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Anchor Bay presents
"Save your soul, whore!"
DVD ReviewKen Russell's Crimes of Passion concerns the adventures of one Bobby Grady (John Laughlin), a 30-year-old man who believes himself happily married until he begins to examine his life in group therapy. Seeking part-time work, he is hired to investigate a bright young designer named Joanna Crane (Kathleen Turner) suspected of selling her employer's designs to his competitors. He soon discovers her after-hours identity as "China Blue," a blonde-wigged prostitute working the red-light district. Grady begins a tentative relationship with China/Joanna, first as a "trick" and then as a friend and lover. Meanwhile, an addled street preacher named Reverend Peter Shayne (Anthony Perkins) plots to "purify" Joanna's soul by murdering her.
While the plot is fairly standard potboiler melodrama, Crimes of Passion is carried by its strong cast, willing to "live" lives most people don't even care to think about. Kathleen Turner's performance is complex and thoroughly committed—"China" is so eager to please her customers that she adopts different accents and personae as required, and the character works on two different levels: she rolls her eyes knowingly when her "johns" aren't looking, but she also takes a certain pleasure in her role as a made-to-order sex object, talking dirty and indulging her patrons in surprisingly explicit fashion onscreen. In her "real" life as Joanna, she's emotionally distant and cold, unable to connect with a man until Bobby Grady enters her life, and Turner somehow communicates Joanna/China's entire sad sexual history with little direct help from the script. Anthony Perkins takes a matter-of-fact approach to Reverend Shayne's raving, apologetically profane monologues and distorted world-view, presenting him as a wily, half-reasonable madman armed with a lethal vibrator, though he occasionally comes off as Norman Bates in priest drag. The only disappointing lead performance is that of John Laughlin as Bobby Grady, ostensibly the story's central figure. The character supposedly matures during the course of the film, but his transformation isn't very evident, and it's not clear why Joanna falls for the athletic but uncharismatic Bobby. The script is partially to blame here—Bobby is much more attractive than her regular customers and apparently excellent in bed, but his ability to overcome her emotional barriers in a few days' time is never satisfactorily explained. Annie Potts appears in the thankless role of Bobby's wife Amy, whose only "sin" is a subdued libido.
The film benefits greatly from veteran director Ken Russell's strong visual style. The film is lit in stark reds and blues, intercut with erotic artwork and filled with beautiful, shocking images. This unrated cut gives free reign to Russell's explicit but oddly tasteful visions of twisted, sleazy, ultimately depressing sexuality. Echoes of Russell's Tommy are seen here and there, particularly in a TV music video sequence and a "red-light district" setting reminiscent of the Acid Queen's abode. The film's production design supports its themes admirably—Bobby and Joanna's "normal" world is subdued and naturalistic, full of white walls and stylish, safe designs, but the world of "China Blue" is vibrant, colorful and dangerous, simultaneously appealing and horrifying.
Crimes of Passion has its faults—the redemptive "happy ending" is abrupt and awkward, and the script hints at themes regrettably unexplored. But the film's power is undeniable—it raises fundamental, disturbing questions about who and what we are as human beings, frankly depicting the personality distortions that sexual dysfunction can inflict. It explores the animal side of human nature, portraying lust and naked selfishness without mitigating circumstance or moral platitudes, and the end result is visceral, disturbing and profound.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Anchor Bay presents Crimes of Passion in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio with a non-anamorphic transfer. The DVD image quality is below average, exhibiting a veritable encyclopedia of compression flaws—moire patterns, blocking (even in the letterbox bars), motion artifacting and i-frame "pulsing" are all visible at various points. The source print is clean and solid, and it's a testament to the strength of Russell's visual style that the abundant MPEG-2 artifacts are more annoying than distracting. But this early Anchor Bay release isn't up to the publisher's current high standards, and the film deserves better.
Image Transfer Grade: D+
Audio Transfer Review: Crimes of Passion is presented with its original Hi-Fi monophonic soundtrack, in Dolby Digital 2.0 decoded to play through the center speaker. Frequency range is adequate and handles Rick Wakeman's Dvorak-inspired orchestral/synth score successfully, though it sounds harsh at times. There's no subwoofer-level bass at all and the soundtrack becomes a bit muddy in street scenes, but dialogue is generally comprehensible and this is a workable if undistinguished digital transfer.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 9 cues and remote access
Extras Review: Anchor Bay provides no extras for Crimes of Passion, settling for a static title screen and a mere 9 chapter stops (albeit with nicely-executed full-motion chapter selection menus). A keepcase insert features a few publicity photos from the film, but there's no real information here, just the film itself. A disappointing showing for this unique film.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsCrimes of Passion is a daring, thought-provoking exploration of the seedier side of human sexuality, a stylized melodrama with credible performances and striking visuals. Anchor Bay's DVD transfer is unfortunately rather poor—the film is still worth watching in its current form, but it's far from reference quality. The publisher is apparently aware of the issue—keep an eye out for announcements concerning the planned Crimes of Passion - Remastered edition (listed on Anchor Bay's website for March 2001 at this writing, though no official release date has been set.)
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