Released by: Arrow Video
Released on: July 19th, 2016.
Director: Ken Russell
Cast: Kathleen Turner, Anthony Perkins, John Laughlin, Bruce Davison, Annie Potts
Year: 1984 Purchase From Amazon
Ken Russell’s delightfully lurid Crimes Of Passion introduces us to a man named Bobby Grady (John Laughlin). In his early thirties, he lives in calm suburban life. He’s married to his wife Amy (Annie Potts) and has two kids. On the surface, things seem fine – but Amy is more than just a little bit frigid and it’s clear that whatever spark once was, well, it’s pretty much faded out completely at this point. Amy wants him to fire his one employee, an old friend of his named Jerry (Stephen Lee), but Bobby’s got a heart, he can’t do that to Jerry. Money’s tight, so when he’s offered some night work tailing the employee of a man who runs a fashion design house, he takes it. He’s got a hot tub to save up for.
He’s told to follow a woman named Joanna Crane (Kathleen Turner) – she might be selling some of the company’s designs to one of his competitors. Bobby obliges and that night trails her from the office to her apartment and then from her apartment to a seedy hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Here he realizes she leads a secret life, walking the streets as a prostitute named China Blue and specializing in the kinkier, more dominant side of carnality. The more Bobby gets to know about this beautiful and mysterious woman, the more obsessed with her he becomes, much to the dismay of one of her johns, a street preacher named Reverend Peter Shayne (Anthony Perkins).
Based on a script by Barry Sandler, who also produced, Crimes Of Passion is garish and over the top in the way that the best Ken Russell movies tend to be. At times playing out like a neo-noir, the scenes that take place at China Blue’s hotel room are always bathed in an array of red and blue lights, Kathleen Turner in her various fetish-inspired costumes often times emerging out of the shadows providing not only plenty of eye candy but some interesting visual contrast here. The film, at its core, is both an exploration of sexual desire and its place not only in society as a whole but in committed relationships – at one point Bobby tells Amy that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying sex. He wants sincerity in his relationship with his wife, honesty and passion – he doesn’t get it. No wonder he finds China Blue so appealing, she’s everything his wife is not, but at least initially, she’s no more honest, she’s just a better actress. As the story unfolds the character development takes some interesting twists and turns. We get to know all of the principal players a bit better, warts and all. Amy wants stability more than passion. Bobby seems to have stopped aging mentally in the last year of high school – he and his pal Donny Hopper (Bruce Davison) are former jocks who, as adults, still act out the same ‘Human Penis’ shtick that they found so amusing as teenagers. Joanna/China is damaged goods – or is she? And then there’s Shayne, the amphetamine dosing lunatic who prowls about with a massive metal dildo. He claims to be a messenger of God, to be China’s savior. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Nobody here is innocent.
It’s an interesting story that ends on a note that is poignant, unexpected and yet somehow inevitable. As a narrative the film is flawed but it’s never dull. Turner is magnetic here, you can’t keep your eyes off of her. Her performance is fearless and leaves little to the imagination. Regardless of which of her two personas she’s playing she is excellent and Russell’s camera really does love her. John Laughlin is also very good here, particularly as his situation becomes increasingly complicated. Anthony Perkins is typecast here almost to a fault but the guy gives it one hundred and ten percent and going completely over the top in almost every scene. In the hands of any other director this performance would be ludicrous, but Russell, to a degree, specialized in the ludicrous and somehow this works. The real surprise is Annie Potts. You don’t know whether to feel sorry for her or hate her. She’s part frustrated housewife and part manipulative bitch. She lies to her husband frequently, but you always get the sense that she thinks she’s doing the right thing in doing so. The way that her work in front of the camera makes you keep questioning what she really wants is very effective. Subtle interactions between she and Laughlin early in the film work as interesting attempts at foreshadowing the events that will take place in the last half of the movie.
The cinematography is perfect. Rick Wakeman’s score is intentionally humorous and often times obnoxious, working elements of Dvorak's “New World Symphony” into the film in spots. The sets and locations used for the China Blue scenes are appropriately seedy and some of the set dressing borders on the pornographic – you wouldn’t want it any other way though. These scenes make for interesting juxtaposition when we cut between them and the scenes of Bobby’s home life or Joanna’s day time activities. The dialogue is, more often than not, very witty and quite acerbic while at the same time, serving to peel back a layer or two off of each character to help us understand them a bit more while still leaving plenty open to interpretation. Of course, eventually the lines blur and all of this becomes one big, delirious and wildly entertaining gorgeous mess of a picture.
