Fashion Beasts

Just back from HOUSE OF GUCCI. Unexpectedly packed, even on a weekday afternoon, which presumably implies it’s a hit. Couldn’t even get two seats together, but after the BBFC certificate appeared there was still one vacant seat next to Fiona so I got into it.

It’s not bad. My trouble was we’ve started watching Succession, finally, and the writing in that is so much better, the Ridley Scott movie pales a bit, even though it’s much better looking. But not THAT good-looking. Very plush, very desaturated and metallic, very dark. But not a lot of exciting filmmaking on display. It moves quite slowly. The actors all seem to be in separate worlds. They’re all giving very good performances within those worlds, but because they don’t connect, the film never gathers energy.

Lady Gaga is the most compelling; Jared Leto, disguised as Inspector Clouseau’s lounge lizard disguise from RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER, brings the entertainment. And, next to him, Pacino seems to be underplaying, so that’s sort of a bonus.

There are some very funny lines, but most of them seem to be predicated on the idea that Leto’s character doesn’t speak good Italian (which the film is translating for us, using movie magic — it’s one of those films where everyone SHOULD be speaking a different language, so they settle for pretending to have accents). It’s true, some people don’t speak their own language well, but would Paolo really have said, in his own native tongue, “If you coulda smell between my groins, you woulda unnerstan'”? It feels like, if you can write funny stuff like that (I laughed), you could, with a little more care, write lines that the character in question might say.

“Ridley Scott must really love Donna Summer,” whispered Fiona, “because he uses her A LOT.” It’s kind of hard to imagine Sir Rid on the dance floor, and I sort of wonder if he uses her a lot because it’s easy shorthand for the seventies. Most of the songs in this are very easy choices, though I respect them for using Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes rather than the same album’s Fashion. So we know it’s not a Robert Zemeckis movie, no way could he have resisted that.

Not a Tom Ford movie either, a movie with Tom Ford in it as a character — and they’re pretty careful how they handle him, which is fair enough. The film only mocks the dead or criminally convicted, which is pretty much everyone else. It’s most of the population of most of Scott’s films, in fact, which, taken as an oeuvre, are surprisingly bleak, negative and hopeless. Surprising since he’s such a commercial presence. But maybe the idea that what we want is optimistic stories of triumph has always been wrong.

Consider the animated ident of Scott Free Productions. A raincoated man flaps about in what sounds like a darkened lavatory, then turns into a bird and freezes, having run out of animation and becomes a lifeless logo at exactly the point of taking flight, the words “Scott Free” appearing beneath him as a kind of cruel jibe.

Consider BLADE RUNNER, where an assassin less human than the androids he’s hunting gets rained on for two hours, then flies off with the nonhuman girl at the end into footage originally shot for THE SHINING, implying they’re going to land their hovercar at a haunted hotel… until Ridley recut it to turn the hero into a literal android.

Consider THE COUNSELLOR, which might be Scott’s ultimate statement. I didn’t like that film at all but it did seem very Ridley. A summation of sorts. Characters don’t need to have credible motivations (consider the guy making kissy faces at the hideous snake alien in PROMETHEUS which is obviously about to eat his face) so long as their improbable decisions lead to their total destruction and that of everyone they love.

The Guccis, in other words, were made to order for the Ridley Scott Cinematic Universe.

18 Responses to “Fashion Beasts”

  1. ariane pouchkine Says:

    FYI, the artwork of the animated ident of Scott Free Productions is due to Gianluigi Toccafondo, who, besides creating advertising clips, has also made (very good) shorts, for example “La Pista”.

  2. David Ehrenstein Says:

  3. David Ehrenstein Says:

  4. David Ehrenstein Says:



  5. David Ehrenstein Says:


  6. I really like THE DUELLISTS, and I don’t understand what happened after that.

  7. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    The thing that surprises me is why Italian Film-makers never tackled the Gucci scandal. I feel that Alice Rohrwacher or Marco Bellocchio could have done something with it. Or among Pan-European directors, someone like Assayas who is obsessed with the reality of European capitalism and the spectacle of it.

