EROTIQUE :: I still like to play games

 I don't sleep much. The school system (which bled into the workforce) dictated that I get up earlier than I'd like, and I have a legitimate fear that I'll miss something once my head hits the pillow at night.

As a child, my bedtime was the same as my parents': once the credits rolled on the last primetime show of the night, we hit the lights & went our separate ways. Thing of it is: once I discovered that Premium Channels like HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime spent the entire day saving all the breasts for after 11:45pm, I began to design my own schedule; Prevue Guide became my daily (or nightly) planner, and TV Guide became my calendar. My "secret stash" was live for the world to see, and it was consistent. So consistent, in fact, that once I was able to determine which movies and programs were my favorites, I was able to grab a blank tape and plan accordingly. And within some period of time, I'd employed half a dozen 6-hour Maxells and TDKs to hold an extensive library of Softcore Cinema - enough to start my own Adult station. And it was through this practice that I almost-unintentionally became an authority on low budget 90s smut.

You see, the only way to guarantee a glance at the strong sexual content was to experience the entire film from beginning to end. In doing so, one can't help but watch the movie and follow the plot (which typically had as much ample padding as its lead actresses). And the reason these stories usually seem so tedious is because, at their core, these are really solid and engrossing ideas -- at least within the parameters of the genre. Most of these movies were extensively sexy on a cerebral level... but when we're 13, we still jerk off manually, and a sparse script-to-screen depends a lot on the talents of the cast & crew.
And sometimes, it worked...

During this time (the mid 1990s), a lot of notable features made their way directly to video, and then retired to cable - where I anxiously awaited. Some may call them "punchlines" or engage in some snickering self-deprecation about "memory lane," but I've never been so bold as to mock or demonize any zone of artistic labor based solely on its subject matter, time period, or mode of distribution. A bad movie is an unmemorable movie, and personally, I remember very well the likes of Lap Dancing (1995), Masseuse (1996), Play Time (1995), To the Limit (1995), Scorned (1993), Desert Passion (1993), and, of course, I Like to Play Games (1995).

I don't know of any polls or statistics, but I've always felt that this was the most well-known one in the genre - the Sgt. Pepper of 'Skinemax,' the Coca-Cola of cable carnality. I think it's the lyrical, longwinded title -- even if you've never seen it, you don't forget a name like that. And if you have seen it, it's memorable for a mountain of reasons - and at the summit is Lisa Boyle.

This was the first thing I'd ever seen her in -- and then, within what seemed like a matter of months, her immediately-recognizable appearance kept appearing in the mainstream, particularly but intermittently on Married... With Children as Kelly's friend, Fawn (as in "Fawn, Fawn, let's get it on"). Granted, her most prominent character trait on that show was that she was attractive, but it also allowed her to be funny, which, by my standard, I'd consider it to be her best role. Her aggressively sensual face and trim physique were exploited to their full extent in Lost Highway (so she's got Lynch on her resume), but an even more substantial moment was her small part in The Nutty Professor: one of the highest-grossing movies of 1996, in which Eddie Murphy himself stands her up in front of a crowded restaurant to demonstrate what the perfect woman looks like. 

The world saw that, and a star should've been born. It was not to be...

But let's not gloss over I Like to Play Games: a leading role for Lisa in which she gets to play a femme fatale of sorts, which allows her to laugh maniacally and throw Kubrickian death-stares from time to time.

Actually, this is a good time to describe the plot:

Michael (Ken Steadman) becomes romantically entangled with new coworker Suzanne (Lisa Boyle). Suzanne is into roleplaying and spends every waking moment playing the part in whatever "game" she's created. It's the responsibility of her lover (currently Michael) to try & keep up and not break the rules. Initially, Michael loves his new adventurous lifestyle almost as much as he loves Suzanne, but as jealousy and possessiveness set in and the games spiral deeper into depravity, reality begins to crumble and everyone gets hurt. 

There are two things I wanna mention that I think are important (or important to me). One is that the climax and end credits of the movie are cut to a 90s karaoke version of "Live and Let Die," which, possibly inadvertently, elevates it from a tepid booby movie to an abstract arthouse picture. (You really have to see it to get what I'm talking about.) I also bring it up to offer my own sense of credence in a genre best known as "Porno Music" - a phrase that in and of itself is thought of as a joke to describe generic disco or smooth sax. But we (as in you & me) know better, and at least we'll have each other when we die on that hill. 

And the second thing I wanna talk about is Stanley Kubrick. (C'mon, you weren't expecting that.) If you've read enough film criticism that's focused on the man's career (and there's a lot), one theme you'll continually come across is the impression that his films - all of them - were direct commentaries (or even parodies) of their own respective genre: War, Science Fiction, Horror -- you get the idea. And ever since the first time I saw it, I've always upheld the notion that Eyes Wide Shut was Stanley doing Cinemax After Dark. Not just because it's a grownup movie with sex stuff -- Erotic Thriller is its own thing. But EWS is a lot more (and less) than that; all subliminal imagery and controversial interpretations aside, the whole film is blissfully simple and stupidly broad, with lush cinematography and long dialogue scenes. But all with a sense of humor.

There's no mistake: I can and will use this exact descriptive jargon verbatim to describe Games, as well as all the others.

These movies have a visceral, identifiable mood that's put in place with lighting, music, film (or video) stock, and pacing; the way a Slasher movie is a constellation of "kill scenes" connected by talky filler, and then we rate the whole movie based largely on the effectiveness of the kills. A movie like I Like to Play Games can and should be experienced by this same measure. Character development and exposition usually take place in the bland, overexposed daytime, but come nightfall, the whole vibe turns into a lava lamp of color & movement: scenes are lit by candles and fishtanks, the set design is made of silk and velvet, and the bass determines the rhythm of the action. These sequences are why the movie was made, they're the reason the audience watches, and they're the reason to talk about it a quarter century later.

I've looked at it now with fresh eyes -- and by "fresh" I mean "aged." The dirty parts are obviously very tame to an adult, so it allows one to watch it a bit more objectively. The cheapness of the sets, the time-specific fashions, and the gratuitous compositions feel magnified when you're not just waiting to see a nipple, but that's really only when you stop to think about these things. I've seen plenty of softcore stuff that felt plotless or convoluted, but Games truly earns whatever weird recognition it has as a good "one of these movies." It was just the Made-for-TV version of a mainstream genre that had been going strong for roughly 10 years at that point: Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Disclosure (and other Michael Douglas movies) all tackled this same theme -- sex as a dangerous endeavor, particularly for men. I'm sure film historians blame this trend on AIDS awareness (at one point, Suzanne asks Michael if he has a "safe" - apparently a slang for condom, and one I've never heard), but as a kid, I took this movie and all those other movies as parables on self control, and how not to be an asshole. 

- Paul

P.S. We don't like reposting videos, but I'm much better at expressing my feelings via that particular medium - much more than the preceding, meandering crap.

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