Wild Side

USA 1995

Reviewed by Mark Kermode


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Los Angeles, the mid 90s. Bank officer Alex Lee, moonlighting as a high-class hooker, has paid sex with racketeer Bruno. She is then raped by his chauffeur Tony who turns out to be an undercover cop. Tony demands that Alex help him bring down Bruno, whose partner Virginia opens an account at Alex's bank. While Alex and Virginia begin an affair, Bruno enlists Alex to help him move $169 million from Virginia's account to an untraceable destination.

Alex tells Virginia of her relationship with Bruno, and pleads that they flee together. Virginia, furious, attempts suicide. Alex secretly calls both Bruno and Tony to the Midnight Hotel, where Bruno, enraged at Tony's abuse of Alex, attempts to rape Tony anally. Alex persuades Virginia to run away with her. Tony pursues Alex to her house. There, Bruno, having discovered his chauffeur is really a cop, shoots Tony and escapes in a helicopter. Alex and Virginia enter Mexico, en route to China, with money transferred from Virginia's account.


If ever proof was needed that editing can make or break a film, then the two extant versions of Wild Side are enough. Originally made for production company Nu Image in 1995, Donald Cammell's final feature was taken away from the director and recut into a sleazy exploitation film, boasting a few saleable sex scenes but notable for its incoherence and general tawdry awfulness. Four years later, following Cammell's death in 1996, editor Frank Mazzola and writer China Kong set to work reconstructing Wild Side to Cammell's original specifications, reinstating the avant-garde, non-linear construction which Nu Image had fought to thwart and adding a new musical score by Ryuichi Sakamoto and others.

The result is an extraordinary piece of work, a psycho-sexual thriller every bit as deranged as its misbegotten predecessor, but distinguished by a hypnotically jazzy structural rhythm which unites - rather than isolates - the bizarre antics of its oddball cast. "It's a family problem," drools Christopher Walken's racketeer Bruno in Wild Side's most jaw-droppingly outrageous scene (in which he attempts to rape anally undercover cop Tony), and finally in this new version, we understand exactly what he's talking about. From the opening titles, with their mix of montage and jump-cuts (the preponderance of which smoothes over the few technical restoration problems), this new version of Wild Side declares itself as a film about synchronicity, in which actions and events, time and space, collide in a musical rather than logical fashion. Driven by a plot which shamelessly moves wherever it wants to go rather than where it should go, this is a work based not on intellectual but on visceral connections, a psychodrama in which a mobster can rape an undercover policeman in order to prove that he loves a hooker without the audience giving up in despair. No mean feat.

With its free-floating attitudes towards sexuality (all the characters walk both sides of the line) and the bold expressionistic colour scheme of its design and editing, Cammell's last feature bears all the stylistic hallmarks of an arthouse extravaganza. But combining this with the nuts-and-bolts ingredients of a meat-market erotic thriller creates something far more enticing than any esoteric exercise. As if transposing a chugging American V8 truck engine into a funky European run-around, editor Mazzola conjures a generic hybrid which rips along at a roaring pace; noisy, unstable and dangerous, but irresistible. Imagine Bound (which Wild Side predates) as retold in a hallucinogenic stupor and you're some way towards tasting the flavour of Cammell's swansong.

On a performance level, things veer from the sublime to the ridiculous. While Anne Heche is unsurprisingly terrific as bank officer-turned-prostitute Alex, the real eye-opener is Steven Bauer, as undercover cop Tony, whose psychotically repulsive performance seems utterly unconnected to any of his other screen roles. As for Walken, he chews up the scenery, waves his terrible hair, and rambles with a near-incoherent nasal sibilance that suggests either extreme bravery or total stupidity. It's a very thin line, and one along which Wild Side dances with pride.


