Bette Gordon's independently produced psychological thriller — written by Kathy Acker — is a stunning proto-feminist noir experiment set in the sex shops of 1983 Times Square. During Manhattan's economic downturn Christine (Sandy McLeod), a Midwest transplant, takes a job as a ticket booth clerk at a Times Square porn theatre called the "Variety."
Surprisingly, the sleazy urban atmosphere fires her erotic desires, and curiosities about the power of her own sexuality. Christine goes on a baseball game date at Yankee Stadium with Louie (Richard Davidson), a wealthy regular patron at the Variety. Louie has underworld connections. Christine secretly follows him after he's called away from their date. When she isn't stalking Louie, Christine tests the influence of her dirty imagination by speaking erotic fantasy monologues to her non-pulsed journalist boyfriend Mark (Will Patton).
Daring, raw, and in tune with the social crosscurrents of the period, "Variety" achieves a spectacular cumulative effect of short-circuiting preconceived notions of taboo sexual stereotypes via Christine's journey of discovery. It's a thriller that takes poetic liberties equal to the harmonic leaps of John Lurie's evocative musical score. The richness of narrative tone is equal to that of John Cassavetes’ work.
Watching “Vareity” for the first time, reminds us of why we adore cinema in the first place. The movie is troubling and dark. The film’s transgressive ambitions bear a raw fruit. The film is incredibly intimate. It is also an incredibly honest film. The movie gets under your skin. It challenges the viewer to become part of its heroine’s psyche in keeping with her discovery of her unconscious mind. Part psyco-sexual thriller, and part time-capsule-character-study, Bette Gordon’s creation is truly a rare movie that transcends time in its transgressive treatment of American culture. Genius.
Not Rated. 87 mins. (A) (Five Stars)