Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jihad for Dummies: Traitor

“Traitor,” an international espionage thriller written and directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff (better known as the guy who wrote the global warming thriller “The Day After Tomorrow”), pits Guy Pearce’s southern Baptist FBI man Roy Clayton against Don Cheadle’s devout Muslim, maybe renegade, former U.S. soldier Samir Horn in a cat and mouse game across several continents and 17 cities. The movie is loaded with misguided Muslims and Americans alike, all of them just trying to do the right thing and slaughtering innocents in the process, so it comes as no surprise that several of the crew (including DP J. Michael Muro) and Cheadle himself were involved in the faux-deep car wreck that was “Crash.” For the “Traitor” script is as jam-packed with simpleminded and heavy-handed exposition-posing-as-profound-thought as it is with suicide bombings and hand-to-hand combat action—all of it so painful to listen to and observe that I wanted to blow myself up during the first half. And I don’t even like virgins.

To read my review visit The House Next Door.

Monday, August 25, 2008

(Bad) Portrait of a Hustler: American Gigolo

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

(Bad) Portrait of a Hustler: American Gigolo

Ever since the great humanistic film critic Manny Farber died last week at the ripe old age of 91, writer/director (and former film critic and Kael acolyte) Paul Schrader, who so eloquently has been making the tribute rounds to Farber, has been on my mind. I’ve always been a fan of Schrader’s writing – as much for his fearless risk taking as for his Travis Bickle triumphs. “American Gigolo, his very-1980 follow-up to Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” in which Richard Gere’s rent boy to rich older women Julian Kaye falls for Lauren Hutton’s senator’s wife Michelle Stratton while simultaneously finding himself a suspect in the murder of a “rough trick,” is typical Schrader, forever probing overlapping lurid worlds with the attention of an obsessive pathologist. Even with mediocre acting, earnest dialogue sometimes bordering on the heavy-handed, and predictable hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold asides, “American Gigolo” is still a fine slice of celluloid cheese, containing camerawork both sleek and fluid and that sexy sing-along anthem (“Call Me”!) complete with Debbie Harry’s French coos. Incidentally, I’ve always been a fan of male prostitutes as well. So why is it that I’ve never been a fan of this flick?

In a nutshell – Richard Gere. Because Julian Kaye is in virtually every scene he is the film, and Gere is simply not believable as a hooker. Now if Julian had been played by, say, Warren Beatty opposite Julie Christie (who originally was set to star in the role of Michelle) I’ve no doubt “American Gigolo” would have made my top ten sexy flicks of all time list. But the real deal breaker for me is knowing that it was John Travolta who was originally cast as Julian – the one actor who could have elevated Schrader’s film to “Taxi Driver”-level cult status.

Everything about this movie beckons for Tony Manero-like swagger, from the opening shot of an impeccably attired Julian literally cruising down the California highway to Blondie’s “Call Me,” to his hanging upside down in form-fitting briefs, working the weights while practicing his Swedish for an upcoming eight grand trick. (Yum!) The problem is, Gere attacks this juicy role with a seriousness more suited to tackling Brick in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Take for example the scene in which he first spots Michelle sitting alone in a chi-chi restaurant and attempts to proposition her. After sauntering over to her table, introducing himself in French then subtly letting it be known that he’s “on the clock,” Michelle eventually asks, “How many languages do you speak?” “Five or six,” Julian answers. “Plus the international,” she adds. “That’s right,” he says, giving her a knowing nod. Yet when she states the obvious, asks him straight out how much he would have charged her for one fuck, Julian gets offended. “I don’t do that,” he huffs. Because Michelle doesn’t know how to play the game, doesn’t understand the code, she loses and he walks away. Schrader’s dialogue is terrific, but it pours out of a leading man who just doesn’t understand the game himself.

For Gere gives Julian no sense of enjoyment or satisfaction in this little power struggle, this chess-like rendezvous. Gere’s Julian is all work and no play – and this is a man who makes his living off of hedonism! Yes indeed, business is business and there are strict rules (in the following scene Julian tells a male client he doesn’t do fags or couples – but he’s free to watch while he’s screwing his wife, of course), for there’s always that fine fake line between high-end callboy and street-corner whore that Julian must maintain in order to mentally survive. However, Gere’s portrayal is just too stick-in-the-mud serious to be real. We don’t sense for one moment that he loves what he does (and he most certainly should since he’s living the bon vivant life courtesy of others, not unlike John Hurt’s Stephen Ward in “Scandal”).

