' ' Cinema Romantico: Living in the 90s

Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Living in the 90s

If a couple of my more recent posts had not already clued you in, I’ve had the 90s on my mind a lot lately. Maybe it’s just permanent nostalgia, maybe it’s dreaming of that whimsical 90s Boom Economy as we stand here in 2022 on the precipice of the almighty economy once again going bust, or maybe it’s just that the 90s keeps popping out from behind the metaphorical ruins of a Blockbuster video store to go “Bwaaaaaah!!!” To wit, I was listening to a recent episode of the podcast This Had Oscar Buzz in which le film de l'épisode was 1993’s “The Pelican Brief.” Host Joe Reid is on the record as loving Grisham movies, but guest host Bobby Finger was equally over the moon, complimenting the film’s “perfect 1993 vibe and aesthetic.” He declared: “I wish I could live inside this movie.” Well, that was all I needed to put on my blogging cap. Live inside a 90s movie? Yes, please! But what one?

What 90s Movies Do I Most Want to Live In?

5. Now it’s important to note that this exercise has nothing to do with what movie world you would live in. After all, “The Pelican Brief” is a legal thriller in which Supreme Court justices are being murdered. I don’t want to live in that world; I’m close to living in that world right now! No, as Finger faux-stipulates, this is about vibe and aesthetic. It’s why I’d rather live in, like, the uber-eccentric if violent phantasm of “A Life Less Ordinary” (1997), where everything is touched by an angel and everyone is a karaoke hero, than, say, the morally righteous world of “Dave” (1993).

4. I have happily made my home in Chicago and I can’t stop thinking about how much better Chicago would be than it already is if living here was ineffably coated in the Andrew Davis middling thriller sheen of  “Chain Reaction” (1996). My favorite shot in the latter is the one of the laboratory from the sky accompanied by Bob Marley’s “One Love” because The Nineties cinematographic varnish is enough to transform a harsh Chicago winter day into a Caribbean vacation. 

3. Modern movie photography has transformed most everything, from movies to TV and back again since now movies mostly are TV, into Intangible Sludge, to borrow the ace phrase by invaluable Twitter presence Katie Stebbins. This has to do with so much desaturation, as Emily St. James noted in a piece for Vox, flattening everything out so all that’s left is inglorious grey. St. James proffers several theories for this change, including an obsession with the end of the world that has manifested itself in making everything look and feel like an apocalypse. I do not necessarily disagree. But then, “Deep Impact” (1998) was about the end of the world, too, and I’ll tell you, what I most remember from that movie is Tea Leoni’s wardrobe, and the way she walks down that dock near the beginning to confront James Cromwell, sporting her oval sunglasses, bathed in photographical colors so warm I just wanted to ease into that scene like I’m easing into my mid-90s Baja carpet sweater. Let the world end when it feels this good.

2. These are images, of course, of a mostly pre-digital landscape. Present-day digital photography is essentially about freeze-framing the present, field recordings of your life as you live it, whereas the 90s was the era of the disposable camera, the literal expendability of the product and the color of the film sort of marinating your eventual pictures in pre-wistfulness, inherently reminiscing events as they occur, to quote one of the two million indie films of the era, Noah Baumbach’s “Kicking and Screaming” (1995). These were the shades of all those indie films, the aura color of Sundance, from “Bodies, Rest, & Motion” (1993) to “Party Girl” (1995) to “Dream for an Insomniac” (1996) to “The Myth of Fingerprints” (1997) and myriad points beyond, where virtually every scene had that wistful glow of late afternoon. All of them, I want to live in all of them. 

1. But mostly I want to live in “The Daytrippers” (1997). Because that shooting on 16mm in 17 days for $600,000 kind of energy, where just piling the indie scene’s best of the best in a stationwagon for a voyage from Long Island to Manhattan and letting ’em have at it constituted high adventure, is what I miss most of all. Natalie Merchant was right, those are the days I remember. 

No comments: