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JOURNALIST/SCREENWRITER Aaron Latham and director/ producer/screenwriter James Bridges are old hands at tapping into trends. Their first collaboration, Urban Cowboy, came from an Esquire article by Bridges, although they felt it necessary to delete the snide swipes at its kicker, barfly subjects after all, it’s one thing to say those things in a magazine aimed at upscale intellectual types and quite another to say them in a movie aimed at the very people you lampooned in the story. Then they dressed up the plot as a love story between two of the young barflies. A marketing director’s dream, the movie succeeded not only in raking in piles of money but in fueling the fad it outlined \(we can thank Urban Cowboy for all the mechanical bulls that showed up in urban cowboy bars in the early ’80s and for quite a few of the bars Perfect is the second Latham-Bridges project. Based on a story by the same name Latham wrote for Rolling Stone, it takes the formula one step further. Once again, the movie uses most of the people in Latham’s story, as well as many of its passages. We get the original’s pompous metaphoric description of health clubs , as “little capitals of Emersonian democracy scattered from sea to shining sea,” and its gleeful incisions into the soft underbelly of the life of a desperately unhappy, compulsively promiscuous health club member named Leslie. And once again, where the magazine had a take, almost a stranglehold, on its subject it portrayed California health club members as airheads on the prowl, vivisected them, and laid out the pieces of their lives for the reader to smile at knowingly the movie doesn’t have the guts to be so unabashedly obnoxious. But this time director/screenwriter Bridges and co-screenwriter Latham put Latham himself at the center of the story, focusing on sleek young Rolling Stone reporter Adam Lawrence \(John story on health clubs. It even purports to focus on Lawrence’s callous attitude toward his subject. His love interest is the acerbic aerobics instructor Jessie Elise Nakhnikian, an Austin writer, reviews movies for the Observer. him on the impossibility of writing “objectively” and the importance of being earnest. “It’s not the truth I’m worried about; it’s the tone, and hurting people, and using them . . . You’re a sphincter muscle, Adam,” she shouts. She’s right. Adam is patronizing, insincere, smug, and totally lacking in empathy when he goes after his Big PERFECT Directed by James Bridges PRIZZI’S HONOR Directed by John Huston Scoop: a story calling health clubs “the singles’ bars of the eighties.” So was Latham, when he wrote the Rolling Stone story which carried that phrase as its subhead. But that cynicism pales beside the gall it took to write the screenplay, which exploits the culture it pretends to examine and finesses every question it begins to raise. Seesawing between lampooning and lionizing its subjects, Perfect ultimately gives us no perspective on them at all. Time after time the camera gives us a participant’s point of view of some heady scene: We look down at a light table as Rolling Stone publisher/editor Jann Wenner lays out Actual Rolling Stone Photos of Mick Jagger, holds a magnifying glass over the one he says he favors for the cover, and asks, “You like it?” Yet there is no real point of view behind this camera. Showing us the surface of scene after scene, Perfect makes voyeurs of its viewers. The same mushyheaded opportunism extends to its structure. Perfect plays as if Latham and Bridges sat around for a few days roughing out a plot and then went with the first and most obvious idea for almost every scene. Three times we go into the courtroom for generic trial scenes which usually tell us what we already know. Phone calls are made; phone. calls are received. During the excruciatingly anticlimactic last few minutes, one car follows another for a minute and a half. Planes take off and, God help us, planes land, all in dramatic closeup. Presumably Latham & Co. meant to portray life in the fast lane of big-bucks magazine journalism, but they only succeeded in making Perfect play, too much of the time, like a hastily concocted TV Movie of the Week. The look of the movie is the tightest thing about it, thanks to Gordon Willis’s cinematography. Perfect was obviously shot to mimic Rolling Stone’s “clean” sytle; its characters are generally young, trim, and stylishly dressed and coiffed; its sets are generally light-colored, brightly lit, upscale, and uncluttered; and head shots are often set to one side of the wide screen against a stark white or black-and-white background. Yet Bridges keeps crowding the scene with pulsating female flesh. A stripper goes through half her act; a belly dancer in Morocco dances into the frame and jiggles for no good reason. And then there are the aerobics scenes. The aerobics are the movie’s selling point, and the classes are entertaining to watch at first. But when the between Jessie and Adam stretches into its second, then third minute and keeps going, even Curtis’s bionic body and Travolta’s conspicuous bulge are not enough to keep things interesting. Somewhere in that stretch of time, Perfect stops looking like a movie and starts to look too much like real life, where there are no editors to keep a scene from going on too. long. If you stop to think about it \(and, the most interesting thing about Perfect is the way it overlaps with “real life.” Not only was it based on an actual magazine article \(the cover shown in the movie was on the issue that carried Travolta’s role inspired him to write for the real Rolling Stone about his co-stars and the experience of making the film. There are the Perfect videos saturating MTV, soundtrack music providing the beat for workouts that never appeared in the movie, featuring the musicians lustily following the lead of Curtis as Jessie. And there’s plump, petulant, name-dropping, egomaniacal Rolling Stone publisher/editor Jann Wenner, playing a plump, petulant, name-dropping, egomaniacal Rolling Stone editor who does things like hold parties where Lauren Hutton and the gang make ice cream with liquid nitrogen. Because Perfect is essentially a piece of fame-obsessed, yuppie American pop culture urped up onto the screen virtually undigested, it captures a few “real” moments with startling clarity. Wenner’s role is either an admirably astute bit of self-parody or an incredibly obtuse display of narcissism; either way, it’s weirdly fascinating. \(Could his No Body’s Perfect By Elise Nakhnikian 20. JULY 12, 1985