And most importantly, we don’t feel his unwavering passion for the hustle that every successful businessman, no matter the business, must possess. Another scene in which Julian, lying in bed, sexually toys with a client on the phone while Michelle sleeps beside him contains more of Schrader’s delicious dialogue – which, unfortunately, Gere delivers without a trace of enthusiasm. Clearly Julian enjoys the head game, the pulling one over on a client, else he wouldn’t be juggling references to his hard-on while simultaneously asking for a stereo while cuddling with another woman. Yet Gere’s Julian looks downright awkward in his delivery, his laughs sounding nearly uncomfortable when they should be savoring roars.

For hustlers who are at the top of their game are there because they have the same absolute love of the hustle as Gordon Gekko. Yes this is a business, but it’s also a way of life, a dirty animal pursuit and not a “classy” profession like Gere portrays. Gere’s Julian is a refined, brooding snob, so cool he’s cold (he’d be lucky to score a hundred bucks with this attitude, let alone eight grand). Julian needs to be a hot seducer, for it’s warmth and charm that keep the clients coming back for more, while looks are merely secondary. Gere’s temperament, his metabolism, is just way, way off. The part is tailor made for a ravenously hungry, high-energy, physical actor who plays to win (a man, not coincidentally, like Travolta). Even when Julian’s menacing the kid who the senator sent to follow him, destroying his apartment in frustration he’s too damn controlled. This is completely wrong for the role – for anyone this unemotional has to be both boring and a lousy lay.

Gere gives a deep Method acting performance when all that is required is a thug in a suit like Daniel Craig as James Bond (or, yes, Travolta’s Tony Manero in a jacket and tie). Hustlers don’t shamefully “cover up” their rough trade background – they delight in exploiting it! When I recently interviewed Malcolm McDowell – who starred in “Cat People,” Schrader’s follow-up to “American Gigolo” – he mentioned that he’s “got no time” for actors who use the Method. While I wholeheartedly disagree with his disdain for the technique (his beef should be with any actor using the wrong “tool” and not with the tool itself), re-watching Gere in “American Gigolo” made me think that it’s missteps like this that give Stanislavski and his descendants a bad name. Gere is methodically calculating when the character needs to be 100% physical. Gere’s afraid of making his performance too “big” – but what he fails to take into account is that Julian is big. That’s how he makes his money (no pun intended, really). His clients are paying for a larger-than-life fantasy (and one who defers to them, which is even more of an ego trip!) Ironically, Gere’s lawyer Billy Flynn in “Chicago” has more sex appeal than his Julian Kaye – for it’s taken over two decades for Gere to catch up to Schrader, to finally fearlessly embrace his inner sexy dude.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Neurotic Libertine: Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Polyamory

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

Neurotic Libertine: Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Polyamory

Queen of Bad Sex Catherine Breillat could learn a thing or two from Woody Allen. Not only is his latest celluloid psychotherapy session “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” a phenomenal work of intellectual porn, but it also happens to contain one of the sexiest, most hysterical and poignant portrayals of polyamory to come along in a long, long time. Allen actually gets that those of us who choose to live outside of hetero monogamy are not voracious sex addicts lacking in morality – on the contrary, we simply abide by a different set of desires and ethics than that of the mainstream.

Watching the sexual roundelay involving Diane Keaton/Mia Farrow substitute muse Scarlett Johansson and Allen stand-in Rebecca Hall as the American tourists Cristina and Vicky, who become sucked into the fiery passionate and oftentimes downright dangerous world of Barcelona artists Juan Antonio and his ex-wife Maria Elena, played by Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz (for my money the two sexiest European stars to grace the screen since Mastroianni and Sophia Loren), I realized it was the first time I’d ever wanted to jerk off to a Woody Allen film. This is the master of neuroses on Viagra. Spain seems to have reinvigorated Allen, and it’s a joyous thrill to behold. Simply put, the director’s upped the endorphin factor, leaving me hot and bothered and hysterically laughing all at the same time.

