10 posts categorized "Independent Cinema"

June 21, 2019


Ghost Light PosterAt a time when Hollywood has lost its mojo, low budget indie films such as “Ghost Light” come with simple theatrical pleasures that remind us there is a world of talented, inspired artists who have not fallen prey to America’s industrial Cinema complex of military indoctrination — see any superhero movie made in the last 15 years.

The long-observed stage curse incited by speaking the name of “The Scottish Play” aloud inside a theater, comes back to haunt a troop of actors performing a small town production of “Macbeth” in this cinematic amuse bouche. Whistling in a theater is another no-no that one of our irreverent actors is all too willing to test. Theatre superstitions are nothing to trifle with.

Although the writing could be stronger, “Ghost Light” has some shining moments thanks to the reliable scenery-chewing efforts of stage legend Carol Kane, and (surprisingly) of Shannyn Sossamon in her Lady Macbeth incarnation. Carey Elwes manages to mask his less-than-impressive acting abilities in the context of an amateur stage production of one of Shakespeare’s most admired plays.

The film’s play-within-a-play narrative landscape allows for sufficient suspense to build even if the movie comes to an anti-climactic finish.

Ghost Light

The ghost light of the film’s title refers to a stage light that must remain lit on an empty stage if a production is to be successful. It’s a metaphor befitting our current filmic wasteland. It takes films such as “Ghost Light” to maintain a glow of hope that one day American Cinema will be reborn. In the meantime, Shakespeare’s plays remain a wellspring of material to rinse out Hollywood’s static noise. “Ghost Light” is good, clean (if a little bloody) fun. For Hollywood, it’s back to the woodshed.

Not Rated. 102 mins.

Three Stars


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May 05, 2018


Permanent-VacationJim Jarmusch’s debut feature is an idiosyncratic if evocative character study of Allie (short for Aloysius), an outsider (played with vulnerable curiosity by Chris Parker). Allie has transitioned from being a latchkey loner as a kid to a Lower East Side drifter. Allie's mom rots away in a mental hospital. His personality is in flux. Allie doesn’t need more than the clothes on his back to float around on a philosophical vibe that is nothing if not independent. A yo-yo in his pocket represents a throwback to his childhood days. With his rockabilly haircut, stylish shirt, and a blazer this is one cool kid.

“You know, sometimes I think I should just live fast and die young. And go in a three-piece white suit like Charlie parker. Not bad huh?”

Permanent Vacation 1

Jarmusch captures Manhattan’s empty, rugged streets of the late ‘70s as an alien landscape where empty lives play out in poetic silence punctured by car horns or a lone saxophone. The film feels as though it’s in black and white although it’s in color.


Some might call “Permanent Vacation” a shaggy dog story for its wandering sense of anticlimactic narrative, but the film is much more than that. It makes you care about Allie, and the actor playing him, with an empathy that few films ever attain. When Allie takes a dishonest turn, we can't help but go along with his crime. Is this kid a dead-end loser, or is Allie destined for greatness? Will he ever establish his full voice? We can see the poetry in his dance moves, but how will that youthful expression ever find an outlet inside or outside of society?

Permanent Vacation 2

“Permanent Vacation” represents a state of mind and space that doesn’t exist anymore. Technology has wiped out the possibility for such introspection. So much is lost that can never be regained, or can it? Watching this movie is one of the few tunnels back to a time and place where you could think. It’s a groovy movie to think along to.        


Not rated. 75 mins. (A-) Four Stars
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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

July 13, 2014


Pink FlamingosJohn Waters's second movie not only set the low bar for just how gross a midnight movie could be in 1972, “Pink Flamingos” remains to this day the most cogently transgressive and anarchic film ever made. Nowhere else in cinema will you find a singing-asshole performer — with an extended close-up on his anus’s “performance” — sex between two people with a live chicken in the middle, indecent transsexual exposure, a flasher with a salami tied to his penis, a mock-incest blow job between a “son” and his transvestite “mother,” actual eating of dog feces, and an enigmatic terrorist drag queen played by the incomparable Divine.


Posters for the movie ran with the tagline, “An Exercise In Poor Taste” for good reason. “Pink Flamingos” foreshadowed Punk Rock’s fiery attitude of bitter irony, articulate viciousness, and acted-out aggression. When reporters interview Divine during the story about whether or not blood turns her on, she replies, “It does more than turn me on; it makes me cum!” Divine (Glen Milstead) remained a muse to John Waters right up until the actor’s death in 1988.

Screen Shot 2020-05-27 at 11.01.28 PM

Every co-conspirator member of John Waters’s milieu of Baltimore’s underground cast and crew is a legitimate rebel with their freak-flag waving high. The film’s loose narrative involves a competition between rival outlaw groups for the title of the filthiest person alive. What could be more challenging to the status quo, and more liberating for its participants and audience, than to elevate poverty, filth, and rebellion to its highest possible rank of ultimate authority over society at large?

Screen Shot 2020-05-27 at 11.01.37 PM

Divine (a.k.a. Babs Johnson) lives in a disused trailer home hidden on the outskirts of town with her egg-obsessed mother Edie “the egg lady,” her juvenile delinquent son Crackers, and his fetish-driven girlfriend Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce). Cotton likes to masturbate while watching Crackers engaged in blood-smeared sex with random partners.


After a local rag decrees Divine as the “filthiest person alive,” Connie and Raymond Marble, a jealous couple of black-market-baby pimps, set out to dethrone Divine. The foot-fetishist duo kidnaps young women and imprisons them in their basement where their asexual butler Channing impregnates them against his will. The Marbels sell the babies to lesbian couples for $5000 per infant. Waters’s non-stop stream of sarcastic social commentary runs thick, wide, and deep. There is nowhere for an audience to hide. Every anti-establishment theme is pushed right up in your face and hung there for you to ponder.

Screen Shot 2020-05-27 at 11.02.30 PM

“Pink Flamingos” is a genuine article of underground cinema (it was made on a $10,000 budget). Waters’s brilliant use of rock ‘n’ roll music — the sphincter performance occurs over The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” — sets the film’s goofy psychobilly tempo and tone. Aside from being a mainstay of the Midnight Movie repertoire, “Pink Flamingos” is a daring black comedy made enticingly entertaining by the outrageous character of Divine that Glen Milstead made all his own with the help of make-up artist Van Smith.


Rated NC-17. 93 mins.

5 Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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