If you missed or forgot this ahead-of-its-time feature, now’s your chance to discover it on Blu-ray
Presumably it will come as little surprise that a straight cisgender teen male in 1996 did not come to the film Bound with the purest of cinematic intentions.
I really just wanted to see Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly do sex to each other’s boobs and whatnot. Anything else that happened in the film was of secondary interest at best.
But the interesting memory of finally seeing the film when it hit video was a certain sense of… disappointment.
To a youth that had precious little understanding or even, let’s not kid ourselves, comprehension of the concept of a woman’s pleasure, the much vaunted sex scene felt almost… tame.
I wasn’t nearly sophisticated enough to know what I was watching, but at the time I was deeply disappointed at the fact that it was only the one scene. Plus, the lack of soft lighting, rolling around, and no gratuitous full frontal? This was not the fun, sexy time I was promised.
You know, you never really forget that first bit of cognitive dissonance when you realize that a type of thing you like might not be made with you in mind…
At any rate, whatever disappointment I felt in the lack of satisfying softcore was overshadowed by my appreciation for the film’s twisty plotting. In many ways, it was my entry point into the genre of noir, which has since become one of my deepest passions.
And so, returning to the film 22 years later for the Olive Signature Blu-ray release is an interesting experience. On a personal level, sure. But also, and far more interestingly, on a societal level. For the world of 2018 is a far different world than the one that the original was released in. Hell, it’s even a pretty different world than it was in 2014, when the majority of the special features were recorded. It wouldn’t have been very surprising at all if the film had wound up feeling dated, or even deeply, deeply backwards.
And yet, it’s all but impossible not to notice how contemporary the movie feels. It’s more than just the sense of the film being ahead of its time. In both its style and its utterly accepting sex positive attitudes, it feels downright singular.
Much to what should be its eternal shame, Hollywood pretty much hasn’t gotten it right since.
For those who have never seen Bound (you lucky/poor devils), the plot is noir 101: An ex-con takes a job as a handyman and almost immediately gets involved with a breathy femme fatale and a plot to steal two million dollars from the mob.
But here’s the rub (err, to coin a phrase): our handyman… is a woman.
There are much smarter, much better sources to describe the quality and effectiveness of the overall queerness of the film; here and here are solid starts. I am, quite clearly, not equipped to speak on such things. I can really only speak in my capacity as a film lover, and as an undying fan of the Wachowskis. And to this day, this remains one of the single most impressive calling card films I’ve ever seen.
In terms of sheer stylishness, there’s a wit and a voluptuous grace to every single shot in the film. Which, given the severe budget restraints, is a minor miracle. But the Wachowskis, whose avowed comic book fandom would only become more explicit with each subsequent venture, found themselves able to locate the filmic version of the dynamism of four color art in a way that even our modern movies that are actually based on comic books endlessly fail to do.
But there are many stylish directors; in the era of Tarantino, in which Bound was unceremoniously unleashed, there were perhaps too many.
Hell, I actually watched Thursday; I know for a fact that there were too many.
What set the Wachowskis apart, then and now, are their intelligence and their utter sincerity. Unlike everyone else who jumped on the bandwagon and trafficked in cheap violence and hipster nihilism, the Wachowskis had genuine affection for all their characters, from our heroines Corky and Violet, to Wachowski mainstay Joe Pantoliano (hilarious and scary as Violet’s boyfriend Ceaser) and an impossibly young and beautiful Christopher Meloni as the prototypical hotheaded dumbass mob boss Johnny (just as scary, but even more hilarious). Noir is a genre of archetypes, neo noir doubly so. And yet here, no one is a cog in a machine, a pawn of bleak cosmic fate. Everyone is allowed their humanity.
Because for all its postmodern (yet reverent) subversions of noir tropes, the biggest, most vital one is that in the end, this is genuinely a love story. Because at the end of the day, the Wachowskis truly believe in love. Of all kinds, and for every last person.
But it is not a chaste love, by any stretch of the imagination.
Which brings us right back to that sex scene, which failed to ignite the primitive urges of my younger self.
My younger self is an idiot; it was hot then, and it’s hot now.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Wachowskis are the most sensual of blockbuster filmmakers (ridiculed at the time, it’s only recently become clear that the rave scene in Matrix Reloaded was as close as the studio would let them get to filming a full-on orgy). And besides cornering the market on loaded “wet” imagery, the film allows its actresses agency in their sexual coding. Violet is a self-styled sex object of her own free will, and Corky is allowed to be both butch (hard) and seduced (soft).
A highly sexual film that is playful regarding gender identity and has zero interest in the male gaze by two (at the time) identifying as straight male directors is such a curio, then as now. Of course, with hindsight, we now know they were far closer to the LGBTQ community than we could have imagined (not for nothing were they on the ball enough to not just know who Susie Bright was, but to employ her as a “sex consultant” to make sure they were getting things right). And as much of an outlier as it seemed when compared to their later works, it is here that we find their true heart, and a mission statement we wouldn’t realize had been hiding in plain sight this entire time.
*AUDIO COMMENTARY WITH THE WACHOWSKIS, JOE PANTOLIANO, FILM EDITOR ZACH STAENBERG, AND TECHNICAL CONSULTANT SUSIE BRIGHT: Once you get past the disappointment that this is a commentary from right around the original release, it’s a generally fun commentary. Lily and Lana are quietly hilarious, Susie is enthusiastic, and Joey Pants remembers where he is roughly once every fifteen minutes or so and says something hilarious. Take Note: If Tilly and Gershon are in on the commentary, I didn’t hear them during any of the stretches I listened to…
*PART AND PARCEL: Titles designer Patti Podesta briefly goes into how she made those striking opening titles. Titles, I might add, that are more than worthy of their own special feature.
*THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOU AND ME: The only contemporary feature on the disc (and thus the only one to reference the Wachowskis’ transition), film experts B. Ruby Rich and Jen Moorman go briefly into the origins of neo noir before giving their analysis of the film. Mostly inessential, but our hosts are charming and there are some interesting tidbits for the uninitiated.
*HERE’S JOHNNY: In which Christopher Meloni reminisces about playing the prototypical hotheaded idiot mobster’s son Johnny. His affection for the role (and glee at the opportunity to get murdered) are utterly endearing. And the one liner he almost improvised for the finger cutting scene REALLY should have made it into the film.
*FEMME FATALES: Interviews with Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly, natch. Which are just as good as you’d hope, especially for fans of Tilly, who really needs her own one woman show. Her Dino de Laurentis impression alone ought to sell out stadiums…
*MODERN NOIR: Essentially a ‘Making Of’’ featurette, with Staenberg, composer Don Davis (who also, in a gesture that goes above and beyond for this sort of thing, actually composed the music for the bonus features), and the curiously Jeff Goldblum-like director of photography Bill Pope. All of their contributions can’t be underestimated, and in the absence of updated commentary by the Wachowskis themselves, they more than satisfy. Plus, even more impressions of producer Dino de Laurentis, which never gets old.
*ESSAY BY GUINEVERE TURNER: A personal remembrance by the director of the first lesbian movie to break wide, Go Fish (which, on a personal note, was my first experience with gay cinema. Which, in retrospect, is endlessly fascinating to me). Her heartfelt and candid reminisces about the film, matched with her modern day understanding of just what the Wachowskis had gotten away with, give as good an impression of the true legacy of the film as one could hope for.
The fact that even 22 years down the line, Bound remains the only movie of its kind is both a failure of imagination on the part of Hollywood and a testament to the exceptional talent of the Wachowskis. Two decades later, and we’re still playing catch-up.
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