Stalker films of the 1990s got me thinking.
I was just in New York for a long weekend in an apartment without wifi or other entertainment, which is how I found myself watching Blue Steel (1990)1 on terrestrial cable on some obscure public network. The film stars a gorgeously butch Jamie Lee Curtis as rookie detective Megan Hunter who is both dating and pursuing Wall Street hotshot and number one suspect of serial murder, Eugene Hunt, portrayed by Ron Silver. The film is directed by Kathryn Bigelow who won an Oscar in 2008 for The Hurt Locker starring Jeremy Renner as a bomb defuser, who at this precise moment is trending on Twitter for his resemblance to Ukrainian president and low key sex symbol Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Blue Steel riveted me. I just wrote last week about the premise of Heartbreaker, a novel I wrote in 2010 about a cat-and-mouse detective fiction between a female detective and a charismatic serial killer. So naturally my interest was already piqued when the plot of Blue Steel unfolded. Ron Silver—whom I know nothing about—looks enough like Andy Garcia in this film that I initially googled Andy Garcia for information until the search proved fruitless. I pivoted to googling Jamie Lee Curtis (whose name I didn’t query first because her credentials are much longer and I thought would’ve been longer to comb through for results). I obviously found all the information I needed about this movie eventually.
Kathryn Bigelow said in an interview about Hurt Locker that she was fascinated by masculine intimacy, and how fraternities like the armed forces fabricate intimacy in vacuums of emotional intelligence. She also directed Point Break (1991), which is such an amazing film and also deals with homosocial intimacy. I find it more interesting that both Point Break and Blue Steel feature androgynous and borderline butch female leads—Lori Petty in Point Break. Also?
In both these early 1990s films, the women are victims of handsome stalkers. Eugene Hunt in Blue Steel and Bodhi, played by Patrick Swayze in Point Break, are in their respective ways, portraying stalkers seeking intimacy between men and women in another kind of emotional vacuum: one of communication.
It was likely in the late 1990s that I learned women were reported to have had troubling fantasies of being ravaged (read: raped) by men more frequently in the early 20th century but that the “trend” was dissipating rapidly and likely because of “women’s liberation.” How these statistics were meaningfully collected without crossing multiple other moral hazards is beyond me but I believe it just from reading it. It was in a TIME magazine, but I am sure that in my youth, I believed women had to be taken advantage of in order to achieve erotic achievement. It was unthinkable at the time that a woman would control her sexual destiny in any straightforward way. I think I also accepted this information because it was presented with the guise of social evolution and growth on the part of women who were progressing away from these “troubling fantasies.” This was seen as a sign of feminist growth.
I think, though, about how in the last two decades, Fifty Shades of Gray and the Twilight series took over where bodice rippers left us. Aren’t we just consenting to the ravage now? Maybe our metaphors involve more science fiction but they’re no less preposterous. i.e. we’re supposed to believe in vampires and straight doms who aren’t super duper corny. LOL as if…
I wonder what someone like Bigelow might do with source material like …Gray or Twilight. [Also, I can’t believe she dated John Cameron for as long as she did. I can’t stand any of his films. You could not convince me to watch Titanic again or see the virtues of Avatar no matter how deeply Cameron feels about environmental justice today. His films make me feel like I’m listening to Yanni.]
I feel silly talking in heteronormative syntax, but I do find these dynamics of intercourse fascinating to reflect upon for my own personal reasons. How quickly we have adapted to different ways of talking about the things we cannot say out loud. Stalking, ravaging, homoerotic play, queering, Kierkegaard’s “third remove,” Bataille’s “human sacrifices,” and now, our erotic idolatry of the Ukrainian president as the country he represents is threatened to be ravaged by Russia. I know this is quite uncharitable of me to say, and I apologize in advance for making this comparison but Putin is like a John Cameron. Russian forces are the Titanic of statecraft.
So anyway, it’s interesting to see Bigelow’s treatment of the stalker’s gaze of the detective. When I watched Point Break, I seem to recall having felt empathetic toward Bodhi, while wanting rooting for Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Utah to win Lori Petty’s Tyler. The best part of the film was the second act when they all got along together, right? That’s also why I was not at all surprised by the denouement, that Bodhi was actually capable of so much cruelty as a paranoid stalker.
Having resurrected Heartbreaker and watched Blue Steel over the course of three days, I’m deeper into parsing what it meant that my fantasies were never about being ravaged but of being stalked; quietly observed from a distance. I say this with extreme caution. I don’t mean to make light of such behavior (RIP Selena forever). I’ve also been stalked. It was terrifying at the time it was happening to me, but I have no concerns about the dangers of this person anymore. I can talk about this now with some psychological remove, but I’d thought a stalker fantasy had to do with magical thinking, but it’s actually just like the r fantasy or the homoerotic bunker and all other displaced emotion—it’s socially conditioned.
What I might have needed to believe at the time that I fantasized about a benevolent stalker, was that god and father and state and the phantom of the opera (don’t laugh but that was really my first erotic crush), could only love me this way because it is the only way any man could worship any woman: in silence. Men could never confirm they loved me, had no ability to articulate their faith in me, because true love, true faith, depended on some kind of endurance persecution. Society, church, media taught us this.
Now, here’s a gender-flip for my theory on stalker as allegory: this is probably not the first film to treat stalkers like sex symbols but in 19872, I believe we got our first really popular treatment of the sexy stalker: Basic Instinct by Adrian Lyne, starring Glenn Close and Michael Douglas. That sex scene! And then in 1992, Hollywood was blown to bits by a little film by Paul Verhoeven called Basic Instinct about a deranged female shrink! Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs in that white dress. Mister Verhoeven, the same guy who did Showgirls and ruined Elizabeth Berkley’s career. Gee, the 1980s and 1990s were a period of suspense filmmaking that really believed in a much thinner line between stalking and romance.
I have no final conclusions or observations about this topic, but have just been sitting here thinking about trends in narrative, maybe. Maybe the theater of feelings that experimental artists are so eager to leave behind is really the universal nuclear impulse for artists to eradicate narrative altogether, precisely so that we may lose our minds completely to the total surrender of our emotions. I’m so glad I have a preponderance for words as media, but I really do wish when I go on long tangents such as this, that I would also finally lose my mind and surrender to something more pure, so it would not be so obvious that I am constantly running in circles of thought when I really just want to explode with sentiment.
You might’ve noticed I stopped citing some of the movies with links. It’s because I’m lazy but also because I don’t care if you learn more about some of these other films.