THE NEON DEMON

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The Neon Demon | Nicolas Winding Refn | 2016

It’s like The Neon Demon grabbed a bouquet of lava lamp balloons, floated to peak neo-giallo stylization, but then (sadly) continued to float on into deep space and asphyxiation by atmospheric pressure. Strained Seriousness? More like Strobe-lit Strenuousness (a far cry from the PanthNEON (heh)). Nicolas Winding Refn is an egomaniacal dope, fellas, too much of a vacuous graph-paper conceptual artist to have anything to say about the showbiz vacuity that is the metaphorically bludgeoned subject of his film. It feels like he chipped off a shard or two of David Cronenberg’s vision for Maps to the Stars (a true masterpiece!) and just endlessly lacquered it in the fetishistic mediaphilic self-devouring aestheticism that is this dweeb’s specialty. It’s cinematic Pop Rocks, a gnarly sensory experience until the last crackle goes off and all that’s left is the taste of artificial sugary goop. No wonder wigwam loved this…

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SAMSON AND SUPERMAN — JUST A COUPLE-A HUNKS

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Samson and Delilah | Paramount | Cecile B. DeMille | 1949

Cecil B. DeMille, running out of gas. The glories of Technicolor: pallid Anglo-Saxon flesh coated in cinnamon, trudging across garlic powder sand. Somehow the Bible isn’t as exciting as it used to be. Victor Mature, hunk with an ugly mug, goes Incredible Hulk on the Philistines, led by a cunning but sadly somnambulant George Sanders.  Where’s Chuck Laughton’s maniacal Epicureanism when you need it? Only in the nighttime scenes does the décor flash with color — blues and reds and molten orange. Hedy Lamarr’s close-ups rescue the picture almost single-handedly. That and a lotta jawbone clobberin’!

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Superman: The Movie | Warner Brothers | Richard Donner | 1978

The fine art of fanservice begins here! It’s got all the beats, the in-jokes, the elevated camp that Hollywood is currently force-feeding to audiences the world over. Not even Superman could perform a Heimlich maneuver effective enough to expel all this Marvelverse garbage, and not even Marlon Brando at peak obesity would have tolerated it! As for this ’78 first-course? Meh. There’s some wide-screen facility, some cool production design…but it doesn’t quite thread together. And God Almighty I hate that spin-the-globe ending. Glenn Ford what has become of ye? Good thing the Lester sequels are up next!

A Mid-East Feast! – THE THIEF OF BAGDAD

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The Thief of Bagdad | United Artists | Raoul Walsh | 1924

I’m currently in the thickets of Kevin Brownlow’s ‘Parade’s Gone By,’ the book that might have become sixties cinephilia’s hardbound cause célèbre had Handy Andy Sarris’s checklist for chumps not marked its territory around the same time. Instead of loosely stapled-together cocktail napkin scribbles àla Sarris, Brownlow actually goes and talks to the people who made silent movies, fleshes out director appraisals with technical know-how and edifying anecdotes and an unparalleled sense of how a movie breaks down into its many pieces and parts. One of the perks of this book is that it treats sound cinema as a footnote better left out of the historical record. Even though Wellman and DeMille and Henry King and all those guys made movies well into the fifties, Brownlow only cares about the way their careers arced from the teens to the twenties. It’s refreshing in a big way and, not surprisingly, makes me wanna watch a boatload of silent cinema!!!!

Yesterday I picked a real winner, folks. It’s The Thief of Bagdad from 1924. Auteurists scrabble after this flick cuz Raoul Walsh’s name is on it, but what we really have here is a wonderful three-way convergence of top-tier talent, with the great Doug Fairbanks as the head honcho. Here, the onetime King of Hollywood moves like a pinwheel in the summer breeze, leaping and bounding in mirthful cavort around a big ol’ palatial set, the most glorified playground I’ve yet seen on the silver screen! And who is responsible for this jihadi jungle gym??? The great William Cameron Menzies!!!!!!! Anyone who has seen this film knows that Menzies deserved to retire on his Bagdad work alone. Stylized exoticism with a bit of oblong shaping and just the right balance of negative space, it’s a flickering feast for eyes starved for silents!

And if you’re into the auteurist thing, then there’s lots to talk about regarding Walsh in the infancy of his swashbucklin’ proficiency, learning from Fairbanks the ropes that he would soon wield with a furious vigor in his Warner’s work with Errol Flynn, the only true heir to the Fairbanks fortune reserved only for mustachioed acrobats with star pizzazz!

