Pedro Almodóvar makes films that are in dialogue with other films from his oeuvre. In 1987’s Law of Desire, a psychotic rapist/serial killer, played by Antonio Banderas, waits outside an auditorium. Just behind him is a partially obscured poster for Jean Cocteau’s play La Voix Humaine, with Cocteau’s name one of its few visible elements. In the film, the play is being performed just behind a pair of double doors, but out in the lobby, Almodóvar’s mise-en-scène has an eye on a frame-within-the-frame, with a piece of pop art serving as that frame, a recurring motif in Almodóvar’s work. Thus, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! delivers on a past film’s Cocteau reference by taking the form of a farcical Beauty and the Beast narrative, with former junkie/porn star-turned-B-movie-actress Marina (Victoria Abril) being held captive by superfan Ricky (Antonio Banderas). Stockholm Syndrome has rarely been rendered with such sumptuous consideration for the frame, as cinematographer José Luis Alcaine manages degrees of realism and fantasy in equal measure, turning even the confines of Marina’s domestic apartment into a carnivalesque, candy-colored plethora of visual signifiers and connotations.
From the backward one-sheet of 1944’s Cover Girl in 1988’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown to various posters littering the walls of a director’s office in 2004’s Bad Education, movie posters, that difficult nexus between art and commerce, are dear necessities to a director who’s spent much of his cinematic time probing both his and audiences’ voyeuristic desires. Watching an Almodóvar film is much like watching a film by Brian De Palma, since a rigorous attunement to both the image and intertextual play comprises much of their films’ punch. If one continues the comparison, Tie Me Up! is Almodóvar’s Body Double, in that it finds the director simultaneously at his most reflexive and deliriously irreverent, taking various strands of his previous films to several of their most perverse conclusions.
Almodóvar’s brilliance here isn’t merely a potpourri of references, colors, and camp; rather, it’s within his probing of cinematic sexuality as it pertains to art that the film’s true thematic colors begin to show, particularly in how art speaks to the body. These interests are apparent enough from the film’s opening shot, which slowly zooms out from a painting of Mary and Christ, only in triplicate, the same image printed three times in a row, with Mary on top. The painting is complemented by the film’s penultimate shot, as three characters ride in a car, forming a triptych of sorts, with each one’s connection to the other vital for ascertaining their individual states. The opening painting, however, is made explicitly blasphemous by Almodóvar, who effectively renders Marina and Ricky’s eventual sex act as something akin to a cathartic rejection of the ascetic components of religious art, with the protagonists fulfilling the implied roles of the painting. Marina as maternal Mary fulfills the incestuous Oedipal desires inherent to Ricky’s orphan upbringing, but Almodóvar’s scenes never play as remotely academic as all that, primarily because at no point in the film does he lose sight of the art-horror dualities his filmmaking inhabits.
Almodóvar views religiosity as what prohibits sexuality and fosters psychosis, taking his psychological cues from Freud, but his cinematic cues from, say, Dario Argento or Juan López Moctezuma. At least, the film Marina’s shooting with director Máximo Espejo (Francisco Rabal) resembles such an effort; but tellingly, Alcaine’s cinematography remains the same in both instances, implicating Almodóvar’s film, proper, within the same diegetic space. Moreover, when Ricky breaks into Marina’s apartment and head-butts her, it’s more physical and brutal than the phantasmagoric, muscle-bound demon that torments her within the horror film. But it isn’t altogether outside that order either, both as act and image, if only because of a very similar shot during the opening sequence of Argento’s Suspiria.
Horror films make other appearances as well; as a small, miniature action figure of a scuba-diver swims toward Marina while taking a bath, it’s impossible not to be reminded of Freddy Krueger’s hand emerging from the bathwater in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead appears on TV late in Tie Me Up! and further establishes Almodóvar’s paralleling of his own film with other horror films. The consistent presence of horror as cultural exploitation traverses religion and pop culture equally, to the extent that the painting which opens the film becomes no different than a movie poster, no different from a television screen. Each has the identical capacity of emanating a mythological ethos that reveals the true captor in Almodóvar’s realm: ideology. Perhaps that’s why Almodóvar has a Bressonian fascination with doorframes and passageways, but he one-ups Bresson by suggesting that cultural frames, whether from high or low art, create much the same, paradoxical phenomenon of freedom and imprisonment.
While Anchor Bay’s 2001 DVD served as an adequate home-video transfer at the time of its release, the Criterion Collection’s 2K Blu-ray is a considerable upgrade and a wonderful rendering of just how gorgeous a film Pedro Almodóvar made. Reds and greens, which dominate the color palette throughout, gleam with an intensity topped only by the image’s consistent clarity of depth and detail. Edges, especially on clothing and faces, are absolutely crisp and free from blurring of any sort. Grain is also present throughout and digital enhancements appear to have been comprehensively avoided. Ennio Morricone’s creepily carnivalesque score pings through with considerable resonance, especially as a compliment to the film’s themes. Dialogue is sometimes whispered, but always clear, and audio remains lossless throughout. Furthermore, the new subtitle translation reads remarkably literate and precise.
A new 27-minute documentary, recorded exclusively for the Criterion Collection, allows the cast and crew to explain their role within the making of the film. Almodóvar gets plenty of screen time, explaining how he wanted to examine the artifice of a film shoot. Antonio Banderas explains how he viewed his character as a stew of elements from his previous Almodóvar roles, while Victoria Abril is adamant that no other director she’s worked with understands women like Almodóvar. In addition, there’s a discussion between Almodóvar and Banderas about their time working together and each views Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! as the culmination of their collaboration, while also discussing each of their careers after the film. Sony Pictures Classics correspondent Michael Barker gets an interview of his own, explaining his working relationship with Almodóvar, from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown to the present. There’s also a brief clip from a premiere party, with the cast singing "Resistiré," the song which closes the film. Finally, there’s a booklet featuring three short pieces, the most interesting of which is a conversation between critic Kent Jones and filmmaker Wes Anderson about Almodóvar’s career, in which they make comparisons between him and other art-house titans, like Jean Renoir and Luis Buñuel, and discuss several of Almodóvar’s most recent films.
Come psychos, junkies, porn stars, action figures, come all! Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! receives the Criterion Collection treatment, bringing Pedro Almodóvar’s kinkily irreverent carnival ride to vivid life with a masterful 2K Blu-ray.