One of my earliest cinematic memories was Jean-Jaques Beineix’ Betty Blue starring the luminous volcano, Beatrice Dalle. Back in the 80s, believe it or not, cinema was still relatively open to sexuality depicted on screen in a healthy, explicit way. Something happened in the ensuing twenty years to change that. Perhaps PG-13 happened to that. The target demo and biggest money makers in Hollywood are PG-13 movies. Rated R movies aren’t that profitable. Better to keep them on TV.
But the French don’t think like that, as Blue is the Warmest Colour has come along in the long tradition of gorgeous naked sexy French movies featuring women the big screen will never forget. Certainly, Dalle is one of those. And she was the one for me in the 1080s. I wanted to BE her. I wanted to feel as she did with a man. I wanted to be crazy like that (didn’t have to try too hard). But not to the brink of my own demise. Betty Blue is a tragedy. But before it gets to tragedy it is all about wildness, love and beauty and yeah, sex.
The year was 1986. I’d graduated high school three years earlier. Only three years. That would make me around 21 years old. But at that age, I’d never seen anything like what they do in Betty Blue. I’d never seen a French girl with unshaved armpits, not to mention one who dressed like that, carried her body like that and seemed to have no shame in any of it.
The French are so free when it comes to the body, to natural impulses that strobe through our circulatory system. Where did America go so wrong? Why are we so strange in this culture? I know it isn’t only Americans exclusively. I know plenty of French men who are repressed and addicted to porn. But maybe it isn’t even about America vs. France. Maybe it’s just about American film versus French film.
Betty Blue was, to me, a fantasy. As I look back on it now, I think it gets to real passion and love like few other films. It brings me back to it now that I’ve seen the equally erotic and passionate Blue is the Warmest Colour, which is about two girls, not a man and a woman. But, can we just say — leave it to the French to figure it out because we Americans are just not ready to go there in the light of day.
My ideal beauty — or who I wanted to be — was Beatrice Dalle. I still doubt whether I’ve ever seen a more sexy, beautiful woman on screen. I’m not sure what I learned from all of this. It would be years after my 21st year that I would ever make any kind of real progress in the sexuality department. Ironic, since at 21 I was likely in my prime. But the idea of Betty Blue, of that kind of beauty – those colors, that music…even the tragic dive it takes by the end is all of the stuff that life is made on. The sublime and the ridiculous. The desperate and the content. The vulgar and the graceful. It’s all there in this crazy little movie.
Cigarettes, mousse in the hair to keep it up like that, fishnets and black leather boots. Polka dots. Ah, the ’80s.