How sexpert Susie Bright and the "Matrix" brothers got wet making this lesbian noir.

By Stephanie Zacharek
December 6, 2000 1:00AM (UTC)
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Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski
Starring Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano
Republic Studios; widescreen (1.85:1)
Extras: Directors' and actors' commentary, trailers

Before there was visual mindblower "The Matrix," there was "Bound," the feature debut of writer-director team Andy and Larry Wachowski. Although the two movies couldn't be more different in plot and energy level, "Bound" was an early warning that the Wachowski brothers had the goods; their stylishness has brains.


"Bound" is a noirish crime caper with a love story brewed in. The twist (and "Why should it be a twist?" is one of the questions the movie subtly asks) is that the two central figures in the love story are women. Jennifer Tilly is a mob moll who seduces and falls for her luxury apartment building's handywoman, Gina Gershon. Tilly has had it with gangster life and wants to escape from her numb-nuts boyfriend (Joe Pantoliano, in an amusingly shrugged-off performance; watch for the scene in which he irons $100 bills in his polka-dot undershorts). She and Gershon hatch a scheme to abscond with $2 million in mob money, but not before they've made intense, passionate and very wet love.

"Bound" isn't what's typically regarded as renegade lesbian filmmaking; this is no "Go Fish." But even though it's sexy in plenty of conventional ways -- face it, what hetero guy doesn't like to watch two beautiful women get it on? -- the love scenes between Tilly and Gershon have a believable crackle, and they're unabashedly erotic without being prurient. (Sex expert Susie Bright was the movie's technical consultant and also has a cameo role.)

Even though the movie is knowing enough to wink at the fact that Tilly and Gershon are both undeniably hot babes, these two actresses play people, not capital "L" lesbians. The voluptuous breathlessness of Tilly's performance is a treat -- her half-whispered line readings vanish into the air the way a good grappa dissolves into vapor before you even have a chance to swallow it. And Gershon, with her tribal tattoos and her smoldering swagger, models her character on icons like James Dean and the young Marlon Brando instead of butch-lesbian stereotypes. Instead of trying to conjure up some vague inner masculinity, she draws out the femininity of those actors and embraces it. She's a butch passionflower with both feminine and masculine elements.


The DVD has one special and extremely valuable feature: It shows a crucial love scene uncut, in all its languorous beauty. (In the theatrical and video releases, the scene has been edited into a tasteful but less effective sequence.) The movie's commentary features the Wachowskis' dry Mensa-frat-boy wit, with Bright, film editor Zach Staenberg and Tilly, Gershon and Pantoliano also chiming in. We learn that the movie's early seduction scene was shot with a special film stock that results in a gorgeous high-contrast interplay of lights and darks; it also required scaldingly bright lighting on the set, which makes the tender steaminess between Tilly and Gershon that much more remarkable.

Bright notes, rightly, that "Bound" isn't your typical "hard" gangster movie. Nor is it a dry, parched one. "It's wet, dripping wet, all the time," she says. She also points out the sensual quality of the actresses' fingers and the way they're put to use teasing, caressing and squeezing. "In this movie," she explains matter-of-factly, "hands are cock." Only better, she might have added.

Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

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