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Episode 106 - Fatal Attraction (w/ Heather Matarazzo)

Should "Fatal Attraction" enter The Canon?  

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  1. 1. Should "Fatal Attraction" enter The Canon?



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Actress Heather Matarazzo joins Amy this week to discuss the 1987 thriller “Fatal Attraction.” They break down Michael Douglas’s tough shell and take familial lessons from the film, focusing especially on director Adrian Lyne’s in-your-face imagery. Then, they examine “Fatal Attraction” from a modern female perspective, noting how drastically the conversation has changed since its release. Finally, Amy and Heather dissect the incredibly complex performance by Glenn Close.

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All I will say is until you are married with kids yourself, you have no idea what people who are married with kids go through.

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Putting aside all the problematic aspects, this just feels like an ordinary by the numbers thriller. It's fine, but there's nothing (outside of maybe Glenn Closer's performance) that elevates it into Canon status.

 

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Outside of being well-directed and very well-acted, Fatal Attraction is perhaps not the most remarkable film ever made, but in terms of cultural relevance and sparking conversation about gender in film, I think it's an obvious yes for The Canon. It's problems are exactly what make it interesting.

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So it seems here the argument for Canon status is more in the larger conversation surrounding the movie than with the movie itself. I can see why someone would be swayed by that, but for the most part I am not. To me this conversation only really becomes fruitful when you start reading against text: getting into how the movie was changed from the original script, looking at how different this is from what kind of movie could be made now, etc.

 

All of that is indeed interesting, but it also makes me wish the movie were as interesting as the conversation. As is mentioned in the podcast episode, the final act makes Fatal Attraction into a fairly simplistic slasher movie, a development that feels at odds with the slightly naughty, emotionally complex relationship that had been built up by the earlier scenes. It's not a surprise to learn that this was a reshoot in response to test audiences, and while I'd be interested in seeing the movie that they originally set out to make, that's what wound up on the screen.

 

There are praiseworthy elements: good acting performances (Glenn Close especially), some effective scenes, etc. But I'm a "no" on this largely because it's not quite good enough as a film unto itself, however interesting it may be as a conversation starter.

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I love the show but this was a really dumb episode. I really couldn't make it past the 30 minute mark. :(

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I love The Canon and have been trying to stick with it but I think that this episode, more than any of the other post-hiatus episodes, proves that the show is in desperate need of an antagonist.

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this episode, more than any of the other post-hiatus episodes, proves that the show is in desperate need of an antagonist.

 

I respectfully disagree; the problem here is that the movie itself is so goddamn hard to pin down on its own terms. It's a trite, old-fashioned thriller with a banal moral lesson, but it is a very effective bit of moviemaking--not to mention the fact it features a truly iconic performance by Glenn Close. Also, it's impossible to examine this movie outside of its cultural/historical context, period. This movie is unquestionably worthy of consideration, and yet it would've been difficult for any host to make an airtight case one way or the other.

 

Even for those too young to remember the impact this movie had at the time (the Reagan-AIDS-yuppie era, ugh), the ripple effects are still being felt today. This movie is ingrained in our cultural vocabulary like no other. It is constantly, continuously referenced in conversations about gender politics, especially if there is any kind of violent crime involved. (The recent Vegas Bray murder trial is only one of countless cases nicknamed a "Fatal Attraction" case by the media.) And "bunny boiler" is in the dictionary. Not the slang dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary.

 

Even if we could separate it from its cultural position (and please note that WE CAN'T), the film is still a noticeable influence (both stylistically and thematically) on current films and TV shows, with the Affair and House of Cards being two obvious examples.

 

I really don't like this movie very much. It is essentially well-made junk, and I could personally live without it. But would our culture be poorer without it? And, more relevant to the Canon, would film history be poorer without Glenn Close's performance? I would argue that the answer is yes to both.

 

I'm abstaining for now, but only because I think this movie is already in the Canon by default. Unless I hear a convincing argument against it, I'll be voting yes before the poll closes.

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I love the show but this was a really dumb episode. I really couldn't make it past the 30 minute mark. :(

I love The Canon and have been trying to stick with it but I think that this episode, more than any of the other post-hiatus episodes, proves that the show is in desperate need of an antagonist.

