Adrian Lyne: Magnificent Obsessions

If Lyne was spooked by the success of Flashdance and, as a result, larded 9 1/2 Weeks with music, he was burned badly enough by the criticism of the latter that he made sure to rid Fatal Attraction of all music: "I didn't even want a song over the opening credits." You can see in these reactions the mind of a marketing major. If it worked before, do it again. If it failed, take it out.

Fatal Attraction is a landlocked version of Jaws. Glenn Close, the predator, her teeth bared, her locks madly frizzed, keeps closing and nosing and nibbling until finally Douglas and his wife do what any good shark hunters have to do. One can't quibble with the suspense Lyne creates. He manages to turn the ringing phone into a weapon by zooming in on it and then cutting to a close-up of the jangled Douglas. In the scene with the boiling bunny, Lyne took three concurrent actions and edited them so deftly that every possible ounce of tension is squeezed from them. On the other hand, his characters are not flesh and blood creations. They are stand-ins for cliches. Close is the fragile, single career woman. Anne Archer is the simple, soulful, supportive wife. Douglas is the distracted, bored yuppie. Now, it's okay to start with types like these so long as the writer and director then lead them through some sort of character arcs. But neither James Dearden, the writer, nor Lyne did this. What they did instead was push the characters to extremes, mistaking sex and violence and retribution for character development. Few clues are dropped as to why these people behave as they do. Lyne's just not interested in back story or in the little touches that reveal character. We have no idea, for instance, how Douglas feels about his wife, and aside from a fiery confessional scene, the affair seems to have no consequences for the marriage. In fact there's not one significant discussion between them.

Lyne doesn't trust himself with these revelatory scenes. The reason might be that such scenes require talk. The dialogue in Lyne's films is never good. He doesn't put much stock in words.

What interests Lyne, what he's adept at serving up, is lust and its consequences. He's at his best when shooting a feverish sexual encounter between a worldly stranger and an innocent. He's obviously drawn to the idea of a routine life being turned topsy-turvy.

Lyne began his career in the mailroom of the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in London. "I went to a public school, and took my A levels in French and German, and I passed them, which surprised my father who hadn't booked a place for me at the University. But I don't regret it. I learned how to direct by watching Clive Donner and John Schlesinger shoot cigarette commercials.

"David Puttnam [who plucked many a young director from the ad biz] gave me my first feature, and I'm very grateful to him for that. I just wish he hadn't shot off his mouth so much when he came over here to run Columbia. How can you castigate Beatty and Hoffman for making too much money when you're earning the same amount yourself? If you're going to criticize, you must be beyond criticism. If Puttnam had given his salary to charity, that would have been impressive. Otherwise, it's just ranting and raving."

Lyne thinks the notion of "high concept" is ludicrous. "The moment you go out and look for something that you think will do well-that's when you fail." Lyne is attracted to offbeat projects that have been turned down by less daring directors. Yet, if you look at what Lyne does with these risky properties, you realize that he's hedging his bets. The material may not be standard studio fare, but Lyne makes sure he dazzles us with tried and true advertising gimmicks-quick cutting, lots of zooms and closeups, unusual camera angles-all of which contribute to a kind of heightened reality. Into that mix, Lyne ladles public groping, pelvic grinding, and dewy beauties in black stiletto heels. Little wonder that, despite the script, his audience is treated to a titillating series of images. If little in Lyne's films seems improvised or spontaneous, it's because everything has been thought out in advance. Like all advertisers, Lyne does everything he can to elicit a desired response. If, in pre-release screenings, he doesn't get the response he wants, he makes changes. He admits that his role-as director-is one of manipulator. "A film audience is there to be manipulated for two hours," he says.

Pages: 1 2 3 4