My prime motivation for a return to Franco Zeffirelli’s Endless Love was to examine my past-life failure to sit through the film in my dark basement during the early eighties when it ran late at night on HBO. I watched so much fantastic film and so, so much dreadful dreck during these semi-lost years, seldom without even a casual thought of turning the set off, that it seems unthinkable that I would have have foundered with Endless Love, a movie advertised principally with the promise of scandalous sex and teens on the road to ruin. How could the ninth-grade me have failed to finish it?
Because it’s fucking boring, that’s why. Sometimes my adolescent self and my adult self have major, almost contentious conflicts over our tastes, but in this case we find ourselves in full accord. We’re also in a bit of competition as I had the same impulse as a grown-up as I did as a young teenager: to quit the disengaging movie all together and move on to something more entertaining, like picking at scabs. However, with my steely adult determination and online streaming’s resume function, I soldiered on to prove my adult stamina, conquering Endless Love in just five challenging installments. My reward? A sense that my early teenaged self may not have been completely misguided, as I so often suspect.
The movie does have its fans, including Brecht Andersch, who appreciates the doled-out melodrama and supposed appeal to the chivalry-fantasies of young girls, older women, and homosexuals. I, however, challenge the draw for that final demographic with my outright indifference to the story and the characters, especially the lead, over whom we are supposed to pine. He may be romantic, obsessive, and desperate for his once-possessed, then-unattainable love, but he’s also at his core flat and dull.
The look of the film is flat and dull as well, with washed-out cinematography by David Watkin, who may as well have retired after hitting his apex with the opening fashion show in Mahogany. The script, written by Judith Rascoe and based on what I imagine to be an unreadable novel by Scott Spencer, drags us through a modern-day Romeo and Juliet with Romeo suffering misdiagnosed mental illness and Juliet suffering the most atrocious interpretation – by Brooke Shields – that the character may have ever seen.
Shields is awful, but at least she’s not alone. The acting, save for a lively, snotty turn by James Spader as the older brother, barely held my attention, despite the cast including some of my favorite performers, especially Don Murray and Shirley Knight as Brooke Shields’ wildly permissive parents. There’s also Ian Ziering before his glory days of Beverly Hills 90210 and Sharknado as the little brother, plus a cameo by Robert Altman as a hotel manager, which I completely and thankfully missed.
Worst of all, however, is the male romantic lead, Martin Hewitt, who may have been marginally more talented than his love interest Brooke Shields, but lacks her almost compensatory and still disarming beauty.
What if the actor had switched roles with Tom Cruise, who appears very briefly to plant the arsonist-hero-scenario bug in the protagonist’s ear? Well, Cruise is certainly crying for attention with his squeaky voice, posing outrageously splay-legged in shorty-short cut-offs:
Honestly, director Zeffirelli and cinematographer Watkin were both gays, and this is the best that they could come up with? A whiny Tom Cruise offering his crotch to the audience, plus the middle-aged Shirley Knight’s edgy voyeurism as the two teenagers have a fireplace fuck that provides the camera ample gaze of Hewitt’s pumping ass by cozy firelight? Insufficient. I don’t concur with Brecht Andersch‘s (entertaining) argument that this movie has a significant gay appeal or that it holds its own in melodrama along the lines of Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life. No, it’s a dead bore.
Endless Love does spill over with sex, craziness, and tragedy, but none of it compels/compelled me to pay any more than fleeting attention, a stark failure considering my soap-opera tastes both in 2014 and 1981.
If we’re seeking at melodrama with a capital M, we need to aim higher, and I don’t have to look any further than my teenaged basement lair to find it. 1981 and HBO offered some exemplary melodramas: The Postman Always Rings Twice (crime & sex); Mommie Dearest (camp & craziness); and Pennies from Heaven (musical & tragedy). Okay, so they’re all set in the past, more in the golden age of Hollywood than the eighties, but perhaps the Zeitgeist wasn’t right for contemporary high melodrama in 1981. If my solitary basement-HBO-adolescent-self lapped up the above three films, all mostly panned on their respective releases, but rejected Endless Love out of hand, he/I may have unwittingly recognized that a successful collision of sex, craziness, and tragedy requires more than Franco Zeffirelli could muster at the glorious dawn of the decade.