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March 02, 1987 - Image 15

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1987-03-02
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This is a tabloid page

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m

is a case in point. For w would have
thought his most reckless, least calcu-
lated, most anarchic, least sensible in-
vention-the Monkees-might also
prove to be his most profitable venture
in show business? In re-runs now, those
'60s programs account for some of Ra-
felson's liberty to go off to Africa or
South America on research trips that
haven't so far come together as
packages.
He was also a key element in the
1968 founding of BBS (for Bert
Schneider, Bob Rafelson and Steve
Blauner), set up to produce a new kind
of American feature film-on low bud-
gets, on the road or in unusual locales,
with tough, "real" material, new actors
and unproven directors. Films like good
novels. In less than three years, BBS
gave the world Easy Rider; Peter Bog-
danovich's The Last Picture Show,
Bob's Fine Easy Pieces and Henry Jag-
lom's A Safe Place. It gave us a new
model for pictures and the first dry
smiles of Jack Nicholson's stardom.
But what do you do if your urge to be
yourself, to be difficult, to be apart from
the system, still gives the system smash
hits, Oscar nominations and a new kind
of casual, insolent glamor epitomized
by the scene in Five Easy Pieces where
Nicholson tries to get the sandwich he
wants? You have to work very hard to
keep being as difficult as you know you
must be. You have to keep insisting that
your film isn't like others, isn't a re-
make of this or that safe success, isn't
easily explained. The viewer has got to
see it and puzzle it out.
Black Idon is a case in point. In
description, it may remind you of
femme fatale movies from the '40s-it
does appear to be a struggle between a
killer and a kind of cop, and no one
could take you to court if you called it a
psychological thriller.
This is from earlier in the day on the
day before New Year's Eve, in the dub-
bing theater, amid the cigarette smoke
that scorns the Fox "No Smoking" sign.
Rafelson is refining an early passage of
the movie, and it goes like this, without
context.
We are in a bank vault. A woman
appears, wearing a mauve dress:
against all the polished steel, she's like
an orchid in a saucepan. She is given a
safe-deposit box-it must be hers
which she takes to a private room. She's
alone, with the camera: we are voyeurs,
and her accomplices. When opened, the
box discloses money, jewelry and a case
that contains a syringe and a capsule of
clear liquid. The music trembles with
the liquid. She zips open her black bag
and takes out a sealed bottle of brandy.
She primes the syringe and, with the
utmost care and intelligent purpose, she
injects the fluid through the seal and
22 Ampersand's Entertainment Guide

into the bottiPAs she works, there is a ture is air and light, but sAd is the
close-up of her hushed, attentive face, a drug. And sound is so compelling and so
close-up to fill the screen with amber, difficult to achieve that it can make a
shadowed skin and masterful eyes. director go blind, shutting his eyes to
Whatever she's doing, we're with her, hear more closely.
drawn to her skill and authority, which "We edited for six months," says Ra-
in her busy, intent silence, are as erotic felson. "Every scene, over and over, un-
as her eyes and mouth. til you hate the sight of your own movie.
Next scene: a smart, split-level But then with the sound it can come
apartment. A man is there (Dennis back to you-the pleasure, the excite-
Hopper), and he's looking for brandy. ment. It's a new movie again."
But it's all gone. So he calls upstairs to
"Hon." And she appears: the same cHEN YOU SEE Black Widow,
woman, in the mauve dress and flame- it will seem first and fore-
colored hair. She comes up to the rail- most a picture about Debra
ing on the upper level, leans on it and- Winger and Theresa Rus-
so relaxed, so friendly-juts her left sell, outsiders again, albeit ones the sys-
knee out a little so that the slit in the tem has learned to cherish. Winger is
mauve silk widens and shows a touch of often called the best young actress in
thigh. We are looking up, from his posi- pictures, but just as often she is regard-
tion. And then we are looking down on ed as "independent" and "demanding."
him, from hers. "Theresa Russell is an actress's ac-
"How come we run out of brandy so tress-the profession knows how good
quick?" he asks her. He is plaintive, as she is. But she is based in England,
well as looked down on. where she lives with her husband, di-
She answers with another question: rector Nicholas Roeg. Her American
"Didn't I see a fresh bottle in the cabi- pictures are The Last Tycoon, Straight
net?" Butter wouldn't melt in her Time and The Razor's Edge, which is a
Southern mouth. But you can't see the way of saying not many Americans
mouth, because in the second big close- know who she is.
up the bottom of her mouth is in shad- Rafelson's biggest battle with Fox
ow. We can only see the hair, the skin was getting Russell. They weren't con-
and the eyes. But when he finds the vinced she was "big" enough. Finally,
fresh bottle and tells her she's right Winger's blunt words were needed to
again, we hear a laugh, like a sigh, say, without her, no me. And that's an
come from her, and an inward noise of oblique sign of the film's sense of sister-
intimate contentment. It looks like hood, of two women who might even,
murder, but it sounds like kissing. conceivably, have been played by the
Cut to his funeral. same actress. When Ron Bass wrote the
I shouldn't tell you more, except to script, he actually had Winger in mind
say that this "she" is Theresa Russell, for the role Russell now plays.
who plays a woman who collects and Black Widow will make Theresa
disposes of rich husbands. The other Russell known: she plays four faces, or
"she" in the film is Debra Winger, a disguises, of one woman, a killer who
Justice Department investigator who truly loves those she kills. And Winger
picks out the deadly pattern on her will be revealed as every bit as good as
computer and sets out to find the killer. anyone has ever hoped for, for she plays
Let me add that the movie is not so a woman transformed. But all this is
much a thriller as the story of their rela- only possible because the script is about
tionship, in which there is as much love two very clever, challenging women
and friendship as there is menace. and because Rafelson has insisted on a
Black Widow is not a common picture, movie unlike others, one in which you
and it is not as clear-cut as its title. But can hear the two women breathe and
you've got to call a movie something, think. In the end, everything in a mov-
and something the studio can sell. ie-the images, the tracks, the art and
In a dubbing theater, the film can be the business-is a matter of whether we
run back and forth, at will, with all the care to enter the minds of the ghosts on
different soundtracks kept in sync so the screen. And every seven years, if he
that alterations can be made. Rafelson is lucky, tough and good, the outsider
and Bassman sit at a console about as comes inside and brings with him some
wide as a tennis court. There's music in ghosts so gorgeous and mysterious
the scenes, less melodies than the emo- you're not sure if you love them, or if
tive sounds of Theresa Russell's mind they mean to kill you. *
working. Rafelson is equally intent on
the "scoring" of the sounds-the bump Novelist and critic David Thomson is
of the bottle on the table, the zip of the the author of the standard reference
bag, the hiss of the syringe, the sound of work, A Biographical Dictionary of
the heels upstairs and the exact intona- Film, and the forthcoming study,
tion of amusement in the mouth. Warren Beatty and Desert Eyes, due
Itsis relentless, concentrated work. A out in April from Doubleday.

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