EXCESS HOLLYWOOD: GROWING BUSH FOR THE JAPANESE

I like the Argento family. Dario’s films have always been among my favorites in the horror/thriller genre, and his maniacal “Stendhal Syndrome” is one of my top film picks of all time. His daughter Asia stars in that one, and her role in it solidified her actress status in my book. With that in mind, I couldn’t wait to see Scarlet Diva, Asia’s first film as a director (she also wrote and starred in it). I had read that the film was semi-autobiographical, which only added to my excitement. Unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations.

The film isn’t all that incredible; it suffers from being a little too arty in places. It’s a good movie, but not the great film I was expecting to see. Then I “watched” the commentary, which is where Scarlet Diva really shines.

Most film commentaries are pretty cut and dry. “The Limey” had a good one, but far too many of them only offer the family-friendly scandal or production information you’d expect to find on some “Entertainment Tonight” weekend segment. (Luckily, few commentaries are as bad as the ones given by Morgan Freeman. That man just can’t conduct an interesting conversation, as witnessed by his commentary work on “Se7en.”) Asia’s commentary, however, spills the beans on all those around her. She talks trash and doesn’t give a fuck. You have to respect that.

I knew her commentary was getting good when she described one of her actors as a “piece of shit.” He, like far too many other actors Asia has worked with, wanted “too much.” He wanted extra coffee, extra food and so on. This apparently pisses her off to no end, as do her friends.

In the course of Asia’s commentary, she reveals how most of her pals promised to be in her movie but then screwed her over at the last minute. Because of that, Asia takes potshots at them in certain scenes. (In one in particular, she stomps over some pictures of a guy who vowed to be in her film but seemed to have better things to do. Take that, asshole!)

There are some actors Asia likes, however. One that stands out in her mind is the woman who forces herself upon Asia in one hot lesbian scene. The actress was a porn star with “incredible tits.” (They were pretty decent by any standard, though the nipples were a little too pronounced.) Asia really, really liked doing the sex scene with her. In fact, it seemed like it may have been her favorite part of the film, and before you think she’s a greedy director, she reveals that she wasn’t the only one getting enjoyment from sex on the set, either.

In one scene, Asia’s roommate and her abusive boyfriend reunite and go at it on a table. Asia reveals that the sex was real. Yep, these two “actors” really got into the method portion of their art, though they did get a bit upset when Asia stopped the scene before they could climax. I bet Freeman’s never had actual sex on the set while being filmed.

Sex wasn’t the only reality in the movie. Asia mentions that a pot smoking scene in an Amsterdam coffee house was totally legit. In another scene, the one where Asia gets sick on a boat, there was a woman sleeping on the bench next to her. The woman woke up in the middle of the scene and “freaked out” because she thought Asia was dying. (You can actually see the woman quickly get the hell away from the vomiting Asia in the scene.) Asia and her crew shot many of these pirate scenes in places they weren’t supposed to because they didn’t have enough money to obtain the proper permits and whatnot. (While I credit directors with having the guts to do this, I think it may be only a matter of time before someone is filmed in the background, sees themselves in some movie they hate, and sues.)

Asia’s commentary takes a turn toward intensely personal matters when she talks about what is perhaps the most bizarre admission I’ve ever heard on a film commentary. It comes during a scene where Asia strips in front of a guy in order to expose her famous groin-area tattoo. Asia explains that she grew her pubic hair out in order to please Japanese audiences. When she talks of the film’s popularity in Japan, she says, “I think it’s for the bush.” And like the breasts mentioned earlier, Asia’s pubic mound is pretty damn impressive.

Granted, some viewers (though not those who would seek this film out knowing what it’s about) would be shocked by Asia’s confessions. The guerilla style of filming, the use of porn stars, the hatred for some of her actors and Gus Van Sant, the actual sex and use of drugs may be a bit much for some people. This is Asia Argento, however. She’s never been known to be subtle. She speaks her mind, and I admire her for that. What I do find disturbing is what Asia doesn’t talk about. You can tell by listening to her that she has some things just under the surface that she isn’t quite willing to share yet. I want to know what those things are — especially if they involve her vagina and Japanese people. God knows she gives more than we’ll get or even want to get from that dud Freeman, but if he starts talking about stuffing his pants to appeal to white soccer moms, I’ll be listening.

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Film Threat reviewer and “Excess Hollywood” columnist Doug Brunell is currently doing time in Northern California.

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Posted on May 1, 2003 in Features by
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