“It's showtime, folks!” This is Joe Gideon’s morning mantra — reassuring himself that every day would be as indelibly entertaining as the last. Whether or not any performance is on the docket, to Gideon, protagonist of “All That Jazz,” the whole world is a stage. He lives in a setting ...
When you sit down to watch “The Zone of Interest” (2023), the first thing you may question is the bitter blackness that chokes the screen. It is then complemented by the faint sound of chirping birds, rustling trees and then a deep-pitched overture. The screen remains static, as you stare into dark nothingness.
Perhaps for this week’s column we’ll step away from the films with a B-movie outline or B-movie qualities and enter the world of art-house cinema. From a stylistic view, “experimental filmmaking” can be a product of the B-movie skeleton; hence, its presence is worth discussing here. Gaspar Noé is a director whose work oscillates between genres of experimentation, erotica and thriller. His transgressive styles tend to settle on themes of a brutalized humanity. He has an evident no-holds-barred approach to his work — some are turned off by his gruesome imagery — but when he hits a stride with genre films, there’s a beautiful synchronicity. “Enter the Void” (2009) is a flawless, harmonic flux of fear and desire and, as a result, is the ultimate avant-garde brainchild of Noé. It’s no surprise that the Argentine director has received a mix of praise and criticism, but he continues to produce taboo visions without holding back.
Cinema and hallucinogens: a match that’s a far cry from our typical pairings on television or theater screens. Yet, Ken Russell is one of those classic directors who doesn’t have any trouble submerging your head into pools of visual craziness. All the humdrum of any plot is thrown out the window and replaced with the utmost of sadistic experiences. His 1971 breakout masterpiece “The Devils” tackles sexual repression under the guise of the Roman Catholic church and is perhaps most infamous for splicing religious power and horniness with the ever-so sacred crucifix. Nearly ten years after “The Devils,” Russell coupled salvation with a magic mushroom trip in his 1980 film “Altered States.” This film possesses the off-kilter elements of a B-movie classic while also containing a remarkable lead performance from William Hurt.
When we take a step back and look at how cinema depicted sprawling urban metropolises in the 1970s through the 1990s, we can uncover significant traits. For one, films started to look into the setting as much less of a backdrop and more of a character in itself. Films like Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” (1989) and John Carpenter’s “Escape from New York” (1981) are prominent examples from this era featuring New York City. These movies transcended their genres as they shaped the city around them into storytelling devices in bold new ways. More esoteric showings of this same style are incorporated in almost every work by B-Movie icon Abel Ferrara. “Ms .45” (1981), “King of New York” (1990) and — arguably his magnum opus — “Bad Lieutenant” (1992) are prime examples of how big cities and their cinematic facades can be reshaped like Play-Doh to fashion some of the most crafty narrative concertos.
In “Killers of the Flower Moon” (2023), we are pulled back into the dark, twisted underbelly of the American workforce with a story that links gracefully with the previous works of the director. Featuring another examination of crime and raucous character confrontations, the film is nothing short of a monumental staple in the already stacked career of one of the true great American directors.
In 1996, David Cronenberg released “Crash,” a film which transcended the characteristics of any preceding B-movie through its depiction of violence and sex. Inherently, every character in the film is an overstimulated, hypersexualized being coexisting in a crazy world of voyeurism and loneliness. In this vein, the film traces arousal and getting off through the sight of car collisions. Cronenberg's conscience functions here as a horny man looking to make a movie about sex, not romance. In this way, it truly is love at first crash.