    Ridley Scott is a director wholly dependent on the material and collaborators. He isn’t like his brother Tony Scott who can do interesting stuff with even the thinnest material he gets, and is in my estimation, the better film-maker (RIP).

    That’s why RS has such an overwhelmingly uneven career.

  8. We are living in the post-Sondheim era, which has a melancholy ring to it.

    I find most of Tony Scott’s flourishes purely decorative, so they annoy me. I like him in a less frenzied mode, Crimson Tide for instance. I know how the tricks are done and I don’t find them diverting or clever. But I’ve a mind to check out Domino sometime, which is virtually ALL tricks, from what I can tell. And I like the first half of The Hunger, which is madly tricksy.

    House of Gucci would certainly have merited an Italian director. It has one Italian screenwriter and some minor cast members, and Mario Bava’s grandson as AD. I’m picturing it made by Bava as a follow-up to Blood and Black Lace. Though Scott delivers on production values, his metallic sheen seems rather cold and nordic for this subject.

  9. I like The Duellists, but also Alien and Blade Runner. After that it’s about one film in five or ten, but Matchstick Men is really nice.

  10. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Ridley Scott is Michael Curtiz Redux. When the material iand proper collaborators are there (“Alien,” “Thelma and Louise,” “Blade Runner”) he can deliver. When they aren’t he’s Norman Taurog.

  11. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I actually think “The Last Duel”, the other Ridley film released this year (though obviously planned to be rolled out earlier, before COVID-19 landed) is one of his best films and one of the best historical films made about the medieval era, not so much in accuracy to material culture but in terms of showing the aristocrats as a bunch of gangsters and dispensing with courtly romance and love completely. He also returns to some of the same locations of The Duellists (but it’s an earlier period).

  12. Ridley blaming the failure of TLD on millennials is peak Rid. I might have gone to see that had I even heard it existed.

  13. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    It’s funny, I saw it and I’m a milennial, but anyway wounded pride is justified because The Last Duel was clearly a movie he cared a lot about. Visually Scott’s metallic look as you call it does affect the film somewhat (it follows the cliche of the Middle Ages being colorless and gray) but still it’s an interesting film.

    It’s also unusual how come there haven’t been notable French films on this incident, but then given that France, in cinema terms and society terms, has had issues about sexism and so on, it makes sense why they avoided this subject. Watching it, I felt that if Tavernier (a French film-maker with a keen passion for the historical film) had still been alive and given this material he’d have done something better.

  14. David Ehrenstein Says:

    “Barry Lyndon” is The Last Word on Duels, IMO

  15. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    Adam Driver’s character in The Last Duel is kind-of Lyndonesque (though far less sympathetic than even Redmond at his worst). Matt Damon’s performance is interesting in that he starts out seeming like a conventional hero but is revealed to be more like Lord Bullingdon by the end.

    My favorite duels: in terms of Samurai Duel (Kobayashi’s Rebellion, Seppuku, and a recent film I saw Uchida’s Bloody Spear at Mt. Fuji), Sword and Pistol I’d put Ophuls’ Madame De… over BL, Western duel (finale of Django), but in terms of medieval combat i.e. knight at arms and swords and all that, it would be Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac though Scott’s version is not so far behind.

  16. I feel like these “star studded” movies are all the same. Like where you said the actors seemed disconnected. Everything is very posed and beautiful, but the story is polished. We want the RAW stuff.

  17. I can accept “posed and beautiful” in a film about high fashion and extreme wealth, but some dramatic cohesion and reality have to underpin things.

  18. I like BLADE RUNNER and at least see what people see in ALIEN. But THE DUELLISTS seems a different kind of animal, much less dependent on visual atmosphere, more attentive to structure.

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