Saturday, September 27, 2008

Out of the Water and Into the Groove

On Thursday I saw Lina Wertmüller's steamy, sensuous Swept Away, several months after watching Madonna and Guy Ritchie's 2002 attempts to revive it. A skewed approach, I know, but in an attempt to illustrate how the two compare, I've split the films up into six elements and given my opinion on which film has the edge. Let the bout begin!

Round One: Lina Wertmüller Vs. Guy Ritchie

In pinpointing just how beastly Raffaela is, and the contempt she generates within Gennarino, the two have different visual approaches. Wertmüller's feels much more natural in its flair, the camera almost acting as a vulture circling the boat, antagonising and constructing their relationship as politically and socially poles apart, but uniting them somehow in their volatility. The further Gennarino strays from Rafaella the easier it is to see their underlying similarities, finely orchestrated in a late-night scene in which they are alone on deck. Metres apart from each other their temperament is placid, comfortable and contented, their eye-contact good, but there is no attempt (and almost a fear) to bridge this gap, almost as if they will explode when breaching a certain level of proximity.

By contrast, Ritchie's way of expressing their mutual resentment of each other seems to rely more on rhythm and pace, using its jazzy-continental score (which reminded me a lot of 80's TV theme-tunes) to create quite a light and successfully comic tone to the first half of the film. As time goes on however, it's clear that Richie has a rather romanticised view of Swept Away, which isn't necessarily wrong but is a limited one compared with Wertmüller's attempts years earlier. Ritchie's flashy moments of direction come with beach clinches and melodramatic displays of affection, and a moment that rivals Match Point's over-the-top slow-motion ring sequence. Wertmüller is able to implore a lot more visual mood into her version, and with an extra twenty-five minutes of running time, feels much more in control of her film than Guy does.

Result: Lina Wertmüller

Round Two: Mariangela Melato Vs. Madonna

Whichever language Wertmüller's Swept Away gets dubbed in there's no way it can be mistaken for anything other than an Italian film. Mariangela Melato's Raffaela is a fiery vixen of a woman: a right wing monster, a ruthless, power-hungry socialite, a sexual inferno. Her journey from riches to emotional tatters and primordial back-to-basics is a sensational arc to behold, and that's because of Melato's unflinching charisma and passion. Her dramatics are always so watchable, and as a woman who has spent the first half of the film being horrendous, her about-turn feels convincing in the context of Raffaela and Gennarino's tempestuous relationship. A major, major feat.

But what of Madonna? Well, where to begin? I have a lot of sympathy for her as an Actress. Her daring, knows-no-bounds attitude works well with music, but when attempting to re-create a role that a) has been done so well before, b) has always been trashy, c) is completely unsympathetic, and d) is actually incredibly complex, was inevitably going to bring her a lot of stick. I'm sure the fact that she's Italian-born, and was a teenager at the time of the original release, had a lot to do with Ritchie making the film in the first place, and in theory, the rich diva role could be something she's well-suited to. But after seeing the original a lot of the performance feels more like whining mimicry than inherent power struggle. Her Amber seems more of a pouting fake, a calculating shallow shrew, than someone capable of being psychologically turned inside-out. If Madonna's Swept Away had kept to its original ending then this could perhaps be more of an understandable acting move, but as it turns out, it makes their love story a perplexing and altogether less genuine commodity.

Result: Mariangela Melato

Round Three: Giancarlo Giannini Vs. Adriano Giannini

Like father, like son. Unsurprisingly, this pair is the most difficult to separate, as essentially their genes speak for themselves, but there are a couple of crucial things the young pretender does not possess. One of these is raw, neanderthal sexual necessity. Adriano has a better body than his father did in 1974, but it doesn't matter. A clinical, chiseled physique works against Adriano in the sense that it doesn't feel like the natural, manly, uncaring brute that Gennarino is, and despite being an adonis to lust over, you don't get the impression that he'd ravage you anywhere near as lustfully as Giancarlo's predatory prowess indicates.

Result: Giancarlo Giannini

Round Four: 1974 Sex Vs. 2002 Sex

A similar story to comparing the men, really. 2002's version sees two beautiful people (perhaps too beautiful?) writhing around in sexual fulfillment, but lacks the bite of the original. What made the sex in Wertmüller's original so erotically charged was that it was both angry and lusty, whereas Madonna and Adriano's encounters, while arousing, are all a bit (for lack of a better word) pretty. What I will say for the remake is that its sex scenes are incredibly well-shot (adhering to the fervent romanticism of Ritchie to which I earlier referred) which when considering the original is high praise indeed.

Result: 1974 Sex

Round Five: 1974 Politics Vs. 2002 Politics

This is where I feel very let down by Guy Ritchie. Watching the remake before the original was in some ways a mistake, but was also quite enlightening when comparing the two. I didn't get the psychology behind the characters because Ritchie makes an effort to whittle and dumb everything down to a trashy love story, rather than showing off the attractive Italian passion evident in 1974. The characters debate communism, fascism, marxism, and really possesses a social consciousness that gives the extremes of Rafaella and Gennarino's relationship a political edge and subsequently a comprehendable dynamic. If you're planning on watching the two films, please opt for the original first.
Result: 1974 Politics

Round Six: 1974 Ending Vs. 2002 Ending
Warning: Spoilers!

The feeling you're left with after watching Raffaela fly off in a helicopter, unable to bring herself to be the Lady that runs off with the common sailor, is a wretched one. It feels natural to want a film to have this sweeping fairy-tale ending but in actual fact the film makes so much more sense (in terms of society, politics, holiday romances themselves) than riding off into the sunset ever would have done, and so I salute Wertmüller for a harsh ending that I imagine didn't go down all that well at the time. Something tells me that Madonna herself probably didn't like the idea of that ending, and creative licence sees 2002's Swept Away get carried away with romance a little too much. It can't bring itself to kick Gennarino to the curb fully, and instead kicks them both to the curb by having them both mistakenly think that the other cannot go through with the romance. A sinking ring, and frankly a sinking moment in an otherwise passable remake.

Result: 1974 Ending

Overall Score: 6 - 0 (A landslide)

Guy Ritchie's Swept Away may be inferior in every aspect but please don't let this put you off watching it. It's an alright imitation of an excellent, excellent film. Misguided but admirable, and one of Madonna's better performances, not that that's saying much I know.

1974 Version
- A
2002 Version - C+

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