Apr 3, 2013

Wild Side

Admittedly, the first time I saw Scottish libertine auteur Donald Cammell’s cinematic swansong Wild Side (1996), I could see why the film drove him to commit suicide, as I felt it was an ugly film about ugly people doing ugly things with the aesthetic, thematic, and erotic potency of the sort of second rate Abel Ferrara flick and certainly not a film worthy of being held in such high esteem as the director's previous films Performance (1970), White of the Eye (1987), or even Demon Seed (1977), but I recently decided to give the work a second look as I have come to appreciate the ill-fated filmmaker’s work all the more as the years have past and a film depicting Christopher Walken as a sexually degenerate money launderer surely cannot be half bad, yet, I am sad to say my opinion has hardly changed. According to Cammell’s young wife China Kong, who wrote the short story the film was based on, as well as co-writing the script, just as she did for his previous feature White of the Eye, the reason she and her damned director husband decided to tackle Wild Side (originally titled “The Grey Area”) was because they, “wanted to understand financial people. One of Donald’s best friends [Ben Jacober] was a banker for Rothschilds, so he was familiar with this mentality to an extent. It was a bit of a send up, to tell you the truth, of financial people, of our understanding of them.” Indeed, if one thing is sure about the ‘financial people’ of Wild Side, aside from the fact they are parasitic perverts of the strikingly soulless sort whose sexual degeneracy is only transcended by their love of cash, it is they are totally incapable of sustaining any semblance of a normal romantic relationship, which, not unsurprisingly, can also be said of director Donald Cammell – a pathological philanderer of the first order who was apparently known to charm both women and even men into his bed. Probably more importantly, Cammell directed Wild Side as a ‘gift’ to his young wife China (who was 26 years younger than her husband), but, ultimately, the director felt he failed thus contributing to his somewhat predictable suicide. Of course, it was when Cammell was fired from Wild Side (after a cut of the film had already been sent to Cannes) and taken over by producers and edited into a piece of totally tasteless second rate celluloid erotica (which originally aired on HBO in 1995 with the director being credited as "Franklin Brauner") that he was thrown off the deep end and put a bullet in his brain on 24 April 1996.  Apparently, the producers of Wild Side felt Cammell and his editor Frank Mazzola's original cut was too "arty" and Hebraic producer Elie Cohn, like a true smut-peddler, concluded the flash-cuts featured in the film were, "fucking up a perfectly fine lesbian scene." In tribute to Cammell and to fulfill his original cinematic wet dream, Mazzola and the director’s widow China released a posthumous “director’s cut” of Wild Side that was critically revered, but, personally, I think it is a bit a of puffery to describe the film as anything remotely worthy of being described a masterpiece, unless the idea of Christopher Walken buggering a buff brown bohunk pleases you. Make no mistake about it, Wild Side is a work of would-be-high-class trash where one is supposed to believe that Sapphic miscegenation makes for the most of truest of loves and that sex and power are one in the same.

