NEW 4K RELEASE! Full Body Massage, an overlooked gem from legendary director Nicholas Roeg, gets to shine with the brilliant new transfer. The erotic thriller follows Nina (Mimi Rogers), a successful art gallery owner, who is getting ready for her regularly scheduled massage. While preparing herself, she remembers previous appointments with her masseuse, Douglas (Christopher Burgard), and how happily they had ended. So Nina isn’t pleased when, instead of young, hot Douglas showing up, she is visited by the longer-in-the-tooth Fitch (Bryan Brown). He explains Douglas had to cancel at the last minute and sent him as a replacement.
Nina reluctantly allows Fitch to go ahead and set up his table, which he adorns with what she takes as mystical knick-knacks. She opines that she doesn’t buy into the mumbo-jumbo side of massage that Fitch seems to specialize in. He counters that the world is in an era of spiritual bankruptcy. He speaks about the parts of massage that transcend the physical sensations. This conversation goes into the nature of how humans relate to each other as well as the mechanics of relationships. This gets Fitch to remember his prior love, Alice (Elizabeth Barondes), and what she taught him on the native reservation. Fitch misses Alice while Nina misses Douglas, and soon enough, these two entangle each other in their lives and beds.
Roeg established himself as the director to be reckoned with right out of the gate. From his work as a cinematographer in the 1960s, he gave us the first serious art movies with rock stars, Performance and The Man Who Fell To Earth. He also harnessed the newfound freedom in cinema by pushing nudity to the breaking limit in Walkabout and Don’t Look Back. So it makes sense that Showtime would get Roeg to helm a body-centric project like this. The reasoning was he would make a sophisticated spanker for the cable channel’s late-night rotation, but Full Body Massage is so much more than a grand symphony of sideboob.
“Fitch misses Alice while Nina misses Douglas, and soon enough, these two entangle each other in their lives and beds.”
The godawful opening credit sequence, which will have plenty of viewers bailing, does suggest otherwise initially. The only other nails sticking out of the boards are some sound issues with a hum in the back of some shots. These elements betray how low of a budget was being worked with. However, once we arrive inside Nina’s house, it starts looking like a Nicholas Roeg movie. Interior spaces get the wildest angles in the tightest spaces, thanks to the camera work by Anthony B. Richmond. We are sent to a breathtaking galaxy of hanging artwork, mirrors, and female flesh.
Screenwriter Dan Gurskis delivers a surprisingly rich storyline considering the constraints of the subject. He wraps the skeleton of the narrative with dialogue carrying some of the densest reflections on interactions ever filmed. There is some weighty stuff going on for a midnight drainer. To say Full Body Massage is merely an erotic drama would be like saying LSD is merely a sugar cube with a little kick. This is educational erotica.
Also, it is remarkably progressive for the mid-90s, as Nina is successful in her own right and the dominant power holder in the sex scenes. This is where the casting of Rogers is a masterstroke. In the parlance of the 20th mid-century, Rogers here has a body that just won’t quit. If you are going to make a movie devoted to the female form, this is the kind of voluptuous figure you want to highlight. Roeg’s showcase of Roger’s form gives Full Body Massage the last great artistic cinematic nudity of the 20th century. How refreshing a lost work by a master has now found its way back to the stream.
"…a lost work by a master..."