House Of Gucci: The Camp Pleasures Of Sir Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott has a long-running love affair with extravagant, theatrical and delectably trashy cinema – making House of Gucci nothing more than a logic next step, finds Brian Quinn

I have seen the future, and it’s far from bright. It’s dark and it’s desperate, and it’s all thanks to Sir Ridley Scott. Alien and Blade Runner taught me how to survive extraterrestrial infestations and quash replicant revolts, but they don’t fill me with hope for what lies ahead. And as for what came before, the director isn’t too prone to nostalgia – as the bloody and brutal pairing that is The Gladiator and The Last Duel will attest to.

Best known for murky sci-fis and gritty historical epics, Scott’s name has become synonymous with a strait-laced brand of filmmaking throughout his nearly 50-year career. “If I were pressed to describe my style,” Scott told Ian Nathan, in his book Ridley Scott: A Retrospective, “I’d have to say it’s called reality.” But this past July, when the trailer for House of Gucci dropped, what viewers needed most was a reality check.

The trailer promises high fashion, high camp and a range of broad Italian accents delivered by a predominantly American cast. Broader still was the online reaction: many reveled in its pageantry, but some were left scratching their heads that Scott, an octogenarian with a notoriously stubborn streak, was the filmmaker responsible for such sartorial sass.

Yet when examining the director’s vast filmography, House of Gucci stands better as a testament to Scott’s enduring love for extravagant, theatrical and delectably trashy cinema. While the trailer might have caught some off guard, a merry few welcomed it with a familiar embrace. Scott may have been knighted in 2003, but he’ll always be the King of Kitsch.

Much of the filmmaker’s camp cred can be attributed to his days as an ad man in the ‘60s and ‘70s, a period he often refers to as his own film school education. “I’ve done 2,500 commercials!” he told The Guardian, before declaring himself “Mr. Fucking Television Commercial-maker!”. And while he could never be accused of being modest, it’s a moniker well-earned considering the lasting impact Scott’s TV spots have had on modern advertising. His 1984 Apple ad was a pop culture phenomenon, but equally memorable was Chanel’s Share the Fantasy campaign in 1979, the same year Alien was released.

Here, even while earthbound, Scott conjured up otherworldly sensations so dreamy, seductive and unapologetically playful, as if watching a David Hockney painting splash into life.

Scott would later bring a similar aesthetic to The Counselor, the critically reviled thriller the L.A. Times called “a cologne ad for the scent of despair.” He’s not wrong, though much of that despair comes from screenwriter Cormac McCarthy, whose pitch-black worldview serves as the perfect counterbalance to the director’s giddy indulgences. Alongside Brad Pitt cosplaying as Billy Ray Cyrus, Javier Bardem adds to his resume of outré hairdos with The Pomade Porcupine.

The camp-o-meter is cranked up further when Cameron Diaz’s Malkina enters the fray. During a scene in which Reiner (Bardem) recounts a ménage à trois between himself, Malinka and a (soon to be revalued) Ferrari, a flashback shows Malkina mounting and humping the car while Reiner sits stunned in his seat. It says a lot about her warped relationship to the world that she can achieve an orgasm through the cold surface of a windshield, but you’d swear the execution, so proudly ostentatious, would make even Paul Verhoeven blush. "You can’t make this up!" Reiner tells the Counselor – but Ridley Scott certainly can.

Of course, it wasn’t the first time the filmmaker blurred the line between burlesque and grotesque. That honour goes to Hannibal, Scott’s grandiose 2001 sequel to Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs. Meet Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), a combination of Phantom of the Opera and a James Bond villain, who was assigned to Dr. Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) for therapy. Never one to stick to the handbook, Lecter seduces Verger before encouraging him to cut off his own face and feed it to his dogs. “Why?” you might ask, well, because, “That’s entertainment!” Verger sings. That the scene is scored to Strauss’ ‘The Blue Danube Waltz’ only adds to its nightmarish absurdity.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Verger laments while recalling his mutilation. But don’t feel too sorry for him; revenge is imminent. It’s just unfortunate his grand plan (read: feeding his tormentor to ravenous boars) feels like something out of an Austin Powers movie, and is destined to fail. And, oh does it fail – culminating with Verger’s turncoat butler shoving his wheelchair into a dark pit of skyward snouts. It’s a delightfully gruesome crescendo, leaving you feeling as though wandering into a carnival sideshow goading us to “Stare, If You Dare!”

Still, if he makes a meal out of Hannibal, with Legend in 1985, Scott enjoys the whole kitsch and kaboodle. As far as daffy villainy goes, both Verger and Lecter pale in comparison to Tim Curry’s Darkness. It ain’t easy being a colossal, throbbing, over-sexed satan; but Curry is more than game – hellbent on putting the ‘evil’ in vaudeville. His nemesis, through whose eyes this fairy tale unfolds, is Tom Cruise’s scantily clad Jack: a literal babe in the woods tasked with vanquishing Darkness so light can prevail. But our Dark Lord needn’t worry; Cