So lately I’ve been doing “research” for my new project in the form of watching a lot of old TV shows and movies I was once a big fan of. Some of them fall deeply into the cheese category, others more on the fence; the ones on the non-dairy side of the cheese fence are not of interest at the moment. I am looking to explore the emotional and possibly artistic value of cheese.
Yesterday the good people of Netflix sent Thief of Hearts, a movie from the late 80s starring Steven Bauer and Barbara Williams, with a guest appearance by Norm from Cheers. If you’d happened to ask me the day before if I could recommend a sexy late-eighties movie (I would concede this was a seemingly unlikely request if I didn’t have the internet to tell me that people have an extremely wide range of what I consider to be unlikely interests), I would have enthusiastically encouraged you to put this on your queue. Having watched it again mid-2005, I must amend my possibly enthusiastic recommendation with something along the lines of “I guess I can’t.” Nevertheless I will attempt to tell you what you need to know about this movie, both so you never have to see it and in the interest of regaining some small bit of self-respect along the way.
This film had, at one time, at least a semi-profound impact on me in that it brought to life something I had always wondered about: What would happen if a sexy art thief stole my diaries, read them, and decided to make all of my sexual fantasies come to life? Okay, well, what I’ve wondered is actually closer to what would happen if anyone at all read my diaries. In fact, nothing about this movie bears any resemblance to my own life except that I keep diaries. (Well, yes, I did have quite a few items in my closet with shoulderpads.) I have at no time been a wealthy but horrifically untalented even for the eighties interior designer living with my dull husband in a San Francisco townhouse with sweeping ocean views. Nor have I ever written much in my diaries or anywhere else about sex of any kind, real or imaginary, beyond “I had sex with him” or more frequently “I’d like to have sex with him.” Maybe “I had hot sex with him.” But boy I was sure worried that someone might read pages and pages expounding on why that year’s He didn’t call, or the meaning of the one call that that particular He did actually make, or the meaning of the one message that particular He actually left, or what the meaning of a look/hand gesture/hairstyle had to do with me and our nonexistent relationship, ad infinitum.
But I digress. It has been of great import to me that my diaries not be read, and given the fact that I don’t even like to read them myself, it should seem unlikely that anyone else would ever want to. Even in the future when historians open up my musty six hundred volumes, very little of literary import will be found in conjunction with my oeuvre. (I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I will ever be able to refer to my own work, unseriously, as an oeuvre without italics. Although frankly, I defy you to use a word like oeuvre in any context without italics.) In fact, they could do a great deal to diminish whatever tiny file I might have in literary history altogether. So maybe I should be worried on that front. I tend not to worry about things that might or might not happen several hundred years after my death though, maybe that’s just me.
Part of the appeal of the movie at this time was that I thought Steven Bauer was the bomb, and there’s some semi-explicit sex that at the time I thought was hot.
Watching it again was a huge disappointment.
The soundtrack alone will be a clue for anyone staying past the title credits. I’m not sure I have words to describe that late-eighties movie song; it’s sort of Giorgio Moroder synthesizey meets Eye of the Tigerish that says “sex, but with danger”, for what that’s worth.
Steven Bauer’s Members Only-style jacket, with the collar turned up, is another corner you’re either going to turn or you aren’t, although for me Barbara Williams’ wardrobe of double-wrap belts brought back fond memories.
David Caruso with a freaky fade haircut may be the point at which 80% of you will be forced to turn away.
By the time Williams um, bold, redesign of Steven Bauer’s loft apartment makes its appearance, few of you will have hung in, as well you shouldn’t.
Part of what I see now is that Steven Bauer is not so much a sexy art thief as he is a stalker, which has never really done much for me. He keeps her diaries, he stares at her portrait (one of the stolen paintings), he “bumps into her” at the market, twice, and poses as a mysterious rich businessman who needs his apartment remodeled. And when Williams finally realizes the ruse and says something indignant, like “How dare you” (after she’s had mind-blowing sex with him that she hasn’t been having with her husband, because he wears glasses and a bow tie) and Bauer angrily says something like “You invented me, lady! I love you!” there’s nothing to do but cringe and reexamine your entire life.
Which brings me to the part where I reexamine my entire life.
I really really loved this movie once. And a lot of movies I once loved I still love. But this time around, Thief of Hearts was painful. There was fast-forwarding, or whatever you call it now that it’s on DVD.
The question now is not so much what would happen if a sexy art thief read my diaries, but what happens when twenty years go by and something you once thought was so super-sexy makes you question who the hell you are? Further evidence that the brain I was operating with in 1988 is no longer in service is another film I enjoyed from that very same year: Two Moon Junction.
Oh, don’t even try to tell me you haven’t seen it if you were a girl child born before 1970, but just in case you were living in a video-free zone at that time, basically, this movie is in many ways interchangeable with Thief of Hearts, including excessive use of shoulderpads, although I think it leans more overtly toward the porn side. Or, just this side of porn. Very stylized porn, in this case about April de Longpre, a repressed southern rich girl (we know she’s rich because of the “de” in front of her vaguely French-sounding name) about to marry a rich boy in order to maintain status quo, and a sexy, sensitive and insightful carny (we know these things because he loves his dog and wears glasses and no underwear) instead of a frustrated writer’s wife and a sexy art thief. There’s a slightly more complex plot that includes Burl Ives (no lie), Herve Villechaise (well, it is about carnies), and lesbian undertones involving Kristy McNichol of all people (who, as America’s onetime sweetheart/tomboy Buddy from Family, should not have been allowed to show her breasts, which is like Tootie from the Facts of Life showing her breasts, it just should not happen, I don’t care how much these people want to stretch, in fact, K McN was actually kind of adorable in this part as a gum-chewing sexpot, but went one step too far in allowing the director to give her a scene in which she cheerfully applies rouge to her nipples).
