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September 14, 2011


Drive and the 80's

Drive movie poster

I went to see the new arty action movie Drive last night, which I think is this year's 28th movie starring Ryan Gosling. I liked it for its unabashedly stylized approach to action movie standards like car chases and people getting shot in the head, and especially for all the 80's design. As much as I liked this stuff, I don't understand it at all.

Take a look at that movie poster, with the inexplicable anachronistic hot pink cursive font. What's that about? Some people have drawn comparisons to classic 80's movie posters, like the one for Heathers, but I see some other inspirations. Like this:

Risky Business poster

And a little bit of this:

Purple Rain

And let's not forget:

Tiffany album cover

The director, Nicolas Winding Refn, stopped by for a little Q&A after the movie, and he came right out and said he ripped off the Risky Business poster. He explained that, as a Danish director coming to America, he found LA to be a city stylistically trapped in the 80's. I'm not sure I totally get what he means, but I'll admit there do seem to be an awful lot of restaurants that incorporate glass bricks and walls unironically painted turquoise out there.

Then there's the music. The soundtrack (by Cliff Martinez, Steven Soderbergh's main man) is hyper-self-conscious 80's pop synth. The theme songs sound a lot like OMD's "Souvenir" or Q Lazzarus's "Goodbye Horses", which is featured in both Married to the Mob and Silence of the Lambs.

What all this 80's stuff is doing in a contemporary action movie is beyond me, especially one with scene after scene of gruesome, brutal violence that seems to explode out of nowhere. The killings in this movie are so graphic and violent that audience members started laughing in disbelief.

Then there's the acting. It's the opposite of the horrific violence and the synth soundtrack. It's terse. Minimal. Dialogue is sparse, stylized, and often sort of weird. Ryan Gosling is, as one reviewer says, a closed book. But, wait, then there's also Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks, playing smaller roles with funny, snappy dialogue, plenty of warmth, and a dollop of sinister fiendishness.

The director explained that he used the lush, warm, synthy music to balance out the harsh violence and the (sometimes) cold acting style. But watching the movie, I wasn't sensing "balanced" so much as "mentally ill". The word that describes the feeling I got from the collective tones and styles of this movie is crazy. Specifically, either Nicolas Wearing Refn is crazy, or I am.

The poster font, the soundtrack, acting that's all over the place, Albert Brooks saying lines like "I used to make movies in the 80's. Action films, sexy stuff--one critic called them European." People getting stabbed in the eye with a fork. It's like if you took Michael Mann's Thief, Collateral, and the first season of "Miami Vice", then went nuts, then remade them into one crazy Scando-American movie. And it's good!

I was curious about Refn's next project, which will be a movie called Only God Forgives, also starring Ryan Gosling. Here's the description: "A Bangkok police lieutenant and a gangster settle their differences in a Thai-boxing match."

So maybe it's not just me.

categories: Art, Celebrities, Culture, Movies
posted by amy at 2:37 PM | #

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Exactly! I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought this. If you ask me, this movie is the story of what happens to Johnny from Karate Kid after he grows up, gets down on his luck, and gives up on life. Just add a headband to Ryan Gosling and then tell me I'm wrong.

Posted by: Ron at September 18, 2011 2:23 AM

When I first met you, you promised you would never send me any "Hey 80s Kid!" emails and I agreed to do the same. With some reservations. While this post comes perilously close, what really threatens that promise is the email I totally wanted to send you about the Drive soundtrack, which is more like the 80s than the 80s were.

Posted by: T-Rock at September 21, 2011 4:19 PM

I find that when I try to remember what the "Drive" soundtrack sounded like, all I can conjure up is some dreamlike, Korg-generated synthesis of Berlin, Eurythmics, and Jan Hammer. It sounds pretty great.

Posted by: amy at September 21, 2011 5:17 PM

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