12.05.13 6:26 PM ET
Lana Del Rey’s New Short Film ‘Tropico’ Is So Bad It Might Be Good
Lana Del Rey has been making heavier and longer and more bloated videos of her year-old songs from Born to Die: Paradise Edition as if she’s slowly releasing hostages. She’s saved her biggest victim for (hopefully?) last, a three-headed monster comprising her tunes “Body Electric,” “Gods and Monsters” and “Bel-Air,” which have been turned into a 27-minute-long short film, Tropico.
Del Rey’s songs have always sounded like a groggy soundtrack to a campy art house movie, so the logical step for her was to actually make a campy art house movie.
Well, here it is, released on Vevo Thursday. It’s directed by Anthony Mandler, who’s set to make his first feature film, Tokyo Vice, based on the book by Daily Beast contributor Jake Adelstein, with Daniel Radcliffe in the starring role.
If you can get past the first hokey narrations (“And there was light. And John saw that it was good.”) you’d be shown a triptych of hazily saturated images. The first is something like a washed out painting of Del Rey’s Garden of Eden, set to “Body Electric,” which sports silly lyrics like “Elvis is my daddy, Marilyn’s my mother, Jesus is my bestest friend.” Voila! The video’s version of Garden of Eden has in residence John Wayne, a unicorn, and, of course, Elvis, Marilyn, Jesus, an albino Adam, and Del Rey as Eve.
The second is the paradise lost, and Del Rey’s Eve, with Adam in tow, is reincarnated as a stripper—but an angelic one—in L.A. (Which, we’re told by her, is the city of Angels. Better make sure we don’t miss that.) Cue “Gods and Monsters”: “In the land of gods and monsters, I was an angel, lookin' to get fucked hard.” If you haven’t noticed yet, the film’s original sin is its persistent literalness. So you get Eve tipping off Adam that she’d be hosting a bunch of men loaded with cash, and Adam’s gang promptly robs them. Next act.
You lose paradise, you gotta regain it. The song “Bel Air” is Del Rey’s image of Eden 2.0: “Roses, Bel Air, take me there,” she sings under blue skies, on top of a golden hill. The thing is, “Spotlight, Bad Baby, You’ve got a flair, For the violentest kind of love anywhere out there” is actually not a bad patch of poetry. (Neither is “I sing the body electric.”)
What’s also remarkable is that, however you film Del Rey, she comes off as a god you can never really know. No one in the industry has been doing more to push the image of pop divinity than Lana. What results is that, from the films of “Video Games” to “Summertime Sadness” to “Ride,” every frame of Del Rey comes off as distant, the viewer completely detached with what the camera offers. It’s like she looks right past you.
Her videos thus far have been starved of creativity. They’re listless art that believes itself to be art, or what film critic Manny Farber called white elephant art: bloated, pretentious, and untouchable. Take a tip from Paradise Lost; it was Milton who said “all hell broke loose,” and she ought to try to inject some energy into her work. Stop pumping hot air into old songs. Fetch is not gonna happen. Move on.
Thankfully, Del Rey has announced the title of her next album. It’ll be Ultraviolence, lifted from Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange to describe the sort of aesthetic brutality that Alex and his gang love to enjoy. I think this is perfect for Del Rey, whose songs and videos have been trying to channel some version of American pop nightmare.
In the hands of someone like David Lynch, who does L.A. proper, Del Rey (who has covered the song “Blue Velvet,” which, of course, is also the title of a Lynch classic) can actually have a chance at being an art house god.