshow1; dogs and bunnies... Adrian Lyne flicks are about what happens when dicks slip into chicks, oops; it's not possible to make fun of them, because how do you make fun of an artifact that has no intrinsic weight, tells no compelling tale, and imparts no particular insight?
The questions Lyne asks in his films concern the cause-and-effect of a hot welder fucking a (relatively) rich guy; of Michael Douglas fucking Glenn Close in a sink and an elevator; of Mickey Rourke fucking professional sex-victim Kim Basinger in a refrigerator; of Demi Moore fucking Robert Redford for cash; of Diane Lane fucking a French book collector; of Jeremy Irons fucking a minor. The only one of his movies that doesn't revolve around fucking, in fact, is Jacob's Ladder (its one erotic scene ends with a demon penis or something erupting out of Elizabeth Peña's mouth), and Jacob's Ladder, not coincidentally, is Lyne's best film, despite its clumsy metaphysics and saccharine denouement. It's the best one because it deals with regret around matters of life and death rather than regret around who someone's fucking--and it talks about the universe as a mysterious machine with real consequences for its individuals and their society. Lyne's perfume-commercial imagery is perfect for the oneiric requirements of the horror genre; and where Jacob's Ladder is an elegy for what we lost of our innocence in Vietnam, the rest of them are elegies for the loss of literal virginity. (Save, maybe, Lyne's first film, Foxes, an elegy for what Jodie Foster lost to Hollywood.)It's probably the reason megahit and cultural tsunami Fatal Attraction feels so embarrassing twenty-two years later, like flipping through that twenty-year-old "Hustler" you used to keep in the treehouse and trying to remember why it used to give you a hard-on. Dan (Douglas) is a lawyer, Alex (Close, terrific) is in publishing, and the two enjoy acrobatic, hilarious sex in unlikely places as clumsy metaphors smoke on the gas range. (In the interests of saving time, this is also how Diana (Moore) and David (Woody Harrelson) fuck in Indecent Proposal, albeit with something actually burning on the stove.) Later, Dan and Alex walk through a few sets leftover from Flashdance en route to more sex from 9½ Weeks before arriving at the film's central melodrama, i.e., that Dan is happily married to Beth (Anne Archer) and not interested in anything long-term with crazy Alex. The payoff is a manifestation of adultery guilt in which a psychopath tests the stability of the family bond. It would've been so much more interesting if the crazy lady weren't ultimately homicidal, if Beth were asked to be something more than the Mildred Pierce domestic avatar, and if it were more like Lyne's more mature Unfaithful and less like "Madame Butterfly", the opera Alex can't seem to stop spinning in her chichi Manhattan apartment. A tremendous shame, too, that test audiences dictated the domestic cut of the picture undermine the film-long set-up of Alex's suicide with a splatter-picture epilogue that, if memory serves, had audiences on their feet in approval of how Disney kills a witch.
Joining a long line of virile men's men that includes Richard Gere, Michael Nouri, Rourke, and Harrelson, Douglas is Lyne's idea of an everyman, and his Dan is, of course, married to one of the most beautiful women on the planet--even Lyne's nebbishes are impossible Olympian busts. (Not a Joseph Cotten or a Rod Taylor among them.) They're each gifted with a fetching vulnerability, too, an emotional intelligence that explains Dan staying with Alex once she slices her wrists on their second date and forgives Gere's cuckolded husband for murdering the other cock in his hen's house. The crux of the problem is that Lyne's films aren't interested in men who are shaded in grey, or women who aren't facilitators of some simplistic, broad aspect of these men, making almost every one of his pictures exercises, to some degree, in frustration and missed opportunities. Fatal Attraction has the makings of a serious examination of adult relationships and interactions under duress, only to end as a seriocomic slasher film dictated by popular taste.