I was trying to explain about the lesbian bits to Ben and mentioned, without enough explanation, I realize now, that Kristy and the heroine traded tops in one scene – what to me was clearly a gratuitous but obligatory hot lesbian scene (not that the entire movie isn’t gratuitous, of course) – to which Ben said, deeply confused, “They… trade… tops?” (Since I can assume now that you may be as confused as he was, Kristy convinces April (aka a platinum blonde pre-Twin Peaks Sherilyn Fenn), that it would be fun and sexy – for the carnie of course – to trade blouses with each other, and in a whispery voice-over says, “Don’t worry about me. Tomorrow I’m takin’ a bus out of here. I don’t know where I’m goin’, but I can’t wait to get there.”) There are also a couple of references to AIDS, which seem to have been thrown in for no other reason than that it was 1988, I imagine just in case anyone was worried that the filmmakers were endorsing unprotected sex with carnies. TMJ has a similar soundtrack to TOH plus a few more slow-playing saxophones to south it up some, and in case we aren’t sure it’s the south, all the rich people dress only in white because, I’m pretty sure, the costume designer once saw a play by Tennessee Williams. The only significant difference between the two films is that in the end, April does get married to the rich guy, but decides to have it both ways and keep the sexy carnie on the side, proving that money is important, but not without hot carnie sex. If this means anything to anyone reading, it’s written and directed by Zalman King, and I don’t know what he’s up to these days but in the late eighties and early nineties he was um, the king, of this sort of entertainment, this sort of art-meets-everything-but-a-cum-shot. I could practically hear him behind the camera saying, “More fog… no, no, you have to really thrust, like this… yes, and you, what’s your name with the gum, I want your lesbian desire for her to burst off the screen… what?… I don’t care if you flew out of an empty nest… yes, fantastic, from behind, just like that, yes!” Even the housekeepers at a seedy motel are backlit to ensure our ability to see that they have no panties on underneath their uniforms. There’s once scene where Perry, the Fabiolike carny, yells at April outside of a motel that she’s only scared because she’s just discovered her libido, and I couldn’t help but suspect that Zalman, in addition to wearing the writer/director hat, was also an unlicensed shrink, like so many of my exes. It may have been the only believable bit of dialogue in the film. One essential difference for me personally between TOH and TMJ was that TOH spoke to this particular fear of having my diaries read and threw in Steven Bauer, and TMJ was about pure fantasy, not that I recall ever harboring any fantasies about sexy underpantsless carnival workers, which may explain why I wasn’t quite as horrified watching it again as I was watching TOH. But if memory serves me right, as I mentioned, it was sort of a known secret, if you will, that TMJ was the sexy chick flick of it’s day – everyone I knew had seen it, and it was generally thought of as, well, hot.
Of course, I realize I’ve changed in many ways, everyone changes for better or worse, and also of course personally I like to think I’ve changed for better, but at the same time, I guess what perplexes me here is that it’s not as though I don’t have a good corner of my entertainment life these days devoted strictly to cheese. I check in on Jezebel. I watched Beverly Hills, 90210, I watched Dawson’s Creek, the O.C. and when the time comes, I will watch the next show about beautiful teenagers. (Note: Perhaps I misspoke here, when I originally wrote this. For what may be mystifying reasons, I haven’t been able to fully immerse myself in Gossip Girl.) I watch a lot of reality shows, everything from the relatively classy Amazing Race to the supremely low rent Cheaters, although I don’t see as many cheesy movies as I once did, actually not any I don’t think, if you don’t count the occasional Constantine, which I can assure you was not by my choice, and I watch very few sitcoms anymore. I just think they should be, you know, funny. But so anyway then why is the cheese I loved in the eighties so unwatchable now? It might make sense if I had morphed into an exclusively NPR-listening sort of person, but that’s just not the case. So I’m having trouble figuring out if it’s just this one movie that was bad, or if it was my taste that was bad. And if it was my taste… who the hell was I then? Surely I must have had some awareness that these were not art films (sorry, Zalman). I certainly knew this walking into Roller Boogie. There was one more movie I also really liked around this time, maybe a little earlier, it had Darryl Hannah as a moody misunderstood teenager (misunderstood because she was so beautiful, I’m pretty sure) who dreams of leaving town and Aidan Quinn as a moody rebel with a motorcycle and I’m pretty sure the last scene in the film is them riding past the factories out of town to a similarly Moroderish song. I don’t remember it all that well except for that I saw it in New York one afternoon when I should have been out looking for a job, and that I so wished an Aidan Quinn would come and ride me out of the town he and Darryl were probably coming to, preferably to a town with factories. What I’m trying to get at is that I feel different, happier and smarter, a little anyway, and interested in better books and music and movies for the most part, but I also feel like there’s a certain core of me, perhaps in everyone, that doesn’t change, and at the same time, seeing this again boggles my mind. It’d be easy for me to write it off as pure escapism, but my cell memory knows it was more. Because it feels like whoever that person was that was lusting after a stalking art thief was someone else entirely. Actually now that I think about it, I do sometimes feel like I’ve lived several lives, like there are these eras I went through, like I’m looking back on it now having retained a certain amount of memory but also as though it was someone else’s life entirely. I should start naming these eras. This one could be called Thief of My Old Brain.
Ben says if a movie has shoulderpads in it it’s just not going to hold up. And I would add, especially if that movie is trying to be sexy.
In conclusion: cheese from the eighties very often spoils, and I am not the person I once was.