Top Ten By Year: 1990 #2 – Goodfellas (US / Scorsese)


tumblr_p4tovb2hKB1saxysao1_540.png

Other 1990 Coverage So Far:
100 (or so) Favorite Images from the Films of 1990
What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1990: A Love Letter
Top Ten By Year: 1990 – Poll Results
#9. Spontaneous Combustion (US/Hooper)
#7. A Moment of Romance (Hong Kong/Chan)
#5. Pump Up the Volume (Canada / US / Moyle)
#4. The Match Factory Girl (Finland / Kaurismäki)
#3: Gremlins 2: The New Batch (US/Dante)

I really didn’t think Goodfellas would be here. As a teenager, Scorsese’s signature work had become a natural favorite. When you’re young and first getting into film, Marty’s shot-in-the-arm kinetics feel like the first time you see fireworks. I remember that my father would crack up along with the mob men as if he was there with them. In my head, that’s the movie it became — dorm room poster canon where Ray Liotta pals around with Pesci and De Niro and lives life on top until he bottoms out. Over the years I didn’t revisit it, and my impression looking back had shrugged itself into a Larry David “eh”: virtuosic but conventional, iconic but signature to a fault. As has proven the case from time to time with this project, rewatching was like seeing it new: “Oh, that’s why people always put this and Wolf of Wall Street together”. 

The camera makes its way down the bar and we overhear a passing exchange between Illeana Douglas and one of her girlfriends. Referring to Tommy (Joe Pesci) she says “He is so jealous. If I even look at anyone else, he will kill me.” She is beaming from ear-to-ear. Her friend congratulates her, “that is great“.  This chasm between what is being said/done and the attitude of those saying/doing it is where Goodfellas’ greatness lies. That gap is also what’s gotten Scorsese in so much asinine hot water, especially when he pushes this dichotomy past its brink in Wolf of Wall Street.

Scorsese’s approach requires a loyalty to the perspectives of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio in WOWS). What springs up in that aforementioned gap are anthropological yet distressingly entertaining studies of insular criminal subcultures that thrive on ego and exclusivity. Our discomfort arises most intensely not through the whats of what we see, but in the unfazed callousness with which we see it. Henry and Jordan only want to talk about, and show us, “the life” and how great (they think) it is. They could give two fucks about the people hurt, demeaned, degraded, or killed by their actions (Henry’s slight discomfort is something he pushes down and doesn’t address in his narration), and the films adherence and loyalty to that attitude allows us to see and feel that callousness even as, especially as, we’re also being entertained.

Goodfellas is a feature-length “let me paint this picture for you”. Henry Hill’s narrative of details, recounted with prideful precision as the filmmaking stylishly keeps up with him, proves his status. If you can describe it, you lived it: you were a somebody. Henry’s personality begins and ends with having had the privilege to observe and participate in these details. We’re bombarded with names, faces, and the ins and outs of how things worked and how things were. Scorsese and co-writer Nicholas Pileggi, adapting his book Wiseguy, forgo plot-based narrative, instead riding high off the thrill of the detail in a world of perceived Gods. How Paulie moved slow because he didn’t have to move for anybody. How Jimmy would give the bartender a hundred bucks for keeping the ice cubes cold. How Vinnie was in charge of the tomato sauce in jail but he’d put in too many onions. It’s all directed with an inviting “com’ere, let me show you somethin” energy and the resurrected glow of nostalgia and crooner tunes.

For Henry Hill, there’s nothing worse than being normal (aka: life outside the Mob). The idea of living any other way “was nuts”. Normal people are just suckers with no balls, neighborhoods “full of nobodies”. At one point, after Henry returns home late and drunk before taking off again, Karen tells him that “normal people don’t act like this”. Henry just laughs at her. This is one of the key mafia perks: the freedom to laugh. In Goodfellas, if you’re one who can’t laugh in a room with those who can, you’re in trouble — because where there’s laughter, there’s violence. A bottle gets smashed over a man’s head: laughter. One man chokes another: laughter. Someone tells a story of beating a man “to a pulp”: laughter. That gap I discussed earlier? In Goodfellas, its most important expression is the gap between laughter and violence. And it’s not just any laughter. It is, as best showcased by Ray Liotta, a desperately feverish laughter. Henry laughs with everything he’s got, as if is life depended on it: an unconscious exorcism.

MV5BYWYxNDBjMzktN2VhYi00YzNjLTgzNWEtOGQ4ZmM3ZWU4MDQwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDIyNjA2MTk@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1504,1000_AL_

Karen (Lorraine Bracco) is lured by the appeal of riches and respect. If Henry “as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster” Hill is all-in from the word go, Karen’s portion of the film tells the story of a skeptical woman gradually seduced into “the life”. Goodfellas is, in part, about how cliches happen; how people end up going down the same paths of countless others. The Karen of the beginning is an outsider: unimpressed by Henry’s manners, impressed by Henry’s status, and repulsed by the other wives and their bad makeup, bad clothes, and shocking gossip. But Henry’s power is a major turn-on, a drug in its own right. Gradually, she ends up living the cliche: marital woes; absentee husband; the long-suffering wife; making a scene at the latest mistress’s home; drugs; complicit but not truly involved. She becomes isolated (“there were never any outsiders”) and accustomed to it (“after a while it all got to be normal”). By the time Karen is fully indoctrinated, the film loses her as a narrator. She’s become indistinguishable from all the rest.

Christina Newland recently wrote a piece for Little White Lies about how Goodfellas is her comfort movie, and I completely get it. I’m always ready put it on again. The smoke screen security and warmth of the Italian-American family provides an extra note of recognition (my mother’s side is fully Italian). And the life Henry Hill shows us is seductive — seductive and funny and horrible. I, like Karen, and like all of them, am always ready to go back.

Top Ten By Year: 1990 #4 – The Match Factory Girl (Finland / Kaurismäki)


Other 1990 Coverage So Far:
100 (or so) Favorite Images from the Films of 1990
What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1990: A Love Letter
Top Ten By Year: 1990 – Poll Results
#9. Spontaneous Combustion (US/Hooper)
#7. A Moment of Romance (Hong Kong/Chan)
#5. Pump Up the Volume (Canada / US / Moyle)
#3: Gremlins 2: The New Batch (US/Dante)

tumblr_nhki369PMu1tvqzv2o2_1280

The ultimate hypnotic: watching the surreal and ungainly machinery made for one specific step in the mass production of one specific product (set me up with a collection of how-see-how-these-are-made segments from Sesame Street of Mr. Rogers and I’m set for life). Aki Kaurismäki’s The Match Factory Girl begins by showing us, step by step, how matches are made. It sets up the world of the Finnish proletariat, in which action and inaction are defined by the inanimate functionality of a machine, and the forever crawl of industrial living. It is a life defined by zombified automation and a lived-in misery so ingrained that it isn’t even experienced as misery, because how can it be when there is no emotional, environmental or experiential spectrum for misery to distinguish itself by?

The notion of a national cinema is, for many reasons, limiting. Yet even today, Finnish cinema still equals Aki Kaurismäki to most. Yet, as can often be the case with festival circuit darlings that crossover into arthouse fame, his films have little appeal or popularity with the Finnish people. This isn’t surprising; The Match Factory Girl feels made for the outsider looking in on an outsider girl in an outsider land. The director says his films are too real for his people, but what this means is that he finds real in the unreal. Kaurismäki’s, as Henry Bacon referred to them, “displacement poetics” are a reality made of unreal dullness, using formal extremes to interpret the essence and spirit (the Sisu, loosely translated as perseverance) of the Finnish working class.

Watching The Match Factory Girl is like competing in both a staring contest and a straight-face contest, and the film won’t give an inch on either front. It is a world of fixed severity where everything is tragic and comic at once, and human existence is such a state of un-being that it makes no difference to the camera whether someone is there or not. It’s as if it doesn’t even notice one way or the other, because here there is no difference between living space and dead space. You keep looking for a slight-of-hand or the tip-off, a sign that life of any other kind exists outside whatever unadorned room we inhabit from scene to scene. It’s there, but only in the distant sounds of outdated jukeboxes and news coverage concerning other countries, further gluing Finland and Iris into some permanent displaced limbo.

Iris’s thankless task is to essentially tap down loose labels and keep a watchful eye on the conveyor belt. The Match Factory Girl reminds me of another ugly duckling tragicomedy, Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse. In both films, the camera is the sole guardian of both Iris and Dawn, yet can only depict their hopeless degradation and loneliness with an air of removed amusement, as if their lives are one long unlucky day so pitifully sad that seeing absurdity in the nihilism is the only option. Each exist right on the cusp of mean-spiritedness.

Match Factory Gril 2

Kaurismäki regular Kati Outinen (marvelous, her face is an immovable canvas anchoring an immovable world) is described here as impenetrable; but she’s not, not really. She’s somewhat paralyzed, unconsciously frozen from knowing she doesn’t matter, not even to her job. She is a permanent deer in headlights, extremely naive, and fully embedded in this world. I want to talk to her, to show her one shred of evidence that life can be better than this. She seems to live in an almost unacknowledged hope that it might go differently one day. When she finally breaks up the monotony of her life by attending a dance and meets a man named Aarne, it does.

You’d think The Match Factory Girl would fit alongside other films that build up to abrupt female violence, such as The Piano Teacher or Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. But Iris’s radial acts are not performed radically. She is not trying to break out of her confines into something better, and there is no burst that breaks her out of the film’s rhythm. She kills with the same unthinking automation with which she, and everyone around her, do everything. There is no sense that something free and better for her is ever remotely viable, or that it’s even something Iris has ever thought about. Not only does Iris’s inner life seem quite bare, but Kaurismäki’s Helsinki is so unyielding and insular that it is unquestionably the only available reality. So, if Finland is this distant planet where nobody ever goes in and nobody ever goes out, and space is shown as unmovable, that makes the few, and uniformly awful people, in her life the only adjustable variable. Not her life, not her environment, not even her freedom. And that’s the comic tragedy at the heart of The Match Factory Girl.

 

Top Ten By Year: 1990 #5 – Pump Up the Volume (Canada / US / Moyle)


 

pump15

Other 1990 Coverage So Far
100 (or so) Favorite Images from the Films of 1990
What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1990: A Love Letter
Top Ten By Year: 1990 – Poll Results
#9. Spontaneous Combustion (US/Hooper)
#7. A Moment of Romance (Hong Kong/Chan)
#3: Gremlins 2: The New Batch (US/Dante)

You’re a teenager in the sanctuary of your room. Safe, but alone in self and in soul. A voice comes from the radio. The distortion is alien, but it’s talking to you instead of down to you, and it sounds confused and pissed off and just a little bit crass. You recognize yourself in the things he says, the voice of someone who not only knows that, in the words of Fiona Apple, “the world is bullshit”, but is trying to grapple with it live and in the moment. It’s the voice of someone who doesn’t have the answers but knows the problems, and the pain of being. Even though you can only hear him, it feels like he sees you. He is a life line, and the only catharsis you’ve currently got.

As we get older, we revisit the put-upon teenage-isms in movies and books with slowly increasing disconnect. It’s only natural. I used to love Ferris Bueller’s Day Off so much that I’d watch it all the time. I thought Ferris and his day of fantasy hijinks were so cool (though I always related to Cameron Frye). But he, and the film, are actually the definition of obnoxious, largely because it buys into Ferris as the second coming of Christ. Don’t trust coming-of-age films that worship their main character. Sincerity is the unpopular approach to the high school film, partly because teenagers hiding behind a wall of wit and sarcasm always has appeal, and partly because coming-of-age narratives tend to be written by self-satisfied adults. Sincerity is a much harder approach, both to pull off and to sell.

“My So-Called Life” pulls off this needle-in-a-haystack sincerity because Angela’s diary-of-absolutes voiceover (“sometimes it seems like we’re all living in some kind of prison, and the crime is how much we hate ourselves”) transport you back to adolescence even as you can feel your remove from it. You remember how it felt to angst-out for the first time, to be trapped in the bubble of high school, and the Chicken Little apocalypse of every experience. We feel the ways we still are, and are not, a teenager — what we took with us and what we left behind. When a lot of onscreen teenagers talk, you can picture a writer back-patting themselves with “damn, that’s good”. With Angela you can’t, because she’s too busy feeling; Claire Danes always delivers her lines as a girl finding her words in the exact moment she says them.

Just like Angela and her voiceover, Mark and his pirate radio are also expressions of existential and unmistakably teenage introspection. Pump Up the Volume is full of lines like “all the great themes have been used up and turned into theme parks” or Nora’s “jam me, jack me, push me, pull me” poetry, baby’s first pangs of nihilism and provocation. But we don’t roll our eyes. Instead we not only recognize being that age, but, like “My So-Called Life”, are brought back to it because of the passion and free-form urgency these creative expressions take. Both “My So-Called Life” and Pump Up the Volume have the same sincerity and honesty to their angst, but Pump Up the Volume trades in solitary heartache for collective generational loneliness and unrest.

We recognize Christian Slater’s familiar “chaos is what killed the dinosaurs, darling” instigator mode. But unlike J.D’s (Heathers) anarchic antagonist (made further untouchable through a satirical wall) or Clarence’s (True Romance) unfortunate Tarantino-ego conduit, in Pump Up the Volume his wised-up persona takes the form of a desperately shy kid who stumbles into the guise of a pirate radio alter ego (it’s the performance of his career by the way). He is just as alone as the kids listening to him. He didn’t start this because he thought he had anything to say or because he thought he could be a voice for anybody. He tells us “you see, I didn’t plan it like this. My dumb dad got me this shortwave radio set so I could talk to my buddies back east. But I couldn’t reach anybody. So I just imagined I was talking to nobody”. Mark doesn’t know how to be so he finds a way to be on the air. As his similarly adrift peers gravitate towards the mysterious Hard Harry, the suburb’s parents and educators see him as an insurgent threat that must be eradicated. Only 30 years old, Pump Up the Volume takes place in a presently unimaginable world where the only possible connective outlet for teenagers takes place within your town and through illegal means. 

Pump_Up_the_Volume_350

Allan Moyle’s films are consistently about the connectivity between outsider music, outsider kids, and outsider culture (other films include Times Square and Empire Records). Part of that “this movie is with us” vibe comes from the fuck the system soundtrack to go with a fuck the system film. Moyle’s musical tastes tend towards underground sounds of the moment. The bands featured cover a wide array of punk, hardcore, alternative, and hip-hop (Sonic Youth, Above the Law, Bad Brains, and The Pixies to name a few), music not only spiritually aligned with the film, but in some cases on the precipice of defining their era to a wider audience. In Pump Up the Volume, music can help you discover identity and find like-minded rebellious expression in the absence of self-expression. The film’s first line is “Do you ever get the feeling that everything in America is completely fucked up?”. He then airs Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” to elaborate and further express that sentiment.

The compassion so central to Pump Up the Volume evolved over time. Originally, Moyle’s much darker script was about of a kid who goes on the air each night intending to kill himself before getting too caught up in talking about it to get around to it. Even though the story was re-conceived to have broader appeal, the focus on suicide, depression, and alienation remain. And while the film is packed with deeply felt cynicism, too much of it at the wrong moment is shown to lead to tragedy. Instead, Pump Up the Volume is hopeful enough to imagine that change is possible through rallying efforts and the power of the individual voice. But, critically, it’s much more centered on authentically communicating the very real hopelessness and epiphany of hypocrisy carried by a lot of post-Reagan youth. It’s a film about how to cope because “high school is at the bottom, being a teenager sucks, but that’s the point, surviving it is the point”: a “you’re not alone” film without any of the misfire and flat sentimentality. It’s about how to get by through activating yourself, and how to hold onto that pain by transforming it into something tangible or uniting because it’s the only thing that’s real.

Pump Up the Volume is to some what “Hard Harry” is to the teenagers populating the film’s suburban Phoenix setting. Though it failed at the box-office, it seems to have had a concretely life-changing impact on a smattering of the Gen-Xers who saw it upon release. Every time I bring it up on social media, at least one person replies back with their memory of seeing the film in theaters and how important and/or life-changing it was to them. Extensive focus is put on watching these kids listen to Mark, because the film is an act of recognition. It recognizes that kids are depressed and suicidal and realizing they are trapped in a system they didn’t choose. There is an emotional momentum to its encouragement to ask yourself what you can do and the ways you can create, speak, and put yourself out there. It sounds lame and didactic but the semi-miracle of this movie is that it’s not. It’s the antidote to John Hughes, and a film that has a much broader, inclusive, and vital application for now.

(Note: this would make a great triple feature with Prayer of the Rollerboys and Class of 1999, two films that are genre tinged but equally about disaffected punk youth. Pump Up the Volume taps into the dystopia occurring in these other two films)

Top Ten By Year: 1990 #7 – A Moment of Romance (Hong Kong / Chan)


tumblr_p2zfs7lz6L1s39ht8o4_540

Other 1990 Coverage So Far
100 (or so) Favorite Images from the Films of 1990
What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1990: A Love Letter
Top Ten By Year: 1990 – Poll Results
#9. Spontaneous Combustion (US/Hooper)
#3: Gremlins 2: The New Batch (US/Dante)

The years 1986 through 1993 mark the final Golden Age of production for the Hong Kong film industry. During this time the industry was operating at the peak of its power and cultural dominance, monopolizing not just the Hong Kong market (the small population of which only ensured so much money), but the broader East Asian market. This included, most crucially, Taiwan, whose pre-sales alone had grown to cover half of a film’s average budget. By the mid 1990s, for a myriad of reasons including (but not limited to), Hollywood pushing into Asian markets, post-handover censorship conflicts, exploding budgets, too many productions, and a financial crisis, the Hong Kong film industry took a downturn that it never recovered from (at least not in the same way). As I’d imagine is the case with any 1986-1993 year, 1990 features a wide array of excellent Hong Kong fare. My favorite of them is Benny Chan’s (& Johnnie To & Ringo Lam & Wong Jing among others, all auteurs with influential producer credits on this) doomed young lovers tale A Moment of Romance.

