During our Winter 1998 Film Series, featuring early Hollywood sex symbols, one of our readers suggested that we look up the films of Yvette Mimieux. Well, we finally got around to it. We could have picked the classic H.G. Wells' Time Machine, Light in the Piazza, or even Toys in the Attic. But what fun would that be? Instead, we picked this early 80's tour de force, entitled Brainwash.
Actually, Brainwash is only one of several titles this film goes by. It has also appeared under the titles of Mystique, Circle of Power, and The Naked Weekend. (That last one is our favorite.) It's not hard to see why it has so many titles -- after we watched it, we had trouble deciding what to call it too.
Mimieux stars as Bianca Ray, the gung-ho CEO of Mystique, Inc. We're not sure what Mystique does, exactly, but they have sexy marketing, so it's probably something important, to be sure. Ray has worked up a special method of training her up-and-coming employees: for $3000, they can participate in the Executive Development & Training course (EDT), thereby ensuring their success in Mystique. During the week of EDT, these men and their wives (there don't seem to be any female Mystique employees) check into a remote luxury hotel maintained by the company. Then Ms. Ray begins to torture them.
That's right, torture. EDT consists of splitting the trainees into two groups (by gender) and then subjecting them to rigorous physical punishment, public humiliation, and various forms of mental abuse. The aim of all this activity is to expose each person's subconscious hangups: the fat guy eats because he was sexually abused as a child, the old guy is drinking himself to death and needs help to regain his will to live, and so on. In turn, each subject realizes what his hangup is and then thanks his torturers profusely for helping him to see the light. "It works!" they each chant as they are finally released from their personal hells. "It really works!"
The inimitable Yvette Mimieux.
Of course, not everyone is convinced. But by the time anyone works up the nerve to say anything, there are enough converts to the cause (not to mention the hired muscle) to keep the others "open-minded." The women, too, are subjected to the same sort of torture by Ray's male counterpart. To be honest, it's pretty gruesome throughout: the attendees are under-fed and over-exercised, marriages are tested, and worst of all, character actor Walter Olkewicz (you might remember him as "Dougie" from the sitcom Grace Under Fire) takes off his clothes.
This is not to say that Brainwash is a terrible film; it's just kind of hard to take. The story is strong, and the dialogue has some good moments, but the acting rarely lives up to those moments. Mimieux is often fascinating as the beautiful but cold-as-ice dominatrix. Most interesting are the maintenance staff members, who alternate between sarcastically mocking the "crazy white folks" behind their backs, turning a blind eye to the proceedings, and maintaining an uneasy truce with the disturbing facts about their employer.
Although Brainwash leaves some things open to interpretation at the end of the film, we wonder exactly how gullible and cowardly people really are. The training is supposed to develop leadership, but all we can see are a bunch of numbskulls who say "yes, boss" and pay three thousand smackers for the privilege. Now if only we could work out something like that.
Please join us for the Stomp Tokyo Movie Appreciation Summer Camp, to be held this year at Crystal Lake. Movies to be shown include Full Metal Jacket, Brazil, The Dentist, and 1984. Inquiries about dates and fees may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.