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Dead Ahead

Looking for love in 'Last Dance'

By David Templeton


Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This time out, he sees Last Dance with Texas-based writer Marion Winik, a frequent commentator on NPR's All Things Considered and the author of the heartbreaking First Comes Love.

MARION WINIK cocks one eye at me from across the table and stares directly into my face, her features suddenly frozen into a look of astonished disbelief. "Oh my God! How can you think that?" she says.

I have just told her that I very reluctantly support capital punishment. Simply put, I feel it would be hypocritical of me to say that it's wrong to take a life, while upholding a woman's right to a legal abortion.

Winik continues to stare. "How can you possibly connect those issues?" she asks. "One is a person's control over her body. The other is the screwed-up state and legal system's control over a person's life!"

And so goes the conversation. We have just seen Last Dance, starring Sharon Stone as a bitter death-row inmate and Rob Morrow as the intense low-level bureaucrat who tries to save her from impending execution. After snickering and joking through the first three-quarters of the mostly dreadful movie, we each ended up in tears during the harrowing final scenes.

The subject of death, it seems, even when sloppily handled, can still pack a wallop. As Winik commented upon leaving the theater, "There's no way to mess up a deathbed scene."

She knows this well, having handled the subject in First Comes Love (Vintage, 1996), a beautiful, autobiographical recounting of her courtship and marriage to a bisexual ice skater, their unconventional relationship, his years-long battle with AIDS, and finally his courageous self-orchestrated death.

"Admittedly," she now suggests, "if somebody killed my kids, I would be happy to kill that person. I don't see myself forgiving that. On the other hand," she adds, flashing a smile, "If a criminal volunteers to die, I think they should be allowed to." She swirls the wine in her glass for a moment. "In a way, I can't believe that we're talking about capital punishment, because this movie wasn't really about that. I mean, it was about that, but only on the surface.

"What this was, or what it wanted to be, was a love story! But the love story was in a straitjacket through the whole thing. It was like the filmmakers were afraid of it or something. They never even kissed!" Winik moans. "I wanted them to kiss."

Wouldn't that have made it stupider? "It might have made it stupider," she agrees with a laugh. "I'm re-seeing this as a B movie with a really kitschy feel to it. Something totally abandoned and passionate. He never even said 'I love you' to her or anything!

"This movie," she waves her hand in the direction of the theater, "wanted to be about their relationship. The best parts were about their relationship. When he comes for the second meeting at the prison--their second date?--and she draws his picture, that was a very flirtatious thing to do. I mean," she laughs, actually blushing, "I've done that kind of thing. It's a standard opening move. And when she thinks he's going to visit and she ties her shirt up in knot on one side? She was getting dressed up for him! I loved that! The heart of this movie was in those moments."

Winik pauses again, her eyes down at her glass. "There were feelings between them," she says softly. "I wanted those feelings to be set free." She lifts her gaze. "So let it be stupid! I still say it should have been about love. In the end, though, love is the only story I'm really interested in."

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From the May 16-22, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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