You’ve seen this story before, the tragedy of the good little rich girl and the boy from the wrong side of the tracks. A Moment of Romance takes tried-and-true material and successfully reconsecrates it as the new gold standard for its time and place. In the industry’s well-established tradition of stacking multiple genres on one film, it’s also part-action and part-triad film as well (a then hugely popular genre thanks to John Woo’s game-changing A Better Tomorrow). Its moments of violence are quick and brutal — we tend to see blood as it stains walls, immediately looking like its been there for weeks.

But it’s A Moment of Romance‘s go-big-or-go-home romantic identity that defines it. It  took the posed listless yearning and angst of Wong Kar-wai and altered it into something more palatable for the mainstream Hong Kong audience. By 1990, Wong was making an international arthouse splash with his first two films (As Tears Go By and Days of Being Wild, both featuring Andy Lau), but domestic audiences were not as keen on him. A Moment of Romance takes heartache and gives it plot.

Benny Chan and company lean way into the bombastic teen anguish, employing neon-soaked cinematography, slow-motion, sentimental harpsichord Cantopop songs that echo and chime throughout, and a bountiful number of explosions. A Moment of Romance also feels particularly influenced by Hollywood’s previous decade, specifically in the way it carries over the era of high concept and music video pop filmmaking. The image of Andy Lau in his red helmet on his red motorcycle while Jacklyn Wu rides clings to him from behind in her wedding gown is Patrick Swayze lifting Jennifer Grey level iconic. The film was a massive hit, spawning two sequels, and a bevy of in-movie references and parodies in the years to come. It also helped establish Andy Lau as a heartthrob megastar.

hh

Without the appeal of Andy Lau, the trajectory of A Moment of Romance, for all its style, might not work. This is par for the course re: every onscreen romance. Most of them are likely to contain tropes that play into gender essentialism, and this one is no different. Wah Dee is dangerous; they meet when he kidnaps Jo Jo as a shield to escape from a heist gone wrong. The push and pull between his tough outside and soft inside hurt her just as much as they save her. To be fair, he knows this too. All the barriers surrounding them outweigh their connection.

So you need someone like Andy Lau, who projects both beauty and a sympathetic strain of ache, to make this work. His Wah Dee can’t be bothered even as he is visibly deeply aware of everything going on around him. In a performance that has an undeniable James Dean-in-denim quality, he is selling a women want him, men want to be him fantasy. Of course she would follow him to the ends of the Earth even if it’s bad for her — and it’s baby’s first love to boot! But the romance of A Moment of Romance is romantic precisely because of its impermanence.

Wah Dee is so full of torment, and so fiercely protective of both her and his friend Rambo (the great Ng Man Tat!), that instead of just going “ugh, fuck this dude”, you ache for him just like she does, and want (in fact, need!) him to be OK. Lau’s presence provides a believable and compelling springboard to project its at-times objectively troubling fantasy onto. His gift here is that he turns the objective subjective, making the film a case study demonstrating that problematic and desirable are not always mutually exclusive, and in the world of fiction they don’t necessarily have to be.

More than any other genre, the romance lives or dies by casting. And luckily, Andy Lau is the palpable and complicated emotional core at the heart of the extremely extra A Moment of Romance, a throughline amidst all of the bigness, action, and puppy love, that catapults it its status as a *modern classic.

——————————————————————————————————

*Modern classic to Hong Kong and other East Asian audiences. Despite being very well-known, it has yet to have that crossover effect yet with cinephiles (sorry, I know so many of you hate that term!). A large part of this is due to its relative unavailablity here. If you can download it or get a file sent from a friend, or buy an international copy you can play, etc. please seek it out! It only received 2 votes in the poll!!!

Top Ten By Year: 1990 #9 – Spontaneous Combustion (US/Hooper)


EVqtetwXYAArdZH

Next to nothing has been written about Spontaneous Combustion. I could not find evidence of any academic articles, and the broader field of film criticism is almost as dire. There’s a fantastic essay on it as part of the AV Club’s “Overlooked” column, written by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky after Tobe Hooper’s passing. It also received an entry in the Birth Movies Death column “Say Something Nice”, which is about, you guessed it, finding something good to say about a “bad” film (“certainly bad, but enjoyably so”??? Don’t get me started on how disassociated all the pans are from what this movie is). It is always noted as “minor” Hooper, a sorry footnote that continued the downward trajectory of a career marked with firings and failures. And it received only three votes in the Top Ten By Year: 1990 poll results, the respondents of which cover an extremely wide-ranging spectrum of tastes. But I, along with maybe five other people, think Spontaneous Combustion is a major work. Its biggest proponent is the great Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who regularly cites it as a major influence on his work, and names it as one of his three favorite films!

Despite being a horror icon, the majority of Tobe Hooper’s work is largely dismissed. It’s not hard to see why. As Vishnevetsky all too accurately puts it, “his movies just couldn’t get a grip on themselves”. It’s a considerable part of what made him an unmistakable, and erratically uneven, auteur, not just within the scope of his filmography but within the films themselves (even the three all-timers, which is three more than most filmmakers). They all tend to feel one degree away from being unwatchable, executed with feeling over cohesion by fusing some combination of anger and nastiness with transgression and blatant political ire. In Spontaneous Combustion, the destruction and purely unmanageable chaos that Brad Dourif can’t keep inside of him could easily double as a descriptor for Tobe Hooper as a director.

The confounding elaborate conspiracies and rapidly escalating body horror of Spontaneous Combustion (which Hooper has a story and screenwriting credit on) will scramble your brain — as they should. Our inability to keep up with its convolutions put us in the deep end with Sam (Dourif). If your life was revealed to be a manipulated falsehood while, simultaneously, you turned into a pyrokinetic byproduct of nuclear testing: would you be able to make sense of it? It’s like if The Truman Show took place in one day, and instead of Truman trying to get out of Seahaven, a fireball was trying to get out of him.

The love I have for Brad Dourif as a performer is impossible to adequately express, but suffice it to say he’d be in a list of my five favorite living actors (along with, today at least, Song Kang-ho, Denzel Washington, Kurt Russell, and Robert De Niro). Spontaneous Combustion is the perfect example of how crucial he is to any project lucky enough to have him. He has this hypnotic ability to ensure you hang onto his every word regardless of the material’s quality. The sound of his voice is a rolling pull that, to quote Lloyd Christmas of all people, is like a “tractor beam….sucks you right in”. There is something explosive in him even before casting him in a movie where there’s literally something explosive in him. He embodies the ache of the outside and the inside in equal measure, and can go Big while retaining a crucial emotional transference that ensures he doesn’t become pure spectacle. Watching him in this is agonizing, and essential to the film’s impact, because of course he feels like he’s actually being ripped apart at the seams. His face projects the helpless inability to process the lie of his life…because it’s already ending.

The pall of death hangs heavy over Spontaneous Combustion. That feeling kicks in with the, correctly described by Vishnevetsky, Lynchian opening (usually an overused and lazy descriptor, but I promise it actually applies here and is not just code for “weird”!) in which an Ozzie and Harriet-like couple become test subjects for an anti-radiation vaccine. The American Dream is depicted as pure governmental exploitation, a bargain and commitment to country that guarantees annihilation. The quickness with which Sam’s internal annihilation takes hold, and that the crumbling of his external life is (while related) not directly caused from the crisis of his body, is overwhelming. It is the total claustrophobia of fate dealing you a bad hand. 

That overwhelming emotional weight that Spontaneous Combustion carries in tow recalls Bob Clark’s masterpiece Deathdream (a film that provoked a once-in-a-half-decade art-instigated emotional exorcism, so I don’t make the comparison lightly). A similar inescapable thrum of sadness runs under both. These are two horror films in which American atrocities are made manifest and metaphor in the human body. However, it is a manifestation of opposites. In Deathdream, Andy, a soldier coming back from Vietnam, is already dead. He is a zombie paper doll with the functionality of a ventriloquist’s dummy that’s been left in an attic corner; a participant and victim of an imperialist war, bringing and spreading that death back home. Sam though, is purely a victim of history; the offspring of a horrific atomic experiment, whose life is marked from day one. One man is lifeless while the other carries too much within him. Both are deadly and both are tragic. To quote Vishnevetsky once again, “the image of flames shooting out of rips and holes in the Dourif character’s skin is a powerful one. It has a sick and sad poetry to it, like Leatherface’s skin mask.”

*I didn’t have room to work it in, but this is a gorgeous film. There are such foreboding use of bright color and atmosphere, empty hallways and spaces

*I also didn’t have room to shout-out Cynthia Bain, the female lead, who is so good here. She reminds me a lot of Radha Mitchell, and I wish her career was more lively.

The “Product as Synergy” era begins: Hollywood in 1990


Other 1990 Coverage So Far:
100 (or so) Favorite Images from the Films of 1990
What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1990: A Love Letter
Top Ten By Year: 1990 – Poll Results
#3: Gremlins 2: The New Batch (US/Dante)

the-player-ss1

The respective Hollywood cinemas of the 1980s and 1990s come with broad and immediate signifiers. For the 1980s it’s the emergence of high concept; the trifecta MTV-ification of music, images, and editing; yuppie & boomer cinema; consensus-driven filmmaking. For the 1990s it’s the gen-X indie sweep; the Miramax era; the software generation; the Spielberg ‘look of wonder’ era of CGI; white teens everywhere; a post-Do the Right Thing-world sadly usurped by a post-Pulp Fiction world. Many of these trends don’t account for, or even factor into, the primary transition between the two eras. So what happened? 1989-1991 is a comparatively ignored pocket of Hollywood history, which is odd considering that it’s ground zero for understanding where we are now. Over the last year, I’ve read several books, many articles, and the majority of the Premiere magazines from 1990. I can’t tell you how many times I thought: “damn, The Player really was a documentary.”

The only proper place to begin is with the multimedia corporatization of Hollywood. Conglomerate buy-outs in the industry weren’t new. In the 1960s, as budgets skyrocketed and box-office tanked, they were recurring lifeboats for a dying and confused industry. What makes this era I’m writing about different is that it’s the moment tie-in merchandising, products with simultaneous reach across various corporate branches and, perhaps most significantly, an unquenchable desire to build increasingly gigantic global media empires, all begin to normalize. With the brand new media potential of both cable and VCRs alongside a recent Reagan-era wave of government deregulation, it was increasingly viable for companies to gobble up all the media outlets they wanted in order to build themselves into considerably bigger Goliaths than ever before. This competitive urgency had essentially “indicated the scale of conglomeration necessary” to avoid being left behind, resulting in a big business growth spurt that happened in the blink of a few short years (Owczarski, 94).

In 2001, Variety’s Peter Bart stated, “it’s become a very corporate town. It had not been a corporate town 10, 15 years ago”. The genesis of this industry overhaul unofficially began in 1985-1986 when News Corporation bought 20th Century Fox and Turner Broadcasting Company acquired MGM & United Artists. Then, several key mergers in 1989-1990 established a Whale Shark eats Great White pattern that, as Disney’s 2019 acquisition of 20th Century Fox can attest, hasn’t subsided since. In 1989, Japan invested in a big slice of Hollywood when Sony bought Columbia Pictures and Tristar from Coca-Cola for $4.9 billion. Meanwhile, in a deal as messy and convoluted as they come, Time Inc. spent that year configuring a merger with Warner Brothers to become Time Warner Inc. (the merger was officially completed in January 1990). Also in 1989, Gulf + Western dismantled and divested itself to rebrand as Paramount Communications. Lastly, in 1990, Matsushita Electric Industries Co. acquired MCA Inc., which included Universal Studios, for 6.6 billion.

As William A. Kunz puts it, “the studios were no longer the show ponies of diversified industrial conglomerates but rather the content producers of media conglomerates” (Kunz, 30). Hollywood had officially entered the era of “product as synergy”.We enter 1990 buzzing with worry and uncertainty. There was, understandably, a lot of trepidation from those working in the industry about the implications of these mergers, and what the actual New Hollywood would look like (thirty years later the same amplified unease remains). While the effects of these mergers had only just begun to trickle down, the ambitious roll-out and unparalleled success of one 1989 industry-changing juggernaut would dominate both the talk and press of Tinseltown throughout 1990, correctly clocked as the new high-risk standard for “product as synergy” and life under multimedia mergers. That juggernaut was Warner Brothers’ Batman.

batman-still-01

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) has been deemed The Film That Changed Everything, and it undeniably did a great deal to guide the industry out of its transitional and existential New Hollywood period and into a framework of blockbuster filmmaking. But looking back from the vantage point of 2020 Hollywood, The Film That Changed Everything was actually made in 1989 courtesy of Warner Brothers and Tim Burton. Batman was “the first film to demonstrate the power of the franchise in the new corporate environment” (Owczarski, 6). Batman and the Time-Warner merger occurred simultaneously, with the latter being officially announced three months before the release of the former. It would become the highest grossing film of 1989 and the 2nd highest grossing film ever for its time, grossing 250 million domestically. The timelines of the Time/Warner merger and Batman’s production and release are so sloppy and congruent that it’s difficult to trace the specific cause-and-effect they had on each other. However, the two are so interlinked, both logistically and symbolically, that they were often referred to as one and the same, a looming and amorphous uncertainty with only one concretely understood guarantee: big change.

For all the profits Batman raked in at the box office, it made more (oh so much more) through the soon-to-be Time-Warner’s other branches (nobody cashed in more than Jack Nicholson. He was contracted to bank a percentage of the profits from both the film, its merchandising, and its sequels, in which he didn’t even appear. Reports indicate he made at least $90 million as a result). Warner’s co-chairman Terry Semel said, “It was the first time we utilized the whole machine of the company. The marketing, the tie-ins, the merchandising, the international” (Schatz, 93). This is the birth of the franchise, otherwise known as the moment it “becomes impossible to disentangle the film’s success from its corporate base” (Owczarski, 6). Of course, sequels and franchises-in-hindsight existed long before this, but Batman was conceived, constructed, and marketed to hook consumers in a long-term investment of products and merchandise.

batdance-prince

Prince’s (great) Batman album is the perfect example of Warner Brothers playing around with multimedia tie-ins (it also provides an exciting tonal complexity to the film). Initially, Warner Brothers wanted to go even bigger, with a collaboration between Prince and Michael Jackson, but that fell through. Unsurprisingly, Tim Burton did not want Prince’s songs embedded into the film, but he had no say in the matter. By strategically joining one of the world’s most popular musicians into the year’s biggest gambit, the company was able to expand the film’s demographic reach by roping in Prince’s fan base and securing additional Batman revenue/exposure through record sales and chart-topping hits (it was #1 on the Billboard 200). Watching the film now, Batman is perhaps most fascinating as a test-run for crossovers and financial risk-taking.

Part of Batman‘s financial risk came in the form of what we now recognize as the long-term strategic, and expensive, marketing campaign. This meant flooding stores with all the tie-in merchandise you could think of long before the film’s release. Toys meant kids in seats, which meant parents in seats, smoothing over the danger of its PG-13 rating. We also see a key early example of preemptive public opinion prompting a studio to retool its publicity for damage control. In the late eighties, Michael Keaton was seen as more zany than anything else; perched eyebrows with an unhinged smile. News of his casting as Bruce Wayne was met with vocal disapproval and confusion. This, in addition to the Caped Crusader’s then-close association with the Adam West camp series, created the assumption that this would be another goofy Batman incarnation. To combat the bad press, producer Jon Peters (more on this piece of work in a second) made sure a short 30-second teaser hit theaters by Christmas of 1988 (the film was a Summer 1989 release), which enticingly, and unmistakably, established the film’s darker tone. He also came up with the initial poster, which featured no stars, no star names, no tagline, not even the name of the film: just the bat symbol and a date: June 23. It all paid off in spades.

Therefore, when we take a look at Hollywood in 1990, it is a mid-merger post-Batman world where cash overkill and the art of the deal were fast becoming all that mattered. This is most exemplified by the other big industry event of the moment: Warner Brother’s billion-dollar lawsuit against Sony over parasitic wheel-and-deal team Jon Peters and Peter Guber. The hottest producer duo in town, also known as the “Blockbuster Boys”, had finagled their way in as co-heads of Columbia Pictures by way of breach of contract with WB. The two had risen in infamy throughout the 1980s, their names attached to some of the decade’s biggest hits and trendsetters. Between 1988’s Best Picture winner Rain Man and the 5th highest grossing film ever made up to that point (Batman), they were seen as having something of the Midas Touch, creating an impression that they had “such brilliant commercial instincts that maybe they could even run a major studio” (Griffin & Masters).

However, Hollywood was all about illusion, not just within the screen but also outside of it. Peters and Guber were hardly involved with Rain Man at all, and in fact were disinterested in the project. As for Batman, Peters’s contribution was more about syncing up the trailblazing marketing efforts and doing what he did best: bullying the crew, sleeping with the female star, and coming up with big-kid ideas that Tim Burton then had to figure out how to incorporate. There was instinct there, sure, and the men had a keen sense of how to make up for the others weaknesses. But as Hit & Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber Took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood puts it: “their greatest gift was for promotion – usually self-promotion” (as co-heads of Columbia they bottomed out quick, bleeding the studio dry for corporate jets, redesigning the lot, personal chefs, and more. After Guber arranged for Peters to be fired in 1991, he’d leave the studio in 1994 in “one of the most expensive chapters in the history of the entertainment industry”) (Griffin & Masters, 8).

