Body of Evidence (1993)
Directed by Uli Edel
Written by Brad Mirman
Starring Madonna, Willem Dafoe, Ann Archer, Joe Mantegna
Release Date January 15th, 1993
Published January 16th, 1993
Body of Evidence is a movie so lurid and sleazy it has a scent. I imagined while watching this 'erotic' thriller that Body of Evidence carried the scent of unwashed bedsheets, body odor, and bad cologne. And maybe a hint of Scotch. Body of Evidence would make a make a poor advertisement for Smell-O-Vision, that's for sure. Watching Madonna and Willem Dafoe in various states of extraordinary nakedness, at the height of their beauty and uniqueness, respectively, may not seem so bad until you watch the way director Uli Edel captures this image and makes you feel guilty for even considering enjoying it.
That Body of Evidence was released to the popcorn munching masses in 1993 is indicative of where we were as a society. In 1993 it was somehow acceptable for filmmakers, almost exclusively male, to spend millions of dollars bringing their very specific masturbatory fantasies to the big screen. Today, we somehow have come around on the idea of good taste. At the very least, we now discourage men from having hard-ons in public places. But first, we had to hit bottom and the 90s was certainly a bottom. With Basic Instinct and Body of Evidence, the 90s were a horny, sweaty, hard-ons in public, free for all that's not nearly as much fun as it sounds.
Now, before anyone assumes I am some kind of scold or prude or whatever, I assure you that's not the case. I'm sex positive. I think sex can be a natural, zesty enterprise. My point is not to shame anyone; be confident in what you enjoy as long as you aren't hurting anyone. My point is only that there is a place for horniness and it is not a mainstream movie theater. Pornography is just fine with me, but it belongs in private. I don't think society is asking too much by asking that we don't look at pornography in public.
And make no mistake, Body of Evidence is and was pornography. Willem Dafoe has stated that the sexual activity in the film is real. Specifically, a scene of oral sex on top of a parked vehicle in a parking garage that simply could not be faked due to the way it was shot. And that's fine, if you are watching at home, alone or with a willing partner. In public, it's weird and creepy. I told my co-host M.J, from the podcast that inspired this review, the all new Everyone's a Critic 1993 podcast, that this film was released in theaters and they were floored. M.J is 18 years old.
Ostensibly, Body of Evidence is the story of a woman named Rebecca who is arrested for murder. Willem Dafoe is her crusading lawyer, Frank. Together they fight to prove Rebecca's innocence and in the process they fall in love. It's a truly inspiring story overcoming the odds, finding a true partner, and allowing love to win the day. Okay, yeah, no, Body of Evidence is actually just a porno movie that is occasionally interrupted by the dumbest episode of Law & Order.
Rebecca is accused of sexing her boyfriend to death. The prosecuting attorney, Robert (Joe Mantegna) actually says in court "She is a beautiful woman. But when this trial is over, you will see her no differently than a gun, or a knife, or any other instrument used as a weapon." The man Rebecca was sexing at the time was in his 60s and suffered from a heart problem. He'd also just changed his will to leave everything to Rebecca. There is also the fact that his nasal spray was spiked with cocaine. That might also have caused a problem.
Despite this being a courtroom drama, no one seems to know how a court case works. There is a lot shouting "objection" and lots of shaming Rebecca for enjoying having sex. And that's pretty much it. The prosecutor tries to make the case that she tried to sex other men to an early grave but what the movie fails to understand is that having consensual sex is not illegal and having a heart problem while having very athletic sex, is still not murder. The courtroom nonsense relies greatly on the idea that men aren't capable of saying no to sex therefore she killed with sex.
Just how blatantly sexist is Body of Evidence? The movie is about both using Madonna's naked flesh as masturbatory fodder and shaming her for causing people to want to masturbate. It's her fault that you are so horny, the movie seemingly accuses. She's a scary whore who sexes men to death but also, here she is naked and pouring wax on a sweaty Willem Dafoe. It's a unique moment in the history of American sexism where the ultimate example of modern sexual liberty at the time, Madonna, is centered between being exploited for her nakedness and shamed for enjoying having sex. And the movie has zero awareness of how bizarrely contradictory this is.
One more quick, darkly humorous example comes in a very early scene. Joe Mantegna, the prosecuting attorney, for reasons unexplained, is at the crime scene. A detective calls him to talk with the assistant of the dead man. The woman begins to talk to Mantegna only to be cut off by the detective who precedes to speak on the woman's behalf. Why? Why call her over just to explain what she was going to say. It's so blatantly sexist. By the way, the woman he interrupts is Ann Archer, an incredible actress who desperately deserves a way better part than this.
All of this nonsense about Rebecca having sexed a man to death is just a lot of lurid nonsense that sets up the sex scenes between Madonna and Dafoe. I neglected to mention earlier, when I was snarkily describing the plot, that Dafoe's Frank is married, a fact that adds just a little extra gross to an already gross plot. In this universe no man is faithful or remotely capable of stopping himself from having sex. All men are powerless under the influence of boobs. There is an element of truth to that but it's also greatly reductive and a cheap gag better suited to 90s stand-up comedy than a movie that requires a plot.
As for Madonna, I love her but she could not be worse in Body of Evidence. Her acting style is to suppress every bit of personality possible until the twist ending arrives. I get that being incredibly boring is a show she's putting on but that doesn't make watching it all that much fun. Is she sexy? She's naked and I certainly liked that on a purely physical level, but I don't find Body of Evidence 'sexy.' Rather, while watching the varying permutations of unsafe S & M in Body of Evidence I was longing for the vanilla good looks of Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in the comparatively less gross Fifty Shades movies.
If Body of Evidence had any self awareness about it, it might have a camp quality. Sadly, there is only one moment where the movie appears to have a sense of humor. After the 'twist is revealed, Madonna regains here personality and delivers a classic villain speech. She's talking to her secret lover, played by Jurgen Prochnow. He lied for her in court because the sex was good. In rebuking his notion of a future relationship, Madonna says "Don't look so hurt, Alan. I fucked you, I fucked Andrew, I fucked Frank. That's what I do; I fuck. And it made me 8 million dollars!" I am not sure exactly what Madonna's salary was for Body of Evidence but, $8 million is certainly in the ballpark.
Body of Evidence is the second episode of our spinoff podcast from the Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. Everyone's a Critic 1993 covers one movie from 1993 every week in release order. On the first episode we covered the first movie released in theaters in 1993, Leprechaun. You can listen to that here. My cohosts are Amy K, a former radio DJ making her first move into podcasting, and M.J, 18 years old and also making their podcast debut. Both are brilliant and I think you will love them. We will be dropping our Body of Evidence podcast soon and our third episode is going to cover a completely forgotten movie called Hexxed. Subscribe to the Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast so you can listen along to the movies of 1993.
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