That “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” could be this incredibly arousing and simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny is a testament to how far Allen has grown as a filmmaker in recent years. Unlike gloom-and-doom Breillat, Allen suddenly has discovered that comedy can be lusciously sexy – he’s finally taken some big risks, pushed himself beyond preconceived notions and his own comfort zone, much like his script forces his protagonist tourists to do.

Casting Bardem and Cruz is the smartest move he’s made since using breezily sexy Keaton. And by employing these Almodovar darlings, along with the hot tamale director’s DP Javier Aguirresarobe (“Talk To Her”), production designer Alain Bainee (“Kika”) and costume designer Sonia Grande (the upcoming “Broken Embraces”), Allen has managed to create a quintessential “Woody Allen film” sprinkled with Pedro spice. The film’s pacing itself is like sex, from slow foreplay to passionate fucking to basking in the afterglow of getting what you wanted (for now). The opening credits accompanied by a playful female voice singing an addictive tune like a siren’s call (Giulia y Los Tellarini’s “Barcelona”) and the sultry Spanish guitar, Barcelona’s romance captured in languid camerawork, images of breathtaking architecture and of the nighttime cafes enveloped by the fever heat of late summer––all of these elements are as perfectly composed as any of Allen’s mash notes to Manhattan, but unlike that film, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” emits a visceral sensuality from beginning to end.

Add to this an accurate portrait of a relationship (Maria Elena and Juan Antonio’s) turning from creative passion into Frankenstein’s Monster, and Allen’s film approaches existential thriller. As Juan Antonio coolly seduces and Maria Elena sharply sizzles they devour one another with primal intensity, and transform into a volatile chemical equation. In fact the idea of “sex as chemistry” is alluded to by Juan Antonio, who claims Cristina as the missing ingredient that will serve as both buffer and lover for the couple. Juan Antonio’s allure is his no bullshit candidness; not a fake macho forwardness but a vulnerable, heart-on-sleeve directness. His frankness is what makes him so hot. And not only is he fully aware of the power of honesty, but he knows how to wield it, shamelessly shoving that appeal into the faces of Vicky and Cristina, and the audience’s.

The scene in which he first meets the twenty-something tourists, called over to their table by Cristina’s flirting eyes, is downright hilarious. After an all too brief introduction, Juan Antonio (in his deadpan serious manner, as if offering to buy the next round of drinks) says he will take the women to see his favorite sculpture in the Asturian town of Oviedo – requiring a quick plane ride followed by a weekend stay in which they will eat and drink fine food and wine, then all make love together. (Oh, and they’re leaving in an hour by the way.)

But the same element that makes this scene so laugh-out-loud funny––Bardem’s impeccable comic timing/Juan Antonio’s straightforward presumptuousness––is also what makes the scene so fucking sexy. What innocent abroad wouldn’t want to have her brains fucked out by a hot and horny sex bomb offering a once in a lifetime adventure? (I for one most assuredly would have responded, “We’re leaving in an hour? Why the long wait?”) And indeed, once in Oviedo Cristina agrees to join Juan Antonio in his room – after he’s assented to her one condition of “you’ll have to seduce me.”

Leaning against the wall his shirt just barely unbuttoned, Juan Antonio lazily opens the door for Cristina with one hand while cradling a glass of wine in the other. When she says she’s just there for a quick drink and then she’s going to leave, he abruptly and candidly asks her if she’d acted in the short film she’d written and directed. Puzzled, she replies that she did. His response, “I hope you were more convincing in that short film,” is both funny and wildly hot because he’s cut to the core of Cristina’s desire with a Zorro swipe, undressed her with one line.

And even while Allen employs the twin beauties of Barcelona’s art and its environment as seductive characters––Gaudi’s architecture represents both Vicky’s infatuation (she was drawn to Barcelona after falling in love with his Sagrada Familia Church) and Maria Elena’s mantra of “only unfulfilled love is truly romantic” (Gaudi’s life’s work was this unfinished church)––he also remains hyper-attentive to the nuances within the flesh-and-blood characters he’s created. Allen is both respectful and nonjudgmental of every form sex and love may take. As Bardem observes in the press notes, “I think there are different aspects of love…Love is as different as the people who feel it. I’d say I guess the movie wants to show some of those relationships with love in different people, different minds.”