By 1990 “a new breed had invaded”: entrepreneurs from Wall Street “who had come of age during the eighties, men and women who had never built or run a company but who thought of nothing of buying and selling them – before they were thirty.” (Salamon, 296) Hollywood was (is?) a place ticky-tacked together by connections, where “so many uncredentialed, dishonest, and not-bright people succeed because a lot of it depends on who you know. Reality is irrelevant. Perception is everything” (Salamon 367-368). The art of the deal was only half of the hunt: the other half came in the elusive search for the next jackpot ceiling-breaking blockbuster.

In January 1991, a justly alarmed Jeffrey Katzenberg (of all people) sent out a 28-page memo to everyone at Disney warning of the “tidal wave” that was now hitting Hollywood, “a tidal wave of runaway costs and mindless competition”. If you want to know what was going on in Hollywood in 1990, read this memo. If you want to know what’s going on in Hollywood in 2020, read this memo, because Hollywood did not listen to Jeffrey Katzenberg. Jeffrey Katzenberg did not listen to Jeffrey Katzenberg. He painstakingly lays out his concerns over an industry intent on jacking itself up on the “blockbuster mentality” in the midst of an economic recession. Many of these concerns center on the quest for surefire hits fueled by an absence of narrative risk, a surplus of financial risk, and the replacement of theatrical longevity by the pass/fail of opening weekend.

He derided Hollywood as a numbers game, which it was, thanks in part to the abundance of “serious” entertainment business magazines that had cropped up in recent years, including Premiere, Fame, the revived Vanity Fair, Movieline, Entertainment Weekly, and others. He cited 1990’s numerous flops (more on that later) and, most crucially, rapidly escalating budgets that near-guaranteed financial loss even with considerable box-office success. He described the studios as a bunch of lemmings, “racing faster and faster into the sea, each of us trying to outrun and outspend and out-earn the other in a mad sprint toward the mirage of making the next blockbuster”. He stated, “if every studio must aspire to repeat the 1989 success of Batman, then we will undoubtedly soon see the 1990s equivalent of Cleopatra”.

MV5BZDhlNTY1YjMtZjk3OS00ZjNmLWE5NjAtYjUxZDg2ODQzZWU4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjk3NTUyOTc@._V1_

Jeffrey Katzenberg was right on the money. Films had become exorbitantly more expensive, and Batman would only make a pre-existing problem worse. In 1979, the average production cost 8.9 million to make. A mere eleven years later that figure had shot up to 26 million, not including an additional average of 11.6 million to market. (Salamon). In 1978, Brian De Palma’s The Fury, a decently budgeted film with big stars and special effects made hot off the success of Carrie, cost only 2.5 million to make. That’s what Brian De Palma made alone for directing what would become a textbook case flop for decades to come (in part thanks to Julie Salamon’s incomparable production access & subsequent book The Devil’s Candy): Bonfire of the Vanities.

As Katzenberg put it, “this box office mania is fostering a frenzy among actors, writers, directors and their agents as they try to claim their share of the big budget pie”. Executives thought that there existed a concrete recipe for “the big score”, the ingredients of which were comprised of “elements” such as star power and a crack screenplay. The Spec Script tornado, in which completed screenplays were offered to studios through auctions, had begun. In April of 1990, Geffen paid a historic $1.75 million for Shane Black’s The Last Boy Scout (it would flop in 1991. Bruce Willis would blame the bloated budget on unions. Bruce Willis made $14 million off that film.). A mere one year later, Carolco would pay a staggering $3 million for Joe Eszterhas’s Basic Instinct script. It was the domino effect of the bidding war. New standards for the most expensive “____” were immediately replaced by something even more expensive.

Agencies, who had become another game-changing “industry-wide force” by 1987, knew that the studios were willing to pay big for these “elements” (Connor, 142). By controlling and monopolizing talent, and driving home the narrative that their clients were The Key, they exponentially drove up movie budgets on behalf of The Talent (and their own pockets). By 1997, you had Jim Carrey famously banking $20 million to star in The Cable Guy, a number that matched the majority of a film’s total average production cost just 7 years prior. Follow this path down its natural course, as well as Jack Nicholson’s earlier back-end deal, and that’s how we arrive at the kind of performance-based pay deals A-list stars now make, resulting in Robert Downey Jr.’s $75 million pocketed for Avengers: Infinity War.

Katzenberg’s memo was spurred on by his experience with Dick Tracy. If there’s one 1990 film to talk about as the poster child for Batmans upcoming effect on the industry, it’s Dick Tracy. Disney modeled its everywhere-you-turn marketing of the film off Warner Brothers strategy, and it was without a doubt the year’s biggest release. Look up “Dick Tracy” on ebay and you’ll see every piece of merchandise you can think of. Hell, I have a folder, a mug, trading cards, a magnet, and I only like the film! There were three albums released ahead of it, including Madonna’s I’m Breathless (which features “Vogue”!!!). Disney was hoping it would match Batman’s box office (no pressure) which meant that, of course, expectations were not met despite it being the 9th highest grossing film of 1990. Katzenberg wrote, “the phenomenal increase in production and marketing costs for these commercial films has created a climate in which films such as Dick Tracy, grossing 104 million, and Batman, grossing 253 million, have failed to break even in domestic theatrical release”.

On the set of Dick Tracy

At least back then, it was still possible to be hired for a tentpole film because you had a distinctive point-of-view that the studio actually wanted to utilize. Warren Beatty, like Tim Burton, was given a ton of creative freedom on Dick Tracy, topping Burton’s broody Art Deco Gotham City with a 2D color blocked matte-sterpiece aesthetic. In the design of the film, Beatty insisted that everything onscreen stuck “to the vibrant primary colors of the Sunday comic pages”, with costume designer Milena Canonero proposing that the “pallette be restricted to red, yellow, orange, blue, green, fuschia, purple, cyan, black and white.” (Wyatt).

While the year’s biggest release still blissfully allowed, unlike now, for a hyper-stylized deliberately unreal world to be brought to life, Beatty was completely disillusioned with the ramped-up publicity tours and profit obsession of moviemaking. In Peter Biskind’s truly must-read cover story for Premiere’s July 1990 issue, “The Magnificent Obsessions of Warren Beatty”, the writer cannot get one substantive answer about the film from the notoriously stubborn auteur. Beatty is ostensibly there to promote the film, and he’s willing and open to talk about anything Biskind wants, but largely off the record, and not about Dick Tracy! As Beatty offers up clipped dead-ends and philosophical dissections of the simplest questions, it’s impossible to tell him apart from a cringe comedy bit. Biskind asks about the development of the script. “I think whatever I would have to say on that would be dull”. It continues like that, and it rules.

Beatty is asked many questions about salaries and hype and pressure and Batman, all of which he avoids. One thing he does talk about is his disdain for these kinds of questions, stating, “the press is all mixed up between art and commerce. They tell the numbers, the grosses, the negative costs, as if that should matter, culturally” and correctly observing, “cultural respect is paid to the artist with the highest financial profitability”. And the films with the highest financial profitability were getting harder to predict.

fqahajqclwiczcpurm4x

This is a year of notorious flops and surprise successes. Several big-budget, action-oriented sequels (Robocop II, Rocky V, Another 48 Hrs) and star-power films (Days of Thunder, Havana, Air America, The Russia House, The Rookie) tanked. Most lambasted of all was Bonfire of the Vanities, the failure and press assassination of which “came to symbolize the failure of every big-budget disappointment” that Hollywood kept having to reconcile (Salamon). Two of the four gigantic box-office winners of 1990, Ghost and Pretty Woman, had big stars and easy hooks, but in no way were they expected to have the financial and cultural impact that they did. Home Alone, which broke records, stayed at #1 for 12 straight weeks, and went on to become the highest grossing 1990 film, was something nobody could have predicted. And then there was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, made for $13 million by Warner Brothers’ label New Line Cinema, which became the highest grossing independent film ever to that point, making an astonishing $202 million domestically.

Dick Tracy is only one of a number of films by New Hollywood behemoths released in 1990, and they all have one or more of the following in common: long-gestating projects released to box-office and critical disappointment, direct sequels to films that defined 1970s Hollywood, or films that take place in the 1930s or 40s (largely in Los Angeles). The Two Jakes, a sequel to Chinatown set in 1948, reunited Jack Nicholson, Robert Towne, and Robert Evans in the hopes of recreating some of that impeccably bleak magic. It had been in the works and ready to go in 1984, but a host of troubles pushed it back until Nicholson eventually stepped in to direct it himself. It only made $10 million and the reviews were middling.

Peter Bogdanovich also made Texasville, a sequel to his landmark classic The Last Picture Show (both films are adaptations of Larry McMurtry’s books), set 33 years later and featuring much of the same cast. This one had also been in the works for a while — Cybil Shepard was announced as having signed onto the project back in 1986. It made only 2.3 million and reviews were…well, middling. The big 1970s sequel of 1990 was of course Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part III which had all the success these others did not, making money and shoring up a host of Academy Award nominations. Meanwhile, Clint Eastwood made the self-reflective White Hunter, Black Heart, which examines post-war Hollywood and ego during John Huston’s troubled The African Queen shoot. It was received well but it, you guessed it, flopped at the box-office making only $2 million. Finally, Sydney Pollack released Havana, another period film (albeit the late 1950’s) starring a New Hollywood icon (Robert Redford), that would become an oft-cited turkey. It was released in December in the hopes of a big awards and holiday box-office run, but only grossed $10 million back from its very pricey $40 million budget.

bca0ffb2a35386ef2efd603bc3e95966

Surely, any combination of Los Angeles, old-timey gumshoes, eras, or fedoras had recent cache through the enormous success of 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Any signposts from a film that successful will echo in other films for at least a few years, and at the very least will look more appealing to executives. But these films just weren’t what audiences were looking for. Though Dick Tracy and The Godfather Part III were the two “successes” from this group, as I mentioned before, Warren Beatty’s outdated fire hazard status and the film’s impossibly high stakes still marked it a disappointment. These filmmakers wanted to recapture the prestige and stature of their past and the past of their past, but nobody was really buying.

1990 also comes at a major turning point for what we recognize as the American indie’s modern era, which had spent the 1980s organically coalescing from a variety of new voices such as Jim Jarmusch, Lizzie Borden, John Sayles, Spike Lee, Kathleen Collins, Gus Van Sant, the Coen Brothers, Wayne Wang, and many more. However, while the talent was there, the distribution model was not. The video market had created major opportunities, but by the end of the decade, Hemdale Films was about to go under, and companies like Vestron, Cinecom and others had “overextended themselves by investing heavily in larger budget in-house productions” (Perren). The independent distribution model, as well as the idea of a festival marketplace, had not yet materialized.

1989 was the year independent cinema broke wide open. Steven Soderbergh’s debut sex, lies, and videotape, from marking the then-fledgling Sundance as an essential pit-stop and buzz-maker of the indie market to its acquisition and aggressive marketing from Miramax, became the film to kick off a new era of the American indie. This was for better and worse, considering the atrocities of the Weinsteins themselves not to mention Miramax’s gradual placement as a bloated and toxic industry Goliath with an increasingly skewed Disney-owned standard for what qualified as “the little picture”. Nevertheless, Miramax quickly spawned a robust sub-industry of “studio based niche operations” (basically everyone making sure they developed and/or beefed up their own New Line Cinema), and indie blockbusters. (Perren)

house-party-1_gif_static

Among the biggest indie releases of 1990 were Richard Linklater’s Gen-X blueprint Slacker and Whit Stillman’s debut Metropolitan, a tale of hopelessly obsolete young Manhattan socialites. They, along with Hal Hartley’s Trust, continued to cement the youthful talk-fest characteristics that would be associated with this new wave of filmmakers. The 1990s, more specifically the front half, would see a post Do the Right Thing Black cinema boom. Indies such as House Party (a big success), Def by Temptation and To Sleep with Anger (Charles Burnett getting more exposure than ever with his Danny Glover fronted film) continued to build on the gradual variety (I say variety only in pitifully comparative terms — the 1980s was a largely invisible decade for non-white filmmakers or performers, even by the normal low standards) of Black films and filmmakers that the 1990s would showcase. 1991 alone would have many more options.

Looking ahead, the 1990s would only push further in the direction that Katzenberg, and so many others, lamented over. Critics would bemoan the lack of originality in carbon copy genre releases, stars repeating themselves to solidify a reliable persona, and the spectacle of CGI gaining more traction. But the gift of hindsight is a hell of a thing. All of the above was true then, and it’s true now. The outsized budgets have only gotten exponentially more insane, and Hollywood filmmaking would mitigate financial risk as best as they could by distilling all of pop-culture into a flattened conveyer belt of superheroes and reboots devoid of personality or sexuality (fandom creates its own, freeing up the industry from ever having to broach the topic or suggestion of sex at all). The place for other kinds of storytelling thankfully exist, but there’s such a content overload that it’s hard for any single work to make its own impact. These final observations are all in need of their own essays and books and what have you, which I know so many others have written about at length, and far better than I ever could. So I’ll abort this grossly oversimplified last minute rant and return to the blunt point: the past 30 years of Hollywood has been its own evolution, one that branches off in a myriad of trends and developments along the way, where so many different kinds of films now exist somewhere out in the ether, but where event films are where Hollywood, as we think of it now, sadly begins and ends.
Works Cited:

1. Owczarski, Kimberly Ann. “Batman, Time Warner, and franchise filmmaking in the conglomerate era.” (2008)

2. Kunz, William M. Culture conglomerates: Consolidation in the motion picture and television industries. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006.

3. Bart, Peter. Interview by Frontline. Conducted April 21, 2001. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/hollywood/interviews/bart.html

4. Schatz, Terry. “The return of the Hollywood studio system”. Conglomerates and the media. New York: The New Press, 73-106.

5. Griffin, Nancy, and Masters, Kim. Hit and Run. United States, Simon & Schuster, 2016.

6. Salamon, Julie. The Devil’s Candy: The Anatomy of a Hollywood Fiasco. United States, Hachette Books, 2008.

7. Katzenberg, Jeffrey. “Some Thoughts on Our Business”. Originally sent out January 1991. https://lettersofnote.com/2011/11/09/some-thoughts-on-our-business/

8. Connor, J. D.. The Studios After the Studios: Neoclassical Hollywood (1970-2010). United States, Stanford University Press, 2015.

9. Wyatt, Justin. High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood. N.p., University of Texas Press, 2010.

10. Biskind, Peter. “The Magnificent Obsessions of Warren Beatty,” Premiere, July 1990

11. Perren, Alisa. “sex, lies and marketing: Miramax and the development of the quality indie blockbuster”. Film Quarterly, Vol 55, No. 2, Winter 2001. pp 30-39

100 (or so) Favorite Images from the Films of 1990


Top Ten By Year: 1990 Coverage So Far
What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1990: A Love Letter
Top Ten By Year: 1990 – Poll Results
#3: Gremlins 2: The New Batch (US/Dante)

Other Favorite Images Posts: 
100 (or So) Favorite Images from the Films of 1949
100 Images from the Films of 1930 
What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1969 (25 favorite images at the end)

I should note that this isn’t exhaustive, but it’s as exhaustive as I was able to make it! It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyways), that some of these were chosen purely for their aesthetic, some because of what they represent within the film, a few for how they look in motion, and most of them were chosen by some combination of all of the above. There are so many incredible shots I left out that could have easily been here instead. But these are the ones I ultimately went with. I hope you enjoy!

