Saturday, February 14, 2009

On Valentine's Day: Romance on Film

Valentine's Day (or, as I like to call it, "Sex Day") is here again, to the delight of the attached and the consternation of the unattached. So today I'll be recommending videos that might help both the bitter and the romantically satisfied through the holiday. Now, the problem with most movie romances is that they fail to give compelling reasons why the two people in question have fallen for each other. More often than not, we're just asked to accept these relationships as the real deal simply because the two leads are incredibly attractive. I don't deny this sort of love happens, but it's usually boring to watch. I want my romantic films to dissect a relationship, to help me to a better understanding of love dynamics.

For instance, Woody Allen's Annie Hall, perhaps the greatest filmed trajectory of a love affair, perfectly illustrates the blush of new infatuation with Annie (Diane Keaton) and Alvy (Allen) joyously battling escaped lobsters, discussing death and higher education, and having sex while bathed in red light (to "give it that feel of old New Orleans"), then turns around and illustrates the reasons behind the dissolution of this shaky romance, climaxing in supreme emotional maturity. Or take Joan Micklin Silver's sadly forgotten Chilly Scenes of Winter, starring John Heard as a lonely civil service worker who dallies obsessively with unhappily conflicted married woman Mary Beth Hurt, after meeting her in one of the most sexually charged and funny first-meeting scenes of all time. As in Annie Hall (a film to which Silver owes much), things also sour, but not before some beautiful moments unfold.

Many times I find myself drawn to chronicles of difficult or unusual love affairs. Lavina Currier's riveting Passion in the Desert follows the courtship between a Napoleonic soldier stranded in the desert and the female leopard that comes to his rescue (that's about as difficult as they come). There is poignancy in many moments of Mike Nichol's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton trading loud, prickly barbs, always realizing that they're perfect for each other, nutjobs that they are. And the love between Sera (Elisabeth Shue) and Ben (Nicolas Cage) in Mike Figgis' Leaving Las Vegas is one of the more honest romances in recent times, because both parties have to own up to and accept each other's screwed-up ways (he's a suicidal alcoholic, she's a downtrodden hooker). The result is sodden bliss.As for the ultimate in more traditionally sweet romances, check out Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket, with Luke Wilson's frantic wooing of Lumi Cavazos, a Mexican maid who can't speak English but who understands him perfectly. Anderson's witty style owes a great debt to Scottish director Bill Forsyth, who contributed the charming Gregory's Girl to the genre, following the frustrated but ultimately fulfilling search for love amongst a band of geeky high school boys, one of whom has fallen for the new, seemingly unattainable girl on the soccer team. I also appreciate Henry Jaglom's magical Déja Vu, which highlights the role of fate and destiny in this account of the strange, cosmically ordained attraction between a British artist and an American woman on holiday.

There are so many other screen romances worth mentioning: Punch-Drunk Love, The New World, All The Real Girls, The Remains of the Day, David and Lisa, The Lady Eve, The Fountain, Chungking Express, Children of Paradise, The Honeymoon Killers, Dogfight, Beautiful Thing, The More The Merrier, Sherman's March, Harold and Maude, Masculin Feminin, Eyes Wide Shut and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, but instead I'll conclude by relying on my High Fidelity-esque propensity for list making:

Five fave screen kisses
1. The rapturous, climatic kiss between Diane Lane and Thelonious Bernard in George Roy Hill's A Little Romance.

2. Grace Kelly dreamily delivering a barrage of smooches to James Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window.

3. Tim Robbins and Jennifer Jason Leigh meeting lips on a New York balcony, to the strains of Carter Burwell's emotional score, in the Coen Brothers' The Hudsucker Proxy.

4. Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift stealing away from a party to make the most of director George Stevens' intimate close-ups in A Place in the Sun.

5. A heartbroken Marilyn Monroe concludes singing "I'm Through With Love" by accepting a tender kiss from Tony Curtis, who's in full drag, in Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot.

Five fave sex scenes
1. Any searing scene between Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche and Lena Olin in Philip Kaufman's ultra-erotic adaptation of Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

2. Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in the "they must be really doing it" scene at the outset of Nicolas Roeg's horror classic Don't Look Now.

3. The amazingly energetic sex session between Jean-Hughes Anglade and Beatrice Dalle that opens Jean-Jacques Beineix's downbeat Betty Blue.

4. Jason Scott Lee and Anne Parillaud making love atop a flying wartime air balloon in Vincent Ward's unforgettable Map of the Human Heart.

5. Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly feel the Earth move in Keith Gordon's underrated Waking the Dead.

Happy Valentine's Day, to both the loved and the unloved.


Tony Dayoub said...

Dean, did you catch my recent email? I awarded you the Dardos. Go read more about it at my site.

Jack Pendarvis said...

Don't forget Roger Corman's ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE!

Kotto said...

creepiest love scene would have to be art garfunkel on top of a near-comatose theresa russell. ah yes, bad timing the perfect anti-valentine's day movie.

Dean Treadway said...

Or the sex scene with Benoit Magimel and Isabelle Huppert in THE PIANO TEACHER. That would come a close second to the BAD TIMING scene as creepiest of all time!

how could I forget the Corman movie!

Kotto said...

haneke has definitely taken the crown for provocation. i didn't see his US remake of funny games, but i can't seem to get enough of his twisted world mind.

dean, we could start a meme with this topic. you'd have to put in the bad lieutenant scene with keitel and the the girl in the volvo.

Dean Treadway said...

And, of course, the scene with Jackie Earle Haley and Jane Adams in LITTLE CHILDREN. Totally creepy!