Lucio Fulci: So Much More Than The Godfather Of Gore

Lucio Fulci “was sort of an Italian Hershell Gordon Lewis,” Roger Ebert wrote in 1998, dismissing The Beyond as a plotless and dim-witted movie full of bad special effects and worse dialogue. It’s not surprising that Ebert didn’t like The Beyond – he thought Friday the 13th was disgusting enough trash to warrant a letter writing campaign, after all – but what is surprising is how much Fulci’s legacy is framed more or less as Ebert had it, just with a positive inflection.

Ciara wrote about Lucio Fulci’s masterpiece Don’t Torture a Duckling for Fangoria on its fiftieth anniversary! You can read it here.

Entering The Twilight Zone

Despite the near-constant refrain that this or that season of television is really more like a “ten-hour movie,” the birth of TV as a medium is tied much closer to radio than cinema. Genres that developed on the radio jumped to TV, from sitcoms to soap operas and game shows to police procedurals. Like radio, early television drama was broadcast live, often performed twice, once for the East Coast and again for the West Coast. “Like a child in hand-me-down clothes, television inherited the best and worst that radio had to offer, from the Ed Wynns and Jack Bennys, who made millions of Americans laugh every week, to the blatant commercialism that drove the system,” Jeff Kisseloff writes in the introduction to The Box, his oral history of early TV. “Television did it all, but radio did it first.”

I wrote about The Twilight Zone for Current Affairs. You can read it here!

Pieces Isn’t Exactly What You Think it Is

Pieces had an all-time great tagline: under a picture of a chainsaw and a woman’s lifeless body, the poster reads, “Pieces: it’s exactly what you think it is.” You know the whole story immediately. You know exactly the kind of cheapo exploitation horror you’re in for. It’s a slasher movie about women being chopped to pieces.

I wrote about the Spanish giallo Pieces for Crooked Marquee! You can read it here.

The Kids Haven’t Changed, You Have

When I think about the formative influences on how I watch and think about cinema, it doesn’t take long to get to John Hughes. His teen movies – The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful as well as, to a lesser extent, Sixteen Candles and Weird Science, and his teen-movie coda about twenty-somethings, She’s Having a Baby – are baked into my DNA. Hughes comes before everything, for me, a near-inarticulable kind of deep-down fundamental. John Hughes’s movies are a key part of a largely unwritten pre-history of how the part of my brain that watches films was formed, and – much later – thinking and reading about them was part of the slowly-and-then-all-at-once of my figuring out that all I really wanted to do was write about movies. Before Hadley Freeman decided to devote herself to full-time transphobia, she wrote a book about 1980s movies including Hughes’s called Life Moves Pretty Fast, and it’s barely an exaggeration to say I’m not sure if I would be the person I am now without reading it. Even when I wrote about the formative role The Social Network played in my development as a film critic – literally calling it the movie that made me love movies – I exalted it in part by citing its John Hughes influence. To say they’re good films feels like a tautology – they’re such a basic part of what I understand the words “good film” to even mean.

A lot of things I loved as a teenager, I return to them with a worry in my chest about having grown out of whatever it is. That’ll it seem hollow and superficial to my adult eyes and ears. But I never worry that about Hughes’s teen movies. The opposite is true: whenever I revisit these films, they reveal new depths, new pleasures, new wits, new layers of emotional complexity.

Hughes has, I think, become reasonably well-respected – as well as being beloved of beloved filmmakers like Sofia Coppola or Greta Gerwig, his work has endured in a way you couldn’t ignore if you tried – but a part of me will always think of him as misunderstood. John Hughes gets used as a shorthand for teen movie clichés in a way that seems disconnected from the work itself. It’s been years since I read this quote from Richard Linklater about wanting Dazed and Confused to be the inverse of a John Hughes film, and I still get annoyed about it regularly:

The drama is so low-key in [Dazed and Confused]. I don’t remember teenage being that dramatic. I remember just trying to go with the flow, socialize, fit in and be cool. The stakes were really low. To get Aerosmith tickets or not? That’s a big thing. It was really rare when the star-crossed lovers from the opposite side of the tracks and the girl gets pregnant and there’s a car crash and somebody dies. That didn’t really happen much. But riding around and trying to look for something to do with the music cranked up, now that happened a lot!

But John Hughes didn’t make films about teen pregnancy and car crashes and dying. Sure, Pretty in Pink is about a rich boy and a girl from the wrong side of the tracks falling in love, but it spins that story with a grounded realism that’s quietly devastating. If you want a teen movie where the drama is low-key and the stakes are really low, John Hughes is your guy. After all, his best films are about getting detention and skipping school. The stakes are – from an adult point of view – rock bottom. Hughes’s genius, in part, is that they don’t feel that way.