Match Factory Girl, The
The Match Factory Girl (director: Aki Kaurismäki / cinematographer: Timo Salminen)
Mirror Mirror
Mirror, Mirror (director: Marina Sargenti / cinematographer: Robert Brinkmann)
lovers
Lovers Beyond Time (director: Dimitris Panayiotatos / cinematographer: Tassos Alexakis)
singa pore 5
Singapore Sling (director: Nikos Nikolaidis / cinematographer: Aris Stavrou)
In the Cold of the Night 3
In the Cold of the Night (director: Nico Mastorakis / cinematographer: Andreas Bellis)
revenge 1
Revenge (director: Tony Scott / cinematographer: Jeffrey L. Kimball)
hardwere65
Hardware (director: Richard Stanley / cinematographer: Steven Chivers)
Comfort of Strangers, The
The Comfort of Strangers (director: Paul Schrader / cinematographer: Dante Spinotti)
Cyber City
Cyber City Oedo 808 (director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri / cinematographer: Kinichi Ishikawa)
farwell china 2
Farewell China (director: Clara Law / cinematographer: Jingle Ma)
A Moment of Romance
A Moment of Romance (director: Benny Chan / cinematographer: Joe Chan, Horace Wong, Patrick Jim)
Life is Sweet
Life is Sweet (director: Mike Leigh / cinematographer: Dick Pope)
lionheart 11
Lionheart (director: Sheldon Lettich / cinematography: Robert C. New)
A Moment of Romance 3
A Moment of Romance (director: Benny Chan / cinematographer: Joe Chan, Horace Wong, Patrick Jim)
Jacob's Ladder
Jacob’s Ladder (director: Adrian Lyne / cinematographer: Jeffrey L. Kimball)
Reversal of Fortune 2
Reversal of Fortune (director: Barbet Schroeder / cinematographer: Luciano Tovoli)
Days of Being Wild
Days of Being Wild (director: Wong Kar-wai / cinematographer: Christopher Doyle)
grifters (2)
The Grifters (director: Stephen Frears / cinematographer: Oliver Stapleton)
In the Cold of the Night 2
In the Cold of the Night (director: Nico Mastorakis / cinematographer: Andreas Bellis)
A Moment of Romance 2
A Moment of Romance (director: Benny Chan / cinematographer: Joe Chan, Horace Wong, Patrick Jim)
Days of Thunder
Days of Thunder (director: Tony Scott / cinematographer: Ward Russell)
close up (2)
Close-Up (director: Abbas Kiarostami / cinematographer: Ali Reza Zarrindast)
no fear 3
No Fear, No Die (director: Claire Denis / cinematographer: Pascal Marti)
Presumed Innocent
Presumed Innocent (director: Alan J. Pakula / cinematographer: Gordon Willis)
streets (2)
Streets (director: Katt Shea / cinematographer: Phedon Papamichael)
vincent & theo
Vincent & Theo (director: Robert Altman / cinematographer: Jean Lépine
Godfather Part III
The Godfather Part III (director: Francis Ford Coppola / cinematographer: Gordon Willis)
sink or wim
Sink or Swim (director: Su Friedrich / cinematographer: Su Friedrich)
impulse
Impulse (director: Sondra Locke / cinematographer: Dean Semler)
streets
Streets (director: Katt Shea / cinematographer: Phedon Papamichael)

 

Dick Tracy 2
Dick Tracy (director: Warren Beatty / cinematographer: Vittorio Starraro)
Mirror Mirror
Mirror, Mirror (director: Marina Sargenti / cinematographer: Robert Brinkmann)
Exorcist III
The Exorcist III (director: William Peter Blatty / cinematographer: Gerry Fisher)
Frankenhooker 2
Frankenhooker (director: Frank Henenlotter / cinematographer: Robert M. Baldwin)
Ghost 2
Ghost (director: Jerry Zucker / cinematographer: Adam Greenberg)
baby blood (2)
Baby Blood (director: Alain Robak / cinematographer: Bernard Nechet)
misery
Misery (director: Rob Reiner / cinematography: Barry Sonnenfeld)
20200518_114803
Miami Blues (director: George Armitage / cinematographer: Tak Fujimoto)
YUM, YUM, YUM! (1990)
Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taste of the Cajun and Creole Cooking of Louisiana (director: Les Blank / cinematographer: Les Blank)
Goodfellas 2
Goodfellas (director: Martin Scorsese / cinematographer: Michael Ballhaus)
miller's crossing
Miller’s Crossing (director: Joel Coen / cinematographer: Barry Sonnenfeld)
trust
Trust (director: Hal Hartley / cinematographer: Michael Spiller)
king
King of New York (director: Abel Ferrara / cinematographer: Bozan Bazelli)
Bullet in the Head
Bullet in the Head (director: John Woo / cinematographer: Wilson Chan, Horace Wong, Ardy Lam, Somchai Kittikun)
dfdf
Def by Temptation (director: James Bond III / cinematographer: Ernest R. Dickerson)
EYv44yAWAAAHT1K
Blue Steel (director: Kathryn Bigelow / cinematographer: Amir Mokri)
Singapore Sling
Singapore Sling (director: Nikos Nikolaidis / cinematographer: Aris Stavrou)
Darkman
Darkman (director: Sam Raimi / cinematographer: Bill Pope)
miller's crossing (2)
Miller’s Crossing (director: Joel Coen / cinematographer: Barry Sonnenfeld)
screenshot-2020-05-16-at-2.44.56-pm
White Room (director: Patricia Rozema / cinematographer: Paul Sarossy)
Frankenhooker 3
Frankenhooker (director: Frank Henenlotter / cinematographer: Robert M. Baldwin)
king of new york 4
King of New York (director: Abel Ferrara / cinematographer: Bozan Bazelli)
Grifters
The Grifters (director: Stephen Frears / cinematographer: Oliver Stapleton)
Witches, The 2
The Witches (director: Nicolas Roeg / cinematographer: Harvey Harrison)
Jacob's Ladder
Jacob’s Ladder (director: Adrian Lyne / cinematographer: Jeffrey L. Kimball)
tie me up tie me down
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (director: Pedro Almodóvar / cinematographer: José Luis Alcaine)
CktEC7yWYAIx2aq
Cry-Baby (director: John Waters / cinematographer: David Insley)
wild
Wild at Heart (director: David Lynch / cinematographer: Frederick Elmes)
days of being wild
Days of Being Wild (director: Wong Kar-wai / cinematographer: Christopher Doyle)
Edward S
Edward Scissorhands (director: Tim Burton / cinematographer: Stefan Czapsky)
Total Recall 4
Total Recall (director: Paul Verhoeven / cinematographer: Jost Vacano)
Mo Better Blues 2
Mo’ Better Blues (director: Spike Lee / cinematographer: Ernest R. Dickerson)
Prom Night III
Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (director: Ron Oliver / cinematographer: Rhett Morita)
Made in Hollywood
Made in Hollywood (director: Norman Yonemoto)
lovers (2)
Lovers Beyond Time (director: Dimitris Panayiotatos / cinematographer: Tassos Alexakis)
wild oo
Wild at Heart (director: David Lynch / cinematographer: Frederick Elmes)
Witches, The
The Witches (director: Nicolas Roeg / cinematographer: Harvey Harrison)
Joe vs the Volcano
Joe Versus the Volcano (director: John Patrick Shanley / cinematographer: Stephen Goldblatt)
dreams
Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (director: Akira Kurosawa / cinematographer: Takao Saito,
Shōji Ueda
Robocop 2
RoboCop 2 (director: Irvin Kershner / cinematographer: Mark Irwin)
Outlaw Brothers
Outlaw Brothers (director: Frankie Chan / cinematographer: Ma Gwan-hwa)
Dick Tracy
Dick Tracy (director: Warren Beatty / cinematographer: Vittorio Starraro)
def by temotation
Def by Temptation (director: James Bond III / cinematographer: Ernest R. Dickerson)
revenge 212
Revenge (director: Tony Scott / cinematographer: Jeffrey L. Kimball)
nightbreed (2)
Nightbreed (director: Clive Barker / cinematographer: Robin Vidgeon)
In the Cold of the Night 4
In the Cold of the Night (director: Nico Mastorakis / cinematographer: Andreas Bellis)
tumblr_pons3bqpNr1qjkxu4o1_540
Paris is Burning (director: Jennie Livingston / cinematographer: Paul Gibson)
Match Factory Gril 2
The Match Factory Girl (director: Aki Kaurismäki/cinematographer: Timo Salminen)
hardaew
Hardware (director: Richard Stanley / cinematographer: Steven Chivers)
Totaol Recall
Total Recall (director: Paul Verhoeven / cinematographer: Jost Vacano)
f6306ff7-42f5-4182-92ad-0b3055290141
Truly Madly Deeply (director: Anthony Minghella / cinematographer: Remi Adefarasin
To Sleep with Anger
To Sleep with Anger (director: Charles Burnett / cinematographer: Walt Lloyd)
tumblr_porhhcgRwF1qjkxu4o1_540
Paris is Burning (director: Jennie Livingston / cinematographer: Paul Gibson)
prayer of
Prayer of the Rollerboys (director: Rick King / cinematographer: Phedon Papamichael
Made in Hollyd2
Made in Hollywood (director: Norman Yonemoto)
SC 15
Spontaneous Combustion (director: Tobe Hooper / cinematographer: Levie Isaacks)
lovers (3)
Lovers Beyond Time (director: Dimitris Panayiotatos / cinematographer: Tassos Alexakis)
texas
Texasville (director: Peter Bogdanovich / cinematographer: Nicholas Josef von Sternberg)
tumblr_c09b5d63af0a3ae9c094aac0e311a127_82ea405b_540
Child’s Play 2 (director: John Lafia / cinematographer: Stefan Czapsky)
hardware
Hardware (director: Richard Stanley / cinematographer: Steven Chivers)
king of new york 5
King of New York (director: Abel Ferrara / cinematographer: Bozan Bazelli)
Lady Battle Cop 2
Lady Battle Cop (director: Akihisa Okamoto)
janine
Janine (director: Cheryl Dunye / cinematographer: Cheryl Dunye)
Mo Better Blues
Mo’ Better Blues (director: Spike Lee / cinematographer: Ernest R. Dickerson)
Baby Blood
Baby Blood (director: Alain Robak / cinematographer: Bernard Nechet)
without you i'm
Without You, I’m Nothing (director: John Boskovich / cinematographer: Joseph Yacoe)
Frankenhooker
Frankenhooker (director: Frank Henenlotter / cinematographer: Robert M. Baldwin)
Hot Spot
The Hot Spot (director: Dennis Hopper / cinematographer: Ueli Steiger)
Nightbreed
Nightbreed (director: Clive Barker / cinematographer: Robin Vidgeon)
Goodfellas
Goodfellas (director: Martin Scorsese / cinematographer: Michael Ballhaus)
farewell china
Farewell China (director: Clara Law / cinematographer: Jingle Ma)
Gremlins 3
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (director: Joe Dante / cinematographer: John Hora)
Total Recall
Total Recall (director: Paul Verhoeven / cinematographer: Jost Vacano)
predarot 2
Predator 2 (director: Stephen Hopkins / cinematographer: Peter Levy)
Hen His Wife
Hen, His Wife (director: Igor Kovalyov / cinematographer: Iosif Golomb)
SC 5
Spontaneous Combustion (director: Tobe Hooper / cinematographer: Levie Isaacks)
mind's eye
The Mind’s Eye (director: Jan Nickman)
sanctusd o
Sanctus (director: Barbara Hammer)
Lady Battle Cop
Lady Battle Cop (director: Akihisa Okamoto)
mind's eye 2
The Mind’s Eye (director: Jan Nickman)
curse 9
The Curse of Kazuo Umezu (director: Naoko Omi)
ju dou
Ju Dou (director: Zhang Yimou / cinematographer: Changwei Gu, 
Lun Yang
Hen His Wife 2
Hen, His Wife (director: Igor Kovalyov / cinematographer: Iosif Golomb)
Rollercoaster Rabbit
Roller Coaster Rabbit (director: Frank Marshall & Rob Minkoff)
sanctus
Sanctus (director: Barbara Hammer)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten By Year: 1990 #3 – Gremlins 2: The New Batch (US/Dante)


gremlins-2

“If there ever really was a film that I could take credit for, this is the one” – Joe Dante

Warner Brothers needed a hit, and with 1989’s juggernaut industry game-changer Batman they’d get it — but they didn’t know that yet. They just knew that for years they had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get Joe Dante onboard for a sequel to his 1984 smash hit. They also knew they had tried, also unsuccessfully, to get their own Dante-less Gremlins sequel off the ground. But with the looming completion of Warner & Time Inc.’s long-planned and rocky landmark merger, there was a new urgency in scoping out reliable properties with franchise and multimedia tie-in potential. This is how (or as close to it as I can estimate) Joe Dante was essentially offered a carte blanche opportunity with, as Orson Welles famously put it, “the biggest electric train set a boy ever had”. So what did he do with it? Well, what didn’t he do with it?

Gremlins 2: The New Batch sets out to wreak havoc upon everything it could be, everything it sets itself up to be, everything it once was, and everything it can’t help but be. It is designed to feel as if the film we start out watching is suddenly hijacked by hordes of gremlins. All of the careful and economical first act set-up, in which we’re introduced and reintroduced to characters and conflicts, aren’t worth a damn by the 45-minute mark. As Dante and countless others have noted, Gremlins 2 takes the Hellzapoppin’/Looney Tunes anything-goes meta-approach (the film even starts out with a Daffy/Bugs bit courtesy of Chuck Jones). This includes an open hostility towards the first film, from its disregard for The Rules, to the constant delight in finding new ways to torture Gizmo, to the moment when Phoebe Cates, spoofing Gremlins most famous scene, begins to relate another grisly childhood tale (this one seemingly about a molestation) until Zack Galligan’s abrupt “we don’t have time for this” is played for laughs. This mean-spirited streak doesn’t define the film, but it mirrors the critters modus operandi to raze whatever is there or was there, an MO primarily showcased via the unhinged and united spectacle of gleeful destruction and intricate puppetry.

The film becomes a piecemeal pandemonium of non-sequitur homages, pranks, perils, or just hard-partying anarchy, all while being introduced to a series of increasingly eccentric gremlins (“which Gremlins 2 Gremlin are you?” should really carry the cultural equivalence of “what’s your sign?”). At one point, in the ultimate proclamation of chaos reigns (because merely taking over the narrative will not suffice), they disrupt the medium itself, overrunning the projection booth and burning up the film print (or scrambling the TV station depending on which version you watch!) for shadow puppets and vintage nudies. This isn’t a new technique (think the Muppets, Monty Python, “Duck Amuck” and more for self-acknowledging work that breaks through its own confines), but there is something especially wild about the way Dante & company are in lockstep cahoots with the gremlins punk spirit, using a platform as commercial as it gets to essentially play around and fuck shit up. It also foreshadows the direction Steven Spielberg would be taking Amblin Entertainment throughout the 1990s. At one point in “Rollercoaster Rabbit”, Amblin’s 1990 Roger Rabbit short that accompanied Dick Tracy’s theatrical run, a rollercoaster skids off the film reel and into blank space. In addition, their hit show “Animaniacs” (1993-1995) would largely consist of this brand of disruptive wink-wink nudge nudging.

The film’s excessiveness is so preposterous that there’s even a Key and Peele sketch about it in which a “sequel doctor” is brought into a Gremlins 2 brainstorm meeting in order to ecstatically greenlight every exec’s off-the-cuff idea about what kind of gremlins they’d like to see in the sequel. The (hysterical) sketch doesn’t seem to realize that the film is in on the joke, and that both the film and the sketch are lampooning the more! more! more! ethos of Hollywood’s approach to sequels as well as their latent pointlessness.

In a post-sequel world where universes, franchises, and reboots collectively make up almost all of Hollywood’s moneymakers, it’s hard to believe that just thirty years ago most releases were original fare. In 1990, only two out of the ten highest grossing films were sequels (Die Hard 2 & Back to the Future III). Throughout the 1980s, especially the back half, making a sequel to a big hit was becoming an increasingly viable default. Die Hard 2, Predator 2, Robocop 2, Three Men and a Little Lady, Young Guns II, and Another 48 Hrs were just some of the prominent 2s released in 1990. It is in this environment that Dante and screenwriter Charles S. Haas poke fun at the ever-increasing frequency of the sequel. Their targeting of clueless excess is supported by the year’s offerings. Robocop 2 turned nasty and goofy in its attempt to fit four films of plot into one while somehow making it feel like nothing was happening. Die Hard 2 charmlessly repeats itself in an airport. Predator 2 moves the alien out of the jungle and into the urban cityscape. And so on and so forth.

Even though Gremlins 2 takes what would become the familiar sequel-in-the-big-city route (Babe 2: Pig in the City, Predator 2, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, etc.), most of the film is (largely for logistical reasons) confined to eccentric billionaire Daniel Clamp’s (John Glover) conglomerate headquarters. Part of this film’s longevity is its uncannily predictive or still recognizable satire, and first on that front is the Daniel Clamp as Donald Trump (with a dash of Ted Turner since a major satirical target here is the early cable explosion, another predictive feature of this film where satire became reality) figure. This character isn’t surprising given Trump’s especially zeitgeist-y presence in US culture, even more specifically Manhattan culture, in the late eighties and early nineties. John Glover plays him much more endearingly, like a big kid with big ideas that will make him big money. In a now bone-chilling character beat (in the film it is of course played warmly), the lesson Clamp learns is that the key to unlocking even more power is to manufacture small-town nostalgia in order to connect to the people.

Maybe it’s because of Succession or the just, ya know, the world we live in, but it’s hard not to think a lot about the way outsized power is measured by the level by which it can be consolidated. It turns out that the confines of the Trump Tower Clamp Center aren’t confines at all. Clamp’s power is so wholesale that anything and everything you can think of exists in this one building: a mall, a scientific research laboratory, property development offices, smart technology, and, because consolidated power in modern times is inextricable with the media and advertising, an all-encompassing cable network. Daniel Clamp’s conglomerate power is what allows Joe Dante’s carte blanche chaos to thrive. It’s what makes the origins of a vegetable gremlin, a bat gremlin, a brainy gremlin, a spider gremlin, and so on and so forth possible. It’s why Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates are able to have completely different jobs in different fields in the same building. It’s why Gizmo ends up there in the first place! Because the world (Clamp’s logo is a wrench squeezing its firm grip on Earth) is contained in one building, by one man, these filmmakers get to do and be whatever they can think of. That giant creative playground bolstered by unchecked capitalism lends Gremlins 2: The New Batch a bizarre swirl of energy in which one of the most purely fun movies ever made also, in hindsight of its heightened clairvoyance, feels like a disturbing metaphor for the now.

