The New Gift Wrapping


On Screen THE NEW GIFT WRAPPING BY ROBERT ASAHINA t's amazing what you can find in Pittsburgh if you know where to look Deep in the heart of a run-down neighborhood there is a bar called...

...On Screen THE NEW GIFT WRAPPING BY ROBERT ASAHINA t's amazing what you can find in Pittsburgh if you know where to look Deep in the heart of a run-down neighborhood there is a bar called Maw-by's—a working-class hangout filled with beefy guys in T-shirts, mean looking sailors, greasy pimps They are pussycats at heart, of course Far from spoiling for a fight, they are waiting for a show They have come to the right place Mawby's has a flock of "flash-dancers" performing every night on a high-tech, black-tiled stage bordered with neon that resembles something out of Studio 54 Understand, these girls are not your run-of-the-gin-mill "exotic dancers They hardly flash their assets or, heaven forbid, slip into the back room with customers These are true performers, andean they ever dance' No bumps and grinds for them Somewhere backstage, an up-and-coming Bob Fosse must be working overtime as their choreographer The wonderful kids at Mawby's are on the way up and out The bar is a service plaza on the highway to stardom The cook, Richie (Kyle T Heftner), doubles as a standup comedian who introduces the acts and peppers the intermissions with gags One of the waitresses, Jeanme (Sunny Johnson), aspires to figure skate in the Olympics The star of the show, Alex (Jennifer Beals), is a welder That's right, a welder By day she works in a steelyard, by night she dances her way into your heart at Mawby's In between, she eats, sleeps, and rehearses in a renovated loft (somewhere in downtown Pittsburgh) that seems to have been furnished by Conran's Only 18, she lives alone and scrimps to support herself and save for that magical day when she quits welding and joins the local ballet company She is trying to get up the nerve to audition Luckily Alex has friends Like Han-na (Liha Skala), her aging mentor, and Nicky (Michael Noun), her boss at the yard, who eventually mixes business with pleasure and becomes her lover He empathizes with Alex, you see, because he too comes from the bad side of town He aimed for success, and now that he owns a steel company and drives a Porsche, he is in a good position to dispense advice Then Hanna dies, Richie leaves town, Jeanme decides to go topless at a rival club, and Nickv goes back to hise\-w ite (or so Alex thinks) Finally comes that fateful moment when Alex must put her dreams on the line before the admissions committee I'm not inventing any of these inanities, I swear Tom Hedley and Joe Eszterhas wrote this mess, called Flash-dance But they cannot really be blamed for the silliness of the film Flash-dance is less the result of writing or directing than it is a product of packaging The chief packager is Jerry Bruckheimer, the co-producer (with Don Simpson) At first I thought the glitziness of Flashdance must be attributed to its cinematographer, Don Peterman, or its designer, Charles Rosen (Adrian Lyne's contribution as director is hard to figure out) But I remembered that Bruckheimer also produced American Gigolo, Cat People and Thief, films that share a distinctive look with Flash-dance I hereby christen the style "The New Gift Wrapping," in honor of producers Like Bruckheimer who are adept at concealing the insides of their empty parcels The New Gift Wrapping has six components First and foremost is The Five O'Clock Shadow No matter the supposed hour, when the camera is indoors it is always late afternoon Daylight streams in obliquely through windows and Venetian blinds, bathing the actors in a warm glow, casting long, patterned shadows One would think Beals in Flashdance and Richard Gere in American Gigolo were photographers' models , not actors, from the inordinate time they spend lounging in "natural" lighting (As a matter of fact, Beals was discovered in the pages of the French edition of Vogue ) Second is the Anatomy Lesson \1-most 20 years ago, Jean-Luc Godard startled the film world with the discontinuous sequence of fragmented body parts in Une Femme Martee Today the gimmick has become de rigueur in TV commercials (like the current Diet Pepsi spot) and in cliche works like Flashdance(Alex rehearsing at home, tor instance) Third, the Electric Halo Backlighting is the key here, With an actor on a pitch-black set, a single spot shining from behind creates a corona that flares in the camera lens If you're wondering why Alex is a welder, simply take note of her bright acetylene torch and that dark factory building (reminiscent of James Caan's B-and-E jobs in Thief) When she learns that she will be given an audition, Alex jumps up and down in front of a gigantic pipe with a light at the other end, an excuse for outlining her with the photogenic aureole The fourth element is the Working Girl's (or Guy's) Wardrobe Though a welder, Alex shuns blue collars On a date with Nicky she sports a black tie, and eventually doffs the jacket to reveal a starched bib that leaves her arms, shoulders and back bare On the job she wears a fatigue jacket and drawstring pants that hang too stylishly loose to be