Films

Things that go frump in the night

WINDOWS Directed by Gordon Willis

Lawrence O’Toole January 21 1980
Films

Things that go frump in the night

WINDOWS Directed by Gordon Willis

Lawrence O’Toole January 21 1980

Things that go frump in the night

Films

WINDOWS Directed by Gordon Willis

It’s January and already the Dumb Dora Award for 1980 has been handily won by Windows, a lurid little item in the endangered-lady genre. Imperilled is Talia Shire in her dowdy Rocky outfit, brutally assaulted minutes after the credits have unrolled. The assault and some further nastiness have been masterminded by her friend Elizabeth Ashley, a lesbian with the lid really off. When Shire moves into a new high-rise apartment with no curtains Ashley watches her through a telescope

and pants like a lioness in heat. Why Ashley, who is rich and writes poetry, would be interested in Shire isn’t so much one of the mysteries of human sexuality as it is of casting. Presumably it’s because Ashley isn’t playing with a full deck. She’s not the only one.

It would seem that 'Windows is alerting us all to a great lesbian conspiracy that’s going the rounds; men do not rape women; lesbians pay men to rape women; that’s because there will be more lesbians. It’s all a big lesbian plot. You didn’t know about this? It is a tribute to the intelligence of the script that the Ashley character, the lesbian, has unruly hair, an unbuttoned blouse and the voice of a Mack truck’s engine; that the Shire character, the good woman, is sexless and relies on the ministrations of the good detective (Joseph Córtese) to keep her lid on when she opens the freezer compartment of her fridge and finds her cat there not looking especially attractive.

To get the audience hooked into the story is very simple: an opening scene of

rape, about which practically everyone has intense responses. The story, by Barry Siegel, thrives on the most primitive devices of plot construction and the characters are painfully porous—there weren’t as many holes at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Shire, with her dull, quirky mannerisms and her damn tarn (she stutters in this one as well), isn’t any consolation; Ashley’s baffedout dyke is played too straight to be enjoyable. In her own way each woman’s a wimp.

Gordon Willis, who directed and shot the movie, is a master cinematographer: The Godfather I and II, Interiors, Klute, Manhattan. But as a director his self-conscious techniques are derived from those he has worked for before: swift scares out of Coppola and tight closeups from Woody Allen. He has no sense of pacing other than a visual one, and Windows is superbly shot, catching the subtle interplays between light and dark (as in Klute), with stunning shots of the Manhattan skyline at its most poetic (like color outtakes from Manhattan). But his work masks just another ugly face. Lawrence O’Toole