ALSO: anyone who’s into the fanciful orientalist Arabian Nights shit and can accept Arabs as heroes if brown-face and whacked out mysticism is involved, but who can’t wait to for us to bomb real-life Arabs with buckets of drones, then you can fuck off! This appreciation of Old Hollywood craft is NOT FOR YOU!!!!!!

Cross Country: ITBS LIVE EDITION 6/8/16 8PM EST

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Illusion Travels by Streetcar, after over 100 episodes, has proven itself as THE film podcast par excellence, to trounce all its half-baked buttoned-down blather-fest contemporaries. What makes it so great, and its peers so godawful? Well, it’s the absence of NPR-style ‘respectability’ hosting. No belabored introductions for ‘esteemed guests.’ No “wow, that’s fascinating” or “thank you for joining us” or “the last shot is truly a transcendental moment, in the Bressonian vein.” ITBS is a very focused show, a very direct show, a very erudite show, but it is never so humorlessly any of these things as to discourage a little irreverent sidetracking. Directors under discussion are not there to be fawned over, but to be discussed in concrete historical terms that auteurists generally shy away from. All credit is due to Tom Sutpen who, contrary to the average cinephile, does not find history to be irrelevant. Studio politics, matrices of collaboration and conflict, competing currents in the larger national culture — in short, what movies are actually made of, more so than the lyricism-in-a-vacuum that other cinephiles harp on at length. Perhaps my love of ITBS has a little something to do with the fact that I am a co-host, but there is a reason I was a fan of the show before I became so affiliated.

All of this is the preface to a very exciting announcement, an unprecedented event in ITBS history: our first ever LIVE show, two days from now at 8PM EST. Like any quality show, Illusion Travels by Streetcar has, over the span of two years, forged its own internal behind-the-scenes history: spoofs and spats and all sorts of embarrassments as enacted by a supporting cast of bad and beautiful weirdos. And on this LIVE show, the hosts with the most will be indulging in this scandalous dimension of the podcast, with unedited chitchat informed by listener comments! How do YOU get involved? Simple! Just visit the Illusion Travels by Streetcar facebook group, where the esteemed Tom Sutpen will be providing a link to the livestream. And from there, things get cookin’!

We hope to see you all there!

Re-Watch Ranchero: PETULIA

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Petulia | Warner Brothers | Richard Lester | 1968

Richard Lester, somewhere along the way, accidentally became a modest champion for auteurists. Garbed in quirk (so they say), he wriggled around in big studio productions with a little caustic visual wit and goofball savvy, and shazam!  He’s an artist! And it’s perceptible in everything he made from The Knack to Superman III! Now, this isn’t particularly off-base, I guess. I love Lester! There’s just something about this narrative that sticks in my craw. I guess it’s the fact that auteurism feeds on the myth of artistic consistency and is generally reticent to admit to jagged oeuvres, scattered blips of hackwork and breakthrough unfit for linear graph.

I mean, look, Lester directed this movie called Petulia. You may have heard of it. It’s the natural auteurist reflex to insist that it seamlessly bridges How I Won the War to The Bed Sitting Room, or else is but a mere fragment of the ‘Lester mosaic,’ or whatever bullshit. Doctor, this reflex needs to be corrected, pronto! Petulia is a watershed, an anomaly, a masterpiece where no one could have expected it. I’m hardly interested in Lester as the director of this movie, even, because it’s so ineffable, immersive, flashbulb-imprinted in the ol’ noggin, that to talk in terms of its creation seems perverse, as if the wonders of nature required the existence of an intelligent designer to justify their adoration.

Petulia is the sixties in self-devouring paradox. Its strengths do not gather in one thematic or tonal direction, but drift to opposite polarities. What we have here is a lucid nightmare, misery draped in bright colors, the zeitgeist looking back on its own lagging present. Peripheral comedy commiserates with gut-sunken tragedy, and thanks to a bit of achronological editing – as emotionally intuitive as that method has ever been deployed – the film exists in a state of endless climax, from which there is, naturally, no release.

You walk into this movie, you walk out of it, black box-style. You’re not allowed to scrutinize it from a dispassionate distance, and god help me, you should be thrown in jail for appraising it in terms of its own dismal marketing campaign. On the (forthcoming!) ITBS commentary track, we assess it from inside the experience, and for more on the systemic violence of American culture, on the irreplicable hybridization of color-coded formalism with rack-focused, handheld, improvised volatility, on George C. Scott and Julie Christie and the infinite dimensions of their performances – I highly recommend giving it a listen, in sync with the film. But from my perch here at Rio Bravado, where I can merely refer you to the work in question, I find it utterly disrespectful to ‘analyze’ and thus objectify one of the least tangible films to come out of a Hollywood studio.  So here this entry ends. Watch Petulia, mooks!!!!!