Monday, April 25, 2011


Bette Gordon's 'Variety', a movie that i missed at a one-time only screening at anthology film archives last week, is currently my favorite movie at the moment, no matter what other critics have said about it in the past. Even though the film may be somewhat rough around the edges, it completely captures the grittiness of early 80's new york city (an era that I've always been fascinated with). In fact, that "rough around the edges" feel to the 'Variety' actually adds to the films atmosphere, capturing the seedy & ugly side of nyc that the film explores. At the same time, its also one of the more "polished" films to come out of the new york underground/no-wave scene. 'Variety' is almost like an archive or a time capsule of modern American new york city independent film. A lot of key figures within that scene are featured in 'Variety' in one way or another: Cinematographer; Tom Dicillo, (who at the time was also Jim Jarmusch's cinematographer, eventually went on to become a prominent independent director), actors; Will Patton & Luiz Guzman (who we all know as one of the most recognizable American character actors working today) and musician/actor; John Lurie (another frequent collaborator of Jim Jarmusch, and pioneer within no-wave/jazz music) did the soundtrack. 'Variety' is another film in my (unofficial) on-going exploration of (usually non-traditional) female lead roles, under the direction of a female director.
In 'Variety', main character; Christine (played by Sindy Mcleod, who resembles a cross between a young mia farrow and a young cathy moriarty) takes a job working a ticket counter in a porno theater when she has completely run out of job opportunities. Once she takes this job, shes discovers a side of human beings (and herself) that she never really paid much attention too. This new found discovery/fascination of pornography, sexuality and the creepy side of human beings (who she comes in contact with quite often while working at the porno theater) causes a transformation within Christine.
In 'Variety', Bette Gordon reverses the gender roles, and puts a female lead in a typically male role. Through out the film, Christine does things that a woman wouldn't normally do in a film that takes place in early 80's new york city. She walks down alley's late at night by herself (once again...keep in mind this is early 1980's new york city), she goes on a date with a mysterious/shady guy that she hardly knows who frequents the porno theater that she works at (whom she eventually starts to follow, slowly turning the last half of 'Variety' in to a noir/mystery film). If a character like Travis Bickle from 'Taxi Driver' (which 'Variety shares a lot in common with in both; themes and in the main character) where to do these things, we wouldn't blink an eye or express that much worry about his well being. When Christine does these things in the movie, we're always worried and always on edge that something bad is going to happen to her (mugged, raped, murdered, etc). Bette Gordon further drives this point home with Christine's fascination in pornography. Lets be honest, we usually associate the consumption of porn with men. The only relationship we're use to women having with porn is acting in them. You don't expect a woman, especially an attractive, quiet, loner like Christine to enjoy porn.
Before i saw 'Variety', what drew me most to it were the stills and images that i saw on the Internet over the years. I didn't even bother to look up what the film was about. I just knew 'Variety' had to be a great film. The lighting and colors used in the images i saw reminded me of a Fassbinder film (specifically 'Lola'). 'Varitey' has this dark lighting & red-ish tint to it, which kinda adds to its dark atmosphere.


Fassbinder's Lola

'Variety' is considered to be a "cult movie" by many, but i wouldn't be so quick to group it in to a category of films that include; 'spinal tap', 'office space' and 'the texas chainsaw massacre' (which ARE all good movies, but still...). 'Variety' is a bit more serious (no matter how "unprofessional" some elements of the movie may to seem to others). Issues like; feminism, self exploration, loneliness and alienation (which are are explored in 'Variety') should be taken seriously. 'Variety' goes hand-in-hand with films like 'Red Road' (which i brought up in my review of 'Fear X') and 'In My Skin' (a film i reviewed last year on here as well). All three films have female leads under the direction of a female director. All three films show characters dealing with a side of themselves they never realized they had. And like i mentioned earlier, the (female) characters in these movies are characters that would have traditionally been played by a male. Whats also interesting is that both; 'In My Skin' and 'Variety' have climactic scenes towards the end of each film, that are very similar (in both movies, we see the female leads isolated in a room by themselves coming to terms with their new found fascination). Both films also show the female leads slowly start to isolate themselves from their (not-so understanding) boyfriends. Its almost like Bette Gordon and Marina De Van (director & star of 'in my skin') reverse the roles in the romantic relationships, and make the female the "males" of the relationships in the movie.
If you're a fan of any of the other films i mentioned earlier (taxi driver, red road, in my skin, the films of jim jarmusch & tom dicillo), you'll more than likely enjoy 'Variety'. It even shares some similar (visual) elements with other early 80's films like; 'Henry', 'Maniac' and Abel Ferarra's early work as well (specifically 'Ms. 45' and 'The Driller Killer').


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