What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1990: A Love Letter


Previous What I’ll Remember Posts:
1925193019431949, 195819651969197819821992

Appetizer: What I Remembered About the Films of 1990:
I turned 3 years old at the end of 1990 — too young to have seen the films that would appear in my childhood at the time of their release. But growing up was peppered with film-specific imprints from 1990 releases. I’m going to start with those:

Misery being the first DVD I ever owned. I remember marveling at the typewriter centric menu (there’s a menu?!?). Up top, flashes of the film intercut with Paul’s steadfast typing and an urgent section of score. I used to watch this a lot as a teenager so I know every beat of its accumulative tension. Let this be a Misery memories dumping ground: the rush of the “Shotgun”-into-credits needle drop starting the exact moment that snowball hits the tree; Caan’s subtle deadpan sass in almost every scene following the forced burning of his manuscript; Reiner channeling Hitchcock so cleanly and effectively; “But I didn’t cheer”; “Bitchly cow corn”; Pills, matches, and penguin chachkis; “Paul, you can’t!” “Why not, I learned it from you” (mike drop, or rather match drop!). The suspense I still feel watching Paul race back to his room

My 4th grade obsession with the Mel Gibson/Franco Zeffirelli Hamlet, starting from a kids summer Shakespeare program I attended. It’s one of the films I watched most growing up, and it’s still my favorite Hamlet adaptation. I’ll never shake off how powerful and permanent it felt to me as a child. Gertrude’s death scene petrified me. Ennio Morricone’s score as patient grim reaper, the slow zoom-in as we watch her piece together the truth, and the almost cartoonish way Close stands, falls, and convulses (her face is the same one she uses right before her “Nancy Reagan chandelier” death in Mars Attacks!) into her final moments bore into me so intensely that watching it again was like unearthing a long-buried strand of my psyche

Home_Alone_1_kissthemgoodbye_net_0311

Too many memories and moments connected to Home Alone to list, but here are a few: hours spent on parsing out the McAllister family tree; “Snakes snakes, I don’t know no snakes”; “maybe he committed suicide”; “Kevin you’re such a disease”; Kevin’s “What??” to his sister’s “you’re what the French call les incompétents“; hating Uncle Frank; skipping the church scene as a kid; is Marv hot? I think Marv might be hot; reciting the film with the blind automation that comes with knowing it by heart

Edward Scissorhands making me super uncomfortable from a very young age. My complicated feelings towards this undeniably gorgeous fairy-tale, & the ultimate manifestation of Tim Burton’s weirdo boy hang-up, stem from the sense that watching it is like being behind the glass wall of some fucked-up social experiment where I know the outcome going in but can’t do anything about it. And, much like Glenn Close’s poison-face, Edward’s face frightens me, mostly during moments played for humor

That time circa 2012 when revisiting The Witches for the first time since childhood resulted in deep-seeded visual memories multiplied by body horror divided by public humiliation = a full-blown panic attack

Not being able to look at the Rescuers Down Under poster we had in our room when I was a toddler because the movie scared me, so the poster scared me even though it’s just cliffs and sun

There’s no way to fully describe this but, more than any other film, DuckTales: Treasure of the Lost Lamp acts as a sense memory key into what childhood felt like. Bits of this are retained in a lot of the stuff I watched as a kid. The Great Mouse Detective, some of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and the opening puppy scenes from Lady and the Tramp are other major examples. But DuckTales isn’t good enough for me to have revisited it outside of childhood, or for it to have had any sort of ongoing presence in my life. So when I put my VHS on, the sounds, the gold, the voices and their intonations all act as a sort of time machine. Not to anything specific, but just the very fact of being a kid. And the fact that it’s so long gone

1990: the year fish-eye lenses sicced horrors on my childhood years with The Witches and Mother Goose Rock n’ Rhyme (the latter made entirely out of the “Whip It” video aesthetic). Two of the scariest films ever made, both shot as if aggressively intent on making the viewer as uncomfortable as possible (The Witches is even scarier than Don’t Look Now, I will not hear otherwise!)

How scared my kid self was when little Christina Ricci gets drunk and almost drowns in Mermaids. Drowning and inebriation were inextricably linked in my head for so many years because this (wow a lot of these memories are fear-based!) 

(Not) Fun memories of my 9th grade English class laughing when Piggy gets crushed by the rock in this year’s version of Lord of the Flies

Gary Oldman’s monologue about the cognizance of death in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Along with Charlie Korsmo’s “We’re going to die. You are going to die” musings in 1991’s What About Bob?, these were the first two times I’d heard my fears & anxiety about death articulated back to me better than I ever could

The Main Course: What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1990

david-lynch-by-anthony-barboza-los-angeles-1989-1990-wild-at-heart-twin-peaks-2
David Lynch by Anthony Barboza

Wild at Heart & the pop-culture dominating 1st season of “Twin Peaks”. 1990 is, perhaps more than any other year, full of David Lynch fever

If I had to pick the actors that defined 1990 they would be: Julia Roberts, Kathy Bates, Jacky Cheung, Anjelica Huston, Joe Pesci, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnny Depp, Fred Ward, and the young women of “Twin Peaks” (primarily Sherilyn Fenn and Mädchen Amick) 

Noir throwbacks with The Two Jakes, Dick Tracy, Love at Large, The Grifters, Miller’s Crossing 

Adrienne Shelly’s purple candy color lipstick and eyeshadow in the opening act of Trust

The worst movies (that I watched) of 1990:
The Local Stigmatic, The Boyfriend School, Flashback, Braindead, The Comfort of Strangers, Repossessed, Shakma, Bonfire of the Vanities, Desperate Hours, Die Hard 2, A Shock to the System, Meridian, The Reflecting Skin

Cry Log 1990:
Life is Sweet (defenses come down for a mother and daughter heart to heart), Gremlins 2 (Gizmo so cute he brings me to tears), Demon Wind (from laughter, the magician kicking cans), Robocop 2 (from laughter, “Born to Be Wild on the fiddle), Awakenings (“learn-learn-learn from me”, the last 20 minutes), Paris is Burning (Venus Xtravaganza)

0a32d-2Young Janet Frame’s torn and forever worn rainbow striped sweater in An Angel at My Table

The characteristic wooden manner of the era’s (often) video-made meta-experiments (such a specific vibe; see also, a lot of low-budget 90s indies). You can feel it wholesale in Privilege, Made in Hollywood, Without You, I’m Nothing, Desire Inc, etc

This moment from Spontaneous Combustion, one of my favorite special effects moments in any movie. Major Prince of Darkness energy

Bright Futures Ahead/Hot Tickets of the Moment (from the point-of-view of 1990, not exhaustive!):
Penelope Ann Miller (Kindergarten Cop, Awakenings, The Freshman, Downtown), Sherilyn Fenn (“Twin Peaks”, Meridian, Wild at Heart), Madonna (Dick Tracy, the hyper-calculated movie star era of her acting career begins), Lena Olin (Havana, hot off Oscar nod for Enemies, A Love Story) Charlie Korsmo (Dick Tracy, Men Don’t Leave), Wesley Snipes (Mo Better Blues, King of New York), Samantha Mathis (Pump Up the Volume), Demi Moore (Ghost), Nancy Travis (Three Men and a Little Lady, Internal Affairs, Air America, Loose Cannons), Madeline Stowe (Revenge, The Two Jakes), Mary McDonnell (Dances with Wolves), Jane Horrocks (Life is Sweet, The Witches, Memphis Belle), Elizabeth Perkins (Avalon, Love a Large, just off Big), John Turturro (Miller’s Crossing, Catchfire, State of Grace, Mo’ Better Blues, Men of Respect), Elizabeth Peña (Jacob’s Ladder, Blue Steel), Balthazar Getty (Lord of the Flies, Young Guns II), Carré Otis (Wild Orchid), Kerry Fox (An Angel at My Table)

The raddest time machine you’ll ever see in Lovers Beyond Time

3 Jim Thompson adaptations: The Grifters, After Dark, My Sweet, and The Kill-Off

The year of sex demons and/or beasts with Night Angel, Crystal Force, Def by Temptation, Grim Prairie Tales, Spirits, Meridian

The Madonna pap smear in Slacker (“that’s like, a medical label, Ciccone?”)

The, as Al Pacino in Heat would call them, “dead-tech” interiors in In the Cold of the Night, The Guardian, Bad Influence, Impulse, and Catchfire

Thinking that Lady Battle Cop was if “Power Rangers” and Robocop had a baby, and sure enough, it was made by Toei!

The wild subplot of Men Don’t Leave in which 17-year old Chris O’Donnell becomes Joan Cusack’s bitch, moving in with her while she ritualistically molds him into her vision of who he should be. And the movie ends with them still together! Except that he has reclaimed his identity by wearing…crop tops!

Virginia Madsen slinking over a staircase balcony flanked by giant stuffed animals saying “Bad boy. Bad baaaad boy” (The Hot Spot)

“You told me a little and hid the rest”, the tragically unfillable hole that is Yuddy (semi Don Draper vibes) in Days of Being Wild

1990, a huge year for Winona Ryder with three films released: Mermaids, Edward Scissorhands, and Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael. And of the three, her best work is in the worst one!

Tianqing drunk and openly sobbing at a communal gathering because he can never be, or be known as, Tainbai’s father in Ju Dou

C1R9VapWEAAyA74

Jenny Holzer art in Catchfire

The Mexican bicycle joust in Quick Change (“It’s bad luck just seeing a thing like that”)

“What’s the rumpus?” (Miller’s Crossing)

Portraits of loneliness in The Match Factory Girl, Edward Scissorhands, Days of Being Wild, and the girl in the painting in The Witches

The amount of times Al Pacino and his botched attempt at a cockney accent say “Hermosa of Selsdon” in The Local Stigmatic

The out-of-this-world climactic chicken warehouse fight between Yukari Oshima, Frankie Chan, Jeff Falcon and Mark Houghton in Outlaw Brothers

The friendship between Kinderman and Father Dyer in Exorcist III. They get, what, two  maybe three scenes together? But it feels like we’ve known their friendship for as long as they’ve known each other

This is the kind of passing exchange in Goodfellas that packs such a punch in that space between what is being said & the attitude of those saying it. The film is full of these, and it’s in this space that it finds greatness

The nourishing noir dress-up of Alan Rudolph’s Love at Large. Tom Berenger plays frog detective and Anne Archer does a femme parody a la Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

The score for Outlaw Brothers just being instrumental versions of Tom Tom Club songs????

The justifiably crowned King of Jump Scares in Exorcist III. Widely acknowledged as the scariest of its kind, yet the instructional “take notes horror filmmakers” potential of its quality has been pretty much ignored across-the-board!

Juliet Stevenson in Truly Madly Deeply, a portrait of grief that would level anyone’s emotional defenses, capturing the push and pull between staying back with memory or moving forward with it

EXln2QOX0AEMJzz

This Jami Gertz look/pose in Don’t Tell Her It’s Me, way too good for any of the wretched people populating this thing

The crazy coincidence that two British films made in 1990 feature scenes involving light bondage and jams/spreads being slathered on the body. Is this a specific thing?
(Life is Sweet and Antonia & Jane)

Blue Steel and Impulse, two films directed by women about women in the force and the thorny intersection of desire, authority, control, and violence in their lives

Dermot Mulroney’s hot shy boy in Bright Angel whining “I just got my ass kicked and I don’t like it”

The absurd wheelchair dick-measuring race between man-children Tom Cruise & Michael Rooker in Days of Thunder!

The sacrifice of perception and relationship for your person in Truly Madly Deeply, emotional kryptonite

Wow, vaporwave aesthetics owe so much to The Mind’s Eye

The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment (it’s literally half a second, would I even be able to find it again?) when two soon-to-be-cooked crawfish scuttle towards each other and embrace in the sweetest of ways
(Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking)

Sheryl Lee Glinda, the Good Witch in Wild at Heart. It’s connected to Laura. Laura encased in orbs, her reach and significance are beyond this world. Lynch is already being pulled by that here

Alternate realities and conspiracy theories abound in Slacker

A peek into the fully formed subculture of NYC ball life in Paris Is Burning. Survival by redefining and reaccumulating family, and making a beautiful spectacle and performance out of the presentation of selves so vigorously denied existence outside the world and rituals of their making. A defining and still-vital cultural touchstone

Brad Dourif staring into the fire in Spontaneous Combustion. The American Dream perished by a network of embers

The steady timbre and baton-passing rhythms and pauses in all of Trust‘s two-person conversations

Virginia Madsen throwing an empty ice cube tray at Don Johnson in The Hot Spot

The extremely unfortunate casting of Madeline Stowe as a Hispanic, complete with accent, in Revenge. Same goes for Nora Dunn in Miami Blues

The room Abel Ferrara makes for the magnetic peculiarities of Christopher Walken & Laurence Fishburne in King of New York. The camera is always drinking them in, allowing for a looseness in performance that locks you in

revenge 212

Revenge should have been about Kevin Costner and Miguel Ferrer getting it on because this might be the sexiest shot of 1990

Scanning the sunflower fields with string-buzzing paranoia in Vincent & Theo

That time Jodie Foster & Dennis Hopper put fireproof hazmat suits on each other & skipped out of their enemies clutches arm-in-arm in Catchfire

Late night phone calls, trumpets, and longing to the sound of Leonard Cohen’s “Ain’t No Cure for Love” in Love at Large

This scene from The Guardian in which scumbag sadists are impaled and decapitated by an evil tree

Annie Potts and her terrible text tees in Texasville

The delayed streak of Post-Top Gun movies with Air America, Fire Birds, Memphis Belle, and Navy SEALs

Exterminators! (John Goodman in Arachnophobia & Brad Dourif in Graveyard Shift)

The use of food as the falseness of family in Goodfellas

Haviland Morris’s old-timey rat-a-tat-tat talking giving Rosiland Russell a run for her money in Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Unmistakable auteurs making bigger movies than they’re used to and retaining all their idiosyncrasies in the process: Nic Roeg (The Witches), John Waters (Cry-Baby), Warren Beatty (Dick Tracy), Sam Raimi (Darkman)

The one-for-the-books elephant scene in Darkman

YUM, YUM, YUM! (1990)All of the one-pot food porn in Yum Yum Yum! A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking

The looming larger-than-life Gothic angel sculptures (a Schumacher trademark) surrounding the med students experimenting with death in Flatliners

The inventive moment when The Hunt for Red October switches its Russian speaking characters to English. A zoom-in on a mouth lingers just long enough for it to have the transitional function of a shimmery dream sequence. The seamless conversion occurs on the word “Armageddon”

An aerosol can strikes out on its own, slowly rolling down the street in Close-Up

God of Gamblers comes out in 1989. 1990 gives us both All for the Winner, which spoofs & shows characters watching that film, and God of Gamblers II, with Andy Lau’s God of Gamblers character teaming up with Stephen Chow’s All for the Winner character!

The dye-mill erotica in Ju Dou

Madelaine X’s music video in White Room 

Lindsay Duncan walked so Tilda Swinton could run (you could also argue Lindsay Duncan ran so Tilda Swinton could walk) (The Reflecting Skin)

The calm insistence of Yuddy’s seductions in Days of Being Wild

Andy Lau, without missing a beat, improvising a weapon out of a pillow case & a pack of beers in A Moment of Romance

Janet Frame stepping into her father’s shoes, and ever-so-slightly miming his mannerisms, as if gently and momentarily possessed in An Angel At My Table

The middle of Hong Kong’s gambling movie craze: God of Gamblers II, All for the Winner, All Risk No Gain, King of Gambler

tumblr_ow2qtcw60M1rf1yd3o9_540

The moment in The Godfather Part III where Vincent (Andy Garcia) shoots Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna) with the “see ya”-esque “Zasa

Take a drink every time Kevin Kline says “I’m Italian!” in I Love You to Death

The film gets hijacked in Gremlins 2: The New Batch

The way Willem Dafoe’s head wobbles slightly, like a defective ventriloquist’s dummy,  during the bank robbery scene in Wild at Heart (“those are dummies, dumm-y“)

That moment when an arcade full of kids just start chucking popcorn at Robocop (Robocop 2)

The Wong Kar-Wai-isms of Days of Being Wild: the myth of the bird with no legs, one-minute friends, clocks, and rooms full of cluttered night-stands, rustled sheets, rotating fans, hanging clothes, and draped bodies full of yearning

The “women are made for tennis” lyric of Lady Battle Cop‘s theme song (which is apparently mistranslated but remains memorable nonetheless)

tumblr_oy7z9lZoqA1qzr7woo2_540

Tim Robbins’s frightened bespectacled boy with a mop of hair look in Jacob’s Ladder. His eyes are like tiny pools of purity constantly making pleas, his terror is so immediate and heartbreaking because of them

The persistent blares of an autobiographical boy and his tuneless trumpet in To Sleep with Anger

There’s something endlessly lovable about Trust, and also deeply melancholy, in a way I can’t quite describe or dissect. I can see myself trying to see further down its soul, and to untangle the place where I and the film meet, for a very long time

The relaxed pace and eternally charged horniness of The Hot Spot. A lust triangle with the good girl and the bad girl, sweating it out across just a few buildings in a dingy town we feel we’ve been to by the end

A few favorite title cards

Double “Freeze! Police!” in Miami Blues

Some actors largely contained to this micro-era: Emily Lloyd, Robin Harris, Bradley Gregg, Charlie Spradling, Traci Lind, Lisa Zane, Amy Locane, Craig Scheffer, Anne Bobby, Harley Jane Kozak, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Cynda Williams, Jenny Wright, Cynthia Gibb, James Lorinz, Patricia Tallman, Robert Oliveri, Dean Cameron

Heartbreaking moments of recognition in Paris Is Burning, of comprehending that the fame and adoration they have extends as far as those city blocks, and that their dreams have probably limits in the intolerant world of their moment (and, so extremely often, our moment too)

The heart of Trust, led by Adrienne Shelly’s uncommonly open performance, brimming with an introspection and blunt curiosity for how a newly self-reflective mind can impact the life as lived

sdsdsdsd

The creative and otherworldly use of what looks like faded color smudges on plexiglass (?) in front of the camera to signify the time machine past in Lovers Beyond Time

The goofy and violent extremes of Baby Blood, a true video nasty-ish b-movie. Brain Damage in the uterus

The bookended fantasy duels of Demoness from Thousand Years. Glowing beads, swords, long flowing sleeves, and flying on a cave set. Wuxia at its most charming

Juliet Stevenson when she’s first back with ghost boyfriend Alan Rickman in Truly Madly Deeply, a feeling akin to when two people make a fort and vow never to leave it

There are, and I cannot stress this enough, flowing curtains everywhere in Revenge. Even when Tony Scott is shooting a scene outside he’s like “nope, I need white fabric flowing in the wind!”. Great stuff.

