Project Terrible: Bolero

USA 1984
Written by John Derek
Directed by John Derek
Watched on 06.06.2015

Here’s why I called Maynard a devious bastard in my Project Terrible-announcement post. As I mentioned before, I had the idea of participating after watching the (recommendable) Cannon Films-documentary “Electric Boogaloo”. One of the movies that got my attention was “Bolero”, a movie that, from the plot-description and a couple of scenes, looked absolutely terrible. The day after I watched the documentary was the day of my awesome android-double-feature (“Ex Machina” and “Blade Runner”) with Maynard, and I told him everything about it, and how bad “Bolero” looked. So when it was time to assign me a film out of the hundreds that Cannon Films and affiliates put out, which one did he give me? Right. I’d say, under those circumstances, “devious bastard” was putting it mildly.

After this piece of exposition, let’s deal with the movie itself. Now, I really wish that I could give it the thumbs up, just as Bo Derek does about 2/3rds in, in what is possibly the most infamous scene of the movie. Unfortunately, “Bolero” was neither good nor bad enough for that. It was a decidedly mixed bag, with a couple of things that really annoyed me, but never bad enough to really incur my wrath. Plus, waddayaknow, there were actually a couple of things that I liked. What I loved most is that “Bolero” portrays an independent, self-determined woman. Granted, she’s a bombshell whose main determination is to get laid, so even the most anti-feminist guy probably won’t have much of a problem with that, but still, this is a woman who knows what she wants (mostly sexually), and actually sets out to do it. Now, granted, the way they handle it is pretty ridiculous: She and her best friend are huge fans of a sweeping adventure/romance movie that depicts a Sheik falling in love with a young foreign girl, and it’s so glorious and romantic and sweet and exciting that Lida sets her mind on going to egypt and get deflowered by a sheik, right after she’s done with boarding school (and, apparently, inherits a shitload of money). Now, as beautiful as Bo Derek was back then, the first stretch here, obviously, is to buy into her being that young (and a virgin). And, of course, the whole idea is silly beyond belief. I guess she can consider herself lucky that she’s not living in the present, where she would either go after a sparkling vampire (who might be hard do find) or a rich sadistic bastard (probably a little easier to track down, but potentially even less pleasant).

Seriously, though, as much as I make fun of it, and as silly as it may sound (and be), I really like that this is very much in the tradition of 70s erotic cinema (see: Emmanuelle), putting the wants, needs and desires of a woman – instead of a man – in the foreground, and also not punishing her for her desires like it’s common in other genres like, for example, slasher movies. You may think it’s silly, and the characters may think it’s silly, but Lida as a character is never made fun of by the movie itself, and the other characters never think less of her, just because she travels the world simply to loose her virginity. Her body, her money, her decision. So overall, there’s quite a feminist touch in here – which is also not limited solely to her sexual awakening. For example, after Angel’s accident, it’s very much Lida who wears the pants (figuratively and literally), and in the end, she even braves the very manly domain of bullfighting (while her friend pretty much takes over the business side of Angel’s company). That said bullfighting happens in an as-animal-friendly-as-possible kinda way (instead of actually hurting the bull, they’re sticking the spears on a pad that’s fastened to his back, like a saddle) is another plus. Also, there are a couple of (intentionally) funny scenes, especially at the beginning, like Lida’s night with the Sheik, which doesn’t really go as planned. Also, the egypt-scenes offer up some beautiful imagery, as well as a couple of imaginative scenes (like presenting parts of her account of their first night like a silent movie). The longer the movie progresses though, the more and more UNintentionally funny it gets. Then again, that’s insofar a bold statement as there were many moments where I really didn’t know if they were supposed to be funny, or not. This IS an erotic comedy, after all. I mean, there’s stuff in here that you simply cannot take seriously.

Take the final sex scene for example. The entire movie, Lida’s looking for ecstasy. She even has a quarrel with her friend, which insists it’s spelled extasy. So in the end, when she – with the magical power of Bo Derek’s sexiness – made Angel’s schlong work again, it’s shot in a very dreamlike fashion, with fog all around, until finally a huge neon-sign pops up in the background, with “ecstasy” written on it. And as if that wouldn’t have been enough, she even comments on how she was right with the spelling after all (which seemed to kinda contradict the fact that she experiences total ecstasy in that moment; it seemed more like the bad joke of the woman who, during sex, looks up and says “the ceiling could use a paint job.”). The final strength of the movie – obviously – is the nudity. They definitely pull no punches, and already serve their first boobs within the first five minutes. Bo Derek is especially revealing – as usual, at least back then – and for all pedophile’s out there, you’re actually able to ogle at a nude 13-something Olivia d’Abo (which really made me feel like a perv). However, the longer the movie progresses, the more it loses steam. There are a couple of long stretches without a laugh (intentionally or unintentionally), without any eroticism, without ANYTHING really. Those were quite hard to get through, and actually made me rather sleepy. Also, as good a job “Bolero” is doing in presenting a self-determined woman, it’s rather terrible when it comes to portraying other cultures, constantly being on the cusp of racism, and in at least one instance – the gypsies – clearly crossing that line. Add to that some terrible acting, horrible dialogues, an appearance by George Kennedy which really made me feel sorry for him (seriously, what the hell were you thinking, Mister?), and a couple of truly cringeworthy scenes, and you got yourself a movie that – despite the nudity, some sillily entertaining moments and the overall trashy charm of it – very much deserved to be a part of “Project Terrible”.


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