Originally published on The Solute

90-odd years after he first tromped onto the stage of Thimble Theatre, Popeye’s in a strange position. He’s so entrenched in American pop culture he’s unlikely to ever be forgotten, but he’s remembered for the wrong reasons. The same way Popeye took over Thimble Theater and buried its original stars, Castor Oyl and Ham Gravy, the animated Popeye has buried its newsprint predecessor.

And that’s a shame. The classic Fleischer cartoons are often very good, but the original comics by E.C. Segar, who punnily signed his name with a cigar butt, are something else altogether…

Originally published on The Solute

Listen: Eraserhead has come unstuck in time.

It’s autumn, 2012. I’m lying on a bed in a dorm room in Tennessee across from my roommate’s life-sized poster of himself. I’m watching Eraserhead on a laptop, on Hulu — they still have access to the Criterion Collection.

It’s 1970. David Lynch comes up with a story about Henry, a man struggling with his horrible nightmare baby (“They’re still not sure it is a baby!”) in a horrible nightmare world, based on his actual dreams and daydreams. …

Originally published on The Solute
Europa ’51
is the best argument for creative marriages. It’s one of six films the great Roberto Rossellini made with his wife, the equally great Ingrid Bergman. Rossellini finds the beauty and drama in Bergman’s face the way only someone who’s learned to love her can. He makes everyone see the beauty he’s found there.

Bergman and Rossellini are in true collaboration here, not just in the way he directs her performance, but in the way he organizes the visuals. She glows with spiritual light after her awakening, with Rossellini’s lighting sometimes, subtly, creating a…

Originally published on The Solute

Spoilers ahead

Shutter Island seems on the face of it like a textbook minor work — Martin Scorsese as hired gun, taking a job off the line to adapt Dennis Lehane’s novel into yet another grim “what-is-real?” thriller of the kind that flooded theaters in the post-Matrix, post-Fight Club turn of the millennium.

But like all of Scorsese’s “minor works,” he doesn’t stop being Scorsese just because he’s no longer telling stories of tough guys and gangsters. …

Originally published on The Solute

Popeye begins 1935 in Black Valley, investigating a gang of claimjumpers fed on tainted cactus berries that strip them of their conscience. Popeye comes up with an odd solution, a superhero-comic-esque combination of crossover and continuity. He’ll counteract the mean drug with a happy drug — “Myrtholene — the stuff wich a fellow by the name of John Sappo invented a few years ago.”

Who’s John Sappo? Well, in those days of oversized Sunday funnies, most artists used part of the extra space for “toppers,” supplemental strips running above or below the main action, and…

⁠Originally published on The ⁠Solute

Nowadays, newspaper comics are the lowest form of life — page after page of crotchety old farts complaining about golf and their wives for readers to skim past on their way to the crosswords, copies of copies that have been running on autopilot longer than most of us have been alive. Occasionally masterpieces like Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts rise above the sludge, but that’s an awful lot of sludge to rise above.

But it hadn’t always been this way. Before the World War II paper shortage shrunk the canvas, before TV leeched away the…

Mad Love opens in the Theatre de Horrors, a Grand Guignol knockoff packed full of chintzy Gothic kitsch — the ticket seller wears a bug-eyed, long-tongued mask, and the coat-check girl walks around without a head so casually you might think she forgot she’s in costume. The original script even says the torture onstage should be more silly than scary. It’s a gauntlet throw of an opening. Oh, you think this is scary? director Karl Freund seems to say. We’ll show you scary.

And he does, immediately finding much more intense, everyday horrors. Peter Lorre has never been creepier than…

Originally published on The Solute

The ’70s and ’80s are often called a “dark age” for animation. That’s true in some ways. It was certainly true for the kings of animation over at Disney, which had fallen so far after Walt’s death that their The Black Cauldron got clobbered at the box office by a Care Bears movie. And most other studios were out too, as the changing moviegoing habits of the post-TV world killed the short cartoon format.

But when the cat’s away the mice will play (or maybe the cat would be the Mouse in this metaphor? Anyway)…

The Lady in the Radiator
The Lady in the Radiator

Originally published on The Solute

It’s 1977. David Lynch films a “trailer” that doesn’t actually tell you anything about the movie. Instead, he’s just sitting on a couch with a bunch of Woody Woodpecker dolls. “These guys aren’t just a bunch of goofballs,” he says. “They know that there’s plenty of suffering in the world. They spent many years with hooks in their backs up on Sunset Boulevard. But they tell me there’s this all-pervading happiness underneath everything.”

It’s hard to get that sense from most of Lynch’s films, but especially from Eraserhead. (He’d later say his “boys” “are not…

Originally published on The Solute

A Bridge Too Far doesn’t really have much in common with Star Wars, but in a way, that’s exactly what makes it so relevant here. If Star Wars revived old genres for a new audience, Bridge was the last gasp of a style of action filmmaking whose time had passed. It’s a World War II epic that relies, like Airport, on star power to get butts in seats. …

Sam Scott

Features writer at Looper and staff writer and editor at The Solute twitter.com/BurgundySuit

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