But it looks great, and by that I mean it looks like a feature-length commercial with a huge budget and a giant rain machine and cameras on dollies designed to peer through portals as if Polanski were trying to sell Chanel No. 5. It invites open misogyny in our instant identification with poor Dan, who just wanted to dip his prick in a different inkwell, after all--who knew it was Cruella de Vil's inkwell? And it sports Lyne's affection for minorities used as decorative, brutally-exploited set-dressing. In an empty, facile collection of images, the only time left for anyone outside the suffocating frame are broad--most would say unkind--sketches. Jabbering Latina maids, smiling Orientals, none invited into the inner circle of Lyne's milkfed intimates except as an adoring, inchoate Greek chorus.
Consider the scene late in Indecent Proposal where Redford's billionaire John (referring to a whore's best friend?) pays a visit to an ESL class to the chittering approval of a room full of illiterate extras. Playing into a middle-class fantasy of life without brown people, whereby the only problems are too much amazing sex and too much money used to pay for it (or get rid of it), it's such a dream backdrop for Lyne that it's a wonder it never showed up in one of his films before. This suggests that when Fatal Attraction is keeping your attention, it's doing so because the actors are tremendous--and that when it's losing your attention, it's because Lyne wants it back. Only in a film that is at its heart expressionistic, like Jacob's Ladder, does Lyne's inability to not be the subject not interfere with a narrative that is already about a projection of disturbed, unmoored interiority. I'm not certain that the film is better with more insight into Alex's disturbance, but I am sure that its original ending, in which Alex frames Dan for her own murder to a little Puccini, delivers a pleasing closure to the picture's protracted dreamscape. The visceral nature of the epilogue deflates the fugue of its "wrong mother" nightmare, drawing the lines too clearly. For what it's worth, Lyne ending his Unfaithful with a broken traffic light demonstrates that something was learned in the intervening fifteen years.
Alas, said lessons had not been learned six years later upon the release of Indecent Proposal, such a colossal embarrassment of a film that it's physically hard to stare directly at. Offenses begin with duelling voice-overs by estranged soul-mates Diane and David, bemoaning some unspeakable calamity we're about to witness in extended flashback. A terrible pity that the flashback extends all the way back to high school, complete with Moore outfitted in a hilar-ible mouthful of braces and Woody looking exactly like he always does. True love, I guess. Flash forward to the kitchen-fucking and the threat of foreclosure on the construction of David-the-architect's dream house, leading to a weekend in Vegas wherein the titular proposition is tossed out there and knocked outta the park by the desperate lovers. John, see, wants one night with Diane and offers the happy couple a cool million for the privilege. David instantly suffers seller's remorse, punches a couple of newly-paid-for doors, and sends Diane scurrying into the wooden arms of her stump-like billionaire until that magic late-film moment when she returns via bus2 to the warm embrace of David's melancholy bosom.
This is after David buys her a hippo at a charity auction that is interrupted, of course, by a sudden cloudburst. What's really missing from Indecent Proposal are good performances: Moore is a trainwreck, of course, and Redford is hopeless, but the real disappointment is Harrelson, whose David is more Woody Boyd than Mickey Knox--so that when he finally has his meltdowns, they're completely without menace. For a Lyne protagonist, he's conspicuously neutered. As for the consequences of all this Sturm und Drang? David and Diane become community-college teachers, David with a slideshow and Diane with a rabble of blubbering immigrants used in exactly the same way someone like Tom Shadyac would use a ward of cancer children, until fate decides to bring them back together like some moronic retread of O. Henry: They're poor again, yet richer than they could have ever imagined. Yes, it's true: in this astonishingly distasteful bit of dreck, there is at the bottom a sappy little romance.
