Criterion: Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
TIE ME UP! TIE ME DOWN, PEDRO ALMODOVAR, 1989
Welcome to the Collection, Pedro.
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (or the better Spanish title, Átame!) would not have been my first choice for an Almodovar film, nor probably my 2nd, 3rd or 4th, but I’ll take what I can get. I had seen it previously twice already. The first time was back around the time it came out, before Almodovar was on my radar as a filmmaker, and I was mostly curious because of the census X/NC-17 rating controversy. I remember feeling underwhelmed back then, and revisited it some time after Talk to Her. By that time I had revisited some of Almodovar’s other works and become an enthusiast if not quite a fan. That second viewing changed my opinion a little bit. I appreciated the Almodovar touch, but thought the story was bland, and frankly, ludicrous.
So here goes the third try. By this time, Almodovar has been established as a legendary filmmaker. I’m not as rabid as others about him, but I certainly appreciate him as an artist. That made me eager to approach what was arguably his breakthrough film, just to see if there was another reading of the film that I may have missed. Having an idea of some of his pet themes, I know a little better what to look for.
Speaking of pet themes, Almodovar is a master at handling sexuality, and this was again apparent in Tie Me Up. From the intro, with the director ogling and obsessing over his lead, to the nautical voyage in the bathtub, and climaxing (no pun intended) with an intense sex scene that, surprisingly, shows very little nudity. In the extras, Almodovar proudly states that Elia Kazan said it was the best sex scene ever. I’m not about to put together a top 10 or anything, but it was tastefully done and carried an intensity that helped sell what was still a ludicrous plot. The pyramid shot from above was a creative way of punctuating the scene with an artistic flair.
In retrospect, Tie Me Up! seems artistically constrained. The story was pretty banal, like an upbeat version of William Wyler’s The Collector, albeit with quite a different ending (of which I won’t spoil for either movie). While this was clearly an attempt to make a more consumable film that the prototypical Almodovar, there is more than meets the high. As an example, by taking the bondage approach, I think he is poking fun of the romantic boy-meets-girl formula that had been rinsed and repeated for the entire decade in American cinema. The plot was completely ludicrous, albeit I think somewhat intentionally, and he showed the rough layers of romance by touching on abuse, drug addiction, and mental instability. Yet this falls short of being a satire, as he treats his characters with a depth and seriousness that could never be seen when Andrew McCarthy falls in love with a Mannequin. Even if he is poking fun at the cycle of romantic comedies, we are continually reminded that these characters are highly flawed and seeking redemption.
I found some new appreciation for the film during this re-visitation. A lot of that had to do with the keen direction and vibrant, bright colors schemes with vivid color, which would become a staple in Almodovar’s later films. It’s as if we are seeing the painter stumble onto his signature style. While this is still a far cry from his better works, it is a good, accessible starting point.
Movie Rating: 7/10
Documentary: This is a run of the mill, 30-minute feature about the film, mostly with talking head interviews. Some of the discussion was about the impact of the film and the ratings controversy. This is the only part of the disc where Victoria Abril was involved. I cannot find the details, but it appears she had a falling out with Almodovar. She talks about the difficulty of working with him.
Michael Barker Interview: This was an odd inclusion, as I believe Barker is an executive for Sony Picture Classics. I’m sure he has worked closely with Almodovar, but he’s not the type of figure to usually get a Criterion supplement. He gushes about the director and how much fun it has been to be involved in his career. It’s more of a fluff, retrospective piece. Not too impressive.
Banderas and Almodovar: I really enjoyed this one. It’s basically a short conversation between the two actors filmed in 2003. By that time they were both highly successful, with Banderas an established Hollywood star and Almodovar fresh off his surprise Oscar win. The two talked about all sorts of things, especially how it impacted their lives. At the end, they vow to work together again, which happened almost a decade later for The Skin I Live In.
Criterion Rating: 7.5