Monday, February 11, 2008
The Great Movies: "Body Heat"
Lawrence Kasdan (1981)
There's a scene in Body Heat that I'd like to ask you readers of the female persuasion about.
It goes like this: The hero has just met a woman. They exchanged small talk that suggested mutual attraction, and she invited him back to her house for a brief visit. After a few minutes, she tells him it's time to leave; when he wheedles, she politely but firmly shows him to the door.
As he unlocks his car, he sees that she is watching him through the window. So, he races back up to the house and begins trying all the doors as the woman retreats into the house's interior. Unable to get in, he grabs a piece of lawn furniture and hurls it through a glass door. He strides in through the shattered wreckage and seizes the woman passionately. Her response? "Oh, yes!" she moans, and pulls him down on the floor with her to initiate some frenzied hot sweaty sexual intercourse.
My question is: would that really... you know... work?
No, I didn't think so. It's a hyperexagerated example of the common but bizarre movie notion that two people who are really, really enjoying their hot sweaty sexual intercourse just won't care if they knock over a lamp and it explodes into fragments on the floor. In real life, of course, humans just aren't that cavalier about their expensive belongings, or about shards of glass or ceramic bursting around their hot sweaty naked bodies.
It's a shame that such a -- what is the noun form for "ludicrous"? "Ludicrosity?" -- lurks at the heart of an otherwise fine film. Body Heat is a film noir, one of the most stylized of genres, and for the most part it adheres beautifully to the conventions of the genre while maintaining basic credibility. Like The Big Sleep (reviewed last month), a movie to which it is heavily indebted, it is a sexy puzzle about people playing a dangerous game in which not all of the facts, or all of the rules, are knowable. In this context, the door-breaking scene is only unfortunate in that it takes style too far, at the expense of the necessary ingredient of recognizable human behavior.
Plot: Seedy young lawyer meets the highly attractive wife of a mysterious and apparently quite dangerous man. They begin meeting regularly to enjoy sexual intercourse. They are in love. No good can come of this.
Dialogue: True to the noir style, the dialogue is both mannered and gritty. This is a subtly dialogue-driven movie; even the characters with just a handful of lines have a handful of really meaningful lines, and this creates a richness to the film. The supporting characters have strong personalities and are superbly acted.
Visuals: Lush and lovely. Noir is heavily associated with the black and white palette, but Body Heat is shot with rich reds and warm sepia tones, which along with the small-town Florida setting convey a wistful note of faded elegance. In the climax scene, the characters are filmed in brilliant chiaroscuro against the black of night. Slick.
Prognosis: Although Ebert was being overgenerous to call this one "Great," it is certainly one of the Good Movies. It should be thoroughly enjoyable for anyone who enjoys film noir or complex plot twists and turns, or who just likes their movies stylish and a little shabby, seasoned with that sweet sweet note of despair.