I have a dream, and it's not just an erotic one
Sunday 14 November 1999
Never mind, I thought, in The Bone Collector he's with Angelina Jolie, owner of the most effulgent mouth since Jagger's. They play fellow-cops on the trail of a clever murderer. Something has to happen, doesn't it?
There is something. At one moment Denzel is sleeping, and Angelina runs her forefinger up and down his. Forefinger. It's a sweet, romantic moment, of the sort that hardly exists in movies any more. That's when I knew I was having a good old-fashioned time at The Bone Collector, despite its defaced corpses.
You see, Denzel plays a quadriplegic, a cop who can only move his head, his mind and that forefinger, taped to the control panel of his computer system so he can press the mouse. Angelina is a spunky uniformed cop who finds a murdered body and has an instinct for forensics that is brought to Denzel's attention. He is not just bedbound, but a cop emeritus and a genius, the author of several books on forensics. As the story begins he has just made a deal with his doctor to terminate his life. He can't stand paralysis; and he dreads the next, vegetative state. Then he's lifted out of his gloom by getting to work with her on this new case - one in which the scholarly serial killer might have been designed for Denzel.
So, while he stays in his apartment, she goes out on the job, keeping in radio communication with him, learning how to find the crucial evidence, penetrating some of the most gruesome subterranean settings known to cinema, and drawing the line only at sawing off one victim's hands so they can study the antique handcuffs. Every now and then, she comes back to the apartment, and he looks at her, and she looks at him.
Now, if you've been awake the last few years you know how Denzel looks at people. And I have to tell you that Angelina Jolie, with eyes that never short-change her mouth, is going to be around for some time.
There's a moment in The Bone Collector when you realise that this isn't just another version of Seven (cops against cruel brainbox). It's a love story. Let me confess that I had this column in mind before I went to see The Bone Collector. For I had assumed in advance that Hollywood was not going to let Denzel and Angelina have sex on the screen. Thus, something profound in the logic of these two beautiful people would be left begging - just as it was at the end of The Pelican Brief.
Thirty-two years ago, we were obliged to describe the excruciating politeness of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (in which Katharine Hepburn's real-life niece was engaged to Sidney Poitier) as an advance in race relations. Since then, we have had the commercial disaster of Love Field (in which Michelle Pfeiffer - as a dumb blonde - was supposed to fall in love with Dennis Haysbert), and Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard, which does eventually get to the bodies, but blurs black and white in the sheen of super-stardom.
I can think of few other examples, despite the natural increase of inter- marriage in American and Hollywood society. There are still many parts of America where a serious sex scene between Denzel and Angelina would kill a movie's box-office prospects. Yet, somehow, the press commentary on the movie world alleges that Washington is unusually "intense" or "difficult", as if no obvious reason for discontent lay at hand. White victims of terrible physical damage have had sex in movies - I'm thinking of Born on the 4th of July and Coming Home, in which the wheelchair vet was played by Jon Voight, Angelina Jolie's father. But Denzel never lays a finger on Angelina.
It's not so much that I have a burning need to see such scenes, or unbridled screen love affairs between, say, Ving Rhames and Meryl Streep. More importantly, I would like to have the scene that follows sex in which black and white talk to each other and air out the issues linked to being together and of different colour. Our culture needs films in which the taboo is talked about, teased and joked away. But the nearest film has come is the romantic failure in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever, which settles for the idea that black and white being together is hard. Nearly as hard as marriage, maybe.
On the other hand, a part of me reckons that the movies don't do sex very well. The camera is so hooked on appearance; and sexual feeling is so inward and sensual. That's why I'll treasure the way Denzel and Angelina look at each other. When her eyes widen, it's one of the sexiest scenes of the century.
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