Whether it’s Vicky and her fiancée, Juan Antonio and Maria Elena, Juan Antonio and Cristina, Juan Antonio and Vicky, or even Juan Antonio, Maria Elena and Cristina––Allen patiently listens to his characters, allows for open minded discovery, like a skilled documentary filmmaker coaxing interviewees. Refreshingly, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” even concludes on the very adult notion that there is no such thing as a “right” way to love. As Allen himself is quoted, “Some things work for some people in some situations. One can’t preconceive these things and one has to be more flexible when it comes to love.” Claro que si!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Thoughts on Interviewing Malcolm McDowell

That penetrating ray-gun gaze that sets the tone in the first few seconds of Kubrick’s masterpiece is still there in all its vitality. Meeting Malcolm McDowell’s eyes is like adjusting to the sun. I started out attempting to wrangle the rebel bull that is Mick Travis and Alex DeLarge, and ended up looking into the eyes of a British pub owner’s son who only humbly accepts that which is offered, still believes it presumptuous – that he hasn’t the right! – to ever dream.

And yet the only difference between McDowell and his knighted contemporaries, phenomenal thespians like Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Ben Kingsley, is that McKellen and Kingsley are constantly seeking the next challenge, have no fear of dreaming. McDowell, on the other hand, waits passively, humbly, for projects to drop into his lap while pointedly dismissing my suggestion that the filmmaking ground is fertile in Europe, citing “nuggets” like “The Lives of Others” an anomaly and not a sign of renaissance. Hearing that, I couldn’t help but think of his fellow Brits, filmmakers like Shane Meadows, the young and hungry director of the thrilling “This Is England,” who just as easily could have cast McDowell in lieu of Bob Hoskins in “TwentyFourSeven,” or of Mike Leigh still going strong and employing actors of every age, never ceasing to grow. McDowell need only look in the mirror, open his eyes to that which lies beyond Hollywood, and allow the possibility of, yes, both disappointment and success into his life by proudly picking up the phone.

McDowell’s disdain for Method acting as rubbish is, well, rubbish (he even contradicts his own viewpoint by bringing up Brando). The problem with Method acting technique isn’t the Method – it’s with the unimaginative actors who (mis)use it, treat it as the Holy Grail. The Method is a wrench, one tool in a vastly varied toolbox, not a leather-man nor pocketknife. His beef should be with the actor using the wrong tool for the job, not with the tool itself.

There was a brief power struggle at the beginning of the interview set off by McDowell’s comment that he’d only ever played “one realistic character.” He paused, expecting me to ask which character that was, feeding me my next question. For better or worse my S&M instinct kicked in and I thought, no this is my interview and you’re not going to top me. I fully anticipated that as a man skilled in manipulating the media for close to half a century, he’d only be answering the questions he wanted to answer, not necessarily those that I’d asked. However, there was no way I was going to let him also gain control over the actual questions! Perhaps it was childish on my part but I felt it better to sacrifice one tantalizing nugget of information in order to make a small statement of standing my ground.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

My interview with - Malcolm McDowell!

No, I did not bring along any “A Clockwork Orange” memorabilia for him to sign – and yes, I’m still pinching myself. To hear the audio podcast visit The House Next Door.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Offstage: In Celebration

According to the press notes for Lindsay Anderson’s 1975 drawing room drama, “’In Celebration,’ the film was, to Anderson, the most authentic record of both his work at the Royal Court Theatre and of what he would call the Royal Court style.” Reading this little tidbit, one word stands out: record. For “In Celebration,” while a heartfelt study of Britain’s clash of class systems, as explored through the pinball machinations of three now professional sons bouncing against their still lower-class parents, is really nothing more than a record, a scrapbook snapshot of Anderson’s theater work. Save for a few, basically B-roll street images, this American Film Theatre production of a David Storey play, which stars the exceptional Alan Bates, James Bolam and Brian Cox as the uni-educated sons of a coal miner (played by Bill Owen with an ever-present twinkle in his eye) and his keeping-up-appearances housewife (a vivacious Constance Chapman), Anderson does not expand Storey’s talky drama, never widening his lens beyond the dreary childhood home where the sons return to celebrate their parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. It is a perfect example of the wrong medium for the right project, a recording of poignant drama for posterity rather than out of artistic necessity. “In Celebration” most definitely chafes at being made into a film.

