Perfume (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

It is amazing that somebody once thought this was a good idea.

Imagine this - the director decided to make a Robert Altman style movie about the fashion industry, despite the fact that the real Altman was unable to make a good one. (Pret a Porter is one of his poorest films.) I guess this one was supposed to work because everyone is naked in the first scene, while Altman foolishly waited until the last scene. Yup, that fixed the problem!


There are eight naked supermodels in the opening ten minutes of the film. They are all sitting there, posed with arms over their naughty stuff, waiting for a set-up. In the process, four or five of them show either their entire breast or nipples.
In fact, this film took all the elements that even Altman finds difficult to manage in Altman movies and made them even more challenging.

(1) This film expands Altman's improv techniques and makes them even more ambitious.

Altman likes to allow his actors some freedom to create characters and speak in dialogue appropriate to those characters. This film allowed the actors to improvise just about everything. This technique almost never works. Actors are not writers, for one thing. Even real writers do not create sparkling dialogue extemporaneously. The create, re-write, and polish. I don't know about you guys, but I can always tell when actors are improvising. They talk in a certain way, and they provide lots of "filler" to give them time to think: hand gestures, touching each other's faces, speech hesitations, pregnant pauses, grabbing for emotional moments. Most important, they never say anything interesting, so listening to improv is like listening to your neighbors speak, except that the discussion is condensed down to the most melodramatic moments, which forces the "soap opera paradigm": ten minutes of set-up per big emotional organ-chord moment.

  • "You mean it's ... (organ chord) ... Ravenal's child?"
  • "Don't you even recognize me? Me, ... (organ chord) ... your long-lost daughter, Magnolia."

(2) This story manages even more characters than Altman might find comfortable

There are so many characters that the audience is left wondering who they are or why some of them were necessary at all. About 14,000 B-list actors make cameo appearances for no apparent reason. Some examples? Paul Sorvino, who is more or less the central character, has a son and daughter, and I was unable to see why the daughter was added to the film. She served no purpose and added one more person for the audience to keep track of (you need a scorecard). Harry Hamlin is in one scene, and I'm not even sure who his character was. Kyle MacLachlin and Chris Sarandon are stranded so far from a context that I have no idea at all who they were supposed to be or why the writers thought they would be useful to the plot. And so forth. You'll be watching this thinking, "OK, who is this again?". Of course, this leaves many characters stranded in limbo without any character development to support them. We get to know the characters played by Paul Sorvino, Jeff Goldblum, Leslie Mann, and Jared Harris. The rest are ... well, I hate to use this term to describe a film about fashion, but ... window dressing.

(3) There are several instances where multiple conversations are occurring simultaneously, and the sound track is picking up all of them, forcing us to guess at which ones might be important and try to focus our listening skills on those.

Only one person in the cast was truly good at the improv technique (Paul Sorvino), but even Big Pauly saddled himself down with a comical Chico Marx accent, and the writers stuck him with the ol' "dying of incurable cancer" plot line, so he ended up being forced to say things like "The doctor, he's-a say I haffa dee cancer. Ees-a no good. No-a good."

Oh, yeah, and the musical score is half hip-hop and half opera. (This parallels a plot development in which the Sorvino character may expand his house, adding a line of hip urban street fashions to his stuffy traditional line.)

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

So there you have it. Even though Altman failed to make a good Altman film about the fashion industry, director Michael Rymer decided to try it anyway, and made it even harder on himself by adding more characters, more overlapping conversations, more improv, and more chaos - to the extent than even the real Altman could not have managed so much chaos, even under the best of circumstances.

What can you say? The film went from Sundance to video, and Rymer followed up this film with Queen of the Damned, thus giving him a ticket straight to basic cable land.

The Critics Vote

  • None. Sadly, James Agee and Pauline Kael died too soon to see this lasting cultural treasure.

The People Vote ...

IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a D. Terrible movie. If you had access to this much talent, I don't know if you could make a worse movie intentionally. It's meandering, melodramatic, improvised, and apparently pointless.

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