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Green Porno

By Michael Murray | TV | April 26, 2010 | Comments ()

By Michael Murray | TV | April 26, 2010 |


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Isabella Rossellini was 28 when she began posing for Vogue Magazine and first entered the North American public eye. This marked the beginning of her modeling career, and by the typical standards of the industry, she was ancient. Normally we'd see some nubile, empty vessel staring out at us from the fashion glossies, somebody just waiting for us to project our fantasies upon them. However, Rossellini--already married to director Martin Scorsese and a child of famous parents--wasn't some kid new to the world of fashion and celebrity. No, in her we encountered a fully formed woman, somebody who defied external definition and projected her character outward, rather than absorbing whatever the photographer or audience decided to impose upon her. In short, Isabella Rossellini was different from what we were used to.

This unique quality was made abundantly clear in David Lynch's 1986 film Blue Velvet. For a mainstream, commercial release the movie was an astonishing and dislocating mind fuck. Lynch led the audience, who never knew if they were watching a comedy or a horror movie, through an artfully constructed world where in a flash, revulsion could burst froth from attraction, just like a switchblade snapping open. It was through this surreal landscape that Isabella Rossellini, who had very little acting experience, played Dorothy Vallens, the mysterious nightclub singer around whom the plot orbited.



To classify her performance as brave and uninhibited would be an understatement. Her character was humiliated, beaten, and stripped naked, which was hardly what anybody was expecting to see happen to the elegant and self-possessed daughter of Ingrid Bergman.



Bergman, of course, was Ilsa in Casablanca, and as such she's existed as a romantic ideal for generations. A platonic ideal, she seemed to radiate a purity that was practically sexless. She seemed above the physical, a holy idea rather than an earth-bound creature with bodily functions and carnal desires, and that her daughter would play against this dignified and refined inheritance was entirely startling.

In the 25 years since the shock of Blue Velvet, Rossellini has continued to follow a slightly eccentric and unexpected path. Never chasing fame or fortune, she seemed to choose to participate in projects that suited her artistic and intellectual interests, rather than ones that would propel her celebrity. The most recent of these ventures is Seduce Me, which debuted on the Sundance Channel website on Tuesday, and will move to television next month.

Written, directed, and starring Rossellini, Seduce Me is essentially a continuation of the award-winning (2009 Webby) series "Green Porno" that also aired on The Sundance Channel. Seduce Me is really the same program, just with a more family friendly name, but don't let that trick you, because this is still weird with a capital W. In the series -- which is a collection of two-minute shorts -- Rossellini acts out the mating rituals of a bunch of different species of wildlife, employing a variety of elaborate costumes, cardboard cutouts, and props.

It's funny, strange, surprisingly educational and occasionally, almost touching.

Each episode starts in darkness, focusing on a shadow puppet that's cast against a projected beam of light. This creature (Cuttlefish! Duck! Bed Bug! Snake! Salmon!) is the subject of the ensuing episode. It's an unusual introduction, one that lends the proceedings an air of arty theatricality, only instead of seeing some lame mime pretending to crack a safe, we see Isabella Rossellini.

Typically framed from the shoulders up, we see the 59 year-old in a spare setting. A bare arm or series of bare arms will then come into the frame, and, in some manner, be it tender or less so, begin to manipulate her head. After a moment or two, Rossellini, as if suddenly grasping something, will shout, "is he seducing me?" This segue lead into the body of the clip, in which the mating ritual is acted out and decoded.

Seduce Me uses a whimsical, quirky style of cutout animation. It cops a primitive feel, but it's still artfully constructed, although with the imagination of a child at the directorial helm. The truth is that it looks a lot like something out of the Michel Gondry factory, but in this case it's a good thing, and not something derivatively or self-consciously unique.



In one episode, Rossellini, wearing a paper cutout hat that looks like a salmon and blue goggles, moves along in a makeshift stream before suddenly pausing to declare, "Whoa, this is a good place for my nest!" A second later, a salmon passes by, and smitten, Rossellini says, "Look at the way he quivers! He vibrates! He's irresistible!"

Her elocution and phrasing are idiosyncratic. Always just a little bit odd, she sounds like somebody who has full command of the English vocabulary, but is still operating in a foreign grammar. It's entirely fetching, and it gives whatever she's saying a guileless and authentic quality, as if she was commenting upon was observed objectively and for the first time.

Having fallen under the spell of the quivering salmon, the Rossellini-Salmon squirts out her eggs, "Oh, here, here are my eggs, spray them with your sperm!" She then goes on to explain that mating is the last thing that salmon do before dying, and that the offspring of the fish then feed on the scavengers that had been feasting on the rotting corpses of their parents. The segment ends with Rossellini in full make-up so as to look lifeless and decaying, repeating the phrase, "the cycle of life and death." Lord help me, but I found this both fascinating and melancholy.

It's a little bit creepy, even dark, but its also entirely unexpected and charming, and in the hands of Rossellini, even a little bit sexy, and I guess that makes it the perfect nugget of late night programming.

After watching this weird little string of pearls, I found myself admiring and appreciating just what a singular person Isabella Rossellini was even more. While people of lesser imagination go under the knife and throw themselves awkwardly onto the stage of Dancing With the Stars in the hopes of landing some Broadway gig, Rossellini is immersing herself into a wonderfully batty enterprise, creating beautiful and strange art that speaks first to her, before spreading out, fortunately, to the rest of us.

Michael Murray is a freelance writer. For the last three and a half years he's written a weekly column for the Ottawa Citizen about watching television. He presently lives in Toronto. You can find more of his musings on his blog, or check out his Facebook page.



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