I note that the gorgeous and mouthy sexpot Megan Fox has recently felt the need to start acting more demure, and to announce that she’s only ever slept with two men: a ‘childhood sweetheart’ and Brian Austin Green, her current boyfriend. Now, while this statement is quite likely true, what bothers me is the probability that she is being forced to give her public image an overhaul after the commercial failure of Jennifer’s Body (a movie that, frankly, I badly wanted, and still want, to see) in order, I assume, to make herself more ‘sympathetic’ to other women.
Now, previously I couldn’t have been more sympathetic to Fox, largely because she had no problem tagging herself ‘psychotic’ and once claimed she has a tendency to get so crazily angry that it would be no problem for her, had she a gun, to shoot Austin Green in the leg. In short, I had been enjoying Fox’s presence on the world’s stage. Now, though, I fear that soon she’ll be following in the steps of Ginger Spice, and those of the woman with whom she is so often compared, Angelina Jolie, and going all Unicef. I am already nostalgic for the epoch when Megan was fun to have around.
And, speaking of fun and sexpots, last weekend I had an exceedingly pleasant time watching Desperately Seeking Susan. This year is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the film’s release, so there may yet be some smash-bang-wallop version with documentaries and commentaries to burn, for which I should really have waited. However, it recently occurred to me that I had to have this motion picture in my possession right this second and, after I’d yacked on about this without actually doing anything about it for long enough, a kind and thoughtful person bought me the DVD. Previously, I’d only ever had a VHS of Desperately that had been taped from the television, complete with ads for Australia’s Wonderland (‘Aharrr, me hearties!’), so I was like a pig in mud with my present.
When Desperately first came out in cinemas, I was in my last year of high school. I first saw it alone in the suburbs of Sydney on a Friday night in the middle of winter, and then I saw it again on the following Sunday afternoon, as a break from my desultory studying. I also saw it an additional three times, after which two of my friends and I went and drank Tequila Sunrises (Susan’s signature drink) in the Comfort of Strangers-like setting of the Hilton Hotel’s Marble Bar. As is clear from the foregoing, I thought, and still think, that Desperately Seeking Susan is pretty damn great. Susan herself is, of course, a hustler who makes hustling look a lot more appealing than did the characters in Midnight Cowboy. It can seem as though the late nineteen sixties and early seventies in New York were in perpetual winter when you look at, say, Cowboy or The Panic in Needle Park or Desperate Characters, but in Desperately Seeking Susan, the creative talents working behind the scenes succeeded gloriously in making the New York of the mid eighties look sunny and colourful, yet with an authentic-seeming layer of dirt over everything; as though if you sat on a park bench, you’d regret it.
I can’t believe there’s anyone old enough to be reading this who doesn’t know the premise of Desperately, but, just in case, here it is: middle-class New Jersey housewife Roberta (Rosanna Arquette) is fascinated with Susan, a spirit so free that the most habitual of her boyfriends has to arrange assignations with her through the New York Post personals. Through the handy old stand-by of Roberta suffering amnesia (always employed so well in The Young Doctors, when any character who fell prey to it invariably ‘lost all their medical knowledge’), she and Susan chase each other around, with a lot of screwballery taking place. Roberta ends up acing a job as a magician’s assistant, and dumping her self-absorbed hot-top salesman husband for an unfeasibly attractive film projectionist, who lives in a terrific pad over a Chinese restaurant, from which at night (this being Manhattan), one can hear from a neighbouring apartment the strains of jazz saxophone.
Desperately has carved itself deeply into my heart and I know that I will never really, for example, think of John Turturro as anyone other than Ray, an individual of ineffable sleaziness who works in some kind of managerial capacity at Roberta’s employer, The Magic Club. Even though Susan isn’t actually the film’s lead role (I’ll always remember the brave cheerfulness of Rosanna Arquette, who was the lead, accepting a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress for the part), she walks off with it in the same way she tries to walk off with a pair of glittering ankle boots that she’s spied in a second-hand clothing shop. This is, of course, because one of the most striking things about Susan is that she looks exactly like Madonna as she did in 1984, given that she’s played by Madonna looking exactly as she did in 1984. The movie came out in 1985, which was really the last hurrah of Madonna’s net shirt, rubber bracelet and crucifix period, still my favourite of her incarnations, which was curtailed by her Jean Seberg-ian look in the ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ video in 1986.
The great thing about the young Madonna, and that has, thanks to Desperately, been immortalised in something much longer than a music video, was her apparent total fearlessness, and unmitigated brattiness. In her early videos, she always seemed to me to have a look in her eyes that spoke less of seduction than of her belief in her God-given right to get anything whatsoever of benefit to her from the person she was looking at and then eat that person for dinner. For my money, this was really the factor that made Madonna so compelling. And in Desperately, she not only has her trademark unnerving gaze, but stomps around in mad clothing, in which anyone else would look like a total idiot but in which she manages, simply by force of personality, to look superb; steals silverware; smokes cigarettes with aplomb; and rolls around on a hotel bed taking Polaroids of herself, all underpinned by a rock-solid assurance that any man who meets her wants to have sex with her. Who, in the name of Christ, wouldn’t want to be like that?
Now, though, I feel as if I just don’t even know who Madonna is anymore. I had an inkling that things were all going to go terribly wrong around the Ray of Light period, when she started going on about spirituality, and I am sorry to say that I have been proved right. The chief lowlights of what’s been happening with Madonna in the last ten years or so include her mania for a pop adaptation of Kabbalah, which is, needless to say, the new Scientology; not letting her kids watch TV; and, while she was living in England, having airs reminiscent of one of the tweedier Mitford sisters.
In the initial stages of Madonna’s career, she was compared at least once with the great Mae West; specifically, the description of West as ‘coming on drenched in a perfume called Self-Satisfaction’. Now, West when in her seventies was making such recordings as ‘Put the Loot in the Boot, Santa’, and when in her eighties was starring in Sextette. In this film, West played a legendary sex symbol who has just wed for the sixth time. She and her new husband’s attempts to have intercourse are continuously interrupted, thanks to all the other men who want to have relations with her, including her ex-husbands (two of whom are played by Ringo Starr and George Hamilton) and an entire athletic team from the US. Now, while Sextette is one of the most unsettling movies ever made, you have to admire the spirit behind it and the manner in which Mae West remained to the end true to the persona that made her considerable reputation.
The thing is, I really hate it when celebrities decide that they need at least to look as though they are shedding the qualities that were the reason I liked and revered them in the first place. So, Megan Fox, I beg you, while you weren’t even born when Desperately Seeking Susan was first brightening my life, please watch it and learn, and then go West.