PrimeCrush & Chill: Steamy Films Worth A Re-Watch. By Christian Pan

PrimeCrush & Chill: Steamy Films Worth A Re-Watch. By Christian Pan

. 6 min read

In this series from Christian Pan, we hook back up with our favorite ex's--as in classic steamy movies worth a re-watch.

Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) 

sex, lies, and videotape: Some Kind of Skin Flick | Current | The Criterion  Collection
Watch the trailer here

Starring: James Spader, Andie MacDowell, Peter Gallagpher, Laura San Giacomo 

Released: January 20, 1989 (USA) 

Basic Plot: A web of deception and infidelity is quickly disrupted with the arrival of a stranger who creates a unique form of videotapes. 

Housewife Ann (Andie MacDowell) is initially unaware that the reason why her husband John (Peter Gallagher) is frequently unavailable to take her calls at the law firm is because he is having an affair with her sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). But when John invites his old college friend Graham (James Spader) to temporarily stay with them in Baton Rouge while he looks for an apartment, the lies and the deceit begin to unravel. While Ann struggles to convince herself into rationalizing why she and her husband no longer have sex, Graham strives to live by a credo of complete honesty, revealing that he has solved his sexual impotence by finding arousal through videotaping women talking about sex. Shortly after her sister Cynthia visits Graham to make one of these tapes, Ann discovers a clue that shows that she and John have been having an affair for months. She makes a tape with Graham, questions what he is trying to do with the tapes from this “personal project”, and then tells her husband she wants out of their marriage. In a rage, John violently confronts his old friend before viewing the videotape made between him and his wife. 

Why Re-watch: It is difficult not to underestimate the influence Sex, Lies, and Videotape had in pioneering the American independent theater movement of the 1990s. Director Steven Soderbergh infamously wrote the script in eight days during a road-trip, and the film won the Audience Award for Best Film at the 1st annual US Film Festival (thereafter named Sundance) before going to Cannes in the south of France, where 26-year-old Soderbergh became the youngest director to win their Palme d´Or. Made for just over a million bucks, Sex, Lies, and Videotape has earned over $100 million worldwide since its theatrical release. Not bad for a debut. 

Nearly 35 years later, the film remains fresh and vivid: it´s amazing what one can do with a small ensemble of talented actors, a strong script, clear direction and editing, and crisp photography. Spader´s gentle naturalism is eloquent for what he doesn't say: he can break your heart by a sustained look, or show a flash of anger within a simple closing of the eyes. MacDowell portrays her characters fragility and vulnerability effortlessly, and seemingly has the ability to blush on cue; we glimpse her inner thoughts by how she fondles the stem of a full wine glass, or precariously holds her iced tea. In contrast to these two´s fumbling attempts towards genuine connections with another human being are Gallagher and San Giacomo, who display an almost mercenary approach to sex and relationships in their supporting roles. Each of these onscreen characters are believable, and no matter how long they remain on screen, you want more of them. 

Thelma and Louise (1991)

Amazon Prime, Paramount+, Hulu, Apple TV

Starring: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Brad Pitt

Released: May 20, 1991 (USA)

Basic Plot: A weekend road trip for the film's titular characters takes a sudden dark turn, causing both women to run for their lives and learn that they can rely on no one else but each other.

As the story opens, timid housewife Thelma (Geena Davis) is afraid to even ask her her controlling husband Daryl (Christopher McDonald) if she can go on a fishing trip with her best friend Louise (Susan Sarandon), a single woman who´s taken time off from her shifts as a waitress at the local diner. Stopping at a roadhouse along the way, the two women are quickly approached by a sweaty stranger, Harlan (Timothy Carhart), who keeps pouring drinks and dancing Thelma into a state of nauseous dizziness. When Louise finally catches up with them, he is in the back parking lot attempting to rape her friend, and would have if Louise hadn´t shot him. Knowing with certainty that no one will believe them–”that's just not the world we live in,” Louise tells Thelma, “everyone will say you were asking for it because they saw you dancing with him earlier”--the two go on the lam, hoping to get to Mexico as soon as possible before the Arkansas authorities (led by Harvey Keitel) can capture them. Some financial help from Louise´s boyfriend Jimmy (Michael Madsen) is thwarted by the sexy thief J.D. (Brad Pitt), and so the two have to resort to armed robbery and more violence in their attempt to reach the southern border before it's too late.

Why Re-watch: Directed and co-produced by Ridley Scott, Thelma and Louise was nominated for dozens of awards all over the world after its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 1991, and screenwriter Callie Khouri won Best Original Screenplay that year at the Oscars (this was her first!). In addition to critical acclaim, the film also generated significant controversy for its depictions of gender, with some hailing it as an uncompromising depiction of women´s experience to others saying its depictions of men were unfairly negative.

Using elements from a number of cinematic genres, the structure of Thelma and Louise is more than a reinterpretation of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, a feminist update to the “buddy movies” were men are centered in the narrative and their choices (frequently violent and/or self-serving) are unquestioned. Instead, Khouri´s script is a powerful portrayal of how women experience and navigated through public space in America. In addition to the obvious example of Harlan, we see the two of them constantly enduring demeaning comments from strangers as well as a spouse, unwanted flirtations, and threats. To survive, Khouri´s heroines must remain pretty, polite, and compliant. And when they don´t? All hell breaks loose! During the second half of the film, the women awaken to the thrill of discarding these gender-expectations–they throw away make-up, give away jewelry, their actions become more practical; in fact, up until the final scene by the Grand Canyon, the two look like men. Perhaps this is why so many cops with so many guns are demanding their surrender? And also, this is why the film´s titular characters choose to keep going forward, rejecting incarceration in favor of freedom–even if that freedom is short-lived.

But Thelma and Louise contains serious themes related to gender and sexual violence, but also a lot of humor, maturity, and sensuality when it comes to women´s desires. The hotel scene contrasting Thelma/JD and Louise/Jimmy is a prime example. While totaling just a few minutes in the film, seeing Davis portray an earnest and primal desire for the shirtless bohunk Pitt is refreshing. It´s also unfortunately rare in cinema, seeing women initiate sexual desire, particularly an older woman for a younger man who´s got a “cute butt”? Further, Sarandon and Madsen defy expectations by making their scene all about emotionally intimacy, a choice which Sarandon apparently had to convince the director to make. Rather than have Louise and Jimmy have “one last night of passion together” before she makes her final run to Mexico, the two sit and talk. Rather than accept his clumsy offer of marriage so she has “something to come back for”--which in another film might have lead the two down the path of sentimental cliché–Louise instead rejects his offer because she loves him. It is because she cares about him that she is not telling him the whole story, doesn´t want to jeopardize his safety by getting him further involved in her situation. Such layers of nuance and insight about the inner lives of women, and their complex relationships with men, permeate every scene of Thelma and Louise. More than 30 years later, so much of the film still feels fresh and contemporary.

Christian Pan is a writer based in New York City. Since 2021, he has published six novellas and nearly one hundred short stories focused on the erotic imagination. He also hosts the Pulse Session for the monthly podcast All the Filthy Details.

If you love me as much as I love you (and I really do love you!), then please help me grow by forwarding this {love} Letter to a friend! And I'd love to have you join us on instagram, facebook & twitter.

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