Of late, I’ve been wolfing down as many episodes of bloody, yet glitzy, United States legal drama Damages as I can possibly squeeze into a day. I did give this particular program a shot when the first series screened on Australian free-to-air a few years ago, but my heart was not entirely in it because the frequent occurrence of the words ‘non-linear narrative’ in descriptions of the show filled me with fear. I went in expecting defeat, then, having missed the third episode, surrendered entirely to the concept of giving up too easily, as I so often do. In this lack of backbone, I am conspicuously unlike so many characters that Ms Glenn Close has brought to life over the years.
I got back on the Damages horse after I’d been watching Close as Captain Monica Rawling in The Shield and decided that I was madly in love with her. This love was due mainly to the way she conveyed an effortless air of command, and almost unshakeable aplomb, even when her character was about to get fired. If I were Close, I would have been thrilled out of my mind, post Shield, to accept the part of terrifying lawyer Patty Hewes in Damages, which allows her not only to exceed even her Shield level of authority but to do so dressed to the nines, rather than in a dowdy police uniform, and often while walking one of those elegant dogs that looks like a wolf. Hewes runs, essentially as a non-benign dictatorship, Hewes and Associates, a Manhattan law firm with the kind of offices for which you’d gladly sacrifice any principles you have. (This is especially the case with Patty’s own office, which is large enough for Jeanne Pratt to have utilised in the staging of her recent production of The Boy From Oz.)
Right now, I relish watching Glenn Close as Patty Hewes more than I do any other character on television, because she virtually has no softer side. Patty doesn’t fight for the underdog because, really, she has a good heart under her jawbreaker-hard exterior; rather, she just likes to win, and to win as hugely as possible. There is no work/home duality in Patty’s character, as one would normally see even in a dripping-with-balls male character, such as (again with The Shield) Vic Mackey. Rather than adhering to the usual television dichotomy of being a bitch on wheels at work but playing the sympatheticness card by being vulnerable to her loved ones, Patty coolly plays the same mind games with her, almost equally crafty, teenage son, Michael, as she plays with her vast quantity of formidable professional opponents.
The other thing that, to my mind, makes Patty endlessly fascinating is that she epitomises the phenomenon of the boss with whom you simply never know where you stand. Does she disapprove of personal tchotchkes around the office or not? Will she be offended if you don’t issue her with an invitation to your engagement party, given that you’ve finally started to feel that you’re sort of becoming friends with her, or make you feel like an idiot if you do? And, most urgently, will she attempt to have you killed? In 1987’s Fatal Attraction, on the other hand, Close of course played a woman with whom you almost always knew, only too well, where you were; namely, Alex Forrest, perhaps the scariest casual-sex partner in all fiction. I saw this flick back at the time of its first release, at Sydney’s grand old Cremorne Orpheum, where if you are lucky, a man plays a Wurlitzer organ before proceedings get underway.
I hardly need to recap Attraction’s plot, I’m sure, but suffice to say that family man Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) meets editor Alex at the launch of a book that is peculiarly titled Samurai Self-Help. One moment, he is, while the ol’ ball and chain’s out of town, having a fun weekend affair – including salsa dancing; chucking a ball around in, what I assume is, Central Park; and spending a lot of time with a pair of breasts that are new to him – and the next he’s binding Alex’s bloody wrists and assuming an expression of dread whenever his secretary gives him his phone messages. Alex is, naturally, psychologically disturbed, as evidenced by the fact that she stays at home in her apartment, switching a lamp on and off, while others are bowling (though, personally, I would a million times rather be having a cozy night at home with the lamp than be anywhere near a bowling alley and its attendant humiliations). As far as I’m concerned, the most convincing proof that Alex is mentally ill is that when, late in the piece, she kidnaps Ellen, Dan’s daughter, for the afternoon and takes her to a funfair, she is entirely unfazed by riding on a roller-coaster.
Frankly, I got a bang out of watching Fatal Attraction again. Aside from anything, I felt much nostalgia for the days when you could smoke cigarettes in a business meeting, not to mention team with a sweatshirt a pair of earrings so enormous they could have come from an ancient Egyptian’s tomb, without it even being worthy of comment. Of course, I had many questions about the film – some new and some old. First, what in the name of all that’s holy does Dan’s wife, Beth (notorious Scientologist Anne Archer), do all day, as she seems to be without employment and to have just the one child, who is at school? And, speaking of the child, why is she dressed and coiffed to look like a miniature lesbian? The above issues are not all that exercised my mind either. First, how do you actually stop an elevator between floors so that you can have steamy sex? (It’s my belief that simply pressing all the buttons as a means of achieving this end is pure invention.) Second, how did Alex get inside the Gallaghers’ house to put Ellen’s pet bunny on the stove? Third, how, in preparation for the film’s climax, did Alex get into the house again? Does she have her own key?
Most of all, though, I was preoccupied with how much I missed the days when a film could really stride the world’s stage as a sociological phenomenon. It’s amazing, in these times of declining cinema attendances, to think of just how much attention everyone was paying to Fatal Attraction. Every person and his dog was offering their two pesos on what this little yarn all meant: from contemporary society’s fear of AIDS; to fear of ‘liberated’ women, ie, females who actually had taxable income they had generated themselves – after all, as a talking head on Social Attraction, a featurette on the DVD, notes, it was a time when ‘women were wearing suits in the office’. (Incidentally, the other two featurettes are the similarly hilariously titled Forever Fatal and Visual Attraction. These names make exactly no sense.)
Perhaps most striking to me now are the many stories that did the rounds at the time of women allegedly taking their husbands/boyfriends to Fatal Attraction and sternly pointing out to them that what they were seeing on the screen was an entirely accurate representation of the likely consequences were these men to cheat. What I want to know is, how did these women get their husbands/boyfriends into the cinema, especially if they were only in there to have fingers wagged at them? In my experience, you are not going to get a heterosexual man to see any film of which Adrian Lyne is the director, especially if it contains the frightening lesson that feeling guilt at cheating might lead a man to buy a big, money-swallowing house in the country that is, furthermore, positioned right near his in-laws.
Fatal Attraction originally had a different ending, with Alex committing suicide and then framing the unlucky Dan for her murder. However, test audiences were, apparently, so desperate to see this villainess ‘buy the building’ that the film’s creators felt they had no option but to whack on the conclusion it has now, with Beth shooting and killing the knife-wielding Alex after Dan manages not to succeed in drowning her in the bath. Close was, apparently, shocked and appalled by the whole concept of a character whom she perceived to be a tragic figure being transformed into someone whom children could, with confidence, dress up as on Halloween, and fought everyone involved for two weeks before she gave in. And there you have yet another reason why Glenn Close is simply the bee’s knees, even if once upon a time she did have to dance around a kitchen, while wrapping food in tinfoil, in The Big Chill.