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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Fantastic Fest (2022) Reviews by Joseph Perry

“Solomon King” (1974), “ “Lynch/Oz” (2022), and “The Stairway to Stardom Mixtape” (2022) 

Solomon King
How baaaad is former CIA operative and Green Beret — and current nightclub owner — Solomon King? He’s so baaaad that after a woman he was protecting and recently made love to dies, his grieving process is short enough that he finds solace in the arms of another woman soon after. He’s so baaaad that, while suffering from a head wound, all he can think of is scoring with yet another young lady. And in between those times, he is involved in fisticuffs and gunplay aplenty. That’s how baaaad Solomon King is! Deaf Crocodile Films has done a terrific job with its 4K restoration of 1974 crime film Solomon King, which has a plot that reaches far beyond director/cowriter/star Sal Watt’s budget, but delivers mightily on entertainment and chutzpah. Solomon sets out to protect Princess Oneeba (Claudia Russo) when she and her father become the targets of a coup started by Prince Hassan (Richard Scarso) having to do with oil fields in the Middle East. Solomon’s brother Manny King (James Watts) helps her escape to Oakland, California, but after assassins kill her, Solomon makes things personal, including everything I wrote about at the beginning of this review and much, much, more, as the third act takes a turn from its urban-set action back to the Middle East. Though some of the performances are a bit flat and it is obvious that everything set in the Middle East was filmed locally, the sheer can-do spirit, the smile-inducing use of the pyrotechnics budget, and the tour of Oakland nightclubs — including some fun funk and soul numbers from the time — are just a few reasons that make Solomon King well worth seeking out.

I love David Lynch’s films — Blue Velvet often battles Jaws and the original Halloween for the coveted top spot when people ask me what my favorite horror film is — and it doesn’t matter to me that I don’t know exactly what he is doing in every frame of his movies. I love the mystery. I watch and enjoy his films on a different level, just as he makes them on a different level. Renowned filmmakers Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Karyn Kusama, Rodney Ascher, John Waters and film critic Amy Nicholson take a deep rabbit-hole dive down one such level as they make their cases for how Lynch’s works are all influenced by the director’s obsession with Victor Fleming’s 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. Recurring themes of curtains and red shoes and doppelgangers and the like do indeed abound in Lynch’s films, from more overtly so in Wild at Heart to less so but still prevalent in works like The Elephant Man and Mulholland Drive. Naturally this intriguing documentary will be best suited to Lynch fans, but cinephiles of all stripes, including those who are not necessarily enamored with Lynch’s output, will find much to chew on here, as the influence of The Wizard of Oz is far-reaching in many motion pictures throughout the decades. 

The Stairway to Stardom Mixtape
For this year’s Fantastic Fest, the fine folks at the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) put together a collection called The Stairway to Stardom Mixtape, which boasts about 70 minutes of clips from performances from Stairway to Stardom, a public access talent show television series that ran in New York from 1979 to the early 1990s. Lounge singer Frank Masi and his wife Tillie hosted the series, and it seems doubtful that they ever turned down anyone who applied to audition. The performances range from highly questionable (such as one comedian, acknowledging that he is performing in front of a family audience, imagining Deep Throat filmed with the Empire State Building) to dread-inducing (a young woman gives a spoken word performance that goes from touching to horrifying) to fun (one little boy sings his heart out, and so what if all the notes don’t hit?) to winning (a street performer lands a gig at the famed Apollo Theater after his first performance on Stairway to Stardom). I had never heard of this show until seeing The Stairway to Stardom Mixtape —I’m behind on this, because it has been a hit on the Internet for years — but AGFA made me an instant fan. It’s easy to cringe at some of the performances, but every one of the participants seemed to give it their earnest all, and there’s a lot of fun to be had. Ultimately, that’s what wins out over cynicism, for this reviewer, at least.

Solomon King, Lynch/Oz, and The Stairway to Stardom Mixtape screened as part of Fantastic Fest, which ran September 22-29, 2022 in Austin, Texas, with an FF@Home virtual version available to U.S. residents from September 29-October 4. For more information, visit https://2022.fantasticfest.com/welcome and https://2022.fantasticfest.com/ff@home.

Solomon King
Directed by: Jack Bomay and Sal Watts
Written by: Sal Watts
Produced by: Sal-Wa and Stage Struck
Genre: Crime, Adventure, Action
Starring: Kyra Elise Gardner, Don Mancini, Brad Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, Fiona Dourif
Runtime: 1 hour 50 minutes
Rated: NR
Release Date: September 1974 

Directed by: Alexandre O. Phillippe
Written by: Alexandre O. Phillippe
Produced by: Exhibit A Pictures
Genre: Documentary
Starring: David Lynch, Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Karyn Kusama, Rodney Ascher, Amy Nicholson, John Waters
Runtime: 1 hour 48 minutes
Rated: NR
Release Date: June 9, 2022 

The Stairway to Stardom Mixtape
Directed by: American Genre Film Archive (AGFA)
Written by: N/A
Produced by: American Genre Film Archive (AGFA)
Genre: Documentary
Starring:  Frank Masi, Tillie Masi
Runtime: 1 hour 10 minutes
Rated: NR
Release Date: September 2022 

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