  In Wild Side, sex, money, and power are indistinguishable from one another and those with money are doing the fucking and those without it are getting fucked. Towards the conclusion of the film, hotshot money launderer Bruno Buckingham (Christopher Walken) – a repugnant yet unintentionally humorous creep who incessantly sports silk pajamas as some sort of Guido-like Hugh Hefner, except with long black hair and a more honest sense of sleaziness – goes to sodomize his brutish underling and denies he is a homosexual stating, “This is not about sex, it’s about power,” as if he is some sort of pussy-deprived prison inmate who is desperate to stick his dick in a warm hole and needs an argument to rationalize his latent homo side. And, indeed, batshit crazy Bruno loves to demonstrate his power by buying high-dollar callgirls, thus leading him to a fateful meeting with Sapphic seductress Alex Lee (played by then-unknown, pre-dyke Anne Heche) – a loan officer in Foreign Accounts at a Long Beach bank who moonlights as a pricey prostitute under the pseudonym Johanna so she can pay her mortgage. Bruno takes an instant liking to Alex’s saucy attitude upon their first ‘date,’ but suspects she might be an “FBI slut” of some sort, so he orders his chauffer Tony (Steven Bauer of Scarface (1983)), who is really a FBI agent looking to bust his ‘boss’ and bust a load in his boss' whores, to drive her back to her hotel and try to screw her (apparently Feds only screw the ‘big dicks’ and not the ‘little dicks’), which she declines to do. Being a conspiring cop with seemingly unlimited resources, Tony finds Alex’s address and surprises her when she gets home and rampantly rapes her from behind in a most domineering fashion, but makes the seemingly idiotic mistake of mentioning, aside from being a devout Catholic with immense guilt who is looking to save his soul, his true profession as a federal agent in the process. Not long after, Alex starts a sexual relationship with Bruno’s ex-wife/girlfriend Virginia (Joan Chen of David Lynch's Twin Peaks (1990-1991) and Lust, Caution (2007) directed by Ang Lee) – a bisexual Chinese woman (modeled after Cammell’s wife China, who made out with potential lead actress during screen tests for Wild Side) who was raised in a convent – thus ushering in a cryptic-Ménage à trios. Alex is ordered by Tony (who can bust her as a prostitute) to expect an Asian woman (Virginia) to open an account at her bank job because Bruno is using her as a way to recover $169 million dollars (a special number that makes for an all time low in the filmmaker's 'symbolism') he has in an inaccessible account and wants to use the new dummy account setup by his ex-wife to somehow transfer it to a foreign account. Indeed, Alex bumps into Virginia at the bank, but before they know it, they passionately embrace and the frigid loan officer realizes she is really a lipstick lesbian and falls in love with the yellow woman, hence her disgust with dicks of both the literal and figurative sort. Bruno continues to bugger Alex and also uses her as his ‘protégé’ in getting back his $169 million, but things go awry when she admits to Virginia that she is a prostitute who is also banging her ex-husband, thus resulting in the East Asian erotomaniac’s failed attempt at suicide via drug overdose. Bruno later catches Tony trying to rape Alex, so he tries to rape the rapist, but Virginia shows up after awakening from her suicide-inspired slumber and aborts the homoerotic anal invasion. Alex and Virginia make up and plot an escape overseas with the money and live a luxurious life as lesbian lovers, but Bruno and Tony have different plans. 

Frankly, it is hard for me think of another film with such an unsympathetic cast of characters as Wild Side – one of only a handful of films where I was rooting for the grizzly and ungodly deaths of all the characters in the film via AIDS or drive-by shooting. Aesthetically and thematically speaking, Wild Side is indisputably Donald Cammell’s most artistically vapid work and features next to nil of the references to art, culture, and philosophy that his previous films are famous for as a work that, in terms of artistic integrity and geniune eroticism, does not even compare to the masterpieces of the Golden Age of Porn, like Through the Looking Glass (1976) and The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976). Almost entirely set in shadowy and darkened rooms, Wild Side has a strikingly superficial set-up that resembles the sort of direct-to-DVD neo-noir flicks that no one has ever seen, so it should be no surprise few know of Cammell's cinematic swansong today. Admittedly, Christopher Walken gives a top-notch performance in Wild Side that seems to be a perverse parody of the sleazy and psychopathic gangster roles he is best known for, but it is hard to overlook his aesthetically-degrading dirty old man wardrobe and repulsive midlife crisis cool guy haircut. To her credit, Anna Heche is quite convincing as a conspiring cunt-licker of a cunt and Joan Chen is not half bad either as a chinky 'cunning linguist,' but that does not change the fact that I found Wild Side about as interesting as a filler episode of The Sopranos (1999-2007) or Boardwalk Empire (2010-present). Of course, I can respect Cammell for attempting to portray banksters as debauched as possible, but I sincerely doubt any member of the Rothschild family can ‘assert’ himself like Mr. Walken, even when he has a retarded 12-year-old boy grunge haircut, but I don’t find it far-fetched that money launderer’s kosher cocks gets hard for cash and buying high dollar goy gals.

Indeed, it is nothing short of a shame that Cammell killed himself for Wild Side – a film that would have never reached the level of cinematic greatness he had hoped for, no matter how many jaded jump-cuts and fetishistic flashback sequences editor Frank Mazzola added to the film as you cannot polish a turd, especially one aspiring to be extra-erotic. But then again, if my wife was a woman whose idea for a film was about a mixed-race lesbian couple who kick two alpha-males' asses and whatnot, I would probably have more problems than getting the final cut for an over-stylized softcore flick with sub-witty dialogue and would-be-wild-and-wanton imagery. If one learns anything from Wild Side, it is that banking turns Jews and wasps into cosmopolitan cuckolds of Chinese femme fatales. Banker or not, it seems director Donald Cammell fell under the same spell for salacious and Sapphic soy sauce and it seems to have affected his judgment as a filmmaker because who can say with a straight face that the self-slaughtering Scotsman gave his greatest ‘performance’ with Wild Side?! 

-Ty E

No comments: