Someone mentioned bunny-boiling in a comment thread recently, and what do you know, HBO had “Fatal Attraction” on last night. I watched until the turn of the second act, which is when the movie loses its guts and falls into disarray. (If nothing else, studying screenwriting has given me a whole new vocabulary to use in a pretentious manner. If you’re wondering, I mark the second-act turn as either Anne Archer’s car accident or the subsequent confrontation between Michael Douglas and Glenn Close in her apartment. That’s when the escalating action of the story reaches a climax, and you know the rest is inevitable.)
It’s a movie that, ahem, touched a lot of nerves 20 years ago. I tried to watch it dispassionately, and came away thinking that it’s two-thirds of a pretty fair movie. Nice performances all around, with the usual Adrian Lyne sexual shenanigans, in which people are so hot for one another they do it on the kitchen counter, instead of walking 12 feet to the nice comfortable bed. But what really struck me were the phones.
If “The Departed” was a movie whose plot rested on the capabilities of cell phones, “Fatal Attraction” was set solidly in the former era. Every phone is the same type — your basic AT&T touch-tone desk model — and if nothing else, Lyne knows how to make a ringing phone into a harbinger of doom. Glenn sits on her bed and stabs out Michael’s number, over and over, this apparently being before the invention of the Redial button. Nothing is cordless; when people are called to the phone they walk across the room to pick it up. The receivers have weight, and when they’re slammed down, you can feel it. It’s hard to remember, but once upon a time you could have a movie character beaten with a phone and it would actually look like it hurt.
Glenn is harassing Michael by telephone, calling him and calling him and hanging up when his wife answers and then calling some more. When was Caller ID invented, you wonder. I know a guy who broke up with a girl not too long after this movie came out, and he had to use Call Block to keep her from ringing him at 2 a.m., so she spent an entire night going from gas station to gas station, calling him from pay phones. Which could be a pretty dramatic scene in a movie, when you think about it. Hollywood never closes one door, telephone-drama-speaking, without opening another.
P.S. Anyone thought the scene in “The Departed” where Matt Damon sends a text message from a phone in his pocket without anyone knowing was unbelievable — has never seen a teenager send a text message.