Welcome to the Weekly Movie Thread! Have you discovered something new this week? Is there a recent streaming release that you just need to talk about with our fellow cadre of cinephile commenters? Did you find the Right Missy? If so, then this is the place for you! Find your favorite and most comfy chair and open up the Avocado… our modern equivalent of the Arts & Entertainment Page in those things we used to call “newspapers.”
And just a few pages beyond that… the funnies.
Thirty years ago, Warren Beatty graced us with his passion project. It was time for the world to finally see, on the big screen, the adventures of a detective equipped with an Apple Watch. But in the 30’s! The Weekly Movie Thread celebrates the 30th anniversary of Dick Tracy. While the film feels like it’s riding off the coattails of the previous year’s Batman, Disney had greenlit the project in 1988 and Beatty — a Dick Tracy superfan — had an idea for a film as early as 1975.
The movie also won three Academy Awards. The Art Direction and Makeup were well deserved, as those are the two aspects of Dick Tracy that I remember. So many weird and wonderful interpretations of classically weird-looking Dick Tracy villains! Stephen Sondheim also won an award for Best Original Song, which was sung by Madonna (who, in one of her more successful on-screen roles, played Breathless Mahoney).
But that’s not all, gumshoes!
We are also celebrating the 40th anniversary of two films that underperformed upon release but have since gained strong cult followings. Flash Gordon is unapologetically campy and is pretty much the polar opposite of the reigning (and still current) king of sci-fi fantasy, Star Wars. It is, in a way, the last gasp of the disco 70’s before sci-fi would, for two decades, turn to hues to white, gray, and black. It was a movie that married Alex Raymond’s illustrations to a soundtrack provided by Queen.
Can he save every one of us?
You know it.
The same year also gave us the most accessible film in all of Robert Altman’s filmography, Popeye. You wouldn’t think that Altman’s cinematic translates would translate, would you? I’m talking about the shots that diminish characters against a bleak environment with a washed-out color palette and the overlapping dialogue. How is that going to work with a comic strip about a weirdly-shaped sailor who is powered by spinach?
And yet (though your mileage may vary)… it does.
I think, though, what really works for Popeye is how committed both Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall are to their roles. When you see them on screen, they literally become exactly the characters that we know and love through comic strips and through cartoon adaptations that we’ve seen over the years. They have such great body language. Together, they split the difference between comic strip adaptation and Altman film and transcends to something far more surreal. The movie is also a musical, which adds to the loopiness and the general sense that you must be high on cough syrup.
In honor of those films, here’s this week’s bonus prompt: what is your favorite film based on a comic strip? Alternately, what comic strip do you think would make for a good movie?
Interestingly, you have A LOT of existing material to choose from. This piece was much longer, but I did enough writing about the three examples already. Beyond these three, you also have tales of two kitties, a little orphan girl who’s had a hard knock life (in a film directed by Hollywood legend John Huston!), Jubilation T. Cornpone, that one time that blockhead Charlie Brown fumbled at the Spelling Bee, and your pal Billy Zane.