From the elusive transcendental logic of Mulholland Drive, to Showgirls’ sly satirical embrace of exploitation and excess, to the assumption in Southland Tales ... Meer
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5x5 Films: Movies with a Color in the Title
On this week's five-by-five bonus interlude, London and Benji each present 5 recommendations for films with a color in the title.
ROMEO+JULIET (1996) — I defy you, Dopamine!!!
On this week’s annotated deep dive, The Cultists present Baz Luhrmann’s 90s frenetic teen angst extravaganza, Romeo + Juliet (1996). Known for his kinetic color-fueled explosions of images and sound, Luhrmann's second offering in his “red curtain trilogy” put him on the film world’s map as an Auteur with a distinct and immediately recognizable style. Bright, brash, and unforgiving to anyone who prefers a more minimal Mise-en-scène, Luhrmann’s penchant for decadence was ripe for a world of high octane emotions, brawls, masquerades, and the lush arc of an epic demise. However Luhrmann’s vision of bringing the dusty pages of the oft produced Shakespearean play into the hearts and minds of the notoriously apathetic 90s teenage market was a rather unprecedented and hard sell for commercial studios at the time. Particularly when Luhrmann insisted that not only would he win over a teen audience, he would do it all without altering a single syllable of the original Shakespearean language of the play. And he would use a cast of mostly young people to do it. Luhrmann’s vision succeeded, jumpstarting a subsequent decade stuffed with Shakespearean film adaptations for teens, and yet, ‘R+J’ remains distinct among them all. A burning strange indefinable star that shall not be defied.
Deep dives include: The film’s production history, editing and cinematography; the lineage of the Romeo and Juliet literature cycle that lead to Shakespeare’s 1596 adaptation of the tale; the 1996 film’s comparisons with the exactly 400 years older play; the historical roots of the warring Guelph vs. Ghibelline factionalism that led to such constant civil brawls; how amazing it is that Romeo spends a full third of the play desperately and despondently in love with someone else; why the developing teenage mind lacks impulse control; and why even Dante personally hated the Montagues and Capulets enough to write them into his levels of Hell two centuries before Shakespeare was even born.
Episode Safe Word(s): “impulse control”
THE DREAMERS (2003) - Our Godard and Savior
On this week’s annotated deep dive, The Cultists present Bernardo Bertolucci’s 'The Dreamers' (2003). Known for his “hot house” cinema, in which characters are crammed into isolated intimate spaces until they burst, Bertolucci returns again to offer up a claustrophobic yet sprawling visual love letter to his own memories of the French New wave —albeit through a lens of decadence, incest, and as many Jean Luc Godard references as one can still stuff into such an already compact space. Based on Gilbert Adair’s 1988 novel ‘The Holy Innocents’, which itself is an adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s 1929 novel ‘Les Enfants Terribles’ (The Holy Terrors), The Dreamers purposefully positions itself in a curious temporal space — one in which the continuous creative power of sex and cinema are the only realities worth living for. There’s also just a lot of twincest.
Topics include: Adair’s adaptation of Jean Cocteau for his own 1988 novel, as well as his tweaks when adapting his own work for The Dreamers screen play; The 1968 Parisian student riots; The French New Wave Movement; Auteur theory (and the cinema of Nicholas Ray); The incorporated collage of film references; Bertolucci’s seeming obsession with Jean Luc Godard; the protest-inspiring film archival and preservation efforts of Henri Langlois; the retrospective dark cloud Bertolucci’s past casts on the film today; and what esoteric reference this movie and Joel Schumacher’s 1997 ‘Batman and Robin’ have in common.
Episode Safeword: “vanilla”
VANILLA SKY (2001) — Ice, Ice, maybe.
On this week’s annotated deep dive, The Cultists present Cameron Crowe’s “indie” millennial LowFi-SciFi flick ‘Vanilla Sky’ (2001). The self described American “pop song” remake of the 1997 Spanish film, Open Your Eyes, VS was and remains a film of lukewarm division. Part of that reception has to do with early expectations. Made on a budget of 68 million, staring Tom Cruise, and marketed as a love story, the film that audiences got instead — an unapologetically unreliable plot of paranoia and bio-rapture dreams of immortality, where Cruise is either maimed or masked for 75% of the film — was not exactly what most watchers were anticipating. But when you check all those expectations, lay back, and let the film happen (depending on which of the many interpretations you subscribe to), the movie actually has some interesting things to say. Particularly when taken alongside the original as part of a larger, cyclical whole.
Episode topics include: the production and filming history; the musical inclinations of Cameron Crowe and/vs Nancy Wilson; comparisons to Amenabar’s original 1997 film, Abre Los Ojos; the subtle but blatant homages sprinkled throughout (from Kurt Russell mimicking Greggory Peck to Cruz and Cruise having distinctly French New Wave sex); the film’s original and alternative endings; the foundation of Alcor and the rise of bio-rapture philosophy; and why the most fun interpretation of this film boils down to a warning about the ways in which futurists might succeed in creating their own inescapable secular hell.
Episode Safeword: “awake”
MANIAC (1980) — What rigid collodion you have!
On this week’s annotated deep dive, The Cultists present Bill Lustig’s controversial killer classic 'Maniac' (1980). Initially pitched as "Jaws but on land," Maniac tells the tale of Frank Zito, our man-about-town who can’t help but prowl the streets at night, scalping the women who remind him of dear old dead mom and thumbtacking his permed late-night winnings to stolen store front mannequins. And what’s more, we get to stay with him as he does it. Making the bold decision to focus entirely on our little maniac as the central protagonist, Maniac presents 90 minutes of the life of Frank. No Cops, no Campers, just Frank. And what a life it is.
A self-admitted homage to the great grind house horror flicks of Lustig’s youth, and coming out right on the first wave of a new generation of resurgent horror (with it’s first screening at Cannes even premiering the same weekend as the release of the first Friday the 13th), one would think the world would have been ready for this seedy gore fest of a lone man’s zany past time. But it wasn’t. Reviled by critics as nothing a “civilized” human could stomach, to this day there remains a camp of people who maintain that Maniac is a vile, misogynistic insult to human decency. The other camp, however, sees in its gritty celluloid frames nothing but a shinning gem of genre cinema—an under watched and under appreciated relic of something truly unique. But love it or loathe it, this film seeped into the horror cannon in a way that remains inarguably influential and important. (It’s also just a f*** ton of fun).
Topics Include: Maniac’s production history; Production notes and trivia gleaned from the multiple director commentaries; Tom Savini’s special effects; Kem-Tone film processing, F-stop pushing, and other technical reasons the film looks the way it does; The film’s pioneering of dolby stereo and hi/low frequency sounds; Comparing Frank’s passions, kills, and paraphilia to other real-life serial killers contemporary to the film’s release; and all (or at least many of) the laws and regulations this movie violated in the real world from start to finish during filming (from tricking SAG, to bribing off duty cops to distract subway attendants, to ditching a car filled with blood to disappear in Harlem); and the wonders yet unforgettable smell of rigid collodion...
From the elusive transcendental logic of Mulholland Drive, to Showgirls’ sly satirical embrace of exploitation and excess, to the assumption in Southland Tales that its audience has already read the six-volume source material, some films are simply more “cruel” on their audiences than others. So, please, lie back and let The Cultists be your guides through the paralyzing and perplexing void of arthouse, experimental, avant-garde, "cult,” and otherwise just generally weird WTF cinema.
Because some films just beg to be annotated.