The Wachowskis have become known for their big sci-fi/action films like The Matrix, Cloud Atlas, and Jupiter Ascending, but their first feature was a tight slice of noir with an atypical pair of protagonists. It’s a terrific little thriller headlined by memorable performances from Gina Gershon, Jennifer Tilly, and Joe Pantoliano, and it’s new to Blu-ray complete with numerous special features.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for…
Commentators: The Wachowskis (writers/directors), Zach Staenberg (editor), Susie Bright (technical consultant), Joe Pantoliano (actor),
1. Watching the film for the commentary was the first time they had seen it since attending a screening at the San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. “We decided that we didn’t want to see it again because the audience reaction was something that could never be duplicated.”
2. The apartment building’s interior is a set, and the hallway floor design is actually wallpaper.
3. The wallpaper in the apartment Corky’s (Gina Gershon) working in is designed to be more feminine despite her being the more masculine of the two. The idea of duality is intentionally present throughout the film. “It was also the point of the coffee closeup, cream and black.”
4. The first proper meeting between Corky and Violet (Jennifer Tilly) features “all the little lesbian integrity signs” says Bright. They include Violet’s presence in jeans and Corky’s hands triggering Violet to mention her father’s hands. “It begins that hands sex motif that just clinched it.”
5. Bright cameos during the bar scene as the woman who Corky joins in the booth. She was “so afraid [they] were going to have all those frou frou straight girls trying to be lesbians in this bar scene” that she asked if she could stock it with some “real live San Francisco dykes” as extras, and they said yes.
6. The exterior shot of Corky driving up to the building was filmed on the Paramount back lot.
7. They refer to the scene where Violet answers the door in her cleavage-popping dress after requesting plumbing help from Corky as their “Penthouse Forum letter.” They recall experiencing similar female clients back in their “working days as carpenters.”
8. “This is the lesbian fisting scene that drove everybody wild,” says Bright as Corky works on Violet’s pipes to retrieve the earring. She adds that while most gangster pictures are masculine and about hard-ons “this movie was just dripping wet, all the time.”
9. Producer Dino De Laurentiis has his scripts translated into Italian, but his “70 million year old translator” was stuck on the word “labris” as he was unfamiliar with the term. “Does this mean labia?” he asked instead.
10. Tilly added the finger lick at 13:57.
11. They directed Gershon to go “deeper” with her hand between Tilly’s legs, but “the MPAA wouldn’t let us have it.”
12. Joe Pantoliano says he improvised the handshake when his character Caesar meets Corky in the apartment. “It gets a huge laugh because of where it was a minute ago.”
13. Bright was worried Gershon might approach the character as a Birkenstock-wearing lesbian, but Gershon assured her she wasn’t even thinking lesbian at all. “‘I’m thinking James Dean, early Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood,’ and I just sighed with relief.”
14. The centerpiece sex scene was filmed on a closed set, but because of the physical requirements of the camera circling the pair on the bed it actually called for more than their normal crew to pull out walls and put them back in place. “It was the hardest shot in the movie.”
15. The building directory at 23:11 actually features all of the crew members’ names.
16. The totem on the dashboard of Corky’s truck is meant to be Wilgefortis, “the Bearded Saint.” She was a woman unwillingly betrothed to a man, so she prayed to god and god gave her a beard to stop the wedding.
17. Pantoliano hated that the bag of bloody cash was so bloody. “Because it got on my suit! I loved that suit!”
18. De Laurentiis was adamant that they shoot a flashback scene showing Caesar punch Johnny (Chris Meloni), but they resisted.
19. The tattoo on Corky’s hand is visible again at 42:45 and is visibly different from earlier. “That’s one screw-up.”
20. They have an aversion to master shots as evidenced by the group scene in the apartment starting at 55:52. There’s a single beat showing everyone in the room, but the rest of the sequence avoids it in deference to close-ups.
21. The character of Johnny was written very straight and serious, but they realized the potential for humor when Nick Cassavetes auditioned for the role and they couldn’t stop laughing. “Meloni had the worst audition because we had no one to read with him, but it was still pretty funny.”
22. “Chris [Meloni] was very nervous” about the shot where Caesar shoots the chair cushion between his thighs.
23. Tilly arrives for the commentary recording 1:07:15 into it. “I’m breathing hard because I was running. I wanted to get here before it’s all over.”
24. The Wachowskis tried getting Tilly to close her mouth for the shot around 1:16:24, but she wouldn’t despite their irritation. “That’s not true.”
25. Gershon arrives for the commentary recording 1:17:53 into it. She offers no excuse.
26. Tilly’s favorite part was tripping Pantoliano. Pantoliano’s favorite part was punching Gershon. Gershon’s favorite part was pistol-whipping Pantoliano. “It was a happy set.”
27. Tilly and others argued during the production that the early shot of the detached finger bouncing on the floor was unnecessary, but when she saw the film in London where the scene was excised she realized its absence had a detrimental effect on the later scene at 1:26:00 when Caesar threatens Violet with the clippers.
28. Violet’s dress is up high when Caesar picks her up at 1:27:59, but the very next shot as he exits the room with her on his shoulder shows it’s been pulled down. “My ex-husband noticed that,” says Tilly. The costumers were responsible, and the Wachowskis hated it.
29. The actor in the tub at 1:28:54 was “very proud that he wrangled extra money” for having to lay there while water poured on him from the shower head. He was also apparently a dead guy in Seven (1995) and bragged about getting an extra $200 for playing a corpse in his underwear.
30. Tilly is so damn mean to Pantoliano.
31. “This is metaphorical for something, her bursting out of the closet, but I’m not sure what,” says Tilly. The others laugh. “Oh, that’s rich.”
32. They wrote Caesar’s last speech the morning of filming.
33. Gershon asks the Wachowskis to talk about the blood in the paint during Caesar’s death scene as she’s a big fan of the shot. “Sort of a sore point we don’t talk about actually.” Gershon apologizes adding that it’s the kind of thing they should share in advance.
34. The film originally ended with a scene involving a parole officer, but they re-shot it.
35. Tilly says she’s done two movies that she’s “absolutely totally 100% happy with, and this is one of them. The other one I got an Oscar nomination for.” It’s her third mention of that nomination, and she’s immediately called out for it.
36. When Tilly was considering the film she asked about the sex scene, and the Wachowskis said the only thing they knew for sure about it was that it would include penetration. “Yes!” yells Bright. “That’s because I told them that this couldn’t possibly be another one of those lame cunnilingus scenes that they always stick in lesbian sex movies.”
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“The hands are the sex organs. Hands are cock.”
“What was this Jew’s harp thing?”
“They both have such nice lips we thought this would be a good shot.”
“This is the right-on fem militant speech. I love this. Plus a little radical pro-sex worker rap here.”
“Joey convinced us to let him be naked in this scene.”
“One of our big influences is Billy Wilder.”
“This is Bill Pope riding this dolly like a crazed maniac.”
“I couldn’t say Glenlivet to save my life.”
“I did that same ad lib in Bullets Over Broadway and it got me an Oscar nomination.”
“Did you improvise one of those assholes?”
“We discussed that strap-on in depth.”
The Wachowskis don’t do many commentaries — in fact, this may be the only one — but I’d be hard-pressed to ask for more as they don’t seem all that interested in them anyway.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.