Crimes of Passion- A Review of Passion
In 1984 the perpetually whacked out and perennially brilliant Ken Russell released what I like to think of as his magnum opus (at least outside of his more “serious” films), the depraved, candy colored, pitch black-comedy-melodrama Crimes of Passion.
In a sentence (and a very accurate sentence at that) the film can be summed up as “Kathleen Turner plays hooker with a heart of gold China Blue and Anthony Perkins plays the crazed, popper snorting, bible thumping street “preacher” that wants to kill her… with a razor dildo.”
Needless to say, just based on that brief summary, every man woman and child on Earth should watch this film immediately, but I will go on and try to convince you further.
In less than the nutshell above Crimes of Passion, at its core, is an intelligent and visceral celebration of sexual freedom and a condemnation of plane Jane vanilla sex. The film’s narrative follows two “couples” as they interact or intersect and go about their lives. One, a normal (yet deeply unhappy) long married pair Bobby and Amy Grady (played by John Laughlin and Annie Potts respectively.) And, one not so normal (or really together at all) Fashion Desginer/Greatest Hooker on the Planet, Joanna Crane/China Blue and the Reverend Peter Shayne (played by Kathleen Turner and Anthony Perkins.)
As Joanna Crane, Turner is a cold, icy bitch, who spurns men and sex, seemingly afraid of it. (She dresses like a man at work and displays a short-ish aesexual haircut.) As China Blue, Turner is a sassy, quick witted, “object of ultimate desire” for every man she runs across. (She sports a shoulder length platinum blonde “Cleopatra” do’ and a short, skin tight, blue satin dress when she makes her nightly rounds.) China Blue is the schoolgirl, the dominatrix, the sexy stewardess, etc. Whatever you need her to be, she is, she’s like some magical sex fairy. The downside to China Blue, however, is that she isn’t really fulfilling her desires at all, just those of everyone around her.
Adding to her troubles is that China Blue has an “admirer” (stalker) in the form of the Reverend Peter Shayne. As Shayne Anthony Perkins delivers his MOST deliriously over the top performance in a career piqued with many classic deliriously over the top performances. Perkins is both hilarious and horrific to watch on screen. One minute he’s outside a seedy Porno shop blasting bible verses at the passerby’s, caked in sweat and seething with fervor. The next minute he’s inside a peep show leering at blazé strippers, snorting poppers and imagining viciously stabbing blow up sex dolls to death.
It is during one of Shayne’s impromptu sermons that he spies China Blue walking the streets, immediately becoming obsessed with “saving her.” Unfortunately for China Blue however, “saving her” means fucking her to death with a gleaming razor dildo that Shayne keeps in his always on hand bag of deviant sex toys. Whatever is a girl to do?
This is where our normal and deviant worlds begin to collide. After years of trying to please his prudish, conservative wife, Bobby Grady has come to his wits end. Laughlin and Potts provide the anchor of normalcy to the film. Laughlin is a funny, handsome, “perfect husband” working hard to keep his family in a decent way of life. His performance is warm and likable, but still with realistic moments of edge. As his wife, Annie Potts is a bit shrill, but still believable as a woman who is totally uncomfortable with all subjects sex.
One night, while out on his job, Grady runs across China Blue and becomes infatuated with her as well. Eventually he ends up becoming one of her “clients.” And in their lengthy, lustful encounter they both experience perfect sexual exhilaration for the first time in either of their lives. As the film continues onward China Blue struggles to figure out how to balance the men in her life (her crazed stalker and her romantic stalker) and merge the uptight worlds of Joanna Crane with the loose freedom of her street walking persona.
As usual Russell delivers his film in a gorgeous yet abstract visual way, with garish colors (lots of thick blues, purples and reds drench the screen) and surrealistic interludes. The film is exceptionally well paced, shot and cut. The dialog, particularly between Turner and Perkins (who both seem to be having the time of their lives onscreen) is equal parts catty, witty, memorable and infectious. The only downside I’ve ever had with the film is the soundtrack by Rick Wakeman. His odd, offbeat, synthesizer/rock score both adds and subtracts from the film. It fits the tone of the movie, but is just so odd unto itself that it becomes mildly off putting.
Also, to be of note, the film does not shy away from any of it’s subject matter. There are copious amounts of female and male nudity, particularly from Turner. The sex scenes in the film are explicit and kinky (in one instance China Blue viciously rides a cop, whilest screwing him with his own night stick.) And the violence depicted onscreen is just as in your face and vivid as the erotic aspects. Crimes of Passion is not a culty-dark comedy/drama for those who embarrass easily.
In the end Crimes of Passion is a film that could never be made today (this is one of the main reasons I love the film and most of Ken Russell’s canon.) Yes, more than ever people take part in kinky sexual activities and pornographic delights. But, they do it behind closed doors for the most part, or, at the very least with tightly closed, hypocritical lips. Add to that no filmmaker today could tackle divorce, sexual repression, sexual deviancy, morality and amorality in such a frank and realistic, but still skewed and humorous way. And of course A-List actors balk at whipping out one breast or half an ass cheek on screen today unless they are sure to get an Oscar Nomination for the role. Crimes of Passion is a film with big hairy balls (among other things) and the era of cinema we live in now is at best a “tweenager” that’s just gotten his first “big boy” hair.
This is why I give Crimes of Passion 10 gleaming razor dildos out of 10!
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