A movie for every day of the year – a good one
The Beatles’ Yesterday and Today Butcher cover, 1966
On this day in 1966, the Beatles released their eleventh US release, Yesterday and Today, a compilation of tracks from the three most recent British albums – Help!, Rubber Soul and Revolver (not yet released). The record became infamous because of its cover, shot by Robert Whitaker earlier that year, which depicted the band dressed in butchers’ aprons draped with pieces of meat and various parts of plastic dolls. In terms of conceptual art, it was ahead of its time (it’s in Damian Hirst and the Chapman brothers territory) and the band sold it to the record company as “our comment on the [Vietnam] war.”
Capitol Records printed 750,000 copies of the butcher cover and it caused a stir even before it got to the shops. The record was immediately recalled, the order to pull it coming right from the top. Many of the covers were destroyed, going into landfill, but tens of thousands others were re-issued, with another, less offensive, image pasted over the top.
Once word got out that the butcher cover was underneath these so-called “Trunk” copies, the race was on to find a way to remove the new image without destroying the old one. Ironically, “pasteovers” that have not been interfered with now command good prices, whereas “third state” covers (the anodyne image removed) are less valuable. An original shrink-wrap version of the original butcher cover, not tampered with either by the company or the public, now sell for multiple tens of thousands of dollars.
Sucker Punch (2011, dir: Zack Snyder)
If 300 is a light-hearted, cartoon-y take on hot young guys doing bloodthirsty things, then Sucker Punch is the female equivalent, a lurid modern-gothic bit of fun peopled by girls/women whose clothes are all a bit too tight, loose, skimpy or absent.
But 300 is dumb shit compared to this, a mad kaleidoscopic mash-up of pop trash loosely held together by a video-game conceit: our fab five of fearless young women – Charlie’s Angels on crystal meth – are fired into one crazy situation after another (disarm the bomb, kill the dragon, defeat the Nazis etc), each situation preceded and precipitated by a dance by Baby Doll (Emily Browning) and accompanied by high-octane mixes of old school tunes by Marcus De Vries. So we get Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”, the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”, Roxy Music’s “Love Is the Drug”, among others.
The effect is intoxicating, if you can take this sort of thing, possibly migraine-inducing if you can’t. Buried deep inside is an exploration of themes also handled by Lucile Hadzihalilovic in her overlooked and beautiful Innocence – the enculturation of young women. Both films, 300 and Sucker Punch, were directed by Zack Snyder, a man whose output up till this point has suggested that at his worst he’s a hack (Dawn of the Dead), at his best (flashes of this in Watchmen) a Hollywood player trying to move the artform onwards. His artform being the comic-derived, pulpy, over-caffeinated actioner.
Sucker Punch is the apotheosis of this. But I haven’t mentioned the cast, apart from the always luminescent Browning – Abbie Cornish being the only one who doesn’t really fit in with Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung (Cornish too old? too above-it-all?). Nor have I mentioned that the action actually takes place on two levels of reality, up here in some kind of women’s correctional facility over which Carla Gugino presides while the girls suck air across their teeth. And then in the various rabbit holes that the plot dives down, where alter egos of the young women go to deadly work like some underdressed X-Women.
We never actually see Baby Doll dance, but the idea that a young woman gyrating on a table top can create so much disruptive energy, enough to drive deadly combat, that’s brilliant. Because it entirely subverts the normal dynamics of action films, which are essentially about men giddy on heroic notions of saving the dancing girl. Here the women go to war, driven by something so powerful it cannot be shown.
Unleashed by the concept, Snyder goes to work with the CG, which doesn’t even vaguely attempt to ape reality – the problem with too much CG work these days, from Pixar down. Instead he’s free to create impossible worlds where imaginary, though consistent, laws of physics hold sway. Yes, if you’re being snitty, Sucker Punch can be seen as an update of the erotic girls school or prison drama.
There is a lot of lingerie. I’m not going to mount a defence of this aspect of it; I can’t. That doesn’t make the film any less brilliant. And having had the misfortune to watch Snyder’s Man of Steel, more hackwork, let’s just hope one day soon he gets back with the Sucker Punch programme instead of all this messing around with adaptations of previously existing “properties”.
- A great cast includes Jon Hamm, Oscar Isaac and Scott Glenn
- Larry Fong’s intense cinematography
- Snyder and Steve Shibuya’s inventive screenplay
- The great Marcus de Vries/Tyler Bates soundtrack
Sucker Punch – Watch it now at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2014