Variety, released in 1983, focuses on Catherine (Sandy McLeod), a young, attractive woman struggling to make ends meet in New York City. Her friend, hesitantly, helps her retain a job at an adult movie theater named Variety. She works there as a ticket taker. The only other employee we see there is Jose (Luis Guzman), who promotes and manages the place. Men come in and out of the theater, but one man named Louie (Richard M. Davidson) takes a liking to Catherine and buys her a Coke one day while she is on break. This mysterious man has an ominous air about him, inspiring the audience to mistrust and be wary of him. When he hands her the coke, my first thought was she shouldn’t accept it because she didn’t watch him make it.
The men in the film are uncomfortable with female sexuality. We see men consuming porn and desiring women, but the moment a woman shows initiative, they are hesitant and scared. This audience sees this personified in Mark (Will Patton), Catherine’s boyfriend, who is uncomfortable with her embracing her sexuality and being around sexual material by working at a porno theater. There are multiple standout scenes where Catherine is describing her work to her boyfriend. She describes in graphic detail sexual and profane materials. Every time she describes these things, Mark gets visibly uncomfortable, usually leaving the room or asking her to stop. This character represents the theme of the movie and how men get uncomfortable with women expressing their sexualities and desires. When he discovers that she works in a porno theater, he looks revolted and leaves her at the diner where they are eating. Mark spends most of his time talking about his work. Mark is an investigative reporter. He seems to be investigating organized crime in unions. Mark consistently talks about this with Catherine, but anytime she begins talking about her day, he gets visibly disgusted and uncomfortable. The audience can tell he does not approve of the sexual nature of her job or the effect it is having on their relationship.
The rest of the men in Catherine’s life are not much better. Jose, who seems to be a nice guy looking out for her, comes onto her near the end of the movie, propositioning her to have sex with him. The men in the film all seem to want to fulfill their desires but have no interest in what Catherine desires or wants. The other man, Louie, seems to be connected to what Mark is investigating. He participates in shady deals in back alleys and appears to work for a union doing obvious criminal things, but the movie is not interested in this aspect of the character; instead, we see Catherine following him living out a voyeuristic desire. The film doesn’t focus on his criminal activity; that employed as a device for the noirish genre elements. Louie likes to leave vulgar messages on Catherine’s answering machine and eventually takes her out to a baseball game, intending to have sex with her. Louie is called away due to business leaving Catherine at the game alone, seemingly with no intention of ever calling her back. He ignores her advances, only worried about his desires and sexual gain; this is what leads Catherine to follow and stalk him around the city. Rather than getting exposition of Louie’s criminal activity, we instead see the inner desires of Catherine who gets a thrill and pleasure out of stalking Louie.
Variety is a great feminist neo-noir. Its exploration of female sexuality using a primarily dominant male-centric genre is an interesting subversion from the norm. Director Bette Gordon and screenwriter Kathy Acker create an interesting character study that explores female sexuality and desire without using exploitative or misogynistic plot devices. This unique movie is great to watch for Noirvember and offers the audience a unique perspective on a familiar genre.