Limelight Editions, 392 Pages
Reviewed by Matthew Caron
Lovers of fluffy romantic comedy will find little to like about Cinema Of Obsession, a meticulous survey of the movies’ many ventures to dark side of love and sex, but then I bet they don’t read many books anyway. The rest of us, however, are in for a treat. Dominique Mainon and James Ursini’s survey of obsession and fixation in cinema is as academically accomplished as it is fun and sexy.
Broken down into five sections, the final and most impressive of which dissects the underexposed subject of the Female Gaze, Mainon and Ursini cover every relevant film that is worth a damn in nearly every genre. It’s not every film book that waxes philosophical on Elizabeth Taylor’s performance in Cleopatra before jumping to the graphically realized erotic power struggles of Shinya Tsukamoto’s A Snake Of June. They do what good film writing out to, which is to cover the popular touchstones while giving equal consideration to obscure gems that deserve more love and attention. Mad love, voyeurism, daddy issues, Oedipal complexes, fetishes and sexual hysteria are all on parade here, wonderfully supplemented by plenty of black-and-white stills and snippets of dialog. Profiles of filmmakers and stars who have made erotic obsession their trademark are also provided. Odds are you already know a thing or two about silent film siren Theda Bara, but I’ll bet you don’t know much about Argentine sex goddess Isabel Sari (also known as “La Coca” either for her love of soda or her physical resemblance to the curvaceous Coca-Cola bottles of old), who receives a much-deserved three-page dossier on her envelope-pushing onscreen adventures. Oft-overlooked director Hugo Hass is also given his due as master of love-gone-wrong, particularly for his 1952 cheapie Strange Fascination starring blonde babydoll Cleo Moore as the ruin of a one-handed pianist. This book also provides the best analysis of the ouvre of Wong Kar-Wai outside of what I consider to be the finest of all genre surveys, the incredible Planet Hong Kong by David Bordwell. Literary antecedents are also covered, from Shakespeare to Bronte to Nabokov and Duras, from straight adaptations to wild reworkings that might not be obvious.
Cinema Of Obsession can easily be enjoyed from beginning to end, or simply picked up at any given page, any page at all. Sweaty palmed and breathing heavily, I look forward with great anticipation to whatever Mainon and Ursini have in store next.