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Women of the Night (2001)

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Three entwined stories of love, lust, danger and revenge.



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Title: Women of the Night (2001)

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Shawnee Free Jones ...
Masaya Katô ...
Molly Mellon
Patrick Budal ...
Jacques Du Masque
Donna DeLory ...
Mia (as Donna De Lory)
Melissa Williams ...
Carla Garrido ...
Niki Harris ...


Three entwined stories of love, lust, danger and revenge.

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Release Date:

9 June 2001 (South Korea)  »

Also Known As:

Radio Silence  »

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Train Wreck from the undisputed King of softcore pretentiousness
25 June 2009 | by (New York, New York) – See all my reviews

It's a shame that Women of the Night (shot in 35mm) wasn't afforded a theatrical release: this total misfire cries out for in-depth analysis by film buffs, but the very ease of watching on video makes it very, very difficult to sit through straight to the end. As Marshall McLuhan would tell you, the concentration of attention required in a movie theater is necessary here: video is the WRONG medium for King (hot vs. cool). I suspect it's a film that will be discovered decades from now when maestro Zalman King gets the retro-treatment recently afforded his softcore forebear Joe Sarno.

King has had a most checkered career: starting out on TV in the mid-'60s he was one of many new leading men that Hollywood threw up against the wall but failed to stick (see notably: Michael Parks, Jordan Christopher, Christopher Jones, Michael Brandon and Barry Newman), whose big-screen break was the then-notorious disaster (but since forgotten) The Ski Bum. He moved behind the camera to producing offbeat films in the 1980s, breaking through with the hit Nine 1/2 Weeks, but it wasn't till Red Shoe Diaries wowed those starved-for-softporn cable audiences in the '90s that he earned his Star on the Hollywood Walk of Shame.

To date his career peak is the camp classic Two Moon Junction, one of the inadvertently funniest sex films of all time, thanks to the overwrought script by King. Women of the Night represents his nadir, a nearly unwatchable epic that reveals our auteur has spent quite too much time watching the avant garde works of Resnais and Robbe-Grillet.

Its dense structure is nearly impenetrable and quite off-putting; I'm reminded of the many turgid, overdone LPs created in the late '60s when Brian Wilson, Phil Spector (a most worthy subject for a future King trash roman a clef) and The Beatles were blazing the way with the novelty of multi-track recording techniques, fatal to lesser talents. King's amanuensis here is Sally Kellerman, who narrates the story as a sexy voiced late night deejay (since it's Kellerman she gets to sing too). But that's not enough for King: he has no-talent starlet Shawnee Free Jones as ANOTHER deejay telling not just her own fable of a life story as Kellerman's niece estranged from her wife-murdering mob boss daddy (James Farentino, looking very forlorn in what he must have thought would be a comeback role). Shawnee is a blind deejay, a riff right off the late great Cleavon Little's Supersoul in Vanishing Point (a film I'm sure King would have been proud to have starred in, but didn't get the call).

Shawnee mixes her autobiographical tale with two other intertwined stories featuring unlikely characters, notably a comedienne with a rack (Sandra Taylor) studying striptease for a movie role (!), familiar cable/video face & body Jacqueline Lovell as a sexy executive working for a mysteriously sexy new French boss, a mysterious martial arts "beautiful Asian man" (Masaya Kato) and last but least, Darren Foy, as a painfully hip porno film actor. All of them are clearly undigested phantoms in search of their very own Red Shoe episode, with Lovell and Foy already veterans of that series.

It doesn't help that King adopts a sleepwalking, drugged-out approach to storytelling -meant to be dreamlike but merely soporific. Having the two deejays battle for attention on the soundtrack isn't trouble enough: most dialog scenes are set at low, low volume with music drowning them out. This isn't Brechtian distanciation, but rather a case of hermeticism -where nobody could tell boss King that he was messing up his film with two many layers, both visually and aurally.

The costume and character styling here looks like parody, something from Zoolander or a Saturday Night Live sketch mocking Eurotrash, but King plays it straight. Levity, perhaps an appearance by George Carlin in his hippy-dippy weatherman mode, would have helped. His premise of an 18-wheel truck rolling all night around L.A. as home of a Shawnee's pirate radio station is obviously dated now thanks to the rise of satellite radio, but reeks of ripoff from another French avant garde master, Marguerite Duras' classic Le Camion. By the final reel when King interrupts his narrative sleeping pill with some wakeup violence it is too late to regain the viewer's attention.

Lost in the shuffle here are some dreamy, well-recorded songs by the talented Donna De Lory, who plays Shawnee's deejay sidekick, adding yet more layers to the over-busy soundtrack. Like Farentino, this movie platform did nothing for Donna's subsequent career in our universe, as opposed to the parallel world King lives on. The star of the piece, Miss Jones, also appears to have vanished from the cinema world. Another casualty is Seymour Cassel, most of whose embarrassing (blame King's writing) soliloquies are drowned out by music.

King's universe is an anti-Hollywood whose patron saint would be Robert Altman. Women of the Night seems at times a reductio ad absurdum strategy of the '70s work of Alan Rudolph for Altman: Remember My Name and Welcome to L.A. (latter starring Kellerman) -dreamy film-making inspired by Altman's films maudits Three Women and Images, strangled in pseudo-hipness. Overlapping the dialog in classic Altman fashion, King really stinks up the place in a misguided mix & match approach to having two simultaneous deejay/narrators -it's a gimmick so bad you can't believe he left it in the final cut.

Zalman King is not the "misunderstood artist" he styles himself as; he has clearly studied the possibilities of the film medium, but for the millionth time bad writing can sink any project, whether off the Hollywood assembly line or emanating from Bizarro Hollywoodland. And no amount of layering can hide a null core. Orson Welles had his Rosebud; behind the Oz curtain all King has is an empty Red Shoe.

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