Impulse as major Theresa Russell canon. Powerhouse work utilizing her bold approach in portraying contradictory complicated women. I wish the queasy dynamic between her and George Dzundza had been explored more

John Landis’s great cameo in Spontaneous Combustion & by great I mean he spontaneously combusts & burns to death in a most heinous fashion

The extremely Toy Story 3 energy of Basket Case 2

Paul Gauguin shows Vincent van Gogh the “proper” way to cook, while Tim Roth’s spaced out dagger eyes and wine drooling create a dangerous tension (Vincent & Theo)

There’s something comforting in how unassuming and kind-hearted Texasville is

Italian Caricature Performance Face-Off!: Steve Martin in My Blue Heaven vs Kevin Kline in I Love You to Death

This high af bird in The Mind’s Eye

The way Anjelica Huston in The Witches inadvertently foreshadows 1992’s Death Becomes Her. Eternal youth. The twitchy adjustments of putting yourself back together to hide the grotesque true form. Tight form-fitting dresses and old glamour presentation. Artificial vanity and legendary bitch mode. It’s all there. And to bring it full circle, Robert Zemeckis (director of Death Becomes Her), is directing The Witches remake!

The endearingly offbeat irreverence found in the tunes, style, and humor of Rockula

The confident and at times mesmerizing strangeness of White Room 

That time Tom Cruise and Michael Rooker were late for dinner because they were, fucking — sorry, I mean car-racing (Days of Thunder)

Jan de Bont’s cinematography on The Hunt for Red October, in which submarine interiors glisten with fuzzy pockets of bright light and color against a backdrop of tech screens and buttons, all conveyed without being showy about it

The monstrosity that is Lobo Marunga, the made-up Kiwi persona concocted by romance writer Shelley Long for her brother Steve Guttenberg so he can woo poor unsuspecting Jami Gertz into a false relationship so she can give him the post-chemo companionship he needs. I would not have believed any minute of this film had I not watched it myself (The Boyfriend School)

The uncontrollable electric glee with which Laurence Fishburne goes out in King of New York. Never gives Caruso an inch

The interrogative fetishization of cop gear in Blue Steel

The Beatrice Dalle-ness of Emmanuelle Escourrou in Baby Blood 

Patrick Swayze annoying Whoopi Goldberg by singing “Henry the VIII I am I am” over and over (Ghost)

 No wonder I enjoyed Lisa! I’m a sucker for a. young girl/girls get in over their head stories (I Saw What You Did! or Scream for Help, both of which would make a perfect double feature with Lisa) and b. films that feel like a not-for-kids old-school “Are You Afraid of the Dark” episode (see also from 1990: Mirror Mirror and It)

Patricia Arquette’s blue box from Granny & the end sequence from Made in Hollywood, transcendent & cutting. She walks off the set into gradual black and white before walking back on set into gradual color, choosing to seek a life of fantasy & hopeful stardom through the most artificial form: commercials

An announcement from Clamp Tower: “Fire: The untamed element, oldest of man’s mysteries, giver of warmth, destroyer of forests… right now, this building… is on fire. Yes! The building is on fire! Leave the building! Enact the Age Old drama of Self-Preservation!” (Gremlins 2: The New Batch)

There’s a movie missing from this movie: Desperate Hours, The Guardian 

John Goodman’s jaunt-in-your-step theme music in Arachnophobia

An auction far in the future echoes into the past as Vincent van Gogh decides he wants to become a full-time artist in Vincent & Theo

The intense One-Eyed Jacks/Renault energy of the Marcellus Santos/Juana/Marietta segments of Wild at Heart

Predator 2, Die Hard 2, and Robocop 2 all feeling cobbled together from interference and production meetings, going big and going nowhere

The gift of Phoebe Cates and her animated comedic expressiveness. One of the most likeable people ever put in front of a camera, I really wish she had a much richer career as a comedienne! (Gremlins 2: The New Batch)

The rooted three-dimensional world-building of Nightbreed‘s director’s cut, that uncommon feeling when you sense you’re in a world that’s filled out far beyond what it’s able to show and tell you

The sweet sweet pleasure of watching Carl frantically sweat bullets when he sees that the Rita Miller account has been closed in Ghost

Sy’s improvised keyboard songs (🎵i’ve got psychic anorexia / she’s got spiritual dyslexia / and our parents won’t let us use the car 🎵) in Streets

Charlie Spradling, an actress who had a brief moment of semi-visibility (billing herself as just Charlie) in supporting or bit parts in Mirror Mirror, Wild at Heart, & Meridian

Mel Gibson’s interpretation of Hamlet: boisterous, pained, observant, full of teeth-gnashing wrath. There is something refreshing about a screen actor playing a screen Hamlet. He interprets the text with an emotional interiority rather than a projection of words and tradition. The unpredictable and destructive energy of his agony is a hit! a very palpable hit! (Hamlet)

Mermaids: the opposite of food porn

The “Please Mr. Postman” moment in Jacob’s Ladder

Alex Descas dancing with a woman at the club, a desperate grasp at salvation as he slips further and further into despondent abyss. Denis’s forever focus on touch and the body reflecting back to his intimate time with the animals he trains (No Fear, No Die)

Blackie Tat’s useless fighting style and Yee Mong’s mole in All for the Winner

River Phoenix’s character being named Devo in I Love You to Death

The magnitude of the elaborate sets and wide array of full-body prosthetic designs in Nightbreed

Demon Wind sucks but the completely random magician character and his can-kicking entrance is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen

583184.jpg-r_1280_720-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx

My favorite troll in Troll 2, the cheapest and goofiest of the bunch. Seeing it with an audience last year proved this little guy’s popularity, because we all laughed and clapped every time he was in a shot

The strung-out should-be-iconic would-be murderous duo of William Hurt and Keanu Reeves in I Love You to Death. The way they easily forget the task at hand as they sidetrack themselves into whatever reminds them of whatever is so entertaining and more than worth watching the film for

Bad cops, bad cops: Maniac Cop 2, Streets, Impulse, Blue Steel and King of New York

The confounding elaborate conspiracies and rapidly escalating body horror of Spontaneous Combustion. The looming implosion of a life borne of lies now ending has echoes of the emotional build-up & release that Deathdream made me feel. Think The Truman Show if it took place in one day and instead of him trying to get out of Seahaven, a fireball was trying to get out of him

Dan Hedaya doing master-class work with endless variations of “I know he can get the job, but can he do the job?” and “I’m not arguing that with you” in Joe vs the Volcano

Laura Dern’s trademark hands-in-hair + bend-at-the-knee sexual pangs in Wild at Heart. Through performance, an unconditional visual of sexual desire. It’s as if she carries the world’s lust inside her

Kevin Kline holding up and saying “Mono-Polyyyyyy” in I Love You to Death (you had to be there)

The exact same neon see-through radio and neon see-through phones (those are different though) in Def By Temptation and Spontaneous Combustion 

Jack Nicholson telling Madeline Stowe “I’m trying to be a gentleman here. Now, get on your knees, put your ass in the air, and don’t move until I say to” in The Two Jakes

The way Jon Polito says “ethics” in Miller’s Crossing (“ehttics”)

Sailor and Lula are ready to party. She hotfoots in place, bits of styrofoam bounce like popcorn and the bed pounds like a machine, as we dissolve into the club with red strobes, Powerman, and the same can’t-go-fast-enough sprint-in-place dance
(Wild at Heart)

Bill Nighy being an artist who specializes in photographing series of body parts (“I’m doing elbows next” “He’s going abroad to photograph necks for Vogue” “Maybe he’s sick of toes”) in Antonia & Jane 

20200208_1403551990 Crossover: Stephen Chow wearing a Dick Tracy shirt in All for the Winner

Bless Deborah Reed and her ultimate high-school-theater-kid-playing-to-the-back-row energy before transforming into a Stevie Nicks wannabe who is really into popcorn in Troll 2

In a just world, Jill (Stacey Travis) from Hardware would have a seat alongside Ripley & Sarah Connor

The mousy and earnest Jennifer Jason Leigh in Miami Blues, trying so hard to stand by and stand up for her dreams of the unfulfilling domestic life so many live in

Andy Lau in head-to-toe denim brooding with cigarettes, motorcycle, and destructive emotional hang-ups in A Moment of Romance. The ultimate incarnation of the bad boy archetype

The way Suzanne (Meryl Streep) looks at Doris (Shirley Maclaine) as she performs “I’m Still Here” during the party scene in Postcards from the Edge. Her face holds a lifetime of history and contradictory emotions towards her mother – the entertainment, the attention-grabbing, the pressures of not being that — all in her face. Meryl’s finest acting?

Sharon Stone in Total Recall. That’s it, that’s the observation

The simple transformative magic of the fish lamp in Mermaids

Movies about men in big business, an 80s holdover (Bonfire of the Vanities, A Shock to the System, Pretty Woman, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Ghost)

The undeniable star power of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. The way the camera tries to capture her like lightning-in-a-bottle. Vivian’s sex-work-as-window-dressing is just a front until Richard Gere comes along and shows her that she is, in fact, Julia Roberts. Then all is right with the world

The unkillable serial killer cop and his humongous homemade silencer shotgun in Streets

Isaach de Bankole sullenly observing his close friend publicly and agonizingly bottom out in No Fear, No Die

Childhood as a fluid but immovable collection of incidents, environment, and ritual in An Angel at My Table

EQwdg7SXsAII0MT

Prison garlic sliced translucently thin with a razor blade in Goodfellas

The way young love is expressed through neon, big explosions, fatalistic tropes, aching ballads, and an 80s pop sheen in A Moment of Romance

Chucky’s “Hi, I’m (comic blink to the side)..Tommy!” in Child’s Play 2

The death shriek to end all death shrieks in Lady Battle Cop

The astute acknowledgment in Antonia & Jane that female friends can be susceptible to perceiving and projecting onto friends the things they think they lack themselves. Wish the film had been more about this

Traci-Lords-Cry-Baby-1024x543Traci Lords in Cry-Baby. You love her immediately. Definitive vintage pin-up but with a startling amount of self-possession and character

Preserving our unified time with another in Lovers Beyond Time

A sight you wish you could unsee: Belial gets laid (Basket Case 2)

The spotless bathroom that still needs cleaning and the dreaded cigarette in the sink in Trust 

The bad dancing striptease party in Slumber Party Massacre III

John Waters sustaining Cry-Baby entirely by its delinquent film send-up framework. You keep waiting for the film to start, but it never really does (thankfully it’s a fun framework)

gremlins-2

All Hail Vegetable Gremlin!!! (Gremlins 2: The New Batch)

My 1990 Crushes:
Claire Skinner in Life is Sweet, Andy Lau in A Moment of Romance, Traci Lords in Cry-Baby, Sharon Stone in Total Recall, Tim Roth & Gary Oldman in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Bob Hoskins in Mermaids, Kadeem Hardison in Def by Temptation, Jason Patric in After Dark, My Sweet, Dolph Lundgren in I Come in Peace, Kiefer Sutherland in Flatliners, Don Johnson in The Hot Spot, Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis in Pump Up the Volume, Demi Moore in Ghost, Elias Koteas in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Madonna in Dick Tracy, Kristen Minter in Home Alone, Andy Garcia in The Godfather Part III, Clancy Brown in Blue Steel

The surgical excavation of a soul in suffering in Close-Up

The New York Stock Exchange scenes in Blue Steel. The camera barely acknowledging Ron Silver participating in the daily exorcism of greed and one-upmanship hollering

The faceless purgatorial nightmare of Jacob’s Ladder

“P.S. I wish I could mail this to you.” (Sink or Swim)

Could you imagine if more filmmakers had the precision of William Peter Blatty (The Exorcist III)?

Dtg9y6jUUAAMuWW

That time Brian Thompson kissed Oliver Reed (Hired to Kill)

Joyce Gorenzi and Carina Lau trying to keep it together for the family in She Shoots Straight

Meredyth Herold in Singapore Sling. Think Julie Harris in The Haunting if she were much more theatrically deranged and ripped out of a John Waters film, her every sentence and mannerism peppered and led by the jolts of perverse sexual spasms and infantile presentation

Dennis Hopper directs 2, yes 2, erotic thrillers in 1990. One is the steamy potboiler The Hot Spot and the other is the must be seen to be believed recut debacle Catchfire

In Shredder Orpheus, a DIY skate-rock take on the myth, Orpheus’s lyre is, wait for it, a magic lyre-looking prototype of an electric guitar designed by *Jimi Hendrix!!!
*Jimi Hendrix never designed this

Michael Keaton’s demise in Pacific Heights, which definitely rivals Marion Cotillard’s in The Dark Knight Rises for funniest death scene

The heated and long overdue talk between mother and daughter in Life is Sweet

Trippy new ways of seeing the outrageous architecture of our bodies in Sanctus

The intentionally and effectively jarring fairy tale/metal oscillations in Wild at Heart

That time a black cat forced itself down David Johansen’s throat in Tales from the Darkside: The Movie

Videotaped lovemaking in Flatliners and Bad Influence, the latter a direct reference to Rob Lowe’s 1989 flash point sex tape fiasco

Could/would/should always watch Bill Nunn and Kadeem Harrison fight a sucubus together (Def by Temptation)

The 90s, the decade where the action film reaches its highest relevance, kicking it off with Hired to Kill, Lady Battle Cop, Total Recall, Robocop 2, Tiger Cage II, The Swordsman, Short Time, Predator 2, I Come in Peace, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, The Rookie, She Shoots Straight, Nikita, Days of Thunder, Maniac Cop 2, Navy SEALs, Martial Law, Marked for Death, Lionheart, Island of Fire, Hard to Kill, Bird on a Wire, Death Warrant, Outlaw Brothers, Air America, Another 48 Hrs, Bullet in the Head, etc.

The Exorcist III‘s surreal heaven sequence complete with Fabio and echoes of A Matter of Life and Death

The hilarious sequence in A Chinese Ghost Story 2 where Jacky Cheung is frozen and can only communicate with his eyes

The story of “Polly Perkins” in Metropolitan

The toy factory climax of Child’s Play 2

Chris Sarandon’s immensely watchable Why-Am-I-Here energy in The Stranger Within

Matthew Modine’s self-satisfied whisper to himself, foolishly thinking he’s bested Michael Keaton. No yuppie, you haven’t (Pacific Heights)

The way the camera sees, and the actors articulate, the exact moments Maggie Cheung and Carina Lau register that their relationships with Yuddy are an act of indifference for him (Days in Being Wild)

The hustle & bustle of brutalist spaces in Total Recall (see also: Gremlins 2: The New Batch)

Intimate video confessional pieces from queer filmmakers (Janine, Sink or Swim, Jollies) using experimental film as coming-of-age catharsis

The Old Hollywood torture palace of Singapore Sling. It looks, sounds, and feels just like a studio era melodrama, then adds outsized hysteria, lots of bodily fluids, and BDSM. Laura + Sunset Boulevard x knowing superficiality x Salo = Singapore Sling 

Being in no way prepared for the hellscape descent of Clara Law’s Farewell China. Was expecting something depressing and sobering but it takes all the possible misery and turmoil of the Chinese immigrant experience in America and distills it into a filthy dissociative unbearably bleak nightmare. Miserablism done right. My brain keeps going back to it more than almost anything else I watched for this year

Miserablism done wrong: The Reflecting Skin, an “it insists upon itself’ movie if ever there was one

The way Andy Lau’s police hat covers the top half or his face in Days of Being Wild, and the telephone booth that waits for a call

The touchable textures of Total Recall and Goodfellas. Both have a tactile quality in the cinematography that I can’t put my finger on (they were not shot using the same film stock, though both were shot on different kinds of ARRIFLEX cameras)

The story of Cry-Baby’s father, the Alphabet Bomber, in Cry-Baby

The loyal and laid-back energy between Joel and K in Def by Temptation. James Bond III cannot act at all but his awkwardness creates a nice counterbalance to Kadeem Hardison’s charisma, and the result is a super endearing and believable friendship

Mysterious fragments of a life without you in Farewell China

Carter Burwell’s lilting Irish score for Miller’s Crossing is some serious we’re in the Shire shit

The excruciatingly dull attempt at existentialist art film erotica that is The Comfort of Strangers

tumblr_pl8ogkeP3u1ueapts_12801097738The makeup and matte work on Dick Tracy, gangsters as geometric shapes in a world of primary colors, a world brought to life using the visual schematics of 2D

The won-the-lottery gleam in Bob Hoskins’s eye every time he looks at Cher in Mermaids. You can actually see him thinking “wait, am I dreaming or does she want me?”

Antonio Banderas’s hair metal impression in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

Miller’s Crossing: a quintessential break-up movie!

RIP Robin Harris (House Party, Mo’ Better Blues)

Cyber screens!
(Hardware, Lady Battle Cop, Total Recall, Cyber City Oedo 808, Class of 1999, Darkman, Robocop 2)

Jason Patric’s voiceover narration in After Dark, My Sweet, some of the best ever written (thank Jim Thompson because it’s all from the book) or performed. A sample: “We sat there for another half hour or so, and he was talking every minute of it. The words poured out of his mouth, and they didn’t mean a thing to me. They were just a lot of noises coming from a sickish-looking face. What other people said had never meant a thing to him, and now it was his turn. Now he was meaningless and what he said was meaningless.”

