Now I must go from Herzog to the illustrious Philip Kaufman – literary pornographer of Hollywood elite… that sounds so much more honorable than what he actually does. I am again reminded of Herzog, as the father in Julien Donkey-Boy… “tell her she is a dilettante. She’ll never learn to play the harp. She is a dilettante and a slut.” That’s how I would describe Kaufman, and his incredibly ludicrous “interpretation” of the last days of the Marquis de Sade. I watched Quills in part because it is hard to refuse yourself the pleasure of going back and forth from watching masterpieces to trash, like the Russian sauna with its hundred-degree heat followed by excursions into snow-covered fields and even dips into ice water. There’s a certain discipline for body and mind in this kind of action. Quills is everything that I find deplorable. Able-bodied and minded actors are used to portray “madmen” and pinheads in the asylum that Geoffrey Rush’s slender and reptilian Sade shares with them. I’d gone from watching Gummo to watching Quills. There is a monologue in Gummo delivered by a retarded girl. And it’s the most tender thing, and the most respectful thing in the film. The act of shooting a film is exploitative regardless of whom or what you’re filming. However, filming actors pretending to be loony wacky mental patients is even more exploitative than shooting the real thing because it deceives the audience even more than usual. And it bores the audience. It certainly bored me. I’m not a Ted Turner-esque stickler for historical accuracy but everything, historical and not, about this film, is fake. Frenchmen being played by Australians and Americans with English accents, the slender Rush portraying Sade, who was grossly obese by that point in his life, as some sort of virile androgynous temptress, an obligatory sex scene between Joaquin Phoenix and Kate Winslet because they are the only “attractive” characters in the film… but since they really couldn’t/shouldn’t have been having sex it takes the form of a dream… oh, I had more arguments against the film while watching it than I do now a week or so later… but let that be the closing argument of the prosecution: forgettable.
The real trouble with movies like this is that they can’t admit what they are. Porn that can be watched in mixed company and then discussed over a midnight espresso. What a contradiction that it should be about a historical figure so open about his life’s work and the motivation behind it. That’s Hollywood. Three Little Words is the exact same story, Fred Astaire just doesn’t go full-frontal.