Hello Film Muse readers, today I'm going to be writing about Lana Del Rey's newly released short film Tropico directed by Anthony Mandler. I heard about this project back in the summer and was really pumped to see their vision. And it was sort of amazing.
As many of you know, I'm a fan of Lana Del Rey. Although she is a frequent perpetrator of cultural appropriation (a different post), I couldn't help but being in awe of her work. When I first saw her come into the music scene, I was skeptical. I tried to find every excuse to discredit her work and her authenticity. Who does this woman think she is? Her use of stolen archive footage, making herself into seemingly docile characters and declaring her abusive relationship with Americana stunned me. She was everything I shouldn't of been and yet I couldn't ignore the passion I felt for her work.
Then I realized that she was the first artist that embodied the same idea of nostalgia I and other millennia's fantasize about in our present era. The yearning to feel wanted, the lure of manic love, and the notion of cultural voidness that we desperately try escape in our mundane lives. Lana expressed all of the emotion I felt in a curated aesthetic that spoke to my soul. I've owned up to it, the good and the bad. Lana Del Rey is one of the greatest poets of our generation.
(one of my favorite shots, Marilyn screaming as "Eve" bites into the apple)
In Tropico, the viewer goes on a musical narrative journey through three of Lana's interconnected songs ("Body Electric"| "Gods and Monsters' | "Bel-Air"). I was mostly excited about "Body Electric", a song in which Lana beautifully mentions her motifs/idols. Lana has no shame in glamorizing and molding her life after Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Jesus, and Monica Lewinsky (to name a few). I wonder if she read John Waters' novel "Role Models" for artistic inspiration.
I think the symbolic nature of Lana's character being cast out of the Garden of Eden into present day American hell is so powerful. This is the first time that I felt Lana really showed the pain of her character's oppression AS WELL as putting the spotlight on the perpetrators. This has been a motif of Lana's for a long time, but for some reason the transition of innocence packs more of a punch in Tropico.
The two lovers bask in a beautiful paradise before sin slams them down to the lowest of American lows, podunk strip clubs and buzzing Kwik-E-Marts. Condemned Adam, wannabe masculine John Wayne cowboy, rings up junk food while Eve gets the worst of it (how fitting) by relying on her sexuality for a living. What did they (she) do to deserve such hell? The display of perversion on Earth is overwhelming in "Gods and Monsters"/the following businessmen scene.
"Womanhood, and all that is a woman, and the man that comes from the woman. The womb, the tits, nipples, breast milk, tears, laughter, weeping, love looks, love perturbations and rising...Oh I say, these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul. Oh, I say now, these are the soul." - Whitman (?)* (Tropico)
I can't even touch the monologue above. It's too beautiful to break down.
"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz..." -Howl by Allen Ginsberg (excerpt in Tropico)
"And so, being created in his likeness, and being banished for being too much like him, we were cast out. And the Garden of Eden transformed into the Garden of Evil. Los Angeles, the city of angels. The land of gods and monsters, the in between rehlm where only the choices made from your freewill will decide your soul's final fate. Some poets called it the entrance to the underworld, but on some summer nights it could feel like paradise. Paradise lost. " - Lana Del Rey (Tropico)
"Just remember, I'm always there for ya" - John Wayne (Tropico)
The film comes together in the end by the sinners metaphorically being baptized after paying for their sins. John Wayne's "America: Why I Love Her" is the last monologue we hear:
"Have you seen a snowflake drifting in the Rockies, way up high?
Have you seen the sun come blazing down from a bright Nevada sky? ...
You ask me why I love her? I've a million reasons why.
My beautiful America, beneath God's wide, wide sky".
I personally see it in this way: with all of the perversions of America, of life, there is still so much beauty to experience.
Nostalgia? Our glamorization of the past, of things that we want to make beautiful, things that we want to cherish, even if we haven't experienced them ourselves. Maybe it's not such a bad thing - glamorizing nostalgia - if it helps you get through life. We are lost, we need guidance. We need to know that there is beauty, that it wont always be this way.
Presently, my brain is trying to stop me from wrapping this post up. It's something I still have to think about and linger on. Either way, I wanted to share my thoughts with you all out there right away. Sorry for the weird abrupt ending.