 

Love the show, love Amy and this was a great film to discuss and yet this was the worst episode so far. Felt no pulse, no passion in the conversation and several times one could hear dead air.

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This is an easy no. It's not a great film, and while I hate to dismiss an older film for being problematic, if the idea is that this is a voice in the conversation about the way men control women, why settle for one that doesn't get it right? Why not films like Rosemary's Baby, or The Passion of Joan of Arc, or even (500) Days of Summer? There are stronger films with similar themes, and that have something to say about the way men treat women, rather than just illustrating the idea that this happens? I often think back to the American Beauty episode, where Devin made a really important point: Truth without insight is pointless. What reaction does Fatal Attraction really have to that idea? If it's just an affirmation, I can't support canonization.

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Love the show, love Amy and this was a great film to discuss and yet this was the worst episode so far. Felt no pulse, no passion in the conversation and several times one could hear dead air.

 

Also what was up with this week's guest? She really sounded high - or does she normally talk like that ?

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I vote no.

The podcast's argument of "This movie isn't very good; let's put it in The Canon anyway" failed to persuade me.

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Easy no, this movie was trash.

 

I love The Canon, but it's very hard for me to listen to an episode where conversation about the movie is interspersed with feminist propaganda, as though the fact that women in movies are portrayed as crazy is actually a bigger problem than a loving father losing custody of his kids.

 

I love the podcast, but please try to keep personal politics to a minimum. If it were just one time where you guys gave your personal view, then sure, but please try not to make multiple comments through out the episode. It's quite distracting and somewhat alienating.

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I saw this movie when it came out, in high school and thought it was really bad. Not in an exciting way, but in a bland eighties movie way. Glenn Close is good in the first scenes, the rest not so much since she's such a hack shrew. The sexism of the film was considered pretty retrograde even at the time--Kael's review dismissed it in a page and a half; it was reviled in Susan Faludi's Backlash. It's weird the stuff Amy brought up about De Palma. The story that he has always told was that he didn't want to make it because it was too much of a rip from the Clint Eastwood movie Play Misty for me and he didn't need another film people would claim he'd stolen. I had no idea he had wanted to get rid of Douglas, a good thing in my opinion, and unlike Amy I really like the concept he had of Close wearing a Kabuki mask in the finale. The irony is that the movie's climactic bathroom scenes are a cheap knock off of cheap knock offs of the nightmare from Carrie!

 

Anyway, Heather Matarazzo's belief that the test audiences who wanted Close's character good and killed must have been men is just terribly naive--many women often blame other women for tempting their husbands and in conversations I had about this movie back in the eighties, bitching over the gruesomely unimaginative character played by Anne Archer, most women I talked to liked the movie, admired Archer and felt she had the wisdom of a sage. I'd like to suggest from the male point of view that the movie's sexism and misogyny are secondary aspects of the film's main purpose, which is as a hypocritical parable warning to men that no matter how exciting and sexy modern women may seem, they represent a trap not liberation; diddling with them will only wreck your family and therefore no matter how hard, so to speak, it is to resist you should keep it in your pants. The movie makes Douglas' cheating seem like an innocent act in which he is the victim because for this fantasy gone bad to work Douglas can't be morally responsible in a realistic way; if he were then men in the audience wouldn't be tempted; the giveaway to what a cheat all this was is that Archer is so clearly more attractive than Close's aggressive hard career woman is. At some level you're aren't supposed to be too tempted or else the puritanical lesson wouldn't feel satisfactorily learned. Fortunately this movie's phony warning to men came to naught and something like 70 percent of men admit to cheating on their spouses. I think that's one for life: men can cheat and bunnies don't get boiled. What's really wrong with Close is that she'd want such a tiny stick in the mud like Douglas--forever! Were she together she would have gone off, had her kid and left him alone, you know, like Jenny Fields did in The World according to Garp.

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For anyone interested, this movie was discussed in the context of horror on another of my favorite movie podcasts - The Faculty of Horror. It's discussed on an early episode (I think one of the first ones in the feed) but it's a great discussion!

