Tuesday, April 14, 2009

RIP Marilyn Chambers (4/22/52 – 4/12/09)

Marilyn Chambers passed away and most people are talking about her porn roles (X-rated star Marilyn Chambers dies at 56). I don’t think I ever saw Marilyn Chambers in an adult film. (I tell a porn story here: Corporate Communications #3: Shelley)

However, Marilyn Chambers stars as the female lead in the low-budget horror film “Rabid” from the great Canadian director David Cronenberg and that film is so good that, over time, I strongly suspect people will remember Marilyn Chambers only for her performance as ‘Rose’ in Cronenberg’s film and the porn will just be a footnote to her life.

Not only is “Rabid” a good horror film, but it contains one particular scene that I’ve remembered my whole life. A scene that rises above horror and genre and—to my horror film buff mind—approaches real cinema.

The character Rose in Rabid is the victim of a motorcycle accident. A doctor’s experimental treatment to save her life causes part of her body—her armpit [!?]—to mutate. This mutated part of her body sometimes takes control of her mind and forces her to attack people, infecting them with a disease that turns them into violent zombies.

Cronenberg, amazingly, takes this no-budget Canadian horror film and reasonably convincingly shows the plague of violence spreading from this one sad young woman outward to infect an entire city, bringing destruction to the entire city.

Toward the end of the film the character of Rose realizes that she is the plague carrier, that she is causing the destruction. She is not a bad person and she calls her boyfriend on the phone to tell him she realizes all the horror she’s caused and that she is going to put an end to her life one way or the other. Her boyfriend—in classic Cronenberg fashion—remains true to her, still loves her and can’t bear the thought of her committing suicide for any reason, even to end the plague that is destroying the city. Her boyfriend desperately tries to talk her out of killing herself. But he comes to realize that words over the phone are going to be completely ineffective in stopping his girlfriend from taking her own life. He slams the phone’s handset against the body of the phone. Then slams it again. He begins pounding the phone against itself, smashing the phone to pieces because there’s nothing else he can do.

So in that scene Cronenberg creates a city around this young man, a city smashed and in ruins. The young man’s internal life is smashed and in ruins. And there, in front of him, the phone is smashed, ruined, in pieces, an embodiment of the hopeless internal and external wreckage spawned by this poor young man’s poor young girlfriend.

It’s a very, very cool scene, one of my favorite scenes from all the movies I’ve ever watched.

So Marilyn Chambers is dead and most people, now, will just remember her for her porn roles. But Marilyn Chambers played Rose in Cronenberg’s “Rabid” and that was one of the best low-budget horror films ever made and Chambers does a great job as the female lead. Many, many ‘stars’ have never made even one movie with a scene as amazing as that phone scene between Rose and her boyfriend.

That’s how I’ll remember Marilyn Chambers.

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