Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Bound (1996): Lesbians Are People Too

Bound (1996)
dir: The Wachowskis

In 1996, when Bound came out, it wasn't entirely unheard of for straight filmmakers to treat gay characters as human beings with depth, emotions, and humanity...but it still was relatively rare. In 1993, we had seen Philadelphia and HBO's ...And The Band Played On. Even still, across the pond, we've always had a friend in Stephen Frears, even if you don't necessarily like his movies. His 1985 breakout movie was the iconic My Beautiful Laundrette, from which Vanilla Ice stole his look (kidding! kind of). Stateside, William Friedkin did The Boys in the Band in 1970 and Cruising in 1980. Hell, there are whole books dedicated to gays in cinema by both straights and gays.

If you noticed, all of the films mentioned have been about gay men. That's because lesbians have had a way different treatment than gay men. Since lesbians are about two women, and most directors are men, the lesbians become objects to be conquered or sexualized, but rarely given depth and humanity. GLAAD had boycotted 1992's Basic Instinct because it featured evil murderous lesbians who were always scheming on how to kill a man. In the old potboilers, lesbians were occasionally given agency and sometimes a lead role, but then were punished for exercising the agency.

And, then there was Bound.

Bound is notable for being the first movie by The Wachowskis. These directors were dynamite in the '90s, toxic in the '00s, and are now controversial in the '10s. In the '90s, they had Bound and The Matrix. In the '00s, they had the two Matrix sequels and Speed Racer. And last year they had Cloud Atlas. But, Bound, man...it's astounding. It shows and delivers on all of the promise that The Wachowskis had when they broke out.

Bound is the condensation of pulp noir novels and cinema with Hitchcock and then distilled into one shiny sleek dirty package of mafia, cash, sex, and murder. With that description, one could be forgiven for thinking it was a Tarantino clone, but The Wachowskis weren't out for ironic shits and giggles, they were out to make the most noir thriller they could. Add in the hottest lesbian sex scene I have ever seen committed to film, and I'll be damned if I can figure out why this movie didn't set the world on fire when it came out. I remember dying to see it in theaters, but it didn't come anywhere near where I lived. This is a movie that should have been gangbusters, but only got $3m. To this day, it had one bare bones DVD release which is in fucking letterbox format, and then got a bare bones treatment from Olive Films last year which added in the animorphic but nothing else.

To give you a sense of this movie's relative stature, let me tell you that this was a lesbian movie made by two then-perceived-as-hetero-male directors that received a GLAAD award for best representation in a film of wide release. This is sort of a major award from a group that largely keeps their eyes out for lesbians being exploited by straight males.

Bound could easily be considered lesbian exploitation. During the hottest lesbian sex scene, the camera completely lingers over both Jennifer Tilly's and Gina Gershon's bodies. Their breasts, hips, stomach, lips, fingers, back. It has the hottest realistic lesbian sex scene I think has ever been committed to a mainstream film. It's intimate, lusty, steamy, and full of heaving body parts. The camera lingers without really exploiting. It sticks on heaving stomachs and fingers going into lips. It does a long tracking shot from the back to the front. And, it is fucking hot.

The Wachowskis aren't really interested in using lesbians as cardboard cutouts on which to present the heterosexual object of lust. The one sex scene is very brief, which has a much much longer foreplay scene full of leaky pipes and tattoos. Instead, the Wachowskis gave their lesbian characters depth, personality, and an actual fleshed out life. Gina Gershon is a lesbian who lusts, trusts, has problems with trusting, has devotion, an instinct to rescue, a past, damage, and debates her own motivations. Jennifer Tilly also has deception, depth, changes throughout the film, and plays the part to a T. All the male characters are relatively static and have severely less depth. It's not their film.

I haven't really said much about the film itself, with real intent. It is a basic pulp twisty neo-noir about the mob and trying to escape it. Saying much more spoils the fun of discovering the film. I'm sure a lot of people have seen it by now, even though it completely bombed. But, if you haven't, you absolutely need to pick up this advancement of the neo-noir into something transcendent. This was a necessary step in mainstream-ish storytelling for GLBT characters, and it was also a necessary step in the neo-noir genre that would lead to Sin City. Essential Viewing.

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