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I met Donald Cammell shortly after he finished production on "Wild Side" We were at director Martin Donovan's house in Los Angeles. It was one of those eclectic memorable evenings in front of the fire in that fabulous Italian villa of Whitley Heights. Johnny Whitworth and Liv Tyler were there, so was Renee Zellwegger with her director Dan Ireland, Valeria Golino and Benicio del Toro, Shirley Knight and even Fabrizio Mioni with Faith Domergue, yes the legendary Faith Domergue, Howard Hughes's protègè. Donald Cammell dominated great part of the evening, exhausted but bursting with energy. So excited about his new film, about Joan Chen, Steven Bauer and Christopher Walken's performance. Editing with his long time collaborator, Frank Mazzola. It was a dangerous movie, it walked a very thin line, but he trusted his abilities as an tightrope walker. Years of experience. A few weeks later I was invited to see his cut of the film. I must admit, It took me by surprise. The darkness of the film didn't seem to match the lovely, kind, gentle Donald. The film was also brutally funny. A very individual, frightening, fascinating vision of the world. Shortly after I found out the film had been taken away from him and re edited. I saw Donald Cammell a couple of times after that, he smiled, he was charming and kind as usual, but in his eyes you could see his sadness. The next time I went back to Martin Donovan's house was to attend Donald Cammell's memorial service. He had killed himself, leaving a tangible, painful, tragic void. That day was also memorable, to be part again, with China, Donald's wife, of an eclectic group, from Drew Hammond and Bud Cort to Ken Russell and Cassian Elwes, to pay tribute to Donald Cammell the man, the artist, the friend. The other version of "Wild Side" hit theater for a second and disappeared without a trace. Frank Mazzola, the original editor, has restored it since, with love and for love of an unforgettable friend.
I watched the Director's Cut of this movie premiered August '99, together with clips of the trash that the studio released. The studio movie is trash - completely and utterly and doesn't even aspire to be anything better. The editing is flat and the performances look like rehearsals. The Director's Cut (pieced together by the Editor after the Director's suicide) is an outstanding piece of cinema. Not a frame wasted. The opening sequence shocks you into an awareness that this movie will be very different to anything you've seen before. Chris Walken gives one of the best performances of his career. This is exciting, original cinema that riveted my attention in every moment of its two hour authorised version. The script sparkles with wit and dry, unpretentious humour and you never quite know what is going to happen next. A sexy, stylish thriller that makes you laugh and also appreciate the beauty inside every villain. The tenacity and integrity of the Editor and Scriptwriter that saw it through to completion is a monument to the industry.
The story goes like this : Donald Cammell died , heartbroken by the
producers' typical butchering of his film, which was released as a
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"
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).
Intriguing, eye-opening thriller this, featuring an outrageous, insane and over-the-top performance from Christopher Walken even compared to his usual crazed output. Essentially a romance between the two leading ladies, Walken is the central figure and catalyst of all events as his loopy as hell gangster feller messes around with some women, is picked on by some dodgy coppers, and generally acts like a total loon. Joan Chen and Anne Heche are good as, respectively, his longtime girl and partner in crime, and his newest conquest and hobby, both putting in subtly sensual and remarkably sympathetic performances, and Steven Bauer is impressive (in the first role I've really noticed him in since Scarface) as the totally twisted, corrupt undercover cop on Walken's back, but this is really all Walken's show, as he chomps at the scenery with massive gusto. The atmosphere is dark and warm and a little steamy, there's plenty of expensive looking whisky about the place and people leading lives on the edge of sanity; the tragic Cammell's last film is a dark, intense, often inspired and occasionally hilarious gaze into the wilder side of sexuality and empowerment. Definitely one to watch with an open mind.
Anne Heche, Christopher Walken, Joan Chen, and Steven Bauer have never been better in this quirky, daring, amusing, and erotic thriller. Try to catch it on pay cable, where it's regularly aired. Apparently, the director's cut is even better.
Curiously, I continued to watch this...as unlike many flicks around these
days, it was quite unpredictable. Okay. It has a few flaws, like Mister
Walken's sometimes way out overacting, but this may have been down to the
director's untimely death after the project was taken out of his control.
Anne Heche, who everyone condemned a few years ago for riding on the
coat-tails of her former love Ellen Degeneres, turns out to be quite an
accomplished actress (check her out in One Kill), and is believable as a
woman torn in many directions. It's also very easy to see why Walken's
character would fall for her.