Army surplus At home, she dresses in a man's sleeveless undershirt and a big, baggy sweater with a carefully stretched neck that falls over one shoulder Looking that casual requires much effort and money As in American Gigolo, the costumes in Flashdance (by Michael Kaplan) are often the most interesting objects on screen, inanimate or animate Fifth is the Unforgettable Soundtrack The record album of American Gigolo, produced by Giorgio Morod-er, who wrote all except one of the tracks, was the liveliest thing about that movie Moroder has only three tunes in Flashdance, one being the title tune that you have no doubt heard a thousand times by now, performed by Irene Cara (who found fame with Fame) The music takes precedence over the story logic When Alex finally auditions for The Repertory (with the capital letters indicated by the reverent tones in which the name is spoken), instead of going up on point she boogies to Moroder's catchy theme song, a pulsating, synthesized disco number One finds it a little hard to believe that the admissions committee actually was favorably impressed by her performance The music goes hand in hand with the final component, Migraine Editing (by Bud Smith and Walt Mulconery) Wild camera angles, extreme closeups, shock cuts, tricky crane shots cascade one after another in a waterfall of sight and sound, timed to unrelenting strobe lights The effect is stimulating, to be sure—if you like having the blood vessels in your temples throb along with the bass guitar booming on the soundtrack Elements of The New Gift Wrapping can also be found in The Hunger, a piece of chic trash that somehow lured Susan Sarandon and Catherine De-neuve (along with David Bowie, whose presence does not surprise me as much) This modern-day vampire tale has De-neuve as Miriam Blaylock, a Vogue-hike bloodsucker, Bowie as John, her Gentleman's Quarterly-hke mate, and Sarandon as Sarah Roberts, her Playboy Playmate of the Month-like lover/ victim /killer For voyeurs, the chief thrill of The Hunger involves an unnecessary nude Anatomy Lesson with Miriam (teacher) and Sarah (pupil) Sadly it is unarousing as well, the sequence is shot in a decorative, languorous manner that functions as a soporific despite the intended sensuality This reserve is consistent with the overall mood Whereas Flashdance is hot, all hype and humidity, The Hunger is cool True, the Electric Halo and Migraine Editing dominate the opening sequence, as Miriam and John pick up their first victims at a disco, then dispatch them in the flickering light of a movie projector But the Five O'clock Shadow soon takes over with a vengeance (thanks to Stephen Goldblatt, the cinematographer), enveloping the performers in hazy sunlight, mostly inside Miriam's plush, anachromstically furnished East Side townhouse At least there are no Venetian blinds, the windows are left half-open so the breezes can billow the net curtains in slow-moving, semi-transparent waves (Much of the film seems to have been shot through them ) Pamela Power's editing assembles the glut of Architecture Digest interiors in a confusing jumble of subliminal flashbacks and flashforwards, plus dialogue that overlaps scenes Oddly enough, the frantic cutting is enervating rather than invigorating Perhaps the fault lies with Brian Morns' production design, the nearly complete lack of interesting value contrasts (except in that frenzied opening scene) deadens the film visually More to the point, the trendy form of The Hunger cannot overcome its stale content At first Ivan Davis and Michael Thomas' screenplay—a surprisingly faithful adaptation of Whitney Strieber's pulp novel, which I confess to having read in a moment of weakness—seems fresh simply for dispensing with the paraphernalia of countless Dracula movies (crucifixes, wooden stakes, garlic, angry villagers, crafty priests) Gradually, however, it becomes evident that the absence of the traditional horror film's mechanisms leaves The Hunger with nothing besides Deneuve, looking terrifically icy and icily terrific The vampire business merely operates as a pretext to endow her with eternal life (or almost eternal) so that she can waltz around in one magnificent period costume after another, several hundred years of Working Girls' Wardrobes starting as an 18th-century grande dame in a powdered wig and ruffled gown, and concluding as a contemporary fashion maven's Art Deco fantasy, complete with veil, padded shoulders, pinched waist, and stiletto heels Such chic (and cheap) decadence belongs in a Deborah Turberville layout from Vogue Someone named Tony Scott directed The Hunger, but the real creating here was obviously done by the costume designer, Milena Canonero, the art directors, Clinton Cavers and Vicky Paul, and the set decorators, Ann Mollo and Janet Rosenbloom Incidentally, the "special makeup" by Anthony Clavet and the "makeup illusions" by Dick Smith and Carl Fuller-ton are neither special nor horrifying As the first designer splatter film, The Hunger is not likely to satisfy either true aficionados or trendy slummers There is a limit to what the new gift wrapping can hide...

Vol. 66 • May 1983 • No. 9

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