It took twenty years for Terrence Malick to return to film after the acclaim of Days of Heaven in 1978. His reprise was a World War II sonnet: The Thin Red Line. That same year, Steven Soderbergh blended his independent roots with the present influx of witty dialogue-driven crime comedies through his adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Out of Sight, Vincent Gallo presented a wave of narcissism by way of glossy fairy tale with Buffalo ’66, and Jonathan Demme brought his trademark passion for the human’s eyes with his Toni Morrison adaptation of Beloved. Some of the best films of 1998, and all equally fascinating.
Meanwhile, Baywatch star and Playboy pin-up Pamela Anderson, and her then-husband Tommy Lee, had a private home video stolen and sold to the public. The financial success of the leaked video caused both B-list stars to approve it for actual distribution. Called Stolen Honeymoon, the video was pitched as a sex tape, with the emphasis on the filming of their own sex acts embraced as the singular selling point. It became iconic to such a degree that the public populace generally knew about it – some even seeking it out for morbid curiosity, and many parodying it across media (Anderson, herself, mocks it during her cameo in Scary Movie 3).
The video, shot on a VHS camcorder, is a curious 75-minute home movie – in that it isn’t necessarily on par with the average home movies as we know them. There’s already an element to the “home video” platform that fascinates me – the personalization of whoever is holding the camera, and filming things precious to them, or for a way to preserve what is currently taking place. As time goes on, they can have a personal effect on those who watch them; either sentimental (remember the way your cousin had a lisp as a toddler?) or downright tragic (remember when mom and dad were still together?). It’s not always something that taps into a universal viewership, but there’s still an art-like process behind its creation, and it only grows more fascinating as accompanying years bring on change.
Stolen Honeymoon was the first of its kind, when it’s approached by the canon term of “sex tape”. The term paved a way for other “leaked” videos like it – from Rob Lowe, to Paris Hilton, to Kim Kardashian, and even Dustin Diamond – and, yet, the nature of Stolen Honeymoon has never been imitated. Maybe because the trajectory to it becoming publically available, as it did, was unheard of – and the way both Anderson and Lee embraced the leak as anything but a flout on their privacy; as par with their being celebrity icons, in the first place.
As this writing continues on, there’s one a change to impose: reading into Stolen Honeymoon as a piece of cinema. Referring to the title as a “film” can, at first, seem like a desperate cry for something outside of the box – however, the kind of process the project took when coming into fruition is enough, for some, I’m sure, to interpret it with a fair amount of sincerity. Even though it introduced the public to the idea of the “sex tape”, Stolen Honeymoon is a 75-minute piece that only includes one brief moment of sex between the B-list couple – and while that is the obvious cash-grab the distributors on the video porn market saw, there’s a lot more to analyze within the other 70 minutes, and how the sex scene, itself, applies to what that other hour presents for the viewer.
Stolen Honeymoon isn’t something that could just be viewed by the public as a “home movie” or a “sex tape”, because it’s a very different kind of home movie, and so far-removed from being a simple sex tape. The culture of the mid-90s – and the status of both Anderson and Lee – make it less a home movie, and more a deconstruction of the public’s perceptions of celebrity figures. This is a literal document of the two; unpersuaded and changed by any sort of fiction – and that is crutched up by the way it has been given to the public’s eye. This is celebrity excess and hedonistic life shown through their very perspectives; untamed by anything that could misconstrue or change the meaning of events we’re actually seen. It doesn’t necessarily paint the duo in a flattering light, but it also gathers utmost empathy because of those very reasons. They not only wallow in their excessive yacht and mansion or feel free from the constricts of time, they also show a side that is wholly human. It’s that “American dream” principle again, only we’re seeing it from their very perspective, in a way that most intended films on the theme don’t show in such an equally mundane and literal way.
It was released during a time of VHS porn, and the dawning of the PornHub age. Stolen Honeymoon goes beyond simple pornography by the way its sex scene is presented. Unsensational, kind of boring, and it ends with a dramatic punch where Tommy Lee ejaculates before breaking down into tears. It’s a five-minute scene, but it’s enough to convey so much about the way these principles of living within a “mile-high club”. The fact both Anderson and Lee divorced the very same year? It’s an extra bit of force on Stolen Honeymoon that brings forth the home movie “changes” into the same universe as those who live and make money under the entertainment industry’s divisive limelight.
There isn’t a message to be found in Stolen Honeymoon on part of the two celebrities involved. What exists, then, is the film turning itself into its own illumination of two very wealthy and arguably aimless famous people, made by those very people, being themselves in the most un-cinematic way possible, and doing everyday things with help from bottomless wallets. Somehow, this is what makes it so damn effective; haunting, even. It captures that era, captures a version of that lifestyle, and captures the lifestyles of these two people autobiographically on their own terms. They epitomize the ideologies of American hedonism that most conscious film projects only seem to be critical toward, and they spend their honeymoon treating one another like they're perfect for one another. It’s weirdly heartfelt, and not remotely sexualized to a degree that warrants its label. By the hundredth time they call each other their respective pet names and constantly repeat "I love you", the viewer starts to realize that they don't talk about much of anything. How long did their marriage last again?
There's things to be said about Anderson and Lee - whether or not their fame was founded on talent, or just on pure sex appeal, and that's another element to this film that feels strikingly, weirdly human (grainy, over-saturated video quality and all). There's a moment where Anderson is going through a recipe book, and she mentions that no matter how rich she gets, she'll never forget where she came from. Later on, when the newlywed couple are floating out in their yacht surrounded by the ocean, Anderson looks at her husband and says "where are we?" Possibly high on something; surrounded by nothing but their own wealth. That’s what you’d refer to as lost, and more than enough of a document on "American hedonism" needed to see this film as anything but spank material.