To read the rest of my essay in honor of the “Lindsay Anderson: Revolutionary Romantic” retro at Lincoln Center, visit The House Next Door.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Miss Mae West and Me

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

Miss Mae West and Me

One of my earliest movie related memories – from the time I was six or seven – was of parading around the house, hips swishing and purring in my finest Mae West mimicry, “Why don’t ya come up and see me sometime?” I barely remember actually watching the B&W “My Little Chickadee” on the tube, so mesmerized was I by the platinum blonde goddess, a creature clad in ultra-femme garb but projecting an aggressively male body language and distinctly unfeminine voice – like no one I had ever seen on the screen. Years later I would realize it was my first encounter with a woman like me.

Miss West is my patron sinner/saint for many reasons, but mostly because today’s catchphrases like “genderqueer” and “boygirl” didn’t exist in her time – and she didn’t need them. She did what came naturally to her way down deep inside, no buzzwords required for self-knowledge. I intimately understand why she eschewed monogamy in favor of a fetish for bad boys, rough trade and Hercules musclemen – the ultimate physical embodiment of our 100% male insides, our souls made flesh-and-blood tangible. I know what it’s like to choose lovers you want both to be with and to be, to covertly use sex to sweep aside all awareness of the female form, to lose oneself in a tidal wave of testosterone. Miss West is my fellow undercover agent in the mainstream world, a gay man “passing” as a femme little chickadee, serving as my transgender guiding light.

Like many gay men who couldn’t quite put into words their childhood fascination with Sal Mineo or Monty Clift, whose true sexuality radiated right through their straight man roles, I understood on a subconscious level that Mae – born Mary Jane West 115 years ago this Sunday August 17th – and I were of the same tribe. We both resemble females on the outside but our inside––sexuality included––is distinctively male. I didn’t want to act like the boys any more than Miss West did – it’s simply a given when that’s the identity one’s born with. Subsequently, the way she viewed men sexually was, like me, through a man’s gaze.

And I know what it’s like to camp it up like Miss Mae. Upon escaping to NYC to pursue acting, I inexplicably found myself drawn––as if to a spiritual calling––to performing in the downtown cabaret scene, always lip-synching to the bad boy lead singers I wanted to be, from Andrew Eldritch to Adam Ant, while wearing over the top makeup, frou-frou skirts or androgynous leather pants. Since my teenage years all expressions of femaleness both onstage and off have been a a calculated, well planned-out affair. And like the many fabulous drag queens I looked up to and shared the Pyramid Club spotlight with, I profoundly understood what it’s like to playact being a girl.

With that hippy walk in those seven-inch platforms (rumored to have been influenced by famous drag queens she saw while still a stage actress), “diva” Mae and her “Baby Vamp” shtick came to fruition only after she’d given other identities a go, including that of male impersonator. Though her play “The Drag” concerned homosexuality (banned from Broadway, it ran in eventually gay-marriage-friendly Jersey) and she was a strong advocate of gay and transgender rights, her personal opinions on the subject have always been a bit controversial. Miss West pretty much believed that every gay guy had a female soul – an honest mistake that should be forgiven coming from someone who had a gay guy soul inside a female form. Her gender and sexuality simply went hand in hand, so she wrongly, though innocently (for once!), assumed the two to be one and the same.

And I would venture to guess that brave Miss Mae, were she alive today, would cast a disapproving smirk at the proliferation of hormone doses and sex change operations. Loudly and defiantly, Miss West forced society to play by her rules, proudly flaunted the fact that her insides and outsides were mismatched––and even used the discomfort her difference caused to her advantage, throwing her male sexuality onto the stage and screen through her buxom body, and letting the audience sort it all out. Miss West was hot for the same reason man’s man Clark Gable was sexy: frankly, she just didn’t give a damn. Unwaveringly, she laid claim to her rightful seat in the “men only” club, exercising control over her scripts and demanding equal pay (and thereby breaking ground for all 100% females, too). And why shouldn’t she have? Miss West knew that underneath that hourglass figure she was one of them in every way that mattered.

Even now I’m awestruck pondering her ten-day jail sentence on obscenity charges for staging her play “Sex” in 1927 –– a cannon blast in the sexuality and gender revolution fired over four decades before Stonewall! This, above all, is why I love Miss West: like a cross between classy Sinatra and rebellious Sid Vicious she did it her own (boygirl) way.

