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Jill Fitzpatrick is a 28-year old, street-smart, out-of-work private investigator wishing she wasn't celibate. Eager for the taste of adrenaline, she accepts a job investigating the disappearance of Mickey, a young female student. Jill quickly strikes a spark with the seductive Diana, Mickey's poetry lecturer. But it is not long before Mickey's strangled body is found. Distrusting the cops, Mickey's grief-stricken parents ask Jill to find her murderer. Jill is soon hurled into a passionate liaison with Diana as she enters the surprisingly seamy underworld of Mickey's life, looking for clues to her murder. For whom did Mickey write her sexually charged poems? What is the connection between Mickey and her two favorite poets? Who is leaving threatening messages in verse on Jill's answering machine? Blinded by her passion, Jill is compromised in her search for the truth - until her own life is in danger. Written by
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[Opening scene; standing before an audience]
Love is a torture - love tortures me. Does love torture you? If it does, why are you laughing? I feel you in the room like a knife. You cut out my cunt, so why not cut out my heart? Your prick is a knife that hurts me. You grunt like a beautiful pig
. I wish my cunt could hurt you.
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Dorothy Porter's book "The Monkey's Mask" was a groundbreaker on numerous levels. The text was a novel constructed from poetic verse ("is it a novel or a bloody long poem"? one commentator asked). Furthermore, Porter took a harboiled detective/ noir narrative and relocated it from the streets of NY or LA to seamy inner-city Sydney. Where once we had misogynist male gumshoes(i.e. Sam Spade), Porter gave us Jill Fitzpatrick, a female detective who was also - and proudly - a lesbian.
So how does it translate to film? Very interestingly, indeed.
The story (for those unfamiliar) entails Jill investigating the disappearance and subsequent murder of Mickey Norris, a young Uni student whose amateurish poetry is laced with sex and death. Jill's investigation leads her into Sydney's incestuous poetry scene, and particularly into the bed of Diana Maitland, Jill's duplicituous lecturer. And that's where trouble starts ...
Susie Porter and Kelly McGillis are brilliant as Jill and Diana respectively. There is more emphasis given here to the sexual side of their relationship than there was in Porter's text, and some of the sex scenes do, alas, border on fetishistic.
However, I was fascinated by the way their relationship was mediated by a whole range of other factors. There is class: Diana is an uber-wealthy city dweller who dines at Darling Harbour, while Jill is a working-class woman living in a dingy caravan on Sydney's exclusive North Shore. Also, Diana is entwined in two seedy 'scenes': the poetry world, and the world of English/cultural studies academia. The seamy, incestuous, inhumane side of academia has been explored in films as diverse as Hitchcock's 'Rope' (which TMM bears a resemblance to stylistically- and that also had homosexuality as a theme) to the 1970s horror film 'Bloodsuckers' (an appropriate title for Diana). In The Monkey's Mask, Diana talks down about her students (the women in her class love 'victim poetry', apparently). When Jill tells her of Mickey's gruesome murder, Diana is more excited over her latest academic grant!
In support, Marton Csokas was brilliant as Diana's 'kept man' Nick. He reminded me of Vincent Price's 'kept man'/ playboy in the 1944 noir classic 'Laura'. Unfortunately, the rest of the supporting cast are under-used. As Jill's father, Chris Winwood is given little to do bar totter around with a whisky bottle. Then there is the talented Deborah Mailman, wasted in a thinly-sketched role as Jill's best friend (the most she is given to do is 'come onto' her friend during a time of grief, and that - as another commentator suggested - suggests a dubious link between lesbians and sexual voraciousness. This is a link that is made absolutely concrete in Diana's character, whose evil is - in the film - largely attributed to her sexual appetite).
Also, the movie's conclusion was too neat and polished, given all the ambiguity and uncertainty that preceded it. The ending of Porter's book wasn't nearly as cut-and-dried.
And what was the point of Jill's closing line: "Forget the bitch"? Porter didn't mention that. Was its inclusion to comfort the (conservative, hetero, etc) viewer that the dangerous dyke relationship is over, and we can all sleep nice and easy. Worrying stuff, indeed.
Having said that,though, Lang's 'The Monkey's Mask' is an interesting contributionto the noir genre. Stylish and sensual, with some great chemistry between the leads, it is intelligent entertainment that deserves a look.
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