That thundering synthesized flop you hear is Blade Runner 2049 coming in well below industry expectations; guess you people don’t have much use for highbrow, three-hour sci-fi epics that are long on scenery and short on the triumph of the human spirit. (As even the replicants note, their aim is to be “more human than human.” Because, you know, people suck.)
Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
So, this weekend, maybe consider something decidedly more lowbrow: Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, playing Sunday afternoon at the Digital Gym. Sergio Martino’s giallo take on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” is similar to The Shining, but much twistier and trashier and about an hour shorter. (The Shining still wins for sheer quantities of blood, but Vice has more lovingly depicted violence.) As in Kubrick’s classic,* you’ve got a burnt-out, alcoholic writer living in a big haunted house with his nerve-wracked wife. You’ve got mysterious murders and mounting suspicion. You’ve got what might be a supernatural force lurking at the edge of things (there it was a little boy, here’s it’s a yowling black cat named Satan). And best of all, you’ve got genuine style. Lowbrow doesn’t by any means exclude the possibility of craft.
But where The Shining opts for the slow-build opening of the family’s drive to the Overlook, Martino is all slam-bang: bam, long shot of the villa at night; bam, close up on a pair of yellow cat’s eyes framed by a jet-black face; bam, a portrait of the writer’s mother dressed as Mary Stuart; bam, the writer raising a toast to his dearly departed mum. “Oh yes, she definitely deserved being compared to Mary Stuart. No one else has been represented in such different ways, as a murderer or a martyr.” He then proceeds to savagely humiliate his wife in front of their dinner guests. She flees in tears, but after they’ve gone, she reappears, dressed in the same dress Mama was wearing in the portrait. The cat yowls; the woman taunts; the man attacks. It’s a bonkers scene, but smartly so: much of the film is contained therein.
A bit of serendipity: last week, I happened upon Jon Ronson’s short documentary Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes, about the years he spent sifting through the director’s dizzying, even terrifying collection of research material, fan letters, memos, etc. Kubrick was famous for being incredibly exacting, for maintaining a level of precision and care that made every frame matter. But it cost him: Waterloo came out and flopped while he was still in pre-production on his Napoleon epic, and the spooked studios killed the project. (The reams of research material for that one were eventually transformed into a book, subtitled The Greatest Movie Never Made.) The same thing happened with his planned Holocaust movie — Spielberg made Schindler’s List in the time it took Kubrick to do his research. And Full Metal Jacket famously got beaten to the punch by Platoon. There’s much to admire in The Shining. But there’s also much to enjoy in this brisk, brusque, bloody, bawdy Italian cheapie.
*For a dissenting opinion, check out Duncan Shepherd’s review, which concludes thusly: “The easy mistake to be made about this movie is to conclude that the material must not have been worthy of Kubrick. The truth is vice versa.”