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Donald Cammell was introduced to Nu Image by producer Elie Cohn, with whom he had worked on the unmade Marlon Brando film "Jericho". Nu Image was also familiar with Cammell's work and appeared to like the "Wild Side" script. However, the relationship between Nu Image and Cammell quickly turned sour. First, the company tried to prevent the casting of the then completely unknown Anne Heche as Joan Chen's lover. Then they questioned Cammell's working methods, sparking a battle of wills between him and Cohn. When Cammell delivered his rough cut, the producers were horrified. They fired off a memo ordering the film's editor Frank Mazzola to remove all flashbacks, flash forwards and jump cuts. Unsatisfied, the producers sacked him and re-cut the movie themselves. See more »
The story goes like this : Donald Cammell died , heartbroken by the producers' typical butchering of his film, which was released as a "straight to late Friday night" sleazy thriller; ...and, with hindsight, it's easy to believe this. Thankfully, the director's assistant was able to re-cut the movie, according to the artist's wishes and, as a result, ... "Wild Side" is a mindsuck ("suck" is not the actual appropriate word I had in mind here ) of a masterpiece.
It grips you from the first scene (what on Earth is going on here, who's what, is the cop bad, is the bad girl good ??), through its barely credible tortuous twists and double-crossings, until the unescapable -and yet unpredictable- end. Followed by another end, of course.
The involvement of the actors, their very limited number -hardly anyone else than the damned foursome dares cross the threshold into Cammell's world- works to perfection, as it introduces some kind of claustrophobic atmosphere (there is supposed to be a world outside these half-lit hotel rooms, but we won't see much of it until the last sequence). These four characters drift in and out, each less trustworthy than the last : past ten minutes, it will be hard to remember who's supposed to be forming an alliance against who. Key word here : intensity. Hey, the, er..., climax of the film involves the -explicitly not homosexual- gangster (almost or not : up to you to find out) raping his male driver, an undercover cop, just to prove his love to a prostitute ! Confused ? Yes, you will be, and that's nothing compared to the actual script : everyone works very hard to double-cross everyone else, not least their lover.
And now, let's tackle the major asset of this film : its acting.
Amazing. By now, it is pretty obvious to everyone that Anne Heche is a truly terrific actress, all ambiguity and secret resolves. She certainly doesn't disappoint her growing number of admirers here. Steven Bauer , who plays the cop, has -quite simply- never been near as impressive as he is here. But the cherry on the cake, the surge after the lollipop, the tour de force extraordinaire, has to be credited to who else but Christopher Walken.
Christopher Walken, as we know, IS Christopher Walken -no introduction needed, but in "Wild Side", he just... delivers his most demented performance to date, if you can start to imagine. His endlessly fascinating ambisexual reptilian face, his weird yellowy skin, his eyebrowless laser eyes -not to forget a hair rock stars would advertise soda for-, the man is scary beyond frightening. He's not deranged, he's from another planet ! Nearly incomprehensible. Let us be very clear here : "Wild Side" is an absolute must for all Christopher Walken fans out there.
There will never be another Donald Cammell film, and that's a real tragedy. Especially when you bear in mind that the man co-authored mandatory-cult-movie "Peformance", yes, the very one "Performance" that sent E. Fox over the edge for a few years. Thanks God, Christopher Walken still walks amongst us lesser mortals (and occasionally steals an entire Tarantino scripted movie by only appearing five minutes).
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