Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lipstick (1976)

Next time someone asks your opinion about their music...lie

This was a Hollywoodized version of the rape/revenge format that was starting to pick up steam in the '70s, except the difference is it throws in a legal battle and concentrates more so on the first than the second of the formula. For the cinematic experience, "Lipstick" has some memorable and gripping scenes, though for social commentary the script isn't air tight due to taking on too many threads at once. This tries to be something like "Dirty Harry" and "The Last House on the Left" at the same time with mixed results.

Kathy wants her older sister Chris, who's a busy and exceptionally beautiful fashion model, to listen to her seemingly nice teacher Gordon Stuart's music. Chris and Gordon rendezvous at her apartment alone where tensions flare with this person she hardly knows when he sees how much success she has. Then only mounts when she takes a phone call from another guy in the other room partly as an excuse to get away from his grating, electronic tunes. He begins to degrade her with exaggerated accusations that eventually turn over to raping and terrorizing Chris in various, over-the-top ways until a very confused preteen Kathy accidentally walks in to witness her role model taking advantage of her loving sister that's essentially a parental figure. What looks to be an open and shut case with evidence and witnesses, only ends up opening new wounds when not only her but her sister as well have to testify in court in front of this manipulative man that turned Chris' glamorous life into nightmarish pain and trauma.

Gordon gets a slick and weaselly attorney that looks for every loophole and technicality imaginable. The film carries a message about how little can be done about rapes: how it's stacked against the victims because of due process and your word against their's. Not to mention people in her life, such as her boyfriend, are insensitive because it's going to put her livelihood and reputation on the line, and then she might not even win in court regardless. Her other support is a priest brother who represents a road of healing rather than hate. When all else fails with the men in her life that are supposed to be protectors from another incident, she finds it in herself to take matters into her own hands with a message that's going to get some men checking their drawers if everything's still in place.

The film shows how there can be exceptions to the rules that govern how we judge people on the surface. One is a vile person in hiding, despite being in a position of respect with not only young kids but also at a church, and the other has a heart of gold, despite being socially elite in something as fickle as fashion. The strange part is Stuart's character is portrayed as highly sociopathic and unfeeling in one instance but then is able to get hot under the collar and feel guilt in another, except the two don't go hand and hand. It's not the most effectively made film or entirely believable because of a narrow set of circumstances but it still gets the message out there that even the courts are imperfect.

Instead of being a thoroughly challenging film with ambiguity, at times it feels somewhat emotionally manipulative to go a certain way with a black and white delivery. This still carries some messages about abuse against women, but the main one is how citizens are supposed to be protected by the justice system. It also deals with some double standards about how men of distinction are hardly ever questioned, while women not only have to deal with the painful memories but live with further shame and embarrassment from the public because she must have done "something" wrong to find herself in that position. The rape scene isn't pleasant to say the least. Despite being a model who sells her looks, they made it so there wasn't a shadow of a doubt that Chris did not deserve it. If that wasn't enough the filmmakers put it in the audience's face that she's also incredibly charming and accommodating. It seems overkill to make her extremely sympathetic to the point of clubbing the viewer over the head. We get it: she can't help it that's she exceptionally pretty or desired and it should be her choice who she shares herself with.

There's somewhat of a lull after the heated trial till it picks back up again to a faster paced thriller. The movie waited till the last minute to pull the revenge, that way there wasn't a doubt with the audience, not to mention the second court case was breezed over as well to sweep inquisitive questions that might jeopardize the story under the rug. I think the ending would have been much more effective if it just closed with her revenge like "Thriller," rather than showing a not very plausible court verdict. They could have really made the tumblers work if her violence wasn't justified by law but rather to show she became part of the problem. It was such a quick scene that it didn't ask questions or show how violence and revenge affects a victim such as how long "The Virgin Spring," "Straw Dogs" and "Deliverance" concentrated on the two. For the first trial in the film, this is no more guilty than 90% of the other stories that switch over to courtroom drama that's more about emotion than actual rules and procedures. There's just enough to make it look potentially real but then the other portions are a circus act of outbursts, surprise evidence and witnesses.

The two lawyers, played by Anne Bancroft and Robin Gammell, despite being more cinematic than real to life, go further with their roles than the two leads as they fight neck to neck in a battle of slyness, egotism and last but least justice. Margaux Hemingway, with her first film role, takes on the part somewhat low key as if she's reserved--even with a dry, unexcited voice--though with a few outbursts in between. It's hard to say if it was the director or her choice to underdo certain scenes instead of playing it up, so that there's little if any mistranslation or complications to understanding her role. Chris Sarandan's character, as Gordon, is only loosely outlined to make him that much more creepy, though he becomes the Boogey Man in human form the way he's sometimes moved around to get thrills than representing anything concrete. The young Mariel Hemingway exceeds in her role as Kathy by playing a naive girl with a crush that gets forced into adulthood too early.

Rating: 6.5/10

Director: Lamont Johnson
Stars: Margaux Hemingway, Chris Sarandon, Mariel Hemingway, Anne Bancroft
Link: IMDB

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