Desert Hearts- the Movie.
Jane rule, the American born writer of the novel, “Desert of the Heart” left lesbians with a classical legacy. I was fortunate to have her sign a copy of the novel that was made into the sensational lesbian movie called, “Desert Hearts.”
She read ‘The Well of Loneliness’ when she was fifteen years of age. The impact of the novel was devastating to her and she felt she was a freak. Adding to this low self-esteem was the challenge of being duyslexic. Jane was determined to receive an education and in later years, she was a lecturer at a university in British Columbia. Jane was living with a man, but she met Helen Sonthoff and fell in love. The publishing of ‘Desert Hearts’ in 1964, while being hailed as a success by the Canadian media, there was concern that Jane might lose her teaching post.
The success of the novel came to the attention of an openly gay director, Donna Deitch. She bought the rights to the book and spent several years fund raising. She sold financial units of $1,000 and gave parties to entice rich woman to invest. Finally, with $850,000 raised, Donna set about making the movie. Actresses were reluctant to jepardize their careers back in the 80s by acting in a lesbian movie. Donna managed to get Helen Shaver and Patricia Charbonneau and herstory was made.
Set in 1959, Desert Hearts, is a wonderful script . Helen Shaver plays the rrole of an uptight woman seeking an uncomplicated divorce in Reno. Professor Vivian Bell (Shaver) tells her lawyer, ‘we are a professional couple’ and reveals that her husband will not contest the divorce. She stays at a guest ranch owner by Frances Park (Audra Lindley). When Frances’ surrogate daughter Cay Rivvers (Patricia Charbonneau) meets Vivan, she is smitten. (As an aside, Charbonneau learned that she was pregnant on the first day of the filming. And as another aside, Helen Shaver met her future husband, a key grip called Steve Smith, and they have been married since 1968.
The movie was in my mind very successful because of it depicted a positive and realistic lesbian relationship. Unlike Personal Best, the two females go off into the sunset together. In Personal Best, one of the women lovers leaves for a man.
Helen Shaver claims that Greta Garbo was so impressed with her performance in the film that they attempted to meet but due to Garbo’s poor health instead discussed her performance over the phone. Patricia Charbonneau, in turn, learned that model Gia Carangi patterned herself after Cay’s character.
Deitch insisted that the lesbian sex scene, rated by many viewers as the best in cinema, not be edited or altered in any way. And prior to the shooting of the L Word, the producer insisted that all the actresses look at the movie.
Let me tell you (in case you didn’t know) the love scene between Shaver and Carbonneau sizzled, no it was pure fire!
I have selected my personal favorite quotes from the movie.
Vivian: Can I be honest with you, Frances?
Frances: It’s a dyin’ art, so be my guest.
Buck Frances’ son)
[to Cay regarding her number of female visitors] How you get all that traffic with no equipment is beyond me!
Vivian: [of her marriage] It drowned in still waters.
Vivian: [while kissing Cay] I don’t usually feel this way at 11 o’clock in the morning.
Vivian: I won’t take off my robe.
Cay: Well, we all have to draw the line somewhere.
And the quote that I like the most. Frances uses it first ( regarding her dead husband) in front of Prof. Bell and Cay. In the photo, Cay talks about loving Vivian. When Frances is hostile, Cay quotes her own quote back to Frances.
On a personal note, when the movie was released in Toronto, I became very friendly with the ticket operator of a cinema. I thought that after at least ten visits, I was entitled to at least a free ticket. I was hooked. There was nothing in either books or films that could match it. In fact, it is still my favourite lesbian movie of all time. Paula.