« The Fallen Bridge | Main | Early Short Films of the French New Wave »

September 05, 2023

Love and Death - Two films on VOD


Birth / Rebirth
Laura Moss - 2023

At times I felt that there was too much underlining of the differences between the two main characters in Birth/Rebirth. Celie, the obstetric nurse, is empathetic. Rose, professionally known as Dr. Caspar, a pathologist, almost totally clinical. Celie works with birth, Rose with death. The two, who both work at the same Bronx hospital, are united after Rose essentially kidnaps Celie's six year old daughter, who officially died of a sudden bacterial meningitis infection. The two women create a synergy based on secrecy and need. Celie wants to keep her daughter alive as the act of a mother's unconditional love. For Rose, the daughter is a human guinea pig, proof of the ability to regenerate cells and restore life.

This is a little movie exploring some big ideas. There are a couple of moments that we remind viewers that they are indeed watching a horror movie. It is also possible that some of the male viewers may be squeamish about what pregnant women go through, before and during childbirth. Moss, who also co-wrote the screenplay, was inspired by Frankenstein, and the reborn, as it were, child has her moment as a little monster. The film is visually dark, many scenes are dimly illuminated with it difficult to really discern what is happening on screen.

Moss has also has her actresses look as plain as possible, making Judy Reyes and especially Marin Ireland almost unrecognizable from their previous screen images. One of the more interesting creative choices was to incorporate songs by some lesser known and untraditional female musicians and singers, most frequently the experimental group Saada Bonaire. Marin Ireland's character of Rose is certainly intriguing with her view of the world as her laboratory for whatever experiment she has in mind at the moment.


We Kill for Love
Anthony Penta - 2023
Yellow Veil Films

Taking off primarily from the academic writings of Linda Ruth Williams, Anthony Penta takes a look at the films gathered under the label of erotic thriller. These would be American films mostly made for the home video and cable market from the mid-1980s, dribbling out by the end of the century. There are the few mainstream theatrical films cited, notably Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction. What we have here is an exploration of what has been a critically ignored genre that comes at a time when the depiction of sex in cinema is the current hot topic. That the Criterion Collection channel has also presented a series of several of the theatrical films has added a sense of legitimacy.

At 163 minutes, you might think everything has been covered, or uncovered as the case may be, but Penta had an earlier version that was five hours long. Those looking for clips of conventionally attractive women with little or no clothing will find those here, but this mostly a rambling history with interviews with film historians, including Williams, filmmakers like prolific Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski, and actors including Dan Anderson, Monique Parent and actor turned producer Andrew Stevens. What the more serious cinephile may find of interest, and possibly dispute, are the genre roots, primarily film noir but also the gothic romance.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray would probably be horrified to know that Double Indemnity may have inspired a genre of films with titles like Bedroom Eyes and Animal Instincts. There is some similarity between the femme fatale of film noir and the women of the erotic thriller, with the women now more powerful and independent. The films are described by one person as "guys, girls and guns". Not discussed here is a closer examination of women and guns, both as an erotic image and the implications of the gun as a phallic symbol. This is especially vexing as Penta briefly brings up the question of audience identification, suggesting not to rely on conventional assumptions. Several reasons are given for the erotic thriller no longer being viable, one being the easy availability of scenes of real sex privately viewed over the internet.

As an additional supplement, I suggest checking out Sonny Bunch's interview with Penta at the website, The Bulwark. To say that the erotic thriller is dead or disappeared is an exaggeration. While the number of films is a small fraction of what was produced in the past, there are more recent variations, often outside of Hollywood such as Alain Corneau's Love Crimes, Chan-wook Park's The Handmaiden and Francois Ozon's Double Lover. So maybe We Kill for Love will still not convince you to see Stripped to Kill, even with the Museum of Modern Art presenting a retrospective of films directed by Katt Shea. If nothing else, I defy anyone not to chuckle at the comic improvisations of B-movie staple Ross Hagen.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 5, 2023 05:19 AM