Charlie Korsmo (Dick Tracy, Men Don’t Leave) >>>> Macaulay Culkin (Home Alone)

Surprises (movies I wasn’t expecting much from that I loved): Nightbreed, Presumed Innocent, Prayer of the Rollerboys, Lovers Beyond Time

The unforgivably bad Flashback, which goes from exploiting Dennis Hopper’s iconography for cheap laughs to the sentimental twist that Kiefer Sutherland’s right-wing FBI agent grew up in a hippie commune and was born with the name Free

The shots of Mary Woronov walking down the grocery aisle in Made in Hollywood

Duplicates in Total Recall

The Exorcist III ultimately setting up shop in a jail cell so we can watch Brad Dourif monologue: the dream

Blue Steel getting slack for turning into a salacious over-the-top stalker film, but that preposterous genre lean-in is part of what I love about it so much

Considering the Chinese immigrant experience in America in Farewell China, Full Moon in New York, and Bumming in Beijing 

Tom Hanks breaking out of the zombified and sickly toxic waste dump palette of his job in Joe Versus the Volcano

The playing-house suburbia of Edward Scissorhands where every interior space is designed as kitsch heaven

demon

This animated Hell ghost thing from Demoness from Thousand Years

James Earl Jones’s gum-chewing in The Ambulance, a character quirk that hilariously extends itself into an all-timer onscreen death

Jason Patric’s astonishing performance in After Dark, My Sweet, the quintessential stray dog character, appropriately nicknamed Collie. Boxer’s shuffle, eyes to the ground, is he all there? He straddles that central question throughout like a shifty ragdoll

The badass climactic fight between Joyce Godenzi and Agnes Aurelio in She Shoots Straight. That moment when Aurelio slowly flexes her muscles!

♪ ♪  Hop to it, don’t be late! Hop to it, gotta make it today! ♪ ♪
(Mother Goose Rock n’ Rhyme)

The callous overstuffed misfire that is Robocop 2. One of those movies where everything you can think of seems to happen but in that peculiar way where nothing seems to happen

A new contender for favorite movie montage: women spies in boot camp training for their mission as undercover fashion models! in Hired to Kill

tumblr_nvbi51V5Z41thr7ppo2_540

Dreamy Dolph in I Come in Peace

The adorable Splinter flashbacks to when he’s a rat-in-training in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Shout-out to the baby turtles flashback too!

Annette Bening’s genius performance in The Grifters – the walking contradiction of an intelligent dolt, shimmering through life on the grift when she’s desperate to sparkle. And she does sparkle, the moment she sees John Cusack conning those sailors on the train

Fuzz (The Stranger Within)

The gorgeous LA sleaze of In the Cold of the Night. If lowbrow was less easily dismissed, & if more people knew Niko Mastarokis, his predilection for tech sleaze & the obsessive incorporation of experimental video analog images as a way of sight in both Blind Date & In the Cold of the Night would be very much a film crit topic fav

The nerve of Awakenings has in being both emotionally annihilating and not very good

ES1oQ9iXsAImQuB

Dennis Hopper angsting out with the saxophone, crying, in front of a Bosch painting in Catchfire

Dennis Hopper, so distraught over loving (& by loving i mean obsessing over lingerie polaroids for 2 months) the woman he’s been hired to kill that he stops angst playing the sax to throw the sax against some unbreakable glass….while the sax continues to blare dramatically on the soundtrack

That time when House Party‘s climax was a hip-hop number about not wanting to get gang-raped in prison (“me a homo, that’s a no-no”)

Jeff Fahey & George Dzundza appearing in both Clint Eastwood’s White Hunter, Black Heart and Sondra Locke’s Impulse in the midst of their legal battle & the Warner Brothers trap deal that Eastwood set up for Locke which effectively ended her career

The many similarities between Darkman and Dick Tracy: the post-Batman comic pulp boom, Danny Elfman scores, lots of matte work bringing The City to life, and proposal scenes where the woman says she likes living alone

The pink-purple glow of Mary Lou Maloney in Prom Night III: The Last Kiss

Madonna as icon in Dick Tracy. Deliberate myth-making that works, despite a flat & confusing character, simply because it’s impossible to take your eyes off of her

I’m never attracted to Andy Garcia, but Andy Garcia in The Godfather Part III….hello

Starting with 6 Hong Kong films on my watchlist and gradually adding more until it became 13. By the end, I’d watched (Swordsman, A Chinese Ghost Story II, Outlaw Brothers, Tiger Cage 2, Demoness from Thousand Years, Bullet in the Head, Days of Being Wild, Song of the Exile (Hong Kong/Taiwanese), All for the Winner, Full Moon in New York, A Moment of Romance, Farewell China, She Shoots Straight)

Petting and hugging the German Shepard after Joe’s diagnosis in Joe Versus the Volcano

Eric Roberts in The Ambulance: off-the-wall even for him, full of line deliveries that skip into falsetto, and unconventional speech rhythms that get stuck in your head. I love the gradual realization that the film, & the characters that populate it, are also aware of Roberts’s more alarming qualities, as if the peculiarities of his natural essence were baked into the film after casting. “A lot of people think you’re odd Joshua”

tumblr_ptzr7twaqE1uolidho1_540(1)

The tale of the girl in the painting. A story within a story that leaves such a mark on many who watch it, most especially when they’re young. I’ll find myself thinking about it randomly, staring at the painting in my mind
(The Witches)

Before In Fabric there was I’m Dangerous Tonight. Makes a great double feature with Mirror Mirror!

Surely one of cinema’s most baffling moments: Bob Dylan as a chainsaw wielding artist being interrogated by Dennis Hopper’s unintentional gangster parody in Catchfire

That time when our protagonist just suddenly kills himself to defeat the demon & when everybody gets massacred & the movie doesn’t really follow up on most of this??? I know Hong Kong cinema is a cinema of moments & not continuity but holy smokes!
(Demoness from Thousand Years)

Communicating through video (Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (educational film reel), Hardware, Total Recall, Bad Influence, Desire Inc., Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Frankenhooker, Mo Better Blues, Robocop 2, Shredder Orpheus)

RoboCop_2_1990_Screenshot_1399

The very disturbing animatronics used for busted-up Robocop (Robocop 2)

Recognizing the animation style from Igor Kovalyov’s Eraserhead adjacent, highly recommended short Hen, His Wife & learning that because of this he was sought out to help direct & design “Rugrats” and “Aaaah! Real Monsters!”. It’s that lumpy beady look (the Mushy Cauliflower aesthetic?) of his I love so much. Extremely strange and totally unique

Wishing Gary Oldman played a lovable doofus more (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead)

My adoration for Marina Sargenti’s underappreciated direct-to-video horror film Mirror Mirror. Between the TV movie feel, the persistent presence of a beyond, and the high school setting, its got a slight “Twin Peaks” vibe, which it fitting since it’s the same year the show was a phenomenon 

Elmer Bernstein’s playful (with a dark undercurrent) and permanently “up-to-something” theme for The Grifters. Reminds me of both Danny Elfman’s score for To Die For and Lou Reed’s “Lady Day”

Deborah Rennard’s wardrobe in Lionheart (courtesy of Joseph A. Porro)

Traversing the world of Vincent Van Gogh’s brush strokes in Dreams

Ron Silver in Blue Steel: schizophrenic or sadistic mastermind? The film makes him both and it’s a goofy choice that gradually undermines how unrelenting he is in either mode

This one-for-the-books line delivery in Slumber Party Massacre III (“shewasstuffedinagarbgebginacloset!!!”)

Mister Frost’s kitchen walls, tile work overlaid with a checkered pattern of food Polaroids. He makes the food, collects his photographic trophy, and then…throws the food out! (Mr. Frost)

Anjelica Huston’s undulating back, the exorcism of grief in The Grifters‘ haunting final turn

The way the Mother and Daughter’s fourth wall breaking refracts the isolated madhouse inward while making us secret keepers of their world. In one instance it echoes Spencer Tracy’s fourth wall breaking in Father of the Bride (instead of wholesome wedding stresses we are made privy to mummy incest and disembowelment) (Singapore Sling)

Tinsel in the snow in Dreams

Unintentional cringe comedy acting class in Central Park

Meg Ryan’s Colonel Blimp triple performance in Joe Versus the Volcano

When we watched it in 2017, The Ambulance became a major reference point for Greg & I. We spent the following months regularly quoting it & watching the same clips together. A few highlights (which are completely useless without the context of line delivery): “Hey Robbie POWers!!! Your girlfriend wants ya, I mean fucccccck him”, “You will die. I could’ve cured thousand of people…if it hadn’t been for you–and your comicbookBRAIN!!!! You hadtohaveitall!!!!!”, “I killed mySELFFFFFFF”

MV5BOWNlN2RmYTEtOWRmYS00ZDkyLTk2NzMtZDQ0ZjJjYTUxMjM5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDk2MjQ4Mzk@._V1_

Harrison Ford’s deeply unsexy hair in Presumed Innocent

Ricky Schroder’s in-your-face “HE WILL KEEP” outburst in The Stranger Within

The eye-bulging body-altering special effects of Total Recall

♪ ♪ This is what you want, this is what you get ♪ ♪, the seductive crawl of Public Image Ltd’s “The Order of Death” in Hardware

The heartbreaking pettiness of Su’s father in Sink or Swim

If Gary Oldman as Rosencrantz is Mr. Lovable of 1990, then Patty Mullen in Frankenhooker is the Ms. Lovable. A performance worthy of any physical comedienne, the piecemeal mechanics of her face and body zig and zag (her lip constantly trying to make a beeline off of her face), her “Wanna date?” an automatic recitation delivered with guileless pluck

hqdefault

Can somebody please remaster Mother Goose Rock n’ Rhyme into something better than VHS quality so we clearly witness its school play rainbow splatter insanity?

The interview footage in Mama. Mothers speak candidly and crushingly about the challenges and societal stigmas in raising a disabled child in China. The very act of hearing them speak, and the existence of a film about this social issue, is a political act in and of itself. Unflinching and sparse, and a landmark for Chinese independent cinema

🎵 New York New York 🎵
(Gremlins 2: The New Batch)

A pair of pearl earrings hanging from human organs in Singapore Sling

The crazed smile on Tom Hanks in that courtroom zoom-in in Bonfire of the Vanities. A brilliant performance beat unlike anything I’ve seen from him…and it’s the only good moment of both the film and his performance, because not even reading The Devil’s Candy beforehand could’ve prepared me for this bankrupt compromised nothing of a film

The great Ernest Dickerson and his work in 2 1990 films: Mo’ Better Blues and Def By Temptation. Incredible experiments with beams and coats of sectioned off color lighting

Prosthetics Heaven: Nightbreed, Dick Tracy, The Witches, Basket Case 2

If only Bad Influence had leaned into its homoeroticism or been, you know, good!

A Shock to the System‘s ashes in the face moment 8 years before The Big Lebowski

Winona Ryder’s very endearing delusional breakdown in Mermaids (“I love toast”)

Is there a more era-specific cast than Harrison Ford, Greta Scacchi, Brian Dennehy, Raul Julia, and Bonnie Bedelia in Presumed Innocent?

Shirley Maclaine’s delivery of “TWIRLED UP!” in Postcards from the Edge

The vastly different presence of marbles in In the Cold of the Night and To Sleep with Anger

The tasteless sight of the powers that be behind Desperate Hours making sure Kelly Lynch’s breasts pop out on three seperate and largely humiliating occasions

The visual gag of Edward slowly crouching down out of the frame to put on his pants in Edward Scissorhands. Also the moment he shuffles down the hall like a malfunctioning android after Kim finds him in her bed, my two favorite funny bits

The exhilarating final 20 minutes of Tiger Cage II, featuring 3 non-stop very different martial arts face-offs between Donnie Yen and his opponents

The fascinating and deliberately off-putting presentation of Sandra Bernhard and John Boskavitch’s Without You I’m Nothing. Paying tribute to and mocking lounge acts, the narcissism, the icons, the construction of persona, and the incomparable ability of the entertainer. And she does it all while placing herself in a space of total disinterest

Being convinced that the score for Lionheart was made by someone who thought they were making Bridge over the River Kwai or Lawrence of Arabia or Raiders of the Lost Ark, it is that distracting in its overreach

Lindsay Crouse in Desperate Hours, a performance so fundamentally inept that she’d even feel out of place in a bloated 80s miniseries. It doesn’t help that the incoherent cut of the film makes her presence feel disconnected and from a different story entirely

The full circle journey of Mo Better Blues, even reflected by the bookended swooping camera curls. I wish the journey between A and A2 felt more driven by the jazz-as-capital-F filmmaking instead of drowned out by it, but oh, what Filmmaking it is

rosencrantzguildensterndead3

The adorable pride that Gary Oldman has over his stacked burger in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Sexual tension by way of extremely clumsy lemonade making in Revenge

Bless Jean-Claude Van Damme’s eagerness to show off his bare ass, we are all the better for it (Lionheart)

The candy necklace in Wild at Heart

the genuine surprise of Prayer of the Rollerboys. It received one vote in the poll which led me to look it up (see, this is exactly what I hope the individual ballots can do for people!). I added it in because it sounded ridiculous (Corey Haim goes undercover to stop a white supremacist rollerblading gang that is taking back America after a Japanese takeover dystopia?) but here’s the thing: it’s actually really good. Inherently goofy but so invested in itself that you’re all in. And it’s the same screenwriter as Point Break, so the fraught male bonds in an undercover LA setting is an authentic warm-up for Bigelow’s film a year later, and a really cool lower-tier companion piece in hindsight

Ken Russell popping up in The Russia House as a sassy MI6 agent

cry baby 3The sultry swagger and pent-up sexual energy in Cry-Baby‘s “Please Mr. Jailer” number

The couple of scenes we get with Dinky interacting with her ark full of animals in Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael. Winona has never been more adorable (“Dave, try to be a cut above!”)

I always forget the focus Wild at Heart gives to Sailor and Lula’s conversations. For all the unstoppable sex drive of their relationship, Lynch loves to show them engaging with and accepting the eccentricities of the other via meandering bedside talks borne of stray dreams and the mind’s deepest traumas

Alec Baldwin’s “Get this thing off me, I’m a cop” in Miami Blues. Such a strange emotional quality to the moment, catches you completely off-guard

My Blue Heaven and Goodfellas: the latter based on Nicholas Pileggi’s novel, and the former written by Nora Ephron, who was married to Pileggi, and wrote her comedy based on the research Pileggi had done re: writing Goodfellas. Goodfellas came out one month after My Blue Heaven, a strategic blunder to be sure!

The feeling of solitary interconnected domestic purgatory in Home Stories, in which clips of women from melodramas of the 50s/60s are stitched together in uncanny repetition. This short feels exactly like Audrey’s scenes in Twin Peaks: The Return. They are all stuck there

Avant-garde POVs in Predator 2 and In the Cold of the Night

2 films about disaffected youth using “Head Like a Hole” by Nine Inch Nails which had come out the year before (Class of 1999, Prayer of the Rollerboys)

The (purposely) self-indulgent philosophizing in Metropolitan, young U.H.B (“isn’t it easier just to pronounce it UHB?”) folks trying so hard to talk their way out of the bubble, desperate to convince themselves they aren’t the worst

The (purposely) self-indulgent philosophizing in Slacker, the adjacent musings of hazy Gen-Xers and aged lifers from the fringe

Where do I start with Harvey Keitel in Dario Argento’s The Black Cat segment from Two Evil Eyes? The beret, “it’s a fucking cat, MEOW, MEOW”, “You wish to speak to Mr. Usher? I’m sorry, Mr. Usher is not at home”, the insanity of him putting together a photography book featuring cat abuse and crime scene photos which is not only released but featured in bookstore displays, trying to convince people his girlfriend is alive by pulling a “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” from Home Alone. The list goes on. I even took the time to make a montage of my favorite bits

Loving the revamped Barbara (played by Patricia Tallman) in Night of the Living Dead, her PTSD catapults her into unnerving laser-focused survival mode that is both courageous and troubling. Approach her with caution.

The backstage dressing room scene in Mo’ Better Blues when the other band members rag on Giancarlo Esposito for his white French girlfriend

Screenshot 2019-07-04 at 1.30.56 PM

Lady Battle Cop‘s one earring look (which also doubles as a weapon!)

