Straight to Hell/Law of Desire

straighttohellThere’s the kind of moviemaker who makes a film every couple-three years; he or she waits around for the perfect script, the perfect actor, the perfect moment. Then there’s the moviemaker who churns out flicks on a fairly continuous basis, just to have something to be working on. Such a busy bee is Alex Cox, the wonderfully demented director of Repo Man and Sid and Nancy.

Cox’s newest film, released less than a year after S&N, was cranked out on a measly million-dollar budget (and, reportedly, a three-day writing schedule). Straight to Hell is no masterwork, and it’s obviously something Cox made with his left hand while his right hand was working on the next big movie.

As such, it sure is fun. Stylistically and otherwise, Straight to Hell flagrantly lives up to its title. This is a scuzzy, gadabout movie, barely existing except to spoof the filmic conventions of the spaghetti Westerns (A Fistful of Dollars The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly) of Sergio Leone.

If you’re not familiar with Leone’s movies, some of the gags here won’t work. The credits and the music, for instance, which parody Leone’s flamboyant style – plus a lot of overwrought wide-screen compositions in the manner of that directors’s breath­less shoot-outs, which Leone would compose with the scope of a Wagnerian opera.

The plot here, such as it is, takes three greasy outlaws (Cy Richardson, Clash lead singer Joe Strummer, and co-writer Dick Rude) and their moll (Courtney Love) into a dusty Western town. The townsfolk, a deranged bunch of coffee underachievers who are weirdly fixated on caffeine, look as though they’ve dropped directly out of British society and into a Road Warrior post-apocalyptic world.

The movie gets out of control quickly, which may be its saving grace. A bunch of quirky people – Elvis Costello, Dennis Hopper, Grace Jones, The Pogues – breeze in to fill up the background. It’s a larky film, very uneven, and everyone involved with it seems to have had a very good time.

lawofdesireLaw of Desire is a new movie from another idiosyncratic filmmaker, Spain’s Pedro Almodovar. He’s an acquired taste, but Law of Desire strikes a kind of giddy balance of hipness, camp, and melodrama.

Almodovar’s story seems to jump out of some sub-par 1950s American soap opera. A homosexual film director (Eusebio Poncela) is dogged by a worshiping fan (Antonio Banderas). Eventually Banderas takes out his madness on the director’s lover, and throws the lover off a cliff.

Almodovar takes this situation and puts a nutty spin on it. He sets the film in Madrid, then throws in the director’s transsexual sister (Carmen Maura), a crazy color scheme, and a subterranean sense of humor. It sounds like as wild a mix as Straight to Hell, but the elements in Law of Desire come together in a way that they never do in Straight to Hell, and Almodovar’s is much the better movie. Both movies, in their exotic trashiness, lend a much-welcome aura of untidiness to the current cinema.

First published in the Herald, June 1987

Pretty interesting twofer. I guess I thought Cox was going on to a career of big films, which, unfortunately, he did not. Nothing against his output, mind you, but one expected more spectacular things. And Courtney Love? Yes, it happened. Things turned out rather well for Pedro Almodovar, as you may have heard; this week his star Banderas got an Oscar nomination for the director’s Pain and Glory, a very good career-looking-back movie. Obviously Law of Desire deserved more space than I could give it here, but hey, you do what you can. And I refer to American soaps as the movie’s source of parody; I wasn’t hip enough to know about telenovelas in 1987.

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