Franklin Brauner
[i.e. Donald Cammell]
Elie Cohn
John Langley
China Kong
Donald Cammell
Director of Photography
Sead Mutarevic
Frank Mazzola
Production Designer
Claire Bowin
Jon Hassell
©1995. Wild Side Productions Inc and Mondofin B.V.
Production Company
Nu Image presents
a John Langley production
Executive Producers
Avi Lerner
Danny Dimbort
Trevor Short
Andrew Pfeffer
Boaz Davidson
Associate Producer
Joan Chen
Production Supervisor
Barbara Freedman
Production Co-ordinator
Veronica Alweiss
Location Manager
Andre Gaudry
Location Consultant
Robert Dohan
Steven Kevin Ogden
Audio Supervisor:
Jo Dee Housholder
Assistant Directors
Paul N. Martin
Philip J. Gallegos
Script Supervisor
Ronit Ravich Boss
Pamela Rack
Special Effects Co-ordinator
Eric Rylander
Set Decorator
Shana Sigmond
Scenic Artists
Catherine Burns
Patricia Riske
Rebeka L. Roberts
Costume Designer
Alison Hirsch
Costume Supervisor
Beverly Klein
Make-up Artist
Ashley Scott
Scott Williams
CFI: The Imaging Group
Additional Music
Lee Curreri
Jamie Muhoberac
Music Supervisor
Diane DeLouise Wessel
"Sweet and Sexy" - Nat Turner; "Oye morena" - M.C. Boulevard; "Alvarado Street" - Cat Daddy; "Serene" - Nobukazu Takemura; "Pa-nang Tofu" - Lee Curreri; Mozart's "Deh vieni non tarder" - Norddeutsche Philharmonic, soprano: Louise LeBrun; "Enamorado" - House of Light; "Mariachi and Soda" - Don Peake
Sound Mixer
Benjamin A. Patrick
Re-recording Mixers
Paul Schremp
Darren Barnett
Dialogue Supervisor
Harry Harris
Sound Effects Editors
Mark Korba
Pattie Lorusso
Darren Barnett
David Rodriguez
Mikael Sandgren
Darren Barnett
David Rodriguez
Stunt Co-ordinator
Spike Silver
Helicopter Pilot
Peter McKernan
Donald Cammell's Wild Side/Wild Side - The Director's Cut credits
Donald Cammell
Hamish McAlpine
Nick Jones
Frank Mazzola
Frank Mazzola
Music Composer/
Ryuichi Sakamoto
©2000. Tartan Films
China Kong
Roger Trilling
Frank Mazzola
Catherine Hader Mazzola
Dialogue Director
China Kong
Avid Editor
John Ganem
Associate Editor
Catherine Hader Mazzola
Pacific Title/Mirage
Additional Music
Jarvis Cocker
Steve Mackey
Mark Webber
Music Supervisors
Roger Trilling
Music Recordist/Mixer Ryuichi Sakamoto
MIDI System Technicians
Yasushi Mouri
Office Intenzio
Sound Design
Peggy McAffee
Re-recording Mixers
Robert J. Litt
Wayne Heitman
Neil Brody
Effects Editors
Peggy McAffee
Tom Smyth
Michael Salvetta
Debra Ruby
Marsha Sorce
Rudy Lara
Dialogue Editors
Chris Reeves
Gabrielle Reeves
Christopher Walken
Bruno Buckingham
Joan Chen
Virginia Chow
Steven Bauer
Anne Heche
Alex Lee
Allen Garfield
Dan Rackman
Adam Novack
Lyle Litvak
Hiro Sakamoto
Richard Palmer
cop driver
Randy Crowder
federal agent
Marcus Aurelius
James Reed
Michael Rose
Agent Morse Jaeger
Lewis Arquette
the chief
Rolando de la Maza
Candace Camille Bender
Lotus Ita
Ian Johnson
Philip Hamlyn
Gena Kim
massage girl
Robert Mazzola
Metro Tartan Distributors
10,376 feet
115 minutes 18 seconds
Colour by
Original US theatrical title
Wild Side
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011