Reviewed By-Kit Gavin Directed by Lamont Johnson Starring Margaux Hemingway, Chris Sarandon, Anne Bancroft and Mariel Hemingway. Released through: Paramount Region 1 NTSC [United States]
LIPSTICK opens on the set on of a bitchy photo shoot, where top model and cover girl Chris McCormick [Margaux Hemingway] is being shot for the latest advertising campaign for a brand of lipstick she is advertising (originally enough the product is also called "Lipstick". Shortly afterwards, whilst on the set for another photo shoot, Chris is visited by Gordon Stewart [Sarandon], the attractive music teacher of her younger sister Kathy [Mariel Hemingway], who is still at school. Kathy accompanies her music teacher who has something of a fixation on Chris, whilst wanting her to listen to his music in the hope that it might lead to success. He offers to drop by with a recording of his music at the sisters’ apartment on Sunset Boulevard.
Later, whilst Chris is at home having a shower, Mr. Stewart calls by at the apartment block. She lets him in and offers him a beer whilst she goes into the other room to get dressed, whilst unbeknownst to her, Gordon watches her. Dressed, she comes out and agrees to listen to Gordon’s music. She tells him that her sister has a crush on him too. Listening to the music, a crazy mish-mash of random sounds, synthesizer doodlings and some natural sounds, Chris seems unimpressed and is soon bored by the music. Whilst the music is playing, Chris is called by her agent, and sometime lover Steve. Taking the opportunity, Chris goes through to the bedroom to take the call. Having finished the conversation, Gordon comes through with his tape recorder with the music. He sees the picture of the sisters’ brother by the bed before he attacks Chris. He tears her dress, trashes the room and when Chris tries to escape he gives chase. He smears Chris’ mouth and chin with the lipstick she promotes, so it "makes her good enough looking to fuck". He then tells her he wants to have the lipstick on him, to which Chris kisses him. Chris is forced to perform oral sex off screen, and then is slapped her around before being tied to the bed and sodomized.
Soon afterwards, Kathy returns home from school. She looks for her sister and sees her in the bedroom with Mr Stewart on top of her, before running off upset to take a shower. Gordon unties Chris, gets dressed and leaves. Chris runs through the flat, looking for her sister, and tells her what has happened. The police arrive, and question her about what happened. Understandably troubled by events, both sisters visit their brother, Martin, and Chris recalls their parents, who died in a car accident. Chris is unsure whether to press charges against Gordon, her attacker, however she is encouraged to do so by Carla Bondi [Bancroft], her attorney, despite the misgivings of her agent, Steve, who is convinced the trial will destroy her career as a model.
Chris however, convinced by Carla’s words, decides to prosecute her attacker. Once the court is in session, the first witness to take the stand is Kathy. The Defence team, headed by Mr Cartwright, question Kathy about her awareness of sex and whether she has read such novels as "The Story of O". The Prosecution over rules much of the questioning. Afterwards, Chris takes the stand and is made to discuss her sexual history, her promiscuity and her sexual fantasies of being tied up and overpowered. Also the jury are shown pictures of her topless on the beach, out-takes from her photo shoot when she was visited by Gordon and Kathy at the start. Then Gordon Stewart takes the stand, making it quite clear that he would never want to hurt nor to rape Chris, if anything his fantasies would be to make love to her. However he also tells the jury that Chris was turned on rough sex. The court is adjourned until the following day. That evening, in the nude, he telephones Chris at home, playing his recording loudly down the phone to her.
The next morning, Stewart once again takes the stand to be cross-examined by Carla Bondi. She asks him about his music, called Filius irae – Fury’s child – and makes him play it to the courtroom. Having testified and whilst he is leaving the stand, he proclaims his innocence, appealing to the jury. The Defence however recall Kathy to the stand, asking her more specifically about the events when her sister was raped. Based on the new evidence, and Gordon’s pleas off the record, the jury find him not guilty.
