Butterfly Kiss

BOUND. 1996

Director: Andy & Larry Wachowski


Director: Michael Winterbottom

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

BoundTwo politically incorrect lesbian thrillers formed an intensely played double bill of artful suspense at the first dyke films night at OutKitsap. The event if it qualified as one had only four people attending so it's up in the air whether it'll be a regular thing since there might be no community need.

First up was the smartly plotted Bound (1996) which stars Gina Gearson as tough ex-con pickup truck drivin' professional thief Corky, & Jennifer Tilly as her gangster's moll lover Violet. They are in a comedy-of-errors plot to get their hands on almost two million dollars of mob money & lay the blame at the door of Violet's boyfriend Caesar (Joe Pantoliano). They've already witnessed what could happen if anything goes wrong. They could get all their fingers cut off one by one.

The slick genius of the Wachowski brothers, now best known for their Matrix films, is already evident in this quirky neo noir, their first feature. It is filmed very dark; at one point in the story Caesar remarks how dark it is, & he's certainly in the dark about what is going on under his nose. One of the few times a scene was brightly lit was for Corky's line, "I can see again!" after her first night with Violet. It's also brightly lit in a climactic scene of red blood spattering on spilt white paint.

BoundThe simple symbolism of the lighting is not to be taken seriously, & frankly a little better light would've been nice.

It's a violent sexy film. I'd seen the film many years ago & loved it, but I must've seen a television-censored version, as the sex scenes between Violet & Corky were a heck of a lot more graphic than I remembered. One of the women present murmured at that point, "Is this going to be porn?" No, it isn't porn. But it has a couple of lovely raw moments.

As the story unfolds it takes a long time to figure out whether Violet is honestly in love with Corky or if she's using Corky the same way she has used men. Corky's no dope & knows she could be being set up as the, uhm, fall guy so to speak. One of the slightly subtler elements of the story is how Corky figures out whether or not Violet is to be the love of her life, or her downfall; whether they are very different, or whether Violet is more like Corky than her femme veneer reveals.

For Corky, a big heist is like a big orgasm & she's willing to take the chance that Violet really is the One True Love & not the calculating femme fatale her history would indicate.

Amanda PlummerAn even more artistically exciting film played second, the deeply psychological Butterfly Kiss (1995). Amanda Plummer is the scary-spooky-sexy sadomasochistic psycho killer Eunice (or "You") and Saskia Reeves is the questing uncertain Miriam (or "Me").

From the casting alone we know we're in different territory than for Bound. Plummer & Reeves are gorgeous actors (Amanda Plummer is close to my personal womanly ideal, but my tastes are rarely perfectly mainstream). But they're not Gina Gershon & Jennifer Tilly sexpots & the Butterfly Kiss relationship however odd is on some level more down to earth & real than the fashion-conscious Bound.

This film, too, I saw years ago when it was new, & my recollection of it was that Eunice was insane & Me was rational except perhaps for falling in love with an insane woman. How memory can go astray!

Certainly Me starts out the story the naive one always seeing the good in people, puppy-dog-like in her unreserved devotion to a serial killer. Me believes she can purify You with her love & make her "good," but You warns her that Me's the one who'll be corrupted into evil. And they do end up being more alike than not, so that it makes a glorious sense that they would be drawn together.

Though it's by no means a slasher with gore FX, it is quite a bit more powerful than anything graphic ever could be. Because the grimy tattooed You who wears bruising heavy chains under her clothing & rattles as she walks has a darkly romantic appeal, we want to like her as Me so obviously does. We could almost share Me's fantasy of making the devil good; & we can surely agree that You's overt badness is a bandage for her hurt & sorrow.

The heterosexual version of this type of story would be Tamra Davies' Guncrazy (1992) or Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (1994), though Butterfly Kiss is more subtle than that because it kind of sneaks up on you how totally nuts these women are, whereas in the hetero versions the boy & girl couple are clearly on the rampage right from page one. There's a gay men's version of this story, too: The Living End (1992), though that one's not so effective as the others.

Butterfly KissWhen Butterfly Kiss first came out I'd been hanging out mostly with motorcycle dykes & s/m dykes & had come to take certain edgy female images & behaviors for granted, & still regard such extremes as theatrical, elegant, & to me even a tattoed chubster with her head shaved bald can be very feminine. Which means the images created by the actresses did not at the time strike me as all that extreme. Living in a new millenium in a much more suburban place, however, on second viewing this film seems wonderfully extreme, & it surprises me that in my memory of it, the quirky love story was what I recalled, & I'd utterly forgotten there were killings.

I do believe Butterfly Kiss embodies a sexual fantasy that is more common than most women would easily confess. Fantasies of complete control over someone or being completely controlled resulting in acts of rape are suprisingly common as has been well known at least since The Hite Report (1976), but to be actually raped would be no fun at all. So too death-obsessed erotic fantasies of killing or being killed must be very common, or exploitation cinema wouldn't even exist, & is by no means a real desire to kill or be killed.

I can remember angst-ridden youth sharing fantasies of double-suicide with a lover, wallowing in a kind of sexy madness, which lo these many years later I'm glad no partner decided to take to the ultimate degree. It's only crazy to think & share such things if they spill out into actual behavior, so either You & Me are filmic fantasies of no consequence beyond their entertainment or wide-on value, or they are real & do exist in the sphere of psychosis.

The exploratory suspense-journey of You & Me has caused at least one vigilant feminist critic to declare Butterfly Kiss "the worst depiction of lesbianism since cinema began," reacting to their lunacy. The greater reality is that both characters are deeply played in a manner that evades the fashionable, & which challenges the viewer to assess the darkest of dark fantasies generated within our society. Butterfly Kiss will captivate anyone who likes good acting, good stories, & great cinema.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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