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For a movie which caused (and continues to cause) such an uproar, Fatal Attraction sure is a boring watch. The pacing is slow, the characters unlikable and shallowly developed, and the acting is only so-so. If we were voting in the conversation surrounding infidelity, misogyny and class, then sure, it's canon-worthy. But since we are voting on the film itself, I have to say no.

 

On a side note, I agree with some of the earlier posters that this week's episode (as well as the last couple actually) have been a bit difficult to get through. This isn't because of the "feminist propaganda" the MRA dude who made a new account just for this episode was complaining about previously, but because the conversations have been so torpid and shallow.

 

I don't think you need an antagonistic guest in the spirit of Devin to push the conversation forward, just a guest who seems genuinely excited by the film they are defending. Jake Fogelnest and Amy agreed on pretty much everything about John Waters, but their genuine love for his films drove the conversation along and made it a really fun episode to listen to. Apologies for the complaint, but it did seem like I'm not the only one who noticed these things.

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Anyway, Heather Matarazzo's belief that the test audiences who wanted Close's character good and killed must have been men is just terribly naive--many women often blame other women for tempting their husbands and in conversations I had about this movie back in the eighties, bitching over the gruesomely unimaginative character played by Anne Archer, most women I talked to liked the movie, admired Archer and felt she had the wisdom of a sage.

 

Yes, this comment by Matarazzo raised my eyebrows too. I can see plenty of women in the audience also wanting Close's character to die, especially at the time this film was made. It wouldn't be the first time women were harder on the behavior of other women than they were on men.

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Easy no, this movie was trash.

 

I love The Canon, but it's very hard for me to listen to an episode where conversation about the movie is interspersed with feminist propaganda, as though the fact that women in movies are portrayed as crazy is actually a bigger problem than a loving father losing custody of his kids.

 

I love the podcast, but please try to keep personal politics to a minimum. If it were just one time where you guys gave your personal view, then sure, but please try not to make multiple comments through out the episode. It's quite distracting and somewhat alienating.

 

If you thought feminism wouldn't be a large part of the discussion of this movie, given who hosts the podcast, I don't know what to tell you.

 

Art is not so easily divorced from politics. If you find that alienating, maybe examine your own.

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I am a strong no on this. After re-watching this film, I found the first two-thirds of that film the hosts lauded so much, frankly, boring. They seemed to be devoid of any tension or humor. I didn't detect any psychological depth in any of the two main characters, and don't think the actors are as good as you made it sound like. Could you tell anything, absolutely anything about the Micheal Douglas caracter, apart from his job or disliking walking with his dog? He's not an every-man, he's just boring. Glenn Close is a bit more exciting to watch, but I think that has mostly to do with her surreal looks and facial features. Also, she's got the only line I found half-way interesting, when she's sitting on the bed and phoning with Michael Douglas: "I love animals, I'm a great cook." That's so brutally on-the-nose I could not think it's not funny. Otherwise, it's a big, boring, bleh. I think they should've cut out all that stuff from the beginning and started just before the scene with her cutting her wrists. Just imagine what fun it would've been to find out that Douglas had a family to go back to all along. If you guys wanna make a case for difficult female roles with some sex in it, then there's so much better, more intriguing cinema around (Belle de Jour, Last Tango in Paris, Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby).

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This is an odd episode in that the person who nominated the film doesn't seem to like it all that much, and neither does the host. I won't go for this either, in part because Basic Instinct seems the more canonical "erotic thriller" starring Michael Douglas from this time period.

 

The essential article to read here is Allison P Davis' "Unhinged Psycho Stalkers Are My Favorite Movie Heroines".

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I do indeed enjoy the apparent complexity of the first two thirds, wherein Michael Douglas can be reasonably read as the villain, but the third act squashes that reading to an unforgivable degree. And I agree that if we're gonna put an erotic thriller in the Canon, even one starring Michael Douglas, it's gotta be Verhoeven! Finally, if Broadcast News isn't Canon-worthy then nothing from 1987 is. May as well strike the whole decade. (Kidding, sort of.)