As a result of the trial and the ensuing publicity, Chris loses her contract with the lipstick company. However she has to finish the shoot, but finds it difficult to capture the same mood and feeling she did before. On the final day of the shoot, Chris is modelling a red dress, planning on leaving with Kathy that afternoon. The shoot taking place in a mostly empty building, Kathy gets bored and explores the building. By a twist of fate, she discovers that Gordon, having been find innocent is casting for a show, which uses his music, and with lots of young girls in leotards. He notices Kathy and invites her down, offering to record her heartbeat as part of the music track.
Stewart’s behaviour perturbs Kathy, when he starts acting in a somewhat lewd manner and she runs away, however, Stewart gives chase, perusing the younger sister round the building. He catches up with her and tears off her trousers. Shortly afterwards Kathy arrives at the photo shoot, beaten up and raped. Outraged, Chris rushes off after Mr Stewart, still dressed in the bright red evening dress. She catches up with him in the car park, and grabbing the rifle from the back of her cheap, shoots at him in his car, shattering the windscreen. Veering off road, he crashes his car. Getting out of the car, Kathy shoots at him again and again, hitting him in the chest and then in the groin, finally killing him. The film ends with Chris, defended once again by Carla Bondi, being found "not guilty" and acquitted for the murder.
The 20-year-old Margaux Hemingway, granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway, made her acting in debut in this rape revenge drama. Contemporary reviews of the film as well as present day reviews of this DVD release have criticised the late Hemingway for her performance in the film. At the time, Hemingway was a popular model and cover girl for Faberge Cosmetics, and I feel the panning of her performance in the film is unfair and unjustified. At times Hemingway sounds whiney, other times over the top and verging on camp, and yes her performance could be described as wooden, but Hemingway’s role is intended on being that of a naVve young air-headed model, not a gutsy victim as portrayed by Jodie Foster in another rape drama (THE ACCUSED). In that respect, she is convincing, although it is difficult to find sympathy or empathy for the character she plays. Sarandon plays an effectively chilling villain, however no real reason is given for his obsession for Chris, and why he should suddenly resort to raping her, other than a somewhat puerile crush on a top model. Even later, when he calls her during the trial, in the nude, he is there seeming befixed and obsessed because he has one copy of Cosmopolitan with his victim on the cover (!). Also both victim and attacker are attractive, adding a further dimension to the sleazy underbelly of events taking place on screen. Anne Bancroft, as the lawyer defending Chris on both occasions, however, surprisingly, in the film delivers the worst performance. There is something wholly unconvincing in her delivery, and I suppose her character is meant to be morally ambiguous, but this angle is never explored to any real extent.
However, despite most people’s disdain for the performance of Margaux Hemingway in the film, younger sister Mariel Hemingway delivers a splendid debut performance, often over looked in the film. She plays perfectly the younger sister with a crush on her teacher, and during her cross examination on the stand, she delivers her lines with realism and turns in a convincing performance. Given that she was only 14-15 when the film was made, and the disturbing subject matter, including the aftermath of a rape, her performance is uniformly good. Hemingway would go on to work with Woody Allen in the superb MANHATTAN, a lesbian athlete in the highly regarded PERSONAL BEST, and had breast implants to play doomed centerfold Dorothy Stratten in Bob Fosse’s biopic, STAR 80. However, afterwards Hemingway’s performance took a nosedive and she has ended up mostly in supporting roles in B-movie features. Events however were more tragic for her older sister, who’s career spiralled out of control, with Margaux checking into the Betty Ford Clinic during the 80’s in order to recover from alcohol abuse. She did a spread for Playboy in 1990, still looking attractive and proving that despite being tall, gangly and flat-chested, she was an attractive woman. This didn’t however, lead to better roles for the actress and she was found dead in her small studio apartment in Hollywood, six years later, due to an epileptic seizure or suicide by an overdose of sedatives, depending on which account you choose to believe.
