After performing at a political fund-raiser at the Museum of Fine Arts here, rock 'n' roller Rebecca De Mornay strides off the stage with gubernatorial hopeful Frank Langella--and runs smack dab into her carpenter husband, Vincent Spano.
Considering the situation--she's had an affair with Langella and Spano knows it--the dialogue between the three is remarkably civilized, the delivery unheated.
That, said stage and screen Dracula Langella when the camera stopped churning, is because the director, Roger Vadim, is "good at handling a scene like this lightly and still giving it meaning. He's French, and the French don't take these things too seriously." In contrast, "Americans tend to take all moments regarding sex and love much too seriously."
The director, who is actually of Russian origin, may also account for why De Mornay looks like a punky version of Brigitte Bardot in the 1950s (the mussy blonde topknot) and Jane Fonda in the 1960s (the peachy-pink lips and black eye liner). Vadim was married to both women and directed both in films. In fact, the $5-million film that he's making here (for release by Vestron late this year or early next) is called "And God Created Woman."
It will ring familiar. That also was the title of a 1957 succes de scandale that unleashed in both France and the United States a phenomenon Life magazine called "Bardolatry"--and also heaped celebrity status onto the director, then 27.
For the post-"Last Tango in Paris" generation, it's hard to imagine the shock waves detonated by the original "Woman." Other movies of the time may have, as Vadim claims, exposed more flesh. But in the middle of the De Gaulle-Eisenhower years, a movie heroine (Bardot) who shamelessly and guiltlessly shared beds with her husband (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and his brother (Christian Marquand) was both new and cause for controversy. What was "amorality" to liberal-intellectual critics was "immorality" to others--the U.S. Catholic Church's Legion of Decency, for example, which gave the film a "Condemned" rating.
All of which sent box-office receipts soaring: American ticket sales for the subtitled and dubbed versions of "And God Created Woman" exceeded $4 million (the equivalent of $16 million today), an enormous sum for a film from a non-English-speaking country.
"And yet," said Rebecca De Mornay of the original "Woman," "there are really unusual moments within the sensuality. There was a sincerity about it and an opting for the truths of the situation as opposed to let's-make-a-sexy-love-scene."
De Mornay has had her share of offbeat roles. She was a seductive hooker turning Tom Cruise's life upside down in "Risky Business." In "Runaway Train," she was a railway laborer caught up in the violence of a prison escape. She next stars with John Travolta, playing an undercover street cop in Cannon Films' "Crack," about the penetration of a corrupt NYC narcotics division.
"And God Created Woman," she said, is "sensual"--but she doesn't think its love scenes are "going to shock anybody." (Co-executive producer and Vestron production v.p. Steve Reuther expects an "R" rating.) The prospect of something "bold" in other ways and "sincere," again, is what attracted her to the new "Woman."
But what is "bold" in 1987?
"I think that movies have killed eroticism," Roger Vadim said. "By showing too much you kill the mystery, and when there is no more mystery you kill eroticism. And the idea of scandal doesn't exist anymore. I think there is no way to scandalize people today unless you write a story about the Pope making love to young boys or a woman eating her children.
"What is important for me here," he continued, "is once again to tell the story of a sexy, funny and somewhat outrageous young woman within a social context. That's why, even though practically everything about the original has been changed and I don't consider this to be in any sense a remake, I feel justified in using the title." The title, he admitted, also helped him raise the development money for the new film.
"Santa Fe in the '80s," the director began noting differences between the first "Woman" and the new one, "is not St.-Tropez in the '50s, except perhaps in the sense that there is no real gap between classes. Rich people, artists, blue collar and Indian--different parts of the society mix together easily, which was true of St.-Tropez before it became the circus it is now.
"And, more important, in the last 30 years women have won many freedoms--social freedom, professional freedom, sexual freedom. Robin, the girl in the film, claims all these freedoms--in a way that's cerebral, she's aware of her personality, while Bardot behaved totally instinctively."
"She is the first person in my character's life who is not a moon to his planet," said Vincent Spano, who's also starring in the Cannes Film Festival entry "Good Morning, Babylon." His character in the "Woman" script by R. J. Stewart and Becky Johnston is a hidebound traditionalist with whom Robin (De Mornay) enters into a marriage of convenience. "And he must start to kill off the wife who's in his mind and accept Robin for who she really is."
