Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Tennis Tuesday

I have the most vivid recollection of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert reviewing "Mike's Murder" on "At the Movies," their post-"Sneak Previews" show, back when I was in high school. I remember being strangely drawn to the Debra Winger vehicle, but never getting to see it as it exited from theaters almost as quickly as it arrived. Now I'm starting to realize why. If Mark Keyloun, who plays the titular crime victim, in his tennis get-up didn't already have me raring to go, wait'll you read what my pal Glenn Gaylord recently wrote about the film BELOW.


Note: I totally agree with Gene Siskel when he says drugs and drug users are inherently uninteresting, which poses a problem for liking "Mike's Murder" -- "Euphoria" is almost unwatchable to me whenever Rue or Fez are on the screen -- and I totally disagree with Glenn when he takes a swing at "Uncoupled"(!) ... but hear him out. 

I've always been fascinated by James Bridges' MIKES MURDER from 1984. Starring my favorite actor of all time, Debra Winger, the film is a strange, distant neo-noir about a lonely Bank Teller who goes down a rabbit hole upon discovering that her casual acquaintance/f*ck buddy/tennis instructor has been brutally murdered. That Mike was also a drug dealer and bisexual adds to the mystery. 

A troubled production, the original edit was presented as more of a kaleidoscope in structure than the linear storytelling of its release print. An early, terrible test screening squelched Bridges' ambitions in that regard.  After some extensive reshoots and further editing, the film came and went without much fanfare, fading into obscurity. 

Bridges, who had great success with such films as THE PAPER CHASE, URBAN COWBOY, and THE CHINA SYNDROME, based MIKE'S MURDER off of his real encounters with a friend who was killed and who also was involved in drug dealing. In fact, Paul Winfield took the real Mike under his wing, was in love with him, and pretty much played a version of himself here...culminating in one of his finest performances. 

While somewhat inert and dramatically unsatisfying, the film captures some remarkable things about Los Angeles during that time. The hidden, unseen lives...the dark, seedy underbelly which exists in an almost parallel universe to all the glitz and glamour...and the obsessions of an innocent who needs to know what happened to someone she barely knew. Let's also not forget how difficult it was to get ahold of people back then, relying on answering machines and coincidences to communicate. Winger is somewhat of a cipher in the film, but that's also the point. She's brilliant in conveying a numb, blankness throughout. 

What really struck me this time, however, is the gay male gaze of this film. Bridges was gay, and his partner, Jack Larson, produced, both of whom knew the real Mike. Winger seems to act as a surrogate for the filmmakers, and we, the audience, see Mike (Mark Keyloun) in ways a straight filmmaker would not likely shoot him. He's a clear object not only of desire, but we spend most of the film stalking him in a way. That he's ultimately unknowable adds to the flavor of a city which teams with such inhabitants and to a film about obsession. 

Bridges, it seems, couldn't tell the real story about Mike, although his bisexuality gets addressed, and instead needed a female star to get this story past the studio. Although the real Mike apparently had relationships with both men and women, you can tell that Bridges had to compromise. This type of self-censorship still happens today, with "Sex and the City" being one example of a gay story being told by women - although the deeply flawed "Uncoupled" seems to remedy that somewhat.  Still, I've never been able to shake MIKE'S MURDER.

It's available for purchase on VUDU or you may want to sniff around a very popular website where people post videos and maybe, just maybe you'll find it there.

UPDATE: Finally watched and was completely titillated by it all. My friend Glenn gets it right -- it's obvious there could have been so much more there -- but given when the film came out, I was thrilled to see any representation at all from the period. Paul Winfield deserved an Oscar for playing that rich-and-handsy old queen we've all known! 


Jack said...

I will definitely check this one out.

Steve said...

I saw this once a long time ago. I then spent years tracking down a copy. Not obsessively, but in a casual way. Still have it somewhere. Not sure if it is DVD or VHS. It is a box somewhere as we are in the middle of our second move in 6 months.