One of the pitfalls of the film is the truly mind-numbingly bad script that the characters are forced to work from. Not that there is much characterisation. Gordon Stewart meets Chris briefly, and with her disinterest in his music, her mixing with well-known celebrities such as Paul Newman, and briefly seeing her topless on the beach and the apartment, he decides to turn to violence and to rape her. All within the first 20 minutes of the film. So much for character development. Hemingway also has to deliver such trite lines, as "He wanted to kill me with his COCK! I hate him". Also in the aftermath of the nasty rape, when Chris is being interviewed by the police, in front of her kid sister, she is asked whether she was sodomized, and whether she was urinated or defecated on by her attacker. Yet later Kathy is upset when asked about SM when taking the stand (!?!). The film is pretty much divided up into segments, the first quarter being a brief into to Chris and her rapist, the next two quarters being a rather slow and not especially courtroom drama, and the final quarter being Kathy’s attack and being avenged by her sister. That said, pacing isn’t that bad, and the film never drags its heels too painfully. The glossy finale, with Hemingway, coiffed and in a beautiful dress, yet without a hair out of place, blasting away like an avenging angel, also errs on the camp side.
Direction by Lamont Johnson, who had directed episode of the Twilight Zone in the late Fifties, and then a series of forgettable movies before and subsequent to Lipstick, is lacklustre to say the least for most of the film. It is mostly, to be fair, direction by numbers, but none the less, little panache or style is given to proceedings. There are some moments, such as the rape scene which (what is left of anyway and hasn’t been censored) is portrayed in a somewhat disturbingly erotic, voyeuristic manner. The film is glossy and for the most part inept nonsense, even the outcome where Chris is acquitted on the grounds of murder, vigilante justice is the way to go it seems.
Given that the film is now over 25 years old, it oddly enough has not dated. The characters don’t look ludicrously 1970’s, as is often the case with films of this time. However the film does show it’s age through the attitudes in the courtroom and the trial of the Chris Sarandon character, where Hemingway is made to take the stand and testify about her sexual history in evidence in front of the jury, no longer is admissible in court cases of rapists and their victims. The subject matter, rape and vigilante justice are bound to be offensive to most viewers of mainstream cinema. Underneath the glossy veneer and high production values, we are confronted with a rape revenge drama, on similar lines to the more squalid roughie (and notorious) I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, which was made two years later. Most reviewers have found the subject matter to be disturbing, obscene and offensive, but if the subject matter is not going to offend the viewer, it is an entertaining (in it’s own perverse way) glossy little exploitation film.
Picture quality is vibrant and good, though there are a few signs of speckling, and some grain but otherwise the picture is bright and clean throughout. Colors are bright and flesh tones look natural. The audio however fairs less well, however, with dialogue being clean and crisp for the most part, and the audience can "enjoy" the din of Mr Stewart’s music fully. However, sounds such as when Chris is being attacked in her apartment, such being thrown against her wardrobe doors, or in the finale when Stewart clips against another car in the parking lot, these sounds are oddly muffled, and restrained.
Once again, Paramount has released a film barebones, with only the option of an English or a French soundtrack being present, and over static menus of the attractive Hemingway. There isn’t even a trailer. Most disappointing is this trait of Paramount, as with most of their releases, to continue not to bother to include any form of extras. As well as this, Paramount continues to release R-rated versions of their films, and Lipstick has had its rape scene pruned in order to make the R-rating. The cuts are obvious and as jarring as Sarandon’s music. Paramount has often received flak from those buying their films, such as the Friday the 13th franchise, where all the films have been released (before the recent box set) in cut barebones releases. Paramount, however, sometimes seem to listen to what the fans say, and delayed their release of Bava’s comic book caper, DANGER: DIABOLIK, and have recorded an audio commentary, etc for the fans to enjoy. With this and the recent Friday the 13th boxset, maybe things are looking up for the Paramount releases.
One good selling point of the disc however is the staggeringly low selling price, however this doesn’t account nor make up for the fact the film has been cut and the DVD is bereft of any extras. I was most surprised that Paramount has released this from their back catalogue when there are so many other titles out there, which fans have been crying out to see. None the less, I am still glad to see that this film has seen light of day and been released as it has been remarkably difficult to come by in recent years.
Audio: 3.5 BITCH SLAPS Video: 4 BITCH SLAPS Extras: 0 BITCH SLAPS Story: 3 BITCH SLAPS Overall: 3 BITCH SLAPS
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