Saturday, March 31, 2007

MIDNIGHT HEAT (ROGER WATKINS, 1983)




Roger Watkins is most well known, among cult film fans, as the director of the enigmatic Last House on Dead End Street. A masterpiece in it's own right, most fans of the film are only vaguely aware of the career direction that he followed after that film, moving into hardcore films. Luckily, the same elements that made Last House... a minor classic remain present in Watkins' hardcore films, which make them entirely unique.

Jamie Gillis plays Alan, a man who's credo is more or less (I'm paraphrasing here) "if something isn't dangerous, it's not worth doing." The film opens with Alan nonchalantly killing a man. Later, Alan ends up sleeping with the mob boss' wife, which leads to him hiding out, avoiding the threat of death. While Alan is stuck in his slummy hotel room, the viewer experiences flashbacks that Alan has of elements of his life (all involving sex) which have more or less led him to the place where he is today; he is more or less apathetic, an "hollow man" as T.S. Eliot (who is briefly referenced) would say.

We're shown how his relationship with his wife disintegrated by his utter apathy, his inability to emote, or even really have an emotional response to anything. We're shown how his relationship with a whore leads to him having larger, higher profile hit jobs. And none of it is very pretty. Eventually Alan calls an escort service and has two girls come to his hotel room. Once there, he watches while they fuck each other, claiming that he "prefers to watch." After the two are done, he pays them and asks one of the girls, Diane, to say. Despite some concern from the other call girl, Diane agrees.

The two then enter conversation, and an odd dynamic develops between them. They both have more or less desolate, emotionally devoid pasts that have put them in their current place. Aside from Alan's memories that are depicted on screen, the viewer is also privy to some of Diane's past, mainly her relationship with her ex-husband. The two finally end up sleeping together, and the shocking ending is something that would (and possibly even could) never happen in a more recent pornographic film.

Being a pornographic film, there are, of course, many hardcore sex scenes throughout the film. There is nothing remarkable about the sex scenes themselves, but both the context and the actual conceptual implications behind the sex scenes make them above average. Virtually every sex scene in the film is shown not for titillation, but rather to show the power dynamic sex enforces over human beings. The film even opens with a quote from Henry Miller, mentioning that "sex can become a weapon." Sex is used as a control method, and aside from a single seemingly "filler scene" between Alan and the "bosses daughter," none of the film exists as startlingly erotic. It's mostly desolate, with average looking people, in what seem to be more or less desperate situations.

The film as a whole contributes to the idea of modern man being empty. Cut throughout the film are slow-motion shots of homeless people and bums wandering the street or sitting along the gutter. Excellent sound design also further extends this idea, dark somber chords interrupt what would generally be considered to be the generic porno music of the time. The film, as a whole, ends up being a fairly harrowing ideal, while managing to avoid being moralizing in the least. Watkins simply reveals these empty characters, he doesn't pass judgment on them. He seems to view them as stoic; they've put themselves into the modes of life that they currently live in, so they themselves are responsible.

While it's not up to par with Watkins' masterpiece Corruption, Midnight Heat exists as a brilliantly thought-provoking pornographic title. It carries a wonderfully consistent dark atmosphere, and actually has something to say.

2 Comments:

Blogger Expiration Date said...

thank you for this. That first still... unmistakable Mahler. this film moved me so much when it came out. i did a show about it in the late 80s in San Francisco, and i thought I was the only person in the world who was talking about him. sounds like he was just beginning to be recognzied recently, before his untimely death. Whew....

4:50 PM  
Blogger Coolrepublica said...

Are you going to review Corruption by Roger Watkins as well.

I really like your review of Midnight Heat and would love to hear your take on Corruption which you mentioned was his masterpiece.

7:14 PM  

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