And a very happy birthday to you, Miss Mae.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Notes On A Sex "Scandal"

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

The Formula One/hookers/Nazi scandal gets Lauren Wissot thinking about Michael Caton-Jones' 1989 treatment of similar themes.

Notes On A Sex “Scandal”

In celebration of my latest hero Max Mosley, son of Britain’s prewar fascist leader and head of Formula One racing, who refused to passively be set up in a “Nazi orgy” sting operation by the shameful “The News of the World,” who bravely took his invasion of privacy battle to court where he proudly invoked his inalienable S&M right to be spanked – and won! – I say, here’s to you, my fellow perv. And the next time you’re in the States the caning’s on the house (of domination. But feel free to tip a portion of that 120 grand in damages awarded).

So with that case now out of the way, let’s revisit the original British, S&M sex “Scandal.”

“She’s on the telly, isn’t she?” golden burlesque babe Christine Keeler (played by a pitch perfect Joanne Whalley) asks John Hurt’s striking, sugar daddy doctor Stephen Ward, referring to his knockout date as they swoon around the floor of a ritzy club, once he’s charmed her into a dance. “Except when she’s flat on her back,” Stephen replies, laughing uproariously at the beginning of Michael Caton-Jones’ thoroughly seductive take on Britain’s notorious Profumo affair that brought down the Conservative Party in the early 60s. The fact that the social climbing Christine has a hearty chuckle right along with the charismatic cad speaks louder than any words.

Next thing you know dominant Stephen’s insinuated himself into Christine’s life, showing up unannounced at her mum’s house (father’s absence as glaringly apparent as Stephen’s ego) – drowning in arrogance, both shamelessly forward and enthrallingly sexy with a cigarette dangling from his cocky lips, as comfortable in his dashing body as the middle-aged Cary Grant. It’s inevitable that Christine move into his cushy flat, that she’d assent submissively to dying her blonde locks to become his Jackie “O” clone. “Sir” Stephen’s the crown prince of high-class pimps, wooing his soon-to-be call girl with coos of “little baby,” tenderly holding her face in his strong hands only to slide away effortlessly when she moves in for a kiss (unthinkable to get involved with the goods!)

“The sight of silk on milk white flesh…when you come it’s like a sigh,” Stephen holds forth poetically on what “the Americans refer to as heavy petting” at his lavish dinner party, the table set with a huge clear dildo in lieu of a flower arrangement. “He’s a connoisseur of sin,” a guest remarks. And is he ever. When Christine jealously pouts about another woman who shows up Stephen merely smiles sadistically, tells her “wet your lips.” And that’s the last of the envy we will see in chastised Christine who now understands precisely the whore/slave she’s become – so why not sit back and revel in the decadent ride?

Soon Christine has taken in her own hooker-in-the-making in the form of Bridget Fonda’s ambitious vixen Mandy Rice-Davies, a platinum Marilyn to Christine’s dark Jackie O. Caton-Jones stages an erotic montage of the two readying for a night at the regal 21 Club, dressing up as a steamy fetish shoot. From the intimate CUs of stockings rolling up those “milk white” thighs (Christine’s silky black before a cut to Mandy’s pure white), the snapping garters (again Christine’s bad girl black leading the way for Mandy’s virginal white), Christine lining eyebrows, Mandy shadowing eyes, the clasping corsets dark before light, Christine painting her nails red, Mandy hers pink, the shimmying into tight white and black dresses, blood red lipstick followed by candy pink. And every sultry move set to a twanging guitar score – off to conquer the Wild West!

Or Cold War East. “I’m a curious fellow, insatiable in a way,” Stephen purrs to the doughy MI5 guy who wants him to get dirt on his fellow comrade-in-hedonism Ivanov, a probable Russian spy. Stephen is every bit as dangerously hot as the girls he procures for the upper class, an immoral, walking sex bomb – made all the more so by his ruthless lack of loyalty, by his unattainable nature (he’ll screw his so-called pals before he’ll screw his girls – power the only orgasm that matters). Both Stephen and his “friends” down their cocktails as they’re drinking in nubile curves with a ravenous intensity only the devil could muster.

