Updated: Oct 29, 2020
One film journalist’s stream-of-consciousness cinematic journey through the pandemic, Part 17
By Laurence Lerman
Recent days have taken on a startlingly Old Testament kind of feel, fully rigged with fires, hurricanes, floods and illness. I’d initially thrown politics on the list, but the idea of applying so biblical a description to the maneuvers of the current President is an insult to Testaments both old and new (the Talmud, as well).
Movie streaming came in second to watching the news this week, my playlist consisting of solely two titles—one, a big Hollywood title that I’ve seen numerous times, the other, a newer one from a distant land that I’d heard good things about.
At 10:00 p.m. last Sunday, I began by pressing play on Adrian Lyne’s 1987 Fatal Attraction, the highly charged urbane drama-turned-thriller of its day that provided lots of water cooler chat before Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus was even published.
The tale of a married family man (Michael Douglas) who has a wild weekend fling with a single career woman (Glenn Close) who then grows obsessed with him and ultimately endangers his wife (Anne Archer) and young daughter, Fatal Attraction holds up marvelously. While still evoking its place in time, the story is enduring; the script by James Dearden, lively; the production, slick and sturdy; and the direction by Lyne, impeccable. (Following Lyne’s artistic trajectory, Fatal Attraction is perfectly situated between 1986’s sexed-up 9½ Weeks and 1993’s Vegas couples therapy session Indecent Proposal.)
Fatal Attraction hits the bullseye with its three central performances by Douglas, Close and Archer. Of the trio, it’s Ms. Archer’s portrayal of the perfect New York housewife and mother done wrong while transforming into a suburbanite (the family relocates from the Upper East Side to Westchester midway through) that is frequently overlooked. You can keep Close’s “I'm not going to be ignored, Dan” and Douglas’s portentous, “I don't think having dinner with anybody's a crime.” For my money, it’s all about Archer’s Beth Gallagher learning of her husband’s betrayal and identifying Close’s Alex Forrest as “the one with the blonde hair.” Then there’s her heartbreaking, “Do you love her?,” immediately followed by a howl of “What is the matter with you!?” before she kicks that son of a bitch out.
Having looked at Fatal Attraction as a kind of cautionary tale on the consequences of infidelity in the age of AIDS for years, it took nearly two decades and one remarkable wife for me to accept another view, one that categorized the film as a reactionary symbol of the Reagan-era backlash against the feminist advances of the Seventies. It painted a picture of career women—that’s right, women working outside of the home!—setting out to steal your husband and destroy your family, one of the great “moral panics” of the Eighties. That the witchy woman was a perm-haired blonde with a downtown apartment in the meatpacking district was the perfect embellishment.
Again, this was an angle of which I was unaware and had never considered. But then again, I was unfamiliar with second-wave feminism, Germaine Greer and all the related trimmings, so I wasn’t inclined to look at Fatal Attraction through those specs. But that aforementioned remarkable wife of mine, she sure was. She also pointed out that an intimate-partner-turned-stalker is, statistically, far likelier to be a man threatening a woman than vice versa.
We’ve never watched Fatal Attraction together, come to think of it. I don’t know that we need to any time soon.
I eased out of Lyne’s steamy drama and headed North to check out last year’s A White, White Day, the second feature by Iceland’s Hylnur Pálmason and the latest sampling of Nordic noir to arrive on these shores. That’s the genre that film and novel lovers have been kvelling over since the Atlantic crossing of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo novels and films of the 2000s, along with such Scandinavian TV imports as The Killing (2007), The Bridge (2011) and, most recently, Bordertown (2016).
Taking a cue from its setting in a remote Icelandic town where everyone knows everyone, A White, White Day zeroes in on a semiretired, widowed policeman who begins to suspect that a fellow local may have been having had an affair with his late wife, who was killed a couple of years earlier in a mysterious car accident. Following his initial, circumstantial suspicions, the widower becomes consumed with finding out the truth, setting off a chain of increasingly dangerous actions that may prove to be not only his own undoing, but that of his fellow law enforcers, his wife’s possible lover and even his own family.
A carefully crafted take on a familiar tale that smartly slides into the revenge thriller template while still remaining unpredictable, Pálmason’s bone-dry direction, a wintry leading turn by Ingvar Sigurdsson as the man taken over by late-stage anger and jealousy, a score of discordant strings and Iceland’s naturally imposing landscapes call the shots here. And it all comes to a climax with the outstanding use of a great Leonard Cohen song. Involving, focused, contemporary and uncomfortably quiet, A White, White Day is worth catching.
Finally, a note on Linda Manz, the uniquely expressive former teenage performer who died last month at the age of 58, following a battle with cancer and pneumonia.
Born in New York City, Manz’s first role came at the age of 15 in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978), the bona fide Seventies classic about a romantic triangle set in the Texas Panhandle during the Depression between two peripatetic workers (Richard Gere and Brooke Adams) and a wealthy farmer (Sam Shepard). Manz portrays Gere’s sister and the film’s curious narrator, her voiceover adding an elegiac quality to the ultimately tragic proceedings.
She next appeared in Philip Kaufman’s dynamic 1979 period drama The Wanderers, about a Bronx street gang that comes up against pending adulthood and the times-they-are-a changin’ Sixties. Manz portrays Peewee, the diminutive girlfriend of “Terror,” Erland Van Lidth De Jeude’s 6’6”, 340-pound leader of the Fordham Baldies, the nastiest gang to ever stomp across the Grand Concourse. The very sight of Ms. Manz when she’s standing next to her hulking man is effective enough, but her toughie with a heart of gold attitude and thick Bronx accent brings some unexpected pathos to her supporting role.
That sensitivity continued in Dennis Hopper’s 1980 cult drama Out of the Blue, where Manz portrays the troubled, Elvis-loving daughter of a high-strung mother (Sharon Farrell) and ex-con father (Hopper). It was to be Manz’s last memorable performance, as she worked much less as she moved into her 20s. She was last seen in bit parts more than two decades ago, most appropriately in Harmony Korine’s strange 1997 drama Gummo and very forgettably in David Fincher’s thriller exercise The Game from the same year. Both filmmakers were clearly fans of her earlier work.
More or less retired from the movie game for years and living with her husband and family in Antelope Valley in Northern Los Angeles County, she gave a memorable interview to the Village Voice’s Nick Pinkerton in 2011. Aware that Malick’s film from that year, The Tree of Life, had won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, she admitted she hadn’t seen any of his movies since Days, nor many others.
“I’m not a movie buff, I don’t go to the movies,” she said, simply.
A rising star who slipped out of the film industry and then just didn’t feel like going to the movies. Sort of refreshing, isn’t it?
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.