Monday, February 18, 2008

Slave To Love: The Fabled Workprint Of Nine ½ Weeks

One of my favorite features that the IMDB carries is the ‘alternate versions’ and ‘trivia’ sections for their individual film listings. The listing for Adrian Lyne’s Nine ½ Weeks is particularly interesting as it includes some information on the fabled ‘workprint’ version which has still yet to see a legitimate release. A quick run through shows that one of his most controversial films was subjected to some of the most studio interference, a fact that makes a special edition DVD of the film with his original cut a much needed release.
Of course, rumors of Lyne’s original cut have been floating around for years. Mickey Rourke himself spoke of it in a Playboy interview after the films release, stating that Lyne’s version was a flat out ‘masterpiece’. It is also known that MGM sent the film through well over twenty test screenings and finally removed more than an hour from it in an attempt to make it more commercial, and Rourke’s character more likeable.
Recently I revisted Nine ½ Weeks for the first time in well over a decade and I must say the film, even in its tampered and butchered state, has aged quite well. Obviously many of the fashions and some of the music has dated but when the film works, it still feels as fresh and as scintillating as ever. Lyne remains after over three decades in the directors chair one of cinema’s premiere stylists and Nine ½ Weeks is still one of his definitive productions.
Watching Nine ½ Weeks today is an eye opening experience on many levels. It is hard to believe the furor that the film caused back in 1986 but this was indeed one of the most controversial productions Hollywood had ever put out. The film still has some punch although the last twenty years has taken some of the sting away, which is good in a way as it allows a fresher eye to view it with.
Key to the film’s success is the casting of Kim Basinger in the lead role as Elizabeth. Basinger has always been an underrated actress in my book and I find her work in this film to be particularly resonating. I find it hard to believe that such a provocative, brave and go for broke performance was nominated for a Razzie award that year but indeed it was. Mickey Rourke was really at the top of his game here and his work as the seedy but seductive Wall street businessman John is one of his definitive turns. No other actor could have played the mysterious part with as much cool conviction as Rourke does.
The film does indeed work best in the many scenes featuring just Basinger and Rourke. Both of them are at the height of their beauty here and the heat they manage to generate, even in some of the film’s stilted dialogue scenes, pretty much guarantee that it will always have some bite.

As a visual exercise the film is still a wonder to behold. I always thought an interesting experiment would have been to make this into a silent film with the chemistry between Rourke and Basinger acting as dialogue.
The script co-written by Zalman King (from the Elizabeth McNeil novel) is the film’s biggest liability, although I agree with King’s contention that there is something wrong with a society that will accept films driven by violence and not by sex. I suspect that his script works much better and feels more complete in Lyne’s preferred longer cut. As it is in the theatrical print, the script feels a bit choppy and not fully formed.
Complaints that the film feels too much like a music video are perhaps valid in spots but damn, with Adrien Lyne filming it who cares. This guy has such a grasp on what he is attempting to capture that I have trouble arguing with any of his shots. His work here with Peter Biziou as DP is extraordinary especially in the films masterful lit love scenes, which feel like David Hamilton photographing Blade Runner. The two would work together again on another one of Lyne’s best works, 2002’s Unfaithful.
Outside of the films sex scenes, it was best known in 1986 for its soundtrack, which was a huge hit. Jack Nitzsche’s score is good but feels underused and I wonder if Lyne’s cut has more of it and less of the songs that ended up being put in the film. The songs themselves are a mixed bag but Bryan Ferry’s lovely and imaginative “Slave To Love” remains one of the great songs from an eighties film. Lyne’s images of Basinger and Rourke set to it remain as stirring and as powerful as ever.
Nine ½ Weeks is more than deserving of a solid DVD release with Lyne’s original cut. I think it would surprise a lot of people who have always just considered the film a soft-core failure. As it stands, the film is still one of the most definitive works of the eighties and I must say I really enjoyed revisiting it again after so many years. I would love to write a full post on the Lyne’s original version, and will if I ever get a chance to see it.


Lastyear said...

Haven't seen it in years but it always seemed to be to be a slicler version of those movies you would see on Cinemax in the middle of the night.Maybe I should give it another look.Never liked any of Lyne's other films(Flashdance in particular incurs my wrath)with the exception of Lolita which I actually prefer to Kubricks.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks LastYear,
I am a big admirer of Lyne's Lolita so it is good to hear some nice words for it...

Rogue Spy 007 said...

I haven't seen this film in many years. I always loved it though. Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger were both brilliant in it. This film worked on so many levels. I'll have to make sure I see this again sometime soon. I'm a big fan of Lyne's work. I really enjoyed his Lolita.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Keith,
I like Lyne as well especially FOXES, LOLITA and UNFAITHFUL. All masterful films in my book...

J.D. said...

Yeah, Nine 1/2 Weeks does hold up pretty well after all these years. And stylistically I think it is a fantastic snapshot of the 1980s when all of that commercial/music video style of filmmaking was in vogue (see Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Alan Parker, et al).

As for Lyne, I still think that Unfaithful is his best film. As good as Kim Basinger is in Nine 1/2 Weeks, I think that Diane Lane is even better in Unfaithful. Of course, I think that she is a much stronger actress than Basinger and it is a crime that she didn't win the Oscar that year for her role in Unfaithful.

Steve Langton said...

Really enjoyed your thoughts on this film. I have the strangest feeling that we may yet see Lyne's cut in the not-too distant future.
I'm also a big fan of LOLITA, which many of my film-going friends seem to prefer to the original.

s said...

This is Adrian Lyne's masterwork (though Mr. Lyne's movie critic admirers ascribe that status to "Jacob's Ladder" a lot) - and it is the best visual depiction of what I believe is the erotic and stylistic aesthetic of his mind's eye.

I find it immensely annoying that despite this film's international "cult" appreciation and considerable 80's social documentary value, there is yet no comprehensive Director's Cut version that reinstates everything from those infamous editing room snippets (4+ hrs???), adds current interviews with the stars, film featurettes, NYC location anecdotes, music videos, et al, and does a more acceptable digital transfer than the last one (perhaps even a Blu-Ray edition? Grrr!!!

His peers Alan Parker and Ridley Scott have successfully managed to put out Special/Enhanced Editions of their more significant past efforts ("Midnight Express", "Angelheart", "Bladerunner", "Gladiator", "Kingdom of Heaven", etc),

So Mr.Lyne, if you ever peruse these pages, pull some bloody muscle with MGM and do something about it - you owe it to yourself, if not to the legion of fans out here!!!!!!