The Sunday Intertitle: Vile Bodies

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Too hot to write… two hot to read… too hot to watch… we didn’t get a summer in Scotland last year, but this year we seem to have two piled on top of each other like sweaty wrestlers.

Finally caught up with Steven Soderbergh’s MAGIC MIKE, and incidentally also saw BEHIND THE CANDELABRA at the Cameo. It holds up pretty well on the big screen, and was very enjoyable — more so than MM, which is diverting, and moves in a surprising way, its wonders to perform, which is very refreshing, but does it add up to a whole lot? I dunno. I guess it needn’t.

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The male stripper movie is mainly enjoyable for the insight it offers, fictitious though it may be, into a closed world. It’s almost like a Howard Hughes movie, only with penis pump and buttockless trousers. I was fascinated to learn that male strippers are all heterosexual. Surprising, in a way. Maybe it’s like the US army’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy? Show, don’t tell, or something. And all that stuff about steroid abuse? Not true, according to this.

The movie has the most unforgiving sound mix of any film I’ve seen recently — I’d say that if we had been even slightly hard of hearing we’d have been turning on the subtitles — as it is, it took fifteen minutes for us to adjust to the very low volume dialogue (with Channing Tatum a king mumbler), with very loud background noise and music too. It was interesting the way Soderbergh kept the crowd noise way up during the various stripshow acts, with the music heavily distorted, so the scenes play as verité rather than as production numbers. Maybe that made some of it less enjoyable than it might have been, but it integrated the style.

Not so keen on the yellow filtered Floridian exteriors, though, which looked kinda toxic. Reminds me of how he made Mexico orange in TRAFFIC.

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BEHIND THE CANDELABRA has more emotion and more nerve, and slightly more gayness — though there isn’t a lot of mad passionate love — the two leads kiss each other but all too deliberately miss the mouths. The “courageous” aspect of Michael Douglas’s performance is the physical self-exposure. After his ass got very badly reviewed in BASIC INSTINCT, he swore never to unleash it (onscreen) again, but here it is, along with skinny limbs and a rotund abdomen. Respect is due for the abandonment of vanity, especially after the man had just gotten over a life-threatening illness. And I’m very glad that WALL STREET thing wasn’t his last movie.

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Douglas and Damon and Bakula and Rob Lowe and Debbie Reynolds are all excellent. One worries about a straight cast and production team (Soderbergh as director, editor and cinematographer) tackling a subject which inherently presents a grotesque parody of an already stereotyped vision of a homosexual lifestyle — but the film seemed confident enough to be able to say “This is what it was like” — it’s not a comment on anything other than the facts in the case (as presented by one participant’s memoir).

I worry that Soderbergh is now to Douglas and Zeta-Jones as Joseph Losey was to the Burtons. But none of Soderbergh’s films misfire as magnificently as BOOM! — they don’t have the grandiloquence. Soderbergh is too smart and self-aware to commit a howler of that magnitude, but that’s a little sad too — he’d never let himself go, to that extent, either. His best work seems to focus his wit and intelligence onto small subjects, illuminating them until they sparkle.

I think THE INFORMANT! is still my favourite Soderbergh joint.

Still, very glad that Soderbergh’s retirement is essentially in name only — his TV show The Knick will deal with an early twentieth century hospital in New York — Fiona will watch regularly as anything to do with historic medicine is catnip to her. Will I be watching too? I think so.

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8 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Vile Bodies”

  1. For me, the nest part of Magic Mike is when Tatum’s character is trying to ply his “charms” on a loan officer wearing a suit that looked like it was on his stripper rack. He and his cohorts are boys with no understanding of business or anything else for that matter. They can only approximate it.

  2. Yes, it’s all show. One feels sorry for him, being so out of his depth, dropping words he’s heard to try and make the right impression. And I quite like the flotsam furniture he’s trying to sell.

  3. Please don’t tell me that Fiona is a fan of “Call The Midwife” :)

  4. I think through sheer good fortune we have missed than one. But Bramwell was an addiction back when that was on.

  5. Magic Mike presents male strippers as entirely heterosexual. In real life most of them are. Interesting Soderbergh cast Matt Boemer, an openly gay actor, as one of the strippers.

    Liberace is a Gay Universe until himself. If he were alive and kicking today — out of the closet and working as a judge on “Ru-Paul’s Drag Race” — his romantic problems would be exactly the same. What ruined the Liberace/Thorsen relationship wasn’t the closet but the power differential between them. Lee had everything. Scott just had his looks.

    Douglas is terrific because he really knows what it’s like to be a Big Star and he conveys all the flash and paranoid instability that goes with it. Matt Damon is nicely subdued as Scott. Rob Lowe however steals the show as the wack-a-doodle plastic surgeon.

  6. Lowe reminded me of Dean Stockwell in Blue Velvet — Fiona looked the real life guy up and he seems even crazier in reality than the movie could portray, operating drunk/high, etc.

    The power difference is exactly right — given that Thorson was part lover but also part hireling, it’s only surprising Lee even kept him around as long as he did once Thorson stopped being fun to be with. His dismissal was horribly cold-blooded, but painfully predictable.

  7. Precisely. Soderbergh make’s Scott’s decline and fall rather moving. There’s a terrific scene where he’s complaining to a friend about Lee while shaking all over from the drugs he’s been taking.

    Plus there’s Lee’s deathbed scene. What actor (male/female, gay/straight) can possibly resist getting to do Camille ?

  8. That was the most uncomfortable scene too — Lee/Douglas saying he doesn’t want to be remembered like this, while Soderbergh ensures that he will be…

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