Fatal Attraction docks on Blu-ray in a 1.85:1, 1080p video transfer high on grain and low on superlatives. Dark areas of the image exhibit the most particulate matter, but it's preferable, I suppose, to too much DVNR. While I remember the sex scenes as having commensurate clarity on VHS, that may be a product of that 20-year-Hustler mnemonic glow--an objective comparison, though (yes, I still have it on VHS; yes, I have a VCR hooked up to my giant flatscreen; yes, videotape looks like an Atari 2600 game on it) reveals that the Blu-ray is perhaps not surprisingly a hell of a lot cleaner. In fact, it's so clean that the transfer's a trifle dull now, meaning there isn't a surplus of edge enhancement, but also not a surplus of clarity. It resembles nothing so much as an Adrian Lyne Vaseline-smeared spot--which is exactly what it is. Flesh tones are good, blacks are fine; it'll do. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio is extremely low on imagination and dynamism, collecting almost all the information in the front/centre channels and giving no thought whatsoever to rear atmospherics. Note an early rain scene in the aforementioned industrial setting: It's apparently only lustfully pouring in the extreme foreground. A feature-length yakker with Lyne is folksy and heavy on backstory, placing an unusual and welcome emphasis on the struggles surrounding the alternate ending. I'm not surprised to hear Lyne proclaim that he prefers the theatrical cut's big finish to the far superior, if far riskier, original resolution, though I am pleased that he'd go on record with it.
Kicking off the video-based extras, "Forever Fatal: Remembering Fatal Attraction" (28 mins.) begins as the usual talking-heads reminiscence but, again, spends a gratifying amount of time on the ending, with Douglas (an ace producer, let's not forget) playing the diplomat in saying that sometimes concessions need to be made. Producers Stanley Jaffe and Sherry Lansing put in appearances, Jaffe coming off the more poorly as someone both officious and clueless: the prototypical producer. Herein, it's revealed that Close was violently opposed to the reshoot and held out for two weeks before being cajoled back before the camera. It's to her credit that she gave it her all regardless, the consummate professional.
"Social Attraction" (10 mins.) takes a sociological view of the film's impact--speciously, I think, attributing waves of feminism aroused by the picture when I have to think it more accurately inspired a lot of conversation, period. I like Jaffe's recollection that many a Hollywood philanderer was left cold by the picture's nuclear morality, although the highlight of the piece might be its look at the personal impact that playing out this melodrama had for Douglas and, especially, Close. She's, frankly, too good for this picture, as well as the reason that it's any good at all. (Imagine Andie McDowell as Alex and you'll get what I'm talking about.) "Visual Attraction" (20 mins.) is focused on the production design and wardrobe and proves surprisingly interesting, given that with a twenty-year buffer, it's easier to regard the film as a museum piece. Indeed, it's more a reflection of 1987 than most. Seven minutes of "Rehearsal Footage" is a glimpse at how excellent Close is from the start, while the fabled "Alternate Ending" (12 mins.) is everything it's promised to be. I'm pleased that it's offered in HD with an introduction by Lyne. The film's theatrical trailer (also upgraded to 1080p) rounds out the presentation.
Indecent Proposal lands on Blu-ray with a considerably more resounding thud. Its own 1.85:1, 1080p transfer is chock-a-block with grain, which makes it seem less filmic than merely crappy. Every scene in lawyer Oliver Platt's office looks like it was shot during a sandstorm. Blacks are fine, skin tones are consistent, but the clarity, such as it is, remains so static and uniform that it suggests a generic pass through the digital comb and nothing more. Frankly, it's all this piece of shit deserves. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio is, like Fatal Attraction's, front-heavy and marked by a lack of ambient atmospherics where they'd be most welcome (as in the casino scenes, duh). I'd offer that it shouldn't take that much imagination to insert a few slot-machine noises into the background, but what do I know? A 2.0 track would've sufficed. Lyne returns with another flat commentary long on technical details and silences but short on much explication as to the shallowness of the whole endeavour. Be glad at least that there's no sociological retrospective on this disc about how Indecent Proposal inspired a nation of women to burn their bras and, um, fuck The Sundance Kid. I was sort of intrigued by Lyne's recollections of how difficult it was to shoot certain scenes in the casino but, well, when you're thirsty, right? Originally published: September 9, 2009.
1. Has any director had more of a love affair with slide projectors? What is it about this piece of machinery that so encapsulates Lyne's sensibilities? Something to do, no doubt, with its parceling of images, its forced "edits" hijacked for a composite whole. The only motifs that rival slide projectors in Lyne's filmography: bathtubs; sudden rainstorms; real-estate imbroglios; see-through white T-shirts worn by braless women... return
2. ...oh, and public transportation. return