Variety

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Variety

Part richly atmospheric foray into the pre-Giuliani Times Square peepshow scene, part dull and dated take on sexual obsession, Bette Gordon's 1983 film Variety is notable mainly for telling the story of the complex, not altogether negative role pornography plays in a woman's self-discovery. In a performance too remote by design, Sandy McLeod stars as a desperate young writer who takes a job selling tickets at an X-rated movie house. On cigarette breaks, she's drawn into the theater lobby and projection booth and, as her interest develops, it begins to affect her behavior in peculiar ways. In more than one instance, she confronts strangers with graphic, toneless descriptions of hardcore sex. But about halfway in, the film takes a ridiculous turn and metamorphoses into a gender-reversed Vertigo, as McLeod follows a nefarious regular (Richard Davidson) who may be involved with the Mafia. Variety has a vibrant, enveloping texture thanks to two great cinematographers, Tom DiCillo (who later shot Stranger Than Paradise and directed Living In Oblivion, among others) and John Foster (who did beautiful work on 1997's Sunday), as well as a terrific jazz score by John Lurie. Ultimately, however, their contributions are undermined by school-play dialogue, pointlessly long takes, and a lot of hoary symbolism. Must all tales of female sexual liberation involve the protagonist diving into a pool? Isn't there a better way of suggesting a male-dominated society than a montage of handshakes? Poised just before the American independent movement took off, Variety predicts both its expanse into daring new territory and the self-indulgence that would too often follow.