Release Date(s)1984 (July 19, 2016)
Studio(s)New World Pictures/Lakeshore Entertainment (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
Crimes of Passion was an attempt by Ken Russell to satirize what was going on between Americans in their private lives in 1984. Derided by critics and most audiences at the time, the film went on to become a cult classic for a small niche of viewers. Its content, involving a prostitute named China Blue (Kathleen Turner) who’s being followed by a psychotic priest (Anthony Perkins) and a man in the middle of a broken marriage (John Laughlin), didn’t leave much of an impression on those who saw it, particularly in a censored form. Twenty-two years later, Arrow Video presents the film on disc in two versions: the director’s cut and the unrated cut.
Ken Russell is an absolutely divisive filmmaker, someone who chooses to stretch boundaries, push envelopes, and challenge viewers with what are often offensive and sleazy visuals, characters, and situations. Quite often, these aspects are hidden within what would seem to be run-of-the-mill movies. The title Crimes of Passion sounds like something you would have caught on late night cable in the early 90’s, but the content within is something else entirely. This is not a well-focused story, as Russell is far more interested in framing the satire rather than carrying a narrative through line. You have, essentially, three character relationships happening here, none of which feels narratively or thematically cohesive with the elements surrounding them. Russell’s (and screenwriter Barry Sandler’s) exploration of characters often leaves one with a sense of nothingness. As an outsider looking in, the ultimate goal of the piece feels missing.
To be fair, the first and third acts of this film are the least interesting story-wise. The interpersonal relationships playing out in the middle of the film, specifically those between John Laughlin and Annie Potts, seem to carry the most weight. The drama here feels raw and real, as opposed to the other segments wherein characters seem more two dimensional than they perhaps should have. Laughlin is good in his role without coming across too strong. He’s actually the most laid-back of the cast, with even Potts out-acting him at times. Anthony Perkins seems to be working a bit beyond his range. Whether he was instructed to do this or not, his performance is a bit like Norman Bates dialed up to eleven. The similarities are unmistakable. Kathleen Turner, the film’s actual star, does give a brave performance here, though she sometimes (and strangely) seems out of place in her own film.
Crimes of Passion looks great, compliments of cinematographer Dick Bush, whose bold use of color gives the film a distinctive yet subtle look that helps immensely. Whichever version of the film you choose, Crimes of Passion is a bit difficult to get through on your first viewing and you’re not likely to shake it once you’ve seen it. This film is a lot to take in and it doesn’t reveal its intentions right away. It’s only after multiple viewings, and perhaps chatting about it with others, that you finally start to appreciate what Russell was going for. Whether that’s a positive or a negative thing, you be the judge.
As previously mentioned, Arrow Video’s Region A/B Blu-ray release contains both the director’s cut and the unrated version of the film. The former utilizes lower resolution material to fill in gaps where certain scenes weren’t available in higher quality, but honestly it all works together fine. The 35mm print-sourced material itself is very organic in appearance, but carries a sometimes inconsistent grain structure. Detail is strong for the most part, as is color reproduction, with lots of very vivid pinks and blues. Skin tones are accurate as well. Blacks are quite deep with some good shadow detailing. Brightness and contrast levels are satisfactory. There isn’t any evidence of overt digital augmentation on display, but there is some minor film damage visible, including mild speckling and density issues. The image is mostly stable throughout, aside from the opening titles. For the audio, a single English mono LPCM track is available. It’s a front-and-centered presentation, but it’s fairly clean and clear with no major age-related issues. There’s clear and discernible dialogue, as well as a hefty score and good sound effects, with decent atmosphere. It’s also worth noting that there are subtitles in English for those who might need them.
As for the supplements, there’s an audio commentary with director Ken Russell and writer/producer Barry Sandler; the Barry Sandler: Life of Crime interview; the Rick Wakeman: Composing for Ken interview; a set of 7 deleted scenes (all with optional audio commentary by Sandler); the “It’s a Lovely Life” music video by Rick Wakeman and Maggie Bell; the original theatrical trailer; a DVD copy of the movie; and an 18-page insert booklet with an essay on the film by Paul Sutton, a look at Russell’s career by Allan Hunter, and a reprinting of a correspondence between Russell and Kathleen Turner.
Although Crimes of Passion offended many who originally saw it with its religious and sexual content, it’s certainly unforgettable. Arrow Video’s Blu-ray presentation of the film leaves little to be desired. So if you’re interested in watching something completely out of the norm, Crimes of Passion is worth checking out.
- Tim Salmons