Though the devil is not without a sense of fun. Between the swimming pool cavorting, a naked Christine peek-a-boo dancing with a pair of palm leaves, the flirting eyes, the pouting lips, sex becomes an outsized Playboy mansion affair, just another manifestation of the good life to be had at the expense of others (for the sexually ambiguous Stephen walks that delicate line between dominant and submissive, is a kept man of sorts himself, an osteopath living beyond his means by discreetly procuring flesh for his power broker patrons). A grand orgy has the requisite comely bodies screwing like bunnies, but it also has light comedy in the form of a masked slave serving drinks on a silver platter, a “Beat Me If I Fail To Satisfy” sign hanging about his neck (prompting Mandy to deliver a pleasing smack with a thorny white rose upon finding her cocktail a tad warm). In fact, the only major character that isn’t dripping sex is the impeccable Ian McKellen’s shy, nerdy Minister of War John Profumo who mistakes this world of lush fantasy for a sumptuous reality.

Though Christine enjoys the hairpin curve thrills of fucking both a politician and a likely spy (within seconds of Profumo driving away Ivanov inevitably pulls up to the flat), it’s Stephen who lives for the intrigue. “Thinks he’s James Bond or something,” Christine sniffs to Mandy. For both Stephen and Christine sex is nothing more than grownups indulging in children’s games, role-playing for fun and profit. When Christine does sound a serious note inquiring, “Is Ivanov a spy?” Stephen shrugs her off with, “Why not? Sounds like fun.” Yet deep down Christine knows that she and Stephen are two rare birds of a feather, whore and pimp as yin-and-yang, which is why she refuses when Profumo asks her to leave her mentor. (Not surprisingly, her cold and calculating daddy thinks her moving out a splendid idea – “he could be prime minister someday,” after all.)

But perhaps the most telling scene occurs after Christine finally leaves Stephen to “have some fun” – at her control – with Johnny (a very Fine Young Cannibal Roland Gift). Returning in tears to Stephen once the fling turns to bodily harm she finds that none other than her own protégé Mandy has taken her place. The weeping in Stephen’s arms transforms into ridiculous laughter – an echo of the opening when they had a chuckle at the expense of Stephen’s date – his mantra of “it’s all flesh,” sex as meaningless pastime their secretly shared understanding. When Stephen eventually admits to caring for Christine “more than I can say,” it’s this crucial scene that gives the line its weight.

But that bittersweet love is not enough to overcome what the decadent doctor has wrought. Wherein Profumo mistakes fantasy for reality Christine does the opposite, confusing mortal danger for a game, even erupting in a fit of giggles after Johnny fails to shoot his way through the front door. Stephen’s only complaint is that the press arrived before the police – bad publicity the most lethal of weapons. ”You pulled the strings. I’m what you made me,” Christine accuses Stephen in her own defense, offering that she’s his (i.e., you break it, you buy it) for better or worse. “It’s over, little baby. It’s over,” he simply sighs the term of endearment cutting her out with the skill of his surgeon’s knife. She’d gone too far (alas, if only he’d known how far she’d yet to go!)

And then the fateful domino drops when a devastated Christine pours out her aching heart to the first wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing reporter (from “The News of The World” naturally!) to approach. Unperturbed, miscalculating Stephen tells the paranoid Profumo, “I dreamt her up – I can make her vanish.” When Profumo demurs that the letter he sent Christine wasn’t incriminating, that he never even laid a finger on her Stephen quickly slices through the bullshit with, “Come off it, Jack, we all have something to hide.” Stephen may be ruthless and power hungry but he’s also the only honest bloke in the room, always wearing his immorality proudly on his sleeve like a warped talisman.

But to no avail – as the law closes in, it’s Stephen and Christine who end up pariahs, sitting alone together in the semi-dark of Stephen’s flat, highlife junkies whose addiction to the hedonistic lifestyle has left them with no one to turn to but each other. When Christine is asked on the stand why she kept returning to Stephen after leaving him “eight or nine times” she knowingly admits, “He’s a very dominating personality,” who had “full control over her mind” – the very definition of the sadomasochistic pimp/whore relationship entered into court evidence. But then, tragically, in the final moments of Caton-Jones’ gripping drama, those heartbreaking words appear on the screen, disclosing that the real Christine served jail time, that the real Stephen’s fatal overdose was followed by a burial no one attended. And I couldn’t help but think of today’s “The News of the World” scandal, of Max Mosley as an avenging angel 45 years in the making, his tabloid-ready S&M play a pale imitation of life.