Ryuchi Sakamoto's haunting music recorded nearly five years after the movie
was shot, adds to the surreal atmosphere of some scenes, even though they
can seem a little far fetched.
Film Four has done a fine job restoring the movie, it's a shame though that the BBC's excellent documentary, Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance, isn't included on the DVD.
My comments about Wild Side are mainly for the version of the film that was released in late 2000. I always enjoy a movie that has something odd and strangely compelling about it and Wild Side takes first prize. I am a devoted Christopher Walken fan and I have to say that I love his portrayal of Bruno Buckingham. Oh, if men were only as kinky and strange and wonderful-looking as him. Anyway, the main theme that runs through Wild Side is Sex is Power and without giving anything away, this subject is explored in a very imaginative way. The film has the outer trappings of a soft porno flick complete with lesbian scenes and BDSM. Personally, I am not put off by this sort of thing, however, the mood is dark and enigmatic. This movie is not simply for cheap thrills. For your information, the director/writer Donald Cammell committed suicide in 1996. He wasn't happy with the way Nu-Image edited Wild Side 1 and it is felt that this contributed to his depression and eventual death. His friend/colleague Frank Mazzolla has nearly re-edited every scene for Wild Side 2 and added 20 minutes. I suggest Wild Side 1 is viewed first to appreciate the full flavour of Wild Side 2. The difference can really be seen and I prefer what happens to Bruno in the newer version, too!
I remember reading a review of this in one of those phone book sized
movie guides you can get at a book store. They gave it their lowest
rating, saying that it looked like it was all improvised in a series of
motel room and apartments.
Yea, I can kind of see it.
Anyways, Wild Side is an OK noir film of sorts about a bank worker by day, high class prostitute by night (Heche) who gets involved with a crime boss (Walken) and his sexy girlfriend (Chen). Heche and Chen end up falling in love, and concoct a plan of sorts to get away.
The film probably would have faded away if it wasn't for the scorcher of a love scene between Heche and Chen. With an agonizingly erotic set up (a long dinner date between the two, followed by a first kiss in the womens bathroom), the actual love scene is allowed to play out nice and slow, in a big bedroom with the summer light and breeze blowing in. Seriously guys (and girls, I guess) this is everything you could want in a scene like this.
I wish I could say the movie around it was memorable enough to live up to that kind of glory, but it really doesn't. I'm sure Donald Cammell was a great director, and it's probably real sad that the film was chopped up before he could finish it to it's satisfaction. But I've got a feeling that whatever state this movie was supposed to in, it would have turned out the same.
Eroticism aside, the lesbian scene is asthetically like a breath of fresh air. It's bright, and wide open in the way it plays out across the screen. Compared to that, the rest of the movie really does play too dark; It really is kind of like sitting with your legs crossed on the floor in the corners of dark apartments while listening to other people talk. Dreary, in other words.
By the way, check out the Canadian video cover for this one compared to the static "3 portraits" cover we got in America. A classic example of how just how puritanical our culture can be sometimes.
It's addictive, once you get into it - Christopher Walken's Bruno
uckingham - a multimillionaire money-launderer - is dangerous and
A casual sexual encounter between him and call girl Alex, played by Ann Heche, develops into a love triangle, or rectangle if you include Walken's obnoxious and predatory driver, played by Steven Bauer. The driver turns out to be working undercover. Walken's wife/girlfriend arrives on the scene and you have a passionate all female sexual encounter between her and the Ann Heche, who is also leading a double life.
But there's a scam going on - Bruno Buckingham plans to disrupt the banking system with a computer virus and use the opportunity to transfer millions of dollars of ill-gained funds. A sting is planned by the police, but will it be successful?
A simple plot, but complex encounters between various characters, captured on a hand-held camera, and with the beautiful and haunting background music of Ryuichi Sakamoto, make for a highly intriguing and watchable film, if you like this sort of thing (I do). I loved the momentary flashbacks of sex scenes in the character's head as she's in the office. A little bit quirky, like the films of director Nicholas Roeg.
Christopher Walken is remarkable, with his menacing and almost other-worldly on-screen presence. Ann Heche is captivating, and the love scenes between her and Buckingham's wife/lover, played by Virginia Chow, are quite passionate, and have the quality of a real encounter.
If you're expecting a simple dénouement, don't. As in real life things aren't cut and dry, though the ending is satisfying.
My eyes were positively *glued* to the screen throughout this movie!!!! It had an enjoyable if somewhat farfetched plot, just the right amount of action and a memorable performance from both Anne Heche and Christopher Walken.
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