Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bound (Lily and Lana Wachowski, 1996)

Female Filmmaker Project

Despite the majority of the world knowing The Wachowski's for The Matrix and big budget action I think their strongest effort is Bound. This is in large part thanks to their strong visual sense and confident framing. While watching this last night I was highly impressed with what I was seeing, and it's a shame they haven't really made another smaller film like this since they became huge Hollywood figures. After they made The Matrix they have worked exclusively on big budget pictures, but Bound is something different, and I think their best images were created here.

 I love how much the film lingers on hands, both as a sexually powerful body part and as an image for their evolving closeness, love and warmth. The film is never really overtly selling their romance as one for the ages, but it's the subtlety of hands joining instead of grand gestures that punctuates the love they felt for each other. I like the little differences between their hands as well. Corky's (Gina Gershon) nails are cut to the quick with no real emphasis for grooming while Violet's are painted, and while still relatively short, heavily manicured.

The Wachowski's also judiciously frame the film in overhead symmetrical shots. My favourite of these is Corky and Violet in bed together after they make love for the first time without being interrupted. The door is only barely open putting just the faintest of light on their bodies, their black clothing clashing with the floor and they are close together. It's a lovely frame. The image of Corky in the closet bound and gagged, trapped essentially, is a distinctly queer image. While she's trapped due to her problems with the plan and not her sexuality it still calls up the idea of being in the closet and not free with one's sexuality.

 One of the more surprising aspects of Bound's visuals was how much I felt the architecture was inspired by giallo pictures and more specifically Dario Argento. The architecture of the home's is very sleek, floral and edged much like Suspiria but without the colour palette. Instead Bound goes for the traditional blacks, whites and greys of noir, and even colours like red seem muted and only really shine when blood splatters against white.

Sex positive feminist Susie Bright worked on Bound as a consultant during the sex scenes, and in her analysis of the film she'd say that Bound scenes of sexuality are coded as being "wet", and she praised the film for showcasing aspects of lesbian sexuality on film without oversexualizing the characters. There is one scene in particular that in my mind calls up the idea of the film being "wet" and it happens right before Corky and Violet have sex for the first time so I think she's onto something. The point of view of this scene is with Corky and while she is working to retrieve a piece of jewelry for Violet we get a feeling for her attraction for Violet in numerous ways. The camera focuses on Violet's legs for a moment, then shows Corky's hands around a pipe with water leaking out, she'd twist until the pipe loosened and she'd retrieve the jewelry for Violet. When Corky is framed again Violet is standing right next to her and the scene feels steamy because I think the Wachowski's did a good job of visually representing her thought process in the imagery of this scene.

 As much as I love Speed Racer I think Bound is the Wachowski's strongest film in all visual aspects. While their style has developed into something connected with big blockbusters and huge action I think it would suit the Wachowski's well to go back to something smaller. They show a confident understanding of what makes noir and queer cinema work, and I'd love to enjoy another film of theirs as much as this one again. Here's to hoping they do some day!

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