A Woman, Her Men, And Her Futon
Christ—is this what I’m reduced to? Writing cinephilic mash notes to late-night Cinemax softcore? Appears so, my friends. To explain, let me make A Woman, Her Men, And Her Futon my humble offering of a blurb: “I came for the prurience, but I stayed for the art!”
Seriously though—this is a kick-ass little movie that I encountered years ago on cable one insomniac night when the moon was high and the neighbor’s mutt wouldn’t shut up. (If I wasn’t such a dog-lover, I’d have dialed up Elaine Benes for ideas long ago.) The morning after, first thing, I scribbled the movie’s name in my journal (not that there was any chance of forgetting it) and rediscovered it recently on DVD.
This film, from 1992, is written and directed by one Mussef Sibay. Opening shot: Mid-orgasm (his, not hers). Basic set-up: Jennifer Rubin is Helen, a recently separated married woman with an obnoxiously jealous boyfriend she can’t bring herself to ditch and a studly no-strings-attached lover on the side (Grant Show from Melrose Place). Most interesting, and at the center of the movie, is her relationship with a filmmaker-friend, Donald (Lance Edwards). He wants her to help him write his next movie—which sounds a lot like the movie we are watching, only from his point of view, not hers—but in point of fact, is really interested in worming his way into her futon, and also (secondarily) into her heart. Of course, she is perfectly aware of this—this movie is very lucid about how the characters view themselves—but isn’t sure if that's what she wants.
We are treading some ground here that is all-too-common in life and yet doesn’t get explored very much or very well in movies: the limbo zone between a fully platonic friendship and a fully sexual relationship. Helen doesn’t have much to her name—apart from the futon—and Donald invites her to move in with him without any strings attached. But once she does, he weasels his way into a sort of steadily ascending makeout curve consisting of: holding, cuddling, petting, fondling, kissing, and finally, a desperate bit of Could-you-please-just-take-your-top-off-I–promise-I-won’t-ask-for-more-and-I-swear-this-won’t-affect-our-friendship-and-we’re-both-a-little-drunk-and-you-know-you-want-to-a-little-bit-anyway, etc.
Because she is taking advantage of his hospitality (his home, his offer to work on his movie), she wants to relent. Mainly, she is insecure, coming out of an unappreciative relationship, and wants to feel wanted. This is some fertile territory for a psychological study of power relations in romantic relationships and this movie is unhesitatingly down with it. (Not formally but thematically, there are faint echoes of Fassbinder.) None of the characters are outright “good” or “bad”—everyone, as the old cine-adage goes, has her or his reasons. Helen is a character created with great subtlety and compassion, but we also see her lie, deceive, mislead and act passive-aggressive, all of them in small—not grand—ways. As in life.
Manny Farber lamented in his 1957 essay “Underground Films” that the masters of the male action film and of male characterization (Howard Hawks, Raoul Walsh, William Wellman, Anthony Mann) were under-appreciated. One could take the obverse view here and say that it is rare for a male-directed film (meaning, what, over 95% of movies made?) to be truly woman-centric in its perspective. Which this film admirably tries to do.
The single most interesting thing about this movie might be Jennifer Rubin’s (non-?) performance. Is this “acting” or “being”? I have no way of knowing. She never tries to “emote” and has a near-blankness which (oddly) seemed very naturalistic to me. (One Amazon commenter slammed her performance as “comatose”; one might almost construe that as a compliment in this case.) Francis Bacon once said: “There is no excellent beauty that hath not a strangeness in the proportion.” And Rubin, despite her supermodel looks, has an odd, almost awkward gait, both arresting and gangly. It’s a small detail, but this physical trait humanizes her even more, adding to her character’s vulnerabilities and imperfections. She was (imdb says) the original model in the Calvin Klein Obsession ads, had a small part in The Doors, and is currently a hostess at a TriBeca restaurant.
Continuing with today’s futonic theme, let us celebrate the Isley Brothers’ lubricious booty jam, “Between The Sheets.” (If you’re a hip-hop/pop freak, yawn and click away now, because nothing that follows will be news to you.)
“Between The Sheets” from 1983, off the album of the same name, has got to be one of the most sampled tunes ever. This bedroom ballad is an instrument of seduction not just in the lyrics (rhyming “receive me” with “release me”; “moaning” with “groaning”) but even in its musical structure. In a surprise touch, it abandons the verse-chorus pattern entirely at 3:25 and literally (but discreetly) initiates a bout of love-making to the accompaniment of the same musical figure repeated over and over (tension/release/tension/release….) until it fades out two minutes later. The synth bass and melody lines are simply delicious. No wonder people have been biting them ever since.
On “Big Poppa,” Biggie and Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs quicken the pace of the Isleys sample, and Biggie delivers, with his usual authority, flow and (matchless!) cadence, a virtuosic bit of rapping. Since this is hip-hop, the usual parental advisories apply. (Which is my way of advising my parents—please do not download this song!)
Gwen Stefani on "Luxurious" goes in the other direction, slowing down the speed of the sample and putting a thick honey glaze on it. The subject is both sex and success (“champagne kisses/hold me in your/lap of luxury” or “Egyptian cotton…rollin’ in cashmere”). The opulent production, by Nellee Hooper and Tony Kanal, is candy. Each snare hit sounds like it cost a thousand bucks. So worth it.