Note that Arrow has included two cuts of the film – the unrated cut (1:46:46) and the longer director’s cut (1:52:35). There were a LOT of changes made to Russell’s original director’s cut version (and the discussion in the next paragraph could be considered to contain some mild spoilers). Much of the raunchier dialogue was trimmed or softened, the opening Lady Liberty/oral sex scene and its aftermath was heavily edited, the ‘rape’ scene was shortened, the shots showing an adult film playing on the TV in China Blue’s apartment were removed, the first sex scene between China and Bobby was shortened, the breakfast fight between Bobby and Amy was taken out, the scene where China picks up the cop and has rough sex with him while Shayne watches was chopped, the scene where Amy goes to Bobby’s shop was also cut. All of this material is reinstated in the director’s cut version of the movie.
Crimes Of Passion debuts on Blu-ray in 1.85.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer on a 50GB disc. Russell’s garishly colored neo-noir stylings employed in this film look spectacular here, the colors really pop all the way through the movie, especially in the scenes that take place in China Blue’s apartment. Skin tones look great and black levels are nice and solid. There’s no evidence of crash and compression artifacts are never an issue even in the film’s frequent darker scenes. Detail is frequently very strong, though it can soften a bit under some of the more extreme instances of colored lighting – but that’s part of the movie’s intended look. Texture and depth are impressive and there’s no evidence of any noise reduction or edge enhancement. Grain appears in pretty much every frame and always looks nice and natural, never scrubbed away or too pronounced. Print damage is almost non-existent, the image is very clean. The end result is an exceptional presentation of some very slick looking source material.
Regarding the director’s cut, according to some text that precedes the feature, some of the previously excised material is reinstated here from standard definition sources. This is a case of Arrow doing the best they can with what they have but honestly, most of the time it matches quite closely even if it is upscaled. When this material is used it’s not particularly distracting or even really all that noticeable.
The only audio option for the feature is a DTS-HD Mono track, in the film’s native English. No alternate language options are provided although English subtitles have been included. The audio quality is top notch. Dialogue is clean, clear and easily discernable score while Rick Wakeman’s abrasive and bizarre score has good depth and presence. The levels are properly balanced throughout and the track is free of any noticeable hiss or distortion. There are a couple of spots where the subtitles differ slightly from the spoken dialogue but it’s such a minor thing most people probably won’t even notice. No complaints here, the audio quality of this release is just fine.
Extras on the disc start out with an audio commentary (originally recorded for the laserdisc release and then used on the Anchor Bay DVD release) with director Ken Russell and producer-screenwriter Barry Sandler that plays over the director’s cut version of the feature. Russell’s commentary tracks are always interesting to listen to and this one is par for the course in that regard. He talks about the themes and ideas explored in the film, make some interesting observations about some of the visuals, shares some amusing stories about shooting some of the film’s more notorious and controversial scenes and talks about the use of music in the picture as well. Sandler also has quite a bit to say about the story, the characters, the plots twists and how it all transfers to the screen. Unfortunately about half way through recording the track, at the fifty-one minute mark, Russell has to leave – leaving Sandler solo. He does a fine job but you’re left wanting more from Russell’s perspective about various aspects of the film, particularly working with Hopkins on such an insane part.
Arrow also includes two brand-new interviews on this disc. The first of these is a twenty-two minute piece with Sandler entitled Life Of Crime. Here he speaks about how he wound up writing this picture, producing it and what it was like working alongside the film’s late director getting it finished. He discusses some of the themes, the characters, the cast, some of the issues that the picture ran into in its day and quite a bit more. It’s interesting stuff, as is the second new interview, Composing For Ken, which puts Rick Wakeman in front of the camera for twenty-nine minutes. Crimes Of Passion was not Wakeman’s first time collaborating with Russell, as he’d worked on Lisztomania back in 1975, but he played a much bigger part in this later film. He talks about his creative process, what he tried to bring to the movie with the music used in the film, his thoughts on the picture, the infamous director and more.
The disc also includes a batch of deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary by Sandler that were cut at Russell’s request for pacing reasons. This material is sourced from a VHS tape but it’s interesting to see – we get an additional BBQ scene where Bobby and Donny talk about past sexual conquests, a scene showing Bobby and Joanna in bed after they’ve had sex, a scene where Joanna shows up at Bobby’s house, a scene where Amy confronts Joanna outside their house, a scene where Bobby helps his son with a school project and a scene where Bobby and Donny get sloshed at a bar and talk about various issues.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are a music video for ‘It’s A Lovely Life’ that Russell directed which was shown on MTV to promote the film, the film’s original theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selection.
The Final Word:
Crimes Of Passion is a wonderfully twisted mix of drama, suspense and kink as could only be made by the late Ken Russell. The movie is gleefully over the top but at the same time it offers up some interesting characters. The art direction is gorgeous and often times eye-popping in its use of color and that really comes through nicely on this Blu-ray. Alongside the great presentation we get two cuts of the film and a load of extras. Highly recommended!
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!