But despite all her freedom, Robin is missing something. According to De Mornay, "She has a problem with intimacy, fearing that in bonding with another person emotionally, in giving her heart, all will be lost. It angers and confuses her that her little caper with Tiernan (Langella) isn't as fun or easy as she expected--that she's been affected by this man she married."
"The story," Vadim said, "is both 'the taming of the macho ' and the realization by the young woman that you can have freedom and not have to renounce things that are, after all, very pleasant, such as love and family.
"It is, I think, a very end-of-the-'80s idea and the film is neither sexist nor feminist, but very optimistic and romantic--not in the American sense of moonlight, but in the sense that it's not cynical. There is more romanticism today than people imagine: young people have this need for romanticism, to go back to certain more traditional feelings."
Sexism-feminism, marriage-and-family, even Santa Fe--all conversational roads seem to lead Vadim, who is a considerable conversationalist, back to Jane Fonda.
Vadim first fell in love with Santa Fe when he, Fonda and their daughter Vanessa, now 19, spent a Christmas in nearby Espanola, at a ranch owned by friends of Fonda. This was "eight or nine years ago," several years after his and Fonda's "very civilized" divorce--"We never had any problem about what will happen to the kid or the money."
(The kid, in fact, spent big chunks of her early childhood with her father, while Fonda, not yet married to Tom Hayden, was traveling to Vietnam and other places in support of various causes and to make films.) Said Vadim with paternal pride and a hint self-congratulation, "She is a student now at Brown University, which as you know is prestigieuse in the best sense of the word, and she has a very nice boyfriend."
Vanessa was expected momentarily on location, for a reunion with him and another daughter, Nathalie, who was often part of his menage. Nathalie, working now as Vadim's second assistant director on "And God Created Woman," is the issue of his marriage to actress Annette Stroyberg, the wife between Bardot and Fonda.
All this house-husbandry may suggest a male feminist. And it is certainly at odds with Vadim's image as a man who, critic Pauline Kael wrote in reviewing his 1968 Fonda-starring "Barbarella," "has the scandalous habit of turning each wife into a facsimile of the first and spreading her out for the camera." Kael wasn't exactly disapproving, because "it's so obvious he tries to shock only to please." And she found considerable amusement in the spectacle of "Jane Fonda having sex on the wilted feathers and rough, scroungy furs of 'Barbarella.' "
But the film, which was Vadim's last big hit, soon enough became a negative buzzword among feminists, thanks in large part to Fonda. She was prone for a time to measure her professional and personal progress by how far she'd come since playing the film's naughty-innocent intergalactic heroine, obscuring memories both of a rather witty movie and of her own comic expertise in it.
The movie, Vadim said, "was sort of a symbol for her of man using the beauty and body of woman."
Vadim's own slant on it was: "There is a male galactic hero and he is always dressed in the most interesting and sexy way. Why should we be sexist and not have for the first time a real female galactic hero?" He reported that he presented this argument to Fonda in more recent times and "she agreed with me. She said, 'Well, you know, it was a moment, it was my politique to say this kind of thing. . . .' "
But to many minds, last year Vadim was "man using the beauty and the body of woman" when he published a tell-all memoir about his relationships with ex-wives Bardot, Stroyberg and Fonda and ex-lover Catherine Deneuve. (Deneuve sued him in a French court for intruding into her privacy and was awarded $10,000.) This, plus the length of time since "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" (1959, with Stroyberg), "Blood and Roses" (1962, with Stroyberg again) and "The Game Is Over" (1967, with an impressive Fonda) have further obscured his estimable gift for lush textures and perverse humor on screen.
"I'm sorry to say, people forget that I'm a good director," Vadim lamented. "This image of this guy marrying or living with beautiful or famous stars, even though people forget that (with Bardot and Deneuve) when I married them or started to live with them they were totally unknown, they were not even actresses . . . has distorted the real problem.
"For several reasons, I haven't done a movie which really did interest me for maybe 15 years. That's a long period for a director without getting involved in a project you really like. I am interested in 'And God Created Woman.' "
And, he added, "because Rebecca has her boyfriend and I'm living with a young woman who's a writer, I hope it will also prove that I can make a really good movie with an actress to whom I have no sentimental attachment."