Saturday, April 26, 2008

Cheese of Hearts

Sometimes, good ideas hide in the least likely places.

Wasn't that a painfully banal statement? All surface and no substance? I thought it would make a fitting introduction for the 1984 thriller / love story Thief of Hearts. I don't recommend watching the movie. It is a terrible, tedious, trivial affair. Produced by Jerry "Armageddon" Bruckheimer. Written and directed by Douglas Day Stewart, who must also bear responsibility for the equally vacuous (and highly overrated) An Officer and a Gentleman. Need I say any more?

Actually, the one thoroughly positive thing about "Thief of Hearts" is that it destroyed Stewart's career. It was bitterly panned upon release, and for once I am in complete agreement with the mainstream critics. The script is a cliche-ridden crime / romance soap opera that makes "Miami Vice" look like Ingmar Bergman material. The characters are one-dimensional and the pacing is dull. Most of the actors appear comatose, and I can't blame them. The soundtrack is a cheesefest from start to finish, with ditties like "Love in the Shadows" and "Passion Play". Dated 1980's fashion, hairstyles and music abound.

Enough condescension, you get the picture. I am not here to make fun of a bad movie simply for the sake of it. That is an enterprise for lazy minds. No, my reason for mentioning "Thief of Hearts" is that, underneath the crushing ineptitude, there lurks an immensely powerful idea. So strong that, in spite of itself, the film somehow attains a strange appeal. I keep it in my collection to this day.

Here's the plot: there's a rich San Francisco couple, he a successful author of children's books, she an interior designer and trophy wife. One night, their mansion is robbed by a cat burglar. Mistaking them for jewelry, he also takes a box containing the wife's private diaries. It turns out that the burglar, played by Latino heartthrob Steven Bauer (best known as Al Pacino's sidekick from Scarface), is a sensitive and lonely guy. So he starts reading the diaries and falls in love with the wife. The juicy detail here is that she's recorded all of her secret, steamy erotic fantasies, stuff that not even her everyman husband knows about. In the journals, she has created an alter ego by the name of Michelle, who gets to live out all the passions and romances that her real self, Mickey, can only dream about.

I suppose you're curious now, so allow me to indulge you with an excerpt. Prepare to be disappointed, though:

"Water. I love water. I was born near the water and used to sail all the time with my dad. I spend every minute I can in water, in my bath usually. Water washes me clean, water is sexual, water is healing. He takes me to the water. A huge yacht like a castle. The sun is hot, intoxicating. The water undulates under us. My resistance drains away. His body is strong, his face is beautiful. He touches himself, rubbing lotion into his skin. I feel him enjoying his own flesh. His mouth is suddenly on my neck and moving over my shoulder, encircling my breasts. His tongue slides down my stomach. I'm melting under the sun..."

Gee, that was wild. Allow me a moment while I pause and wipe the sweat off my brow. As a clueless male, I wonder: do flesh and blood women really fantasize about pedestrian crap like yachts and sun lotion? I mean, honestly? Sounds more like the shallow imagination of a Hollywood hack to me. As well as that, "undulate" is not a verb used by normal human beings in their journals.

Needless to say, the burglar is irresistebly attracted by the lady's carnal daydreams. I can see why! He arranges to meet her in disguise and uses his inside knowledge to seduce her. An affair ensues, but I'm not giving any surprises away by mentioning that she stays with her husband in the end. The bourgeois order is restored. Yawn.

Horrible execution, but what a concept. Magnificent potential. Someone stealing your diaries and reading about all your secrets. I'm an avid journal keeper, and there is something incredibly violating about the idea, but also an undeniable fascination. I suppose there is an exhibitionist streak in everyone who records intimate details (which is why we have blogs). Even if we only write for our own eyes, there is something revealing in the act itself, the expression of private thoughts and feelings, the dialogue with ourselves.

Actually, it happened to me once. Someone snooped into one of my journals for no apparent reason except general curiosity and breaking a taboo. Sadly, it was a guy, and a dumb, annoying one at that. No fascination there, it just pissed me off mightily. He was a very insecure character and I think he may have been looking for something negative about him. Ironically, the only bad things I ever wrote came after that incident, which caused me to terminate our fragile friendship. I had never really liked the clown, anyway, he was an acquaintance of my girlfriend at the time. Another member of the local BDSM community, so that part of my diary couldn't have been a surprise to him.

But what if it had been an interesting, likeable personality? We seem to be more willing to tolerate transgressions from those. Say, a woman, sharing my kinky disposition, intelligent, sense of humour, nice girl, but she just can't help herself when there's a diary lying around. Isn't exploratory spirit a positive attribute when you come to think of it? Of course, I would have given her the thrashing of a lifetime for the indiscretion. But if she agrees to that, why not forgive and forget. At the end of the day, I would have found the whole affair rather stimulating.

My other fantasy stays closer to the "Thief of Hearts" original. In real life, of course, I'm much too clumsy for a credible cat burglar. But that doesn't stop me from making the story my own. In my version, the wife's erotic musings are a little more unorthodox. Like, being flogged in the middle of the town square. Who better than me to enter into her life and make those visions come true? And no, she doesn't go back to the children's book author in the end.


Indy said...

Nice post, Ludwig. One minor quibble: undulate is a lovely word. I'll have to use it in my personal diaries from time to time.

Oh, wait, I don't keep a diary. Well, somebody should use it!

Anonymous said...

It's a word I love too. I used it in Dances with Werewolves:

"I unveiled my breasts as I slid my hips back and forth in undulating figure eights, but he only watched my face."

Actually, that could be an excerpt from my private diary, the diary some cat burglar finds and steals.

I agree that some of the worst movies have unrealised erotic potential. I love the idea of a woman writing about something slightly edgier - like being kidnapped and thrashed for some naughtiness she's feeling guilty about. The man does just that, making her head spin with every trigger word and phrase she's fantasised about, making her question whether it's a dream or reality. Yummy stuff!