Thursday, 3 November 2011


I always had a soft spot for the gorgeous Margaux Hemingway, especially after sitting through the delectable awfulness that is LIPSTICK. Here is the then-million dollar contract model for Babe perfume trying to succeed as an actress and failing miserably (according to many insiders, but more on that later). I’m sure her entourage had something to do with this, not only encouraging her for the sake of money; but making sure that she turns a deaf ear to any true criticism (or self ill-feelings) toward her onscreen performance. But whatever the cause, LIPSTICK bombed at the box office in 1976 and her career in films soon fizzled out after that. In 1996 Margaux died supposedly of a massive epileptic seizure; some say of a suicide. Who knows? What’s sure, however, is that she died all alone in her house in Bel Air. She was in her early 40s and her days of making it in Hollywood long gone. Oh, she did continue to work, mostly in B-grade films  like KILLER FISH or INNER SANCTUM but she never reached the A-list sphere so much expected with the release of LIPSTICK.

In it she plays, what else, a famous fashion model who, urged by her younger sister (played by real life sis Mariel in her screen debut), meets the little one’s music teacher (an effective Chris Sarandon). The guy turns out to be one sick puppy, raping her in every which way possible, and, when arrested and on trial, yells consenting hook up. Because it’s a movie, and there’s some form of lack of evidence involving sex and the selling of the body (don’t ask), Margaux looses the trial. However, she later reclaims her spot when little sis gets a shot at the teacher’s sick talent and he ends up pumped full of bullets by a red-clad Margaux holding one mean rifle.

There’s no doubt in my mind that LIPSTICK is a flawed film. Scenes of unintentional laughter mixed with cringed-induced moments are plentiful, not to mention demeaning to women. But that’s what makes LIPSTICK such a fascinating viewing experience, witnessing the degree with which director Lamont Johnson degrades himself, and ultimately others, for the sake of his art. And it is art we’re seeing here; not an easy breezy art form, perhaps, but one that connects with those into sexploitation cinema. I’ll go even further and declare that LIPSTICK is mostly a total joy because it does revive the sleazy days of pulp movies (now in an upswing, thanks to Tarantino’s Grindhouse style filmmaking and also to the folks behind the Mill Creek Entertainment DVD label who have been releasing their load of shlock titles). Of course, Russ Meyer first comes to mind when focussing on this subject, with his keen handle of onscreen sexual exploits and cinema de vérité approach of the late ‘60s; though LIPSTICK is more subdued in that department (if this can be believed) choosing instead a higher gloss and budget to counterbalance its harsh theme.

Legendary Anne Bancroft, who co-stars in the film portraying Margaux’s feisty attorney, has nothing to worry about, acting-wise. Clearly, her talent is miles ahead over Margaux’s. Still, when sharing the screen with others but Bancroft, Margaux does manage to hold her own. You can clearly see some evidence of sparks in her performance, despite the many negative criticisms over it. But clearly it is Mariel, her little sis, who steals her thunder. She delivers some of the sweetest and finely-tuned moments in the film. She single-handedly saves LIPSTICK from becoming a total disaster (should we really thank her for that?). Every nuance of her emotional face shows the making of a great actress, and she did become one for a while, as her older sister stumbled and stumbled into even more forgettable Z flicks.

LIPSTICK was indeed the apogee of Margaux's career. Far from being Academy award worthy, it is definitely a fave among cult cinema lovers. Suffice to say, had the film been perfect in every way, this blog would probably have dismissed it as total waste of time. That’s how grand it really is. So, here’s to you LIPSTICK for giving us 90 minutes of pure joy every time we pop our disc in. But most especially to Margaux Hemingway, for having had no choice but to rise above the film bashing and move on. You are dearly missed.

Until next post—Martin


Kingbman said...

I don't condemn Lipstick, but I don't condone the movie either. I felt the movie was ahead of its time. Had this movie been made in the eighties, the film would have been a minor to major success at the box office. In the 1980s, violent crimes, especially toward women, were on the rise, and if convicted, the sentences were downright laughable, people would ask “Why did the courts bother?” All of a sudden came a slew of vigilante movies such as Death Wish 2,3,4, Ms. 45, and of course many more films that were rather successful on video if not at the theaters. Not surprisingly, Lipstick became a bigger hit on VHS, Laser disc as well as cable TV. I'm kind of curious if this movie had been made in the 1980s would the film become critically trashed, but a box sensation?

Authorfan said...

Insightful post. Indeed, I believe the film was ahead of its time as well. Would have fit perfectly w/ the '80s vigilante efforts. Isn't 1984 ANGEL a variation of LIPSTICK anyway?


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