The Viet Cong sequence in Bullet in the Head, in which violence becomes a forced repeated glitch. No longer violence as John Woo trademark, but trauma rewiring the function of violence

The fact that Streets, Katt Shea’s Corman produced The Terminator but with homeless kids thriller drama, has more notable cinematography than most other 1990 films. The colors of sun-kissed Venice Beach and their dilapidated interiors co-exist as washed-out  spaces

That time kidnappee Jodie Foster coyly tells Dennis Hopper about her really boring recurring dream involving Hostess Snoballs so Dennis Hopper goes and buys her a bed full of Hostess Snoballs and she wakes up in a bed full of Hostess Snoballs and then makes out with Dennis Hopper on a bed full of Hostess Snoballs in Catchfire

EY5H_-DXkAIVvBv

This man who turns around and lo and behold is carrying two gigantic turkeys on his person in Close-Up

Genuinely not knowing if Charles Band just doesn’t realize that the endless parallel slow-motion softcore sequence from Meridian are rape or if he does and doesn’t care. Either way: EEK and SNOOZE

The way punches sound like punches in Miller’s Crossing and not movie punches. Muffled impact and pained groans

The gap year between Do the Right Thing and the all-too impermanent Black Boom of the 90s that would kick off more officially in 1991. To Sleep with Anger, Mo Better Blues, Def by Temptation, and House Party hint at the temporary pivotal shake-up that’s around the corner

Death by digital metronome! (Two Evil Eyes)

Sandra-Bernhardt-still-01


Sandra Bernhard’s closing striptease dance set to “Little Red Corvette”. Camera canvassing, empty venue, both satirical and intentionally sad. Strange and unforgettable. My favorite ending of 1990 (Without You, I’m Nothing)

The unadulterated joy of the following dance numbers: the meringue sequence in My Blue Heaven, the dance-off between Kid ‘n Play vs Sydney and Sharane in House Party (with choreography from the actors themselves), and the end of Mermaids, in which mother and daughters dance (“If You Wanna Be Happy”) through their upbeat table-setting teamwork. This last one meant a lot to me growing up

My love for the daughter’s out-of-nowhere dance routine in Troll 2 runs so deep that I once wasted a full afternoon trying and failing to recreate it

The WASPy legal teamwork and ethical debates in Reversal of Fortune

Meryl Streep’s delivery of “Relax, they’re just blanks. Asshole.” in Postcards from the Edge

tumblr_ndx4qieed11r0fzoyo1_540

Roxy Carmichael’s all-pink room in Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael. (note the X Y & Zee poster and fridge as closet!)

Reversal of Fortune tapping into the external inscrutability of relationships & personality make-ups that build up to crimes in ways that can’t really be explained to anyone on the outside

The dinosaur calling contest in Central Park, surely one of the lamest most uncomfortable things I’ve ever seen

Films that take place removed from any sense of specific time: Metropolitain, Love at Large

Being completely unprepared for the last reel narrative gut-punch and all-around greatness of Presumed Innocent. The perfect legal thriller? Why did anyone continue making these after this? Pakula, I should’ve known!

The blatant Lydia Deetz rip-off of Winona Ryder lookalike Rainbow Harvest in Mirror Mirror (her character also moves into a new house & has a complete disconnect with her mother!). Her fashion is definitely more cutting edge and connected to the times than Lydia

“This is how your life will unravel, Sylvia” The unwinding of a sound recording as curse in Lovers Beyond Time

The only good 10 seconds of Graveyard Shift, when it becomes a film about surfing rats

The big Waiting for Guffman energy of the dinosaur balloon reveal and the rehearsed cornball quality of the City Parks representative’s Dinosaur Day speech in Central Park

Oh yeah, that time when erotic films and/or erotica in film weren’t a needle in a haystack (In the Cold of the Night, Hardware, Presumed Innocent, Total Recall, Prom Night III: The Last Kiss, Pump Up the Volume, Brain Dead, Meridian, Bonfire of the Vanities, Dick Tracy, Nightbreed (director’s cut), Jacob’s Ladder, Ghost, The Comfort of Strangers, Cry-Baby, Mo Better Blues, Revenge, Def by Temptation, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, The Hot Spot, Impulse, The Grifters, Miami Blues, White Room)

tumblr_pj48wzgHkD1wpqdbjo6_r1_1280

The frigid blue early mornings of Reversal of Fortune courtesy of Luciano Tovoli

The aimless cross-cutting that makes up most of Dick Tracy: a shame, really

Feeling guilty for admiring, but not really caring for, some of the experimental what-it-is-to-be-a-woman docu-fictions from this year like Strangers in Good Company, “Desire Inc.”, and Privilege

Jon Polito’s interactions with his kid in Miller’s Crossing (the failed penny trick!)

Paul Anthony’s (of Full Force) delivery of “and just when I was about ready to wax that a-s-s-s” in House Party and Greg’s repeated hysterics over it

The way Tim Roth patiently waits for Gary Oldman’s idiocy to play out with a combination of disgust and fascination in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

People, Rupert Everett really ain’t worth all this obsessive awe (The Comfort of Strangers)

staceykeachclass1999

Stacy Keach with that hair and those eyes eating that banana in Class of 1999

The use of sound in The Exorcist III. Brad Dourif’s voice. Honed in on something at once thunderous and microscopic

The Reggie/reggae joke in I Love You to Death

The non-existent Jack Billingsley in After Dark, My Sweet

The sublime gift of seeing Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, at their prettiest, playing absurdist meta-material off each other in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

tired: Die Hard is a Christmas movie
wired: I Come in Peace is a Christmas movie

Mermaids_Featured_Bathtub

A special shout-out to Marit Allen’s costume design in Mermaids, full of beautiful period pieces, colors, and of course Cher’s iconic mermaid look

The entirety of Repossessed making me supremely uncomfortable. Is the worst offender the Leslie Nielsen tuckus-shaking “Devil with a Blue Dress” performance? Or the 20 minute gym sequence featuring inflatable boobs and women being punched? Or Linda Blair apeing Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice in a very game and earnest attempt at relevance? Or is it…..

The claustrophobia we feel as everyone works Jason Patric over (don’t think he doesn’t know it) in After Dark, My Sweet, and tells him about himself, making us feel cornered at every turn

The distracting discomfort radiating off Jodie Foster in Catchfire, due to the sexual demands of the film and in working with Dennis Hopper. It is palpable

Practicing “femininity” and bodily assessments in the summer woods in An Angel at My Table

John Turturro in Miller’s Crossing really creeps me out in the same way Shannon from “Home Movies” (1999-2004) really creeps me out. I can’t put a coherent explanation to it but they are linked in their transparent slipperiness and their habit of just waiting for you when you enter rooms, For whatever reason makes me more uncomfortable than most things

Favorite Performances (no order):
Harrison Ford in Presumed Innocent, Adrienne Shelly in Trust, Jamie Lee Curtis in Blue Steel, Alec Baldwin in Miami Blues, Theresa Russell in Impulse, Alex Descas in No Fear, No Die, Mel Gibson in Hamlet, Christopher Walken, Laurence Fishburne, and Victor Argo in King of New York, Gary Oldman and Tim Roth in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Kati Outinen in The Match Factory Girl, Eric Roberts in The Ambulance, Jason Patric in After Dark, My Sweet, Glenne Headly in Dick Tracy, Brad Dourif in The Exorcist III, Andy Lau in A Moment of Romance, Stacey Travis in Hardware, Lu Hsaio-Fen in Song of the Exile, Kerry Fox in An Angel at My Table, Lorraine Bracco in Goodfellas, Bradley Gregg in Class of 1999, Sharon Stone in Total Recall, Juliet Stevenson in Truly Madly Deeply, Traci Lords in Cry-Baby, Winona Ryder in Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael, Christian Slater in Pump Up the Volume, Patty Mullen in Frankenhooker, Tim Robbins in Jacob’s Ladder, Timothy Spall in Life is Sweet, Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, Sandra Bernhard in Without You, I’m Nothing, James Caan in Misery, Virginia Madsen in The Hot Spot, Elizabeth Perkins in Love at Large, David Cronenberg in Nightbreed, Chris Eigeman in Metropolitan, John Turturro in Miller’s Crossing, Jon Polito in Miller’s Crossing, Dianne Weist in Edward Scissorhands), Tom Hanks in Joe versus the Volcano, Meg Ryan in Joe versus the Volcano, Corey Haim in Prayer of the Rollerboys

Favorite Characters (no order):
Jill (Stacey Travis, Hardware), Tess (Glenne Headly, Dick Tracy), The Kid (Charlie Korsmo, Dick Tracy), Flattop (William Forsythe, Dick Tracy), Peg Boggs (Dianne Weist, Edward Scissorhands), Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep, Postcards from the Edge), Sheila (Barbara Lee Alexander, Hired to Kill), Stella (Elizabeth Perkins, Love at Large), Jimmy Jump (Laurence Fishburne, King of New York), Maria (Adrienne Shelly, Trust), Matthew (Martin Donovan, Trust), Peg (Edie Falco, Trust), Amador (Miguel Ferrer, Revenge), K (Kadeem Harrison, Def By Temptation), Sivi (Kim Lonsdale, Hired to Kill), Jane (Hayley Man, Farewell China), Rosencrantz (Gary Oldman, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead) Lena (Shannon Tweed, In the Cold of the Night), Dinky Bosetti (Winona Ryder, Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael), Wanda Woodward (Traci Lords, Cry-Baby), Susie (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Miami Blues) Jan Emerson (Ellen Greene, Pump Up the Volume), Lisa (Staci Keanan, Lisa), Elizabeth (Patty Mullen, Frankenhooker), all the Gremlins & Gizmo & Phoebe Cates & Dick Miller (Gremlins 2: The New Batch), Natalie (Claire Skinner, Life is Sweet), Nikki Chandler (Kristen Dattlaio, Mirror Mirror), Fredrick Frenger Jr. (Alec Baldwin, Miami Blues), Inspector Mina Kao (Joyce Godenzi, She Shoots Straight), Kid Collins (Jason Patric, After Dark, My Sweet), Casey Jones (Elias Koteas, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito, Miller’s Crossing), Sydney (Tisha Campbell in House Party), Marv (Daniel Stern, Home Alone), Lori Winston (Anne Bobby in Nightbreed), Helga (Mai Zetterling, The Witches), Roy Bishop (Victor Argo, King of New York)

Least Favorite Characters:
Seth Dove (Jeremy Cooper, The Reflecting Skin), Jim (Anthony Michael Hall, Edward Scissorhands) Paul (Waise Lee, Bullet in the Head), Jeffrey (James Lorenz,  Frankenhooker), Captain Eigerman (Charles Haid, Nightbreed), Lawrence/Oliver (Malcolm Jamieson, Meridian), Carl (Tony Goldwyn, Ghost), Lizzie Potts (Shelley Long, The Boyfriend School), Gus (Steven Guttenberg, The Boyfriend School), Alex (Rob Lowe, Bad Influence), Tianbai (Yi Zhang, Ju Dou), Jinshan in Ju Dou (Li Wei), everybody in The Comfort of Strangers, everyone except Carol Kane (Carol Kane Innocent!, Flashback), Charlie Black (Taylor Nichols, Metropolitan), Cory (Eric Larson, Demon Wind), Norm (Maurice Godin, White Room), Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino, Dick Tracy), Paul Gachet (Jean-Pierre Cassell, Vincent & Theo), Mumbles (Dustin Hoffman, Dick Tracy), Durant (Larry Drake, Darkman), Woman in Black (Anne Lambton, The Witches), Joel (James Bond III, Def by Temptation), Harry Cooper (Tom Towles, Night of the Living Dead), Maria Ruskin (Melanie Griffith, Bonfire of the Vanities), Kimberly Shawn (Adrianne Sachs, In the Cold of the Night), Alex Grey (Tim Conlon, Prom Night III: The Last Kiss) Charles Simon (Arliss Howard, Men Don’t Leave), Dennis Gilley (David Caruso, King of New York), Polonius (Ian Holm, Hamlet), the head square in Cry-Baby, Joe Peretti (Michael Schoeffling, Mermaids), Megan Gordon (Rainbow Harvest, Mirror Mirror), Dr. Juliette Faxx (Belinda Bauer, Robocop 2), Hob (Gabriel Damon, Robocop 2), Danny Pennington (Michael Turney, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

Least Favorite Performances:
everyone in The Comfort of Strangers, Melanie Griffith in Bonfire of the Vanities, Lindsay Crouse in Desperate Hours, Al Pacino in Dick Tracy, Dustin Hoffman in Dick Tracy, Jeff Fahey in White Hunter, Black Heart, Dennis Hopper in Flashback, Bill Pullman in Brain Dead, Richard Dreyfuss in Rosencrantz and Gulidenstern Are Dead, Eric Larson in Demon Wind, James Bond III in Def by Temptation, Madeline Stowe in Revenge, Adrienne Sachs in In the Cold of the Night, Sofia Coppola in The Godfather Part III, Michael Schoeffling in Mermaids, Willard E. Pugh in Robocop 2

QUOTES:

most of the dialogue between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is justifiably seared in my brain, but the following had a profound effect on tween me:
“Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one. A moment. In childhood. When it first occurred to you that you don’t go on forever. Must have been shattering. Stamped into one’s memory. And yet, I can’t remember it. It never occurred to me at all. We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the word for it. Before we know that there are words. Out we come, bloodied and squawling, with the knowledge that for all the points of the compass, there’s only one direction. And time is its only measure.”
(Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead)

Dorian Corey: “I always had hopes of being a big star. But as you get older, you aim a little lower. Everybody wants to make an impression, some mark upon the world. Then you think, you’ve made a mark on the world if you just get through it, and a few people remember your name. Then you’ve left a mark. You don’t have to bend the whole world. I think it’s better to just enjoy it. Pay your dues, and just enjoy it. If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high, hooray for you.”
(Paris is Burning)

“I can’t feel my life”
(Postcards from the Edge)

“When a man stops caring what happens, all the strain is lifted from him. Suspicion and worry and fear, all things that twist his thinking out of focus are brushed aside, and he can see people exactly as they are at last.”
(After Dark, My Sweet)

“I longed to be as full of secrets as she seemed to be, that would prompt a man to discover them”
(An Angel at My Table)

“Nude women! Nude women! Clowns welcome! Nude women!”
(Quick Change)

“There’s nothing the matter with my face. I got character!”
(Cry-Baby)

“Now, be careful! These things are like a bad, fucked up, George Jetson nightmare!”
(Class of 1999)

“You’ve died, and you’re still into party politics?!”
(Truly Madly Deeply)

“What university did you attend?”
“The university of suck my dick!”
(I Come in Peace)

“The stink of death was in the air! He said he knew how to make men sit up and bark!!”
(Quick Change)

“So, what did you do before you signed on with Daddy?”
“I was an advertising librarian for a medical supply company”
“Oh, I have no response to that”
(Joe Versus the Volcano)

“Tell him The Cyclist is part of me”
(Close-Up)

“I’d like to give him a push”
(Mama)

“In a blaze of blood, bones, and body parts, the vivacious young girl was instantly reduced to a tossed human salad, a salad that police are still trying to gather up, a salad that was once named Elizabeth”
(Frankenhooker)

“The acid test is whether you take any pleasure in responding to the question “what do you do?”
(Metropolitan)

“I killed a man I hated today”
(Revenge)

“Dad???”
(The Godfather Part III)

Doris: “I was such an awful mother, what if you had a mother like Joan Crawford or Lana Turner?”
Suzanne: “These are the options? You, Joan, or Lana?”
(Postcards from the Edge)

“How come you never came to see me?”
“Who wanted to see you in a cage, man?”
(King of New York)

I had a bad day, I had to subvert my principles and kowtow to an idiot. Television makes these daily sacrifices possible. Deadens the inner core of my being”
“Let’s move away then”
“They have television everywhere, there’s no escape”
(Trust)

“If he weren’t up there now…I don’t think it would be snowing. Sometimes you can still catch me dancing in it”
(Edward Scissorhands)

“You can’t piss on hospitality!”
(Troll 2)

“Friends is a mental state”
(Miller’s Crossing)

“Stab it and steer”
(Wild at Heart)

“What’s that on your face blubber boy? A booger?”
“Are you blind? It’s a lonely teardrop!”
(Cry-Baby)

 “We have cancer and mongoloid babies and murderers, monsters prowling the planet, even prowling this neighborhood, Father… right now, while our children suffer… and our loved ones die, and your God goes waltzing blithely through the universe like some kind of cosmic Billie Burke”.
(The Exorcist III)

“I don’t know if anyone’s ever told you about me, but I’m a purple people… a person pimple… a people person, there we go”
(Brain Dead)

“You mark me the deepest”
(Wild at Heart)

“You’re the realest person I’ve ever met in the abstract”
(Postcards from the Edge)

“When you love something for what it really is, you leave it alone”
(Yum Yum Yum! A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking)

Your job is making you boring and mean.”
“My job is making me a respectable member of society”
(Trust)

“I come in peace”
“And you go in pieces, asshole”
(I Come in Peace)

“It’s amazing Molly. The love inside, you take it with you”
(Ghost) (schmaltz that works!)

“You’ve been gone eight days, Jack. A week I could understand, but eight fucking days?”
(I Come in Peace)

Dick Tracy: “No grief for Lips?”
Breathless: “I’m wearing black underwear”
(Dick Tracy)

“Yeah, I did it. I’ll cry two tears in a bucket, fuck it”
The genius George Clinton in House Party

“You should quit traumatizing women with sexual intercourse. I should know: I’m a medical doctor”
(Slacker)

“Do you miss your kids?”
“Sure”
“Do you hate your husband?”
“Absolutely”
“Would you ever get married again?”
“Of course”
(Trust)

“Orphans have special needs!”
(Cry-Baby)

“I don’t want life to imitate art, I want life to be art”
(Postcards from the Edge)

“I’m not a box! I don’t have sides!”
(Postcards from the Edge)

“Where are you shot?”
“In my ego, get me a bullhorn”
(Desperate Hours, picture this delivered a la Cate Blanchett in Hanna but really bad)

“If you don’t eat boudin on Saturdays, they probably won’t bury you when you die”
(Yum Yum Yum! A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking)

“I used to think there was a kind of bird that, once born, would keep flying until death. The fact is that the bird hasn’t gone anywhere. It was dead from the beginning.”
(Days of Being Wild)

“She spit on her own floor. That never made any sense to me”
(Goodfellas)

“Take your flunky and dangle”
(Miller’s Crossing)

“Oh, come on. It’s not as though you farted during all your dialogue; we sat there in rushes saying ‘what’s that noise all over her lines'”
“I’m so…relieved. That analogy has bathed me in relief”
(Postcards from the Edge)