Sunday, July 19, 2009

Somebody Loves Emily...Too Much

1980’s WINDOWS is an extremely obscure picture today, despite its relative youth and the fact it came from a major studio, United Artists. This notoriously awful, sick psychological thriller is also the only film directed by master cinematographer Gordon Willis (THE GODFATHER films), which makes it more than just a curiosity.

Emily (Talia Shire, whom Willis “shot” in THE GODFATHER), a mousy window-dresser with a stuttering problem, is raped in her apartment by a man with a tape recorder. The rapist, who is soon captured (in a pretty foolish way) and never mentioned again, gives the tape to Emily's friend and neighbor Andrea (Elizabeth Ashley), a twisted psycho lesbian who listens to Emily's recorded moans over and over in the dark. After Emily moves into a "safer" building, Andrea takes a loft across the river, where she uses a telescope to spy upon Emily's tentative relationship with the cop investigating the rape, Bob Leffrono (Joe Cortese).

WINDOWS is one of the sleaziest studio pictures I've ever seen, featuring a prolonged rape scene, serious lapses in taste and logic, and one of recent cinema's most embarrassing portrayals of that old stereotype staple--the deranged, perverted, murderous homosexual. Those who picketed BASIC INSTINCT ain't seen nuthin' 'til they've checked out Ashley's ranting and quite unsubtle ravings.

Ashley’s performance is the most obviously awful, since she's so far over the top, but Shire's acting is even worse, relying on the same "wounded deer" schtick she brought to several roles (including her Oscar nominated turn in ROCKY). Since WINDOWS begins with her rape, we're unable to gauge how Emily's behavior changes after the attack. It doesn't appear she was very interesting in the first place and definitely not the type to attract Cortese's cop.

Cortese, delivering the movie's third bad performance, looks like he's sleepwalking, reading his lines with the same inflection whether he's calling for a cab or scrambling to save his girlfriend's life. Actually, he doesn't scramble so much as sit on his fanny and wait for something to happen.

Because Willis served as his own cinematographer, it's no surprise that WINDOWS at least looks good. Many shots contain the same warm browns THE GODFATHER was so famous for, and Ennio Morricone's sensitive score helps, but not nearly enough to make up for Barry Siegel's illogical, slow-moving, and offensive screenplay and the poor performances.

WINDOWS didn’t do much for anyone’s career. Willis never directed again, but continued as an A-list cinematographer on big movies like PRESUMED INNOCENT and Woody Allen fare until his (apparent) 1997 retirement. Cortese moved on to a couple of TV pilots directed by William Friedkin and the shortlived sci-fi/cop series SOMETHING IS OUT THERE. Likewise, Shire and Ashley continued their careers as busy character actresses.

Still, I must admit, if WINDOWS was released to DVD with a commentary track by anyone involved with the production, I'd snap it up immediately to find out how the heck this mess got bankrolled. As far as I know, WINDOWS has never received a home video release. I saw it many years ago on cable—I think on Cinemax—and it would make an interesting double feature with CRUISING, another controversial thriller about a homosexual murderer that filmed in New York at about the same time, the winter of 1979.


Temple of Schlock said...

I saw WINDOWS for the first time just about 3 months ago, a beautiful print projected at the Silent Movie Theatre in L.A., and after years of hearing and reading about how awful it is, was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. And I didn't enjoy it for "camp" or whatever the usual wrong reasons are, either. I admired the film's vacuum-sealed depiction of New York, when I was prepared to see another late '70s study of the city's seamy underbelly; for such a supposedly "sleazy" movie, WINDOWS looked more like a giallo mixed with a Woody Allen drama than something like CRUISING, LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR or THE EYES OF LAURA MARS (probably the closest match would be KLUTE). And while I'm in line with you when it comes to Joe Cortese's borderline catatonia, I disagree about Ashley and Shire. I like them just fine in this movie and found nothing to laugh about in either performance. There's something really, really creepy about Ashley's mimicking of Shire's language therapy tapes at the end. WINDOWS is certainly not a great movie, but it has some very good stuff in it and I think it's far from the offensive turkey that everyone makes it out to be.

The Flying Maciste Brothers said...

Sorry Crane Shot, I was right there next to the Temple in that audience and I go him one better, I even liked Cortese.

Since I agree with Chris point for point, I won't repeat what is already perfectly worded, but I will add that I was pretty sickened by the rest of the audiences disappointment that it "wasn't as campy" as they were told. I wasn't disappointed with WINDOWS as a serious thriller, let alone being sufficiently campy. Willis has a strong imprint as a director (not just a cinematographer) on this film and would hate readers to believe he only functions successfully in one job. I wholeheartedly disagree with you. There are many sequences that veer away from genre formula conventions exclusively because of Willis' preferred style of story and character development -- still functions as a thriller -- but like a thriller directed by Gordon Willis. In fact, much of the staging and blocking strongly resembles Woody Allen blocking. Such as having voices talking in a seemingly empty room -- in a static frame -- suddenly intruded by the actors speaking. Did Willis pick this up from Allen, or was these ideas jointly developed by Willis/Allen over the years of close collaboration or just something Allen picked up from Willis' ideas and this was the first time Willis could implement them himself alone? It's well directed. And Elizabeth Ashley puts must emotional investiture in her character. She is heartbreaking as much as she is terrifying. I sincerely do not believe that her performance was blandly or rotely "over-the-top". She played the character better than written. So it seems the jury has come to a verdict. 2 against 1. I'm glad you'll be snatching it up if it were to come to DVD, Marty. That way, I'd hope you'll enjoy it for what it is and not for "camp" that ruined the director's career, etc. Trust us on this one and give it another shot. It's an artful, creep-ass movie.

Marty McKee said...

Whoa, hold on, fellas, I never said it was camp or that it ruined anybody's career. Don't know where you guys are getting that from. WINDOWS certainly couldn't have done anything for anyone's career, however, but I don't know that it hurt either. Don't know why Willis never directed again. Maybe because WINDOWS didn't make money, maybe he just didn't like it.

I'd definitely catch it again if I get the chance, but I'd be surprised if I changed my mind. WINDOWS is a very unpleasant, implausible thriller. With bad acting. :)

Marty McKee said...

Oops. When I said "like it" below, I meant like directing, not like WINDOWS.

The Flying Maciste Brothers said...

I wasn't saying that you said it was camp. I was grouping your rash judgements in with the rash judgements of the screening's audience. Indeed, you stated that the only enjoyment in viewing is to hear audio commentary on how such a train wreck got made. Apologies for mixing the two atitudes up;)

Marty McKee said...

I didn't say it was a trainwreck. I said it was a mess, which it is. Okay, maybe it's the same thing. But it certainly isn't a rash judgement. I mean, I did watch the movie before I wrote about it. :) And it does stink.

Granted, the buzz on WINDOWS, before I ever saw it (which was a few years ago), was that it was a sleazy mess, but you know I've defended a lot of movies for being better than their reputations. WINDOWS isn't one of them.