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The People’s Tramp [Current Affairs]

Even if you’ve never seen a silent movie, you know Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp. His too-big trousers and too-tight jacket, his bowler hat, his toothbrush mustache, his cane, his too-big shoes pointed at right angles to his body: you can recognize him from his silhouette. Samuel Beckett doodled him in his manuscripts, and Pam on The Office dressed up as him for Halloween. You can buy a poster of the Tramp in every pop-up poster shop in the world. He is the most iconic figure in classic cinema, one of the most iconic figures in any visual art, and was certainly one of the most beloved.

A hundred years or so later, it’s fascinating to consider that The Tramp was a character living in extreme poverty and frequently homeless—that is, the kind of character who has almost no place in the biggest, most popular movies of our time, even as homelessness and extreme poverty are as endemic as ever.

I wrote about Charlie Chaplin for Current Affairs! You can read it here.

Seven Ages of Pop Punk

This article is part of In Defense of the Genre, a series of critical and personal essays in praise of pop punk. Previously, Ciara wrote about listening to ‘December’ by Neck Deep on repeat and thinking about ex-friends.

The history of pop punk is something this series frequently gestures towards but has never really sketched out in any detail. Partly this is because discussing pop punk’s relationship to punk itself is usually aimed at dismissing pop punk as punk’s poser kid brother, and the founding concept of this series is taking pop punk seriously when no-one else will. Partly it’s because – even if Green Day’s ‘Basket Case’ is as old as I am – pop punk still feels like a baby of a genre, so that it kind of takes me by surprise that it has history enough to be worth explaining. Partly it’s because it never occurs to you whether someone might need or want a map to your hometown. Isn’t everyone born knowing those particular twists and bends, the shortcut to the cinema and the best place to cross the street? 

We are in the midst of an improbable pop punk revival. It’s incredibly exciting. But too many people who try to write about that revival don’t have that bone-deep sense of the genre’s history and themes and conventions. “Today’s pop punks go to therapy,” The Guardian writes in the latest of their triennial articles on how a new generation of pop punkers break new ground by writing songs about feeling shitty. It makes me feel insane. It betrays a depth of knowledge that doesn’t extend to the biggest bands’ biggest singles. Today’s pop punks might go to therapy, but pop punk has always been about being depressed.

So: I’ve invented seven eras of pop punk from whole cloth and made playlists for each of them. I hope they can guide you through the history of the genre, but as more of a sketch map than a satellite photograph. Each playlist is somewhere between ninety minutes and two hours long, and, hopefully, acts as a launching pad, and at the very least, a fun listen. These are my playlists, so are informed by my own blind spots, biases, and tastes. So, you know: sorry to Bowling for Soup for not including you, maybe try sucking less next time.

I don’t want to grow up

the blueprint: 0-1993

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In Defense of Chasing Amy, 25 Years Later [Crooked Marquee]

Chasing Amy does not exactly hold an esteemed position in the cultural memory. Partly this is because of Kevin Smith’s current station: the director of  films no one likes, and the author of the worst tweet ever. But the bigger problem is that its logline makes it sound genuinely offensive: Holden (Ben Affleck) falls in love with lesbian Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams). And she falls in love with him right back. 

I wrote an impassioned defense of Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy on its 25th anniversary over at Crooked Marquee! You can read it here.

The Great Wipeout of Television History

I’m not much given to ranking such things, but if you put a gun to my head and asked me to rank my favourite sitcoms, The Likely Lads would easily make the top tier. It aired three seasons on BBC between 1964 and 1966—which, because it’s British television, means twenty episodes and a Christmas sketch—following Terry and Bob, two young men working in a factory in the north-east of England. It was commissioned because The Beatles were big and that made someone at the BBC want a show about young northerners, even if they ended up in Newcastle instead of Liverpool. 

Terry and Bob are instantly, vividly realized: they are united in their shared ambitions of getting drunk, picking up girls, and watching football, but there is always a tension between Terry’s pride in being working-class and Bob’s ambitions for social mobility. Bob will always blame Terry for his bad behavior, but the phrase “pushing an open door” was invented specifically to describe Bob. While many 1960s sitcoms are warm, wholesome and full of wacky misunderstandings, The Likely Lads is vulgar, realistic and incredibly modern. Season one’s “Older Women Are More Experienced”—in which Terry dates an older woman and Bob dates a younger one—ends on a punchline that wouldn’t feel out of place in Peep Show. It’s a show I adore, that I will evangelise for any chance I get.

Of the twenty episodes produced, only ten survive. 

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