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I hadn't seen this film since I was a teenager and didn't have particularly good memories of it. Watching it again and seeing it more of a depiction of the status and place of women in the particular time of the late 1980's, I found a lot more in there that I could enjoy and respect... at least for the first hour or so. Remembering mostly where the film was heading, I found Glenn Close's early "pre-affair" scenes to oddly seductive and bewitching. The moment when she kisses Douglas to get him to stay and then reveals to have slit her wrists, I found genuinely terrifying. While undeniably unhinged, it's hard to not see Alex as a victim of mental abuse and someone who needs help, which she sadly can't ever receive when she's perceived as a psychopath by everyone else in the film, and ultimately by the film itself. Later in the film, it becomes very difficult to not sympathize with Douglas, because the skew of the film presents very little alternatives. As a straight male, I suppose I've always identified with his character more and felt sympathy for him, even when being fairly put off by his behavior and not finding him at all appealing. I don't know if this is a particularly great film, but it's undeniably one of cultural importance. I decided though that I wouldn't make my Canon decision until I heard Amy and Heather (who was outstanding on this episode and I really hope she returns soon), make their cases. They both brought up such interesting things I had never considered. I too had always imagined that there was no actual baby. That a doctor or someone posing as one lied to Douglas, with Alex merely using the possibility of a child to keep him in her life. Watching the film now, I'm convinced more than ever that the baby exists, making the ending all the more horrifying. I remembered seeing the original ending and preferring it, though couldn't remember the details of what it was. Watching it again I'm now angrier than ever that it wasn't included. It doesn't fix everything, but having Alex kill herself adds a certain resignation and knowledge that she knows all of her extreme efforts can't ever be successful in bringing him back to her, but only makes her madness even more one of unfair frustration. I had quite forgotten that De Palma was ever going to direct this and that the finale included Close in a kabuki mask with a blade. Kinda makes me want to watch De Palma's PASSION again, which seems to have recycled some of those elements. So how will I vote? I think that this film sparks too much discussion and debate to not be let into The Canon, so I'm going to vote YES, even though I think it's an example of a Canon-worthy film that isn't necessarily good, but an important time capsule to be preserved simply for the what it does NOT show and what the film's compromises and treatment of its female characters says about the era in which it was made. I still don't love this movie. Much of it I don't even like. But I would absolutely encourage anyone who has never seen it to form their own opinion before just dismissing it as the "boiling rabbit movie," which I am guilty of considering it of being for many years now.

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Ultimately The Canon is about which films deserve to be considered the all time greats.

 

Is Fatal Attraction of the greatest films ever made? No. Therefore it shouldn't go into the canon.

 

It may create discussion. It may be controversial. It may have had an impact on culture through the 'bunny boiler' term. But none of those help the film become canon worthy.

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Ultimately The Canon is about which films deserve to be considered the all time greats.

 

Is it? And "considered" by whom? And what criteria need to be met for a film to "deserve" such an honor?

 

 

Is Fatal Attraction of the greatest films ever made? No. Therefore it shouldn't go into the canon.

 

There are two problems with this. First, there are already several "all-time great" lists, and they are all pretty goddamned predictable. If you're looking for a pedestrian list of the all-time greatest films, just google "AFI top 100" and voila, problem solved. Enjoy your Yankee Doodle Dandy movie nite. (Fatal Attraction didn't make the cut, but it was one of the 400 finalists, and it was one of their 100 "Most Thrilling" films, for whatever that's worth.)

 

Second, what makes a film "great?" I ask this not to start a conversation, because it's a conversation that goes nowhere. Even films that are undeniably "great" (e.g. Citizen Kane) have their detrators. And some films (e.g. Fatal Attraction), for whatever reason, strike such a major chord with people that they become an indelible part of the zeitgeist in spite of their abundant flaws.

 

The Canon isn't a scholarly list of The All-Time Greats, it's about movies that are special. Really goddamn special. Some of these movies need to be protected and fought for like baby birds (e.g. Freaks), and some of them are strong enough to stand on their own (e.g. Goodfellas), but they are all special. Fatal Attraction is like that annoying kid in school who destroyed everyone else in the debate championships. Maybe you hated her, but you couldn't deny that she was special.

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