Sunday, 7 August 2011

Sunday Openings: Dangerous Liaisons

Paolo completely wrecked my day a few weeks ago when he said that he preferred Cruel Intentions to Dangerous Liaisons, so immediately following a look at a Christopher Hampton film last week (with Atonement) I figured I might as well look at Dangerous Liaisons this week. It presents an even more interesting challenge, because we move into the realm of films which are so seamlessly created that the word “opening” seems especially arbitrary. Incidentally, like Atonement, the key – for me – in deciding on what was the opening was tied to the music. And, although it’s nowhere near as obtrusive as Marianelli’s work in Wright’s film the music in Dangerous Liaisons is excellent (and Oscar winning).

I have a clear and pervasive love for Dangerous Liaisons (it’s the source of email address, after all). Before I actually started this feature I’d decided that I’d only feature the scenes occurring after the credits, but I’ve realised that that doesn’t necessarily constitute the true opening – especially with a film like this...

Incidentally, that isn’t the actual first shot of the film, but it’s the first significant one. It’s not particularly ingenious, but I do appreciate the glossiness of the font and the concept of having the letter motif be the way we see the title. Letters are important to this one, as are words – even though the opening is devoid of any conversation.

That shot. The more famous “face” shot of Glenn occurs two hours later at the film’s end, but I love the symmetry of it all that has us opening the film to her admiring her visage. The Marquise de Merteuil is one of the most fascinating characters of the eighties, of all time perhaps. With just one shot of her face there’s already a potent feeling of danger.

Even though Glenn has all but forsaken cinema (thank goodness we can look forward to Albert Nobbs before the year is out) I keep up with Glenn on Damages. And, true, she’s just brilliant all-round – but what I find most fascinating about her is the ability to control her face she has. It’s another reason this opening sequence works so well. Dangerous Liaisons is more obviously about wordy witticisms and caustic lines, so the lesser things about it are often forgotten. And, that is why I think it’s so intriguing. Hampton is excellent with the words, but Frears doesn’t let the words do all the talking which makes the film exponentially better. I imagine the script reads, “Marquise de Merteiul admires herself in the mirror”, but the way Frears frames her is lovely – and the amount of information Glenn manages to convey with a glance is brilliant. And that final smile is chilling.
 The concept of indolence is significant in the film, but it’s so odd how it never comes off as inertia. Both Valmont and Isabel are people bored with their lives, so they devise strategies to entertain themselves.
Just the way she takes up the brush to comb her hair there is wrought with indolence – as if, nothing is essential...

And, then, of course there’s notion that the Marquise and the Vicomte are two sides of a single coin. So, we shift to him – before we even know.


I don’t remember the opening blurring the lines between the two characters as much. You’re not even certain that you’re dealing with two people immediately.

Does that seem like an obvious phallic symbol to anyone else? Everything that Frears does in the film is begging to be looked at in some pseudo-sexual way, and it all works excellently.

But, goodness, these people are pampered.

 That look on Glenn’s face is thoroughly amusing. It’s almost as if she’s both bored and uncontrollably blissful.

And, that switch there seems as if we’re still dealing with Glenn...

 ...until we travel up... (could you imagine how debasing it was to have to do this as a job?)

...and then shift back...
Acheson does beautiful work with the clothes.

I’m one of those persons who is woefully ignorant about fashion and that moment with the shoes takes me back (or forward?) to the belt incident in The Devil Wears Prada. I’m attentive enough to notice that the buckles on the shoes are different, but taking into consideration his eventual ensemble I find it amusing how much care Valmont puts into it, and how patiently he sits waiting.

The same way that Merteuil is patiently waiting here. Notice how we’re constantly seeing Glenn’s face but we’ve not seen John in full yet? I’m not certain what Frears is getting at. Perhaps the Marquise's evil is more obvious than Valmont's? Maybe she's more officious with her ways, and he's more subtle - she we see him obscured but her in the open? I'm clutching at straws here, to be honest.

Those wigs are absolutely hideous I say.

 But, look, we get our first (obscure) look at John’s face. I love the fact that he can’t get up to get the wig, but points with that very eerie looking mask.

Honestly, that thing is hideous.

 The gratuitous close-up on Glenn’s breast.
Why do they look so huge?

It’s so odd that with all the material she has on, her breasts seem barely covered.

I've said it time and time again, film is a visual medium - and if a picture is worth a thousand words, what could I possibly say to enhance these photos?
 (I have to give kudos to these women for wearing all that material. No wonder Madame de Tourvel faints later in the movie.)

 And, voila – the Vicomte. John Malkovich is hardly the most conventionally good looking man, and he speaks with a slight lisp (which I do too, so power to him) so it’s a bit odd that he’s playing sexpot Vicomte de Valmont, but then he’s got the magnetic charisma so it all ends up working even though in theory it shouldn’t.


Even a clothes ignoramus like me can appreciate the detail...

Glenn is so majestic.

 That thing she does with her neck is so weird.


Isn’t it nice how his entourage just watches him go?

 And as he arrives...

...we spot someone looking out...

We don’t know it yet, but she’ll be very important in all this.

In a way, I suppose, the opening is a bit gratuitous but really, that's the sort of the point in a way. All the sumptuousness is necessary because the characters are gratuitous and are just luxuriating in their...well, in their wickedness. And, isn't that precisely the sort of opening you'd except from something like Dangerous Liaisons?
Despite the lack of words...isn't this opening brilliant?


dinasztie said...

For me, great Glenn is unbeatable. Always.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

GREAT Glenn. I like that.