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Windows
(1980)

Director: Gordon Willis
Cast:
Talia Shire, Joseph Cortese, Elizabeth Ashley


As you know, the world of motion pictures has presented to audiences all over the world for over one hundred years a number of cinematic characters who are to be admired, whether these characters are based on real people or completely come from the mind of screenwriters. But no doubt you also happen to know that the world of motion pictures for over one hundred years has also presented a number of cinematic characters that seen today in this politically correct world are extremely embarrassing to view. Certainly some of these embarrassments are when filmmakers have taken actors of a certain race and thrown some makeup on these actors to make them appear (usually not very convincingly) to be of another race. But mainly I'm talking about cinematic characters that are considered to be negative stereotypes. Like with those aforementioned make-up jobs, there is often a strong taste of racism in these portrayals. For example, I don't think I have to go into detail about the often racist portrayal of African-Americans in Hollywood movies during the so-called golden age of filmmaking. Nor do I think I have to explain how other races, from Asians to Native Americans, have often been stereotyped in a negative fashion.  But it's now the twenty-first century, and much of us are probably thinking that filmmakers have smartened up and are cautious enough not to put stereotypes in modern Hollywood productions. Or are they? Maybe some race portrayals deemed inoffensive now will be considered offensive in decades to come. I've sometimes wondered how Tyler Perry's often strident Madea character will be viewed by audiences in the future.

There is another kind of real life person stereotype that I would like to talk about, a stereotype that has ties to the movie I am reviewing here, Windows. And that stereotype I am talking about is the homosexual. There's a chance you might know that in the early days of Hollywood, there was kind of a balance when there were depictions of homosexuals. But when the Production Code was put into effect, any positive depictions were simply not allowed anymore. For the next few decades, homosexuality was pretty much only hinted at, with suspected homosexuals depicted as individuals who were "sissies" or "weak". When the Production Code was lifted, things did not improve that much at first. Homosexuals may have been "out", but the typical portrayal was them either being flamboyant in their mannerisms, or a new slant, that being that they were psychotic and murderous. There wasn't a balance in homosexual presentation for quite some time, even though during this period homosexuals in real life were making gains for acceptance. Why did it take so long for more of a balance to appear? Well, the reasons seem easy to figure out. Although homosexuals in the 1970s and 1980s were starting to come out, more of them at this stage were still closeted, hiding the fact from their peers. Without a steady wave of positive influence from various corners in life, filmmakers of this period were still basing what they knew about homosexuals from rumors and so-called evidence they personally came across in their lives. And these rumors and so-called evidence had been backed up by hundreds of years of ignorance by many people.

Comparing now to just thirty or so years ago, it's kind of hard to believe that blatant negative portrayals of homosexuals were still going on in movies. In 1980, there were two such movies. The first was the William Friedkin-directed Cruising, which seemed to suggest all homosexuals as Windowsbeing seriously sick and sex-obsessed. Then there was Windows, which more or less suggested the same with its homosexual character, though also adding a psychotic slant to the portrayal. The studio that made the movie (United Artists) seems to have been embarrassed by the movie, dumping it in theaters in the dead time of January, never releasing it on videocassette, and seldom exhibiting it on cable. Years ago I got a bootleg of the movie from one of its rare cable broadcasts, and I remember being struck dumb by much of what I saw. A few years ago the movie got a quiet and belated DVD release, so I decided to order the DVD and watch the movie again to see if my reaction would be the same. The events of the movie center on a New York City divorcee named Emily Hollander (Shire, Rocky). At the beginning of the movie, she is seen returning home to her apartment after a long day of work. However, seconds after she enters her apartment, a knife-wielding maniac pounces on Emily, and assaults her. The local police, headed by detective Bob Luffrano (Cortese, American History X) are called to Emily's place after the maniac makes his exit, but Emily isn't able to give much evidence to help the police in their investigation. Emily gets some comfort from her next door neighbor Andrea Glassen (Ashlely, Evening Shade), but Emily soon decides she needs a fresh start, and moves to the other side of the city to a new apartment. While this is going on, a relationship of sorts starts forming between Emily and Bob. But the two of them don't know that this budding relationship, as well as Emily's move across the city, are not sitting well with Andrea. Andrea is soon revealed to be obsessed with Emily, and it was she who arranged for the maniac to attack Emily in the hope that the assault would turn Emily off from men and get her to fall into Andrea's arms. Andrea starts spying on Emily with a telescope, and it soon becomes clear that Andrea will do anything to get her clutches on the unsuspecting Emily and make Emily her lesbian lover.

Years ago, long before Windows was given its belated and quiet DVD release, I arranged for an Internet buddy of mine, someone I admire for both his writing skills and his vast knowledge of cult movies, to see the then hard-to-see movie for himself. He promptly watched it, and in short notice wrote a scathing review of it for the cult film Internet forum he helps moderate, calling Windows one of the sleaziest studio movies he had ever seen. Although I have not seen as many movies as my buddy (though I'm getting closer to that number every day), I can certainly understand why he had that reaction to this movie. "Sleazy" is the right word to describe this movie, and not just for the part of the plot I mentioned above concerning a lesbian arranging for a straight woman to be assaulted in order to try and turn her off of men. (Warning: Spoilers are ahead.) We get to see several agonizing minutes with the attacker terrorizing Emily with a switchblade knife and ordering her around. The maniac records his terrorizing and assault with a portable tape recorder, which he later gives to Andrea, who privately listens to Emily's moanings on more than one occasion with great glee. Andrea also expresses great glee while she spies on Emily with her telescope, showing her glee by breathing in an orgasmic tone and licking her lips. Previous to the telescope snooping, Andrea makes sure her plan is going well by hiring the maniac again, this time getting him to try and break through Emily's apartment's door. Later in the movie, Emily gets into a taxi which is being driven by the same man who for some reason does not recognize her. Emily recognizes him, though, and gets the guy to momentarily stop so she can call the police at a pay phone. And what do the cops tell Emily to do? Apparently, from what we subsequently see, she is ordered to get back in the taxi and give the driver directions to the nearest police precinct.

I am not sure what present day viewers of Windows will think these and other plot turns in the movie that have the same perverse spirit, namely because I must confess that I didn't know how to react to them. On one hand, I often felt very offended by what I was seeing on my television screen; among other things, the movie's treatment of homosexuals is pretty deplorable, suggesting that all such people are deeply psychotic. On the other hand, the hot topic material in the movie is often treated so heavy-handed and over the top that I can understand if some viewers will burst out laughing at it. I must confess that I had to struggle not to laugh at some parts of the movie. For example, there was Elizabeth Ashley's performance, one of the worst examples of acting I have seen in ages. To call it chewing the scenery is putting it mildly; Ashley instead rips apart her surroundings and gulps the pieces down through the entire movie. How and why a professional actress such as Ashley would give such a grossly over the top performance are two other things that I am not sure I can answer to a potential audience for this movie. If I were pressed for a possible answer, it may come from the fact that the screenplay doesn't let us learn all that much about Ashley's character, except for the fact that she is obsessed over Shire's character. Perhaps Ashley thought that adding maniacal giggling and lip-smacking would show the audience that her character is not just obsessed, but had an additional layer of being downright crazy. Well, at least Ashley tried to do something with her poorly written character, because the rest of the cast doesn't seem to even try to do anything with their weak characters. Shire's facial expression and tone throughout most of the movie is one of sad bewilderment, and it's frustating to see this character act so weakly to so much of what happens to her. Cortese, on the other hand, seems downright bored with his character and surroundings, no doubt because he gets so little to do that's significant and that his falling in love with Shire's wimpish character seems so contrived and phony.

There is additional talent attached to Windows that is both wasted and often stumbles badly. Somehow this movie managed to get the great Ennio Morricone to compose the musical score, but he gets less of a chance than usual to insert music. In the first half of the movie, I only counted two brief snatches of music. There's somewhat more music in the second half of the movie, but none of the music sounds particularly inspired. In fact, it sounds quite dull at times, and it ends up being one of the prolific composer's few duds. Also found behind the camera is award-winning cinematographer Gordon Willis (The Godfather), who also made his directorial debut with this movie. Now, I will admit that Willis makes the movie look great. His photography really captures the cold and bleak feeling of a pre-cleaned up New York City, and he also manages to compose some very striking moments, such as the eye-catching opening shot. However, he seems unable to do much else in the director's chair. As I've previously illustrated, he seems unable to get his cast to give even passable performances. And while the movie was written to be a thriller of sorts, more often than not he blows any attempt to build suspense or a feeling of danger, particularly in the climatic confrontation sequence, which just goes on and on and has a conclusion that is far from being satisfying. To his credit, Willis later admitted that the movie had been a big mistake, finding the experience of directing it somewhat of a hardship. (He never directed another movie.) Though I think that even a veteran director would have had difficulty dealing with such a bad and offensive screenplay. I strongly recommend that you take the clichéd phrase, "I don't do windows" as your mantra should you ever have the opportunity to watch this movie.

(Posted April 19, 2017)

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See also: Death Game, High School Hellcats, Lonely Hearts

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