Nowadays we think of the Wachowskis as these masters of genre, specifically science fiction. But in the mid ‘90s they were nobodies trying to get their big break. They sold their script for Assassins to producer Joel Silver and their script was heavily rewritten to the point they tried to have their names removed. Welcome to Hollywood. While they had their script for The Matrix completed and sold to Silver, the Wachowskis had no directorial experience and they’d need something to prove that they were ready to helm an ambitious, special effects heavy science fiction epic. They’d get their chance to prove they were ready to direct with Bound, a modestly budgeted neo-noir that was ahead of the curve as far as portraying a lesbian romance on the screen. Olive Films has now brought Bound to Blu-ray in a limited edition as part of their Signature Series which is overflowing with special features about the Wachowski’s stellar directorial debut.
Corky (Gina Gershon) has just been released from a five-year stint in prison. She’s taken a job refurnishing an apartment, working on the plumbing and giving the place a fresh coat of paint. On her first day on the job, Corky encounters the neighbors, Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and her mobster boyfriend Caesar (Joe Pantoliano). Almost at the very instance they make eye contact there’s a sexual tension between Corky and Violet. As the two women begin an affair, Violet shares a scheme with Corky about two million dollars that Caesar has stashed in the apartment after a mob hit. Corky and Violet plan to steal the money and make it look like Caesar has ripped off the mob boss Gino Marzzone (Richard C. Sarafian) and his hothead son Johnnie (Christopher Meloni). No matter how meticulous the plan, it’s never easy to sneak away with two million dollars in cash.
Bound went a long way in establishing the Wachowski’s as phenomenal visual stylists. A big part of that is their collaboration with cinematographer Bill Pope, a partnership that would continue into The Matrix and its sequels. For a film with no special effects, the Wachowskis and Pope employ an array of tricks with the camera. One of the most impressive sequences in the film is the first sex scene between Violet and Corky, and some of the special features in this new edition gives the viewer further insight into how they crafted the tastefully erotic scene in a single take. More importantly, having the scene unfold in a single take prevented the producers from inserting fully nude body doubles to make the scene more titillating at the expense of the film’s actresses. Throughout Bound you see direction that would make one think that this is a film from a seasoned director and not a directorial debut, but some greats simply start out ahead of the curve.
The Wachowskis take Bound in the direction of film noir with its use of shadows and an illicit love affair intertwined in a tale of betrayal. However, and some of the special features on the disc discuss this in further detail, the film steers away from having Violet and Corky betray one another, instead limiting the betrayal to Violet and Caesar – and that son of a bitch has it coming to him. Such a big part of the playfulness of Bound comes from seeing the film play within the confines of genre tropes only to subvert them at practically every turn. There’s no better example of this than the fact that the film has a happy ending for its lesbian lovers – no double crosses or deathbed confessions to add an extra layer of bitterness that often defines classic film noirs.
Olive Films went all out on their new edition of Bound with an array of interviews and featurettes about the film. In separate new interviews, Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano and Christopher Meloni look back on the film, recounting stories from the production and how the movie impacted their careers. Other interviews on the disc include cinematographer Bill Pope, editor Zach Stoenberg, composter Don Davis, and titles designer Patti Podesta. The film’s place in LGBTQ cinema and its place in the canon of neo-noir is explored in a featurette with critics B. Ruby Rich and Jen Moorman. The booklet with the disc features an essay from Guinevere Turner. One of the more fascinating special features is an audio commentary track recorded for the film’s laserdisc release, featuring the Wachowskis, Tilly, Gershon, Tilly, Stoenberg, and Susie Bright, a lesbian author and activist who played a small role in the film and served as a technical consultant on the film.
Bound is a great directorial debut by great filmmakers. I may not like everything that the Wachowskis do but it’s impossible to deny their immense talents. At the time, many wondered how two men could make such a sensitive, non-exploitative depiction of a lesbian romance intertwined with a devious crime tale. It’s simple: Lily and Lana Wachowski hadn’t realized they were part of the LGBTQ community yet. And yet they were still keenly aware of the sensitivity required in tackling these subject, making Bound a groundbreaking effort for its time. Now the Wachowskis are breaking down barriers in other corners of the Hollywood system and beyond. It all started with a little neo-noir. Where it all ends up remains to be seen. But Bound has finally gotten a comprehensive Blu-ray worthy of excellence and importance.
The directorial debut of the Wachowskis, Bound lands on Blu-ray from Olive Films with a comprehensive special edition that explores the enduring legacy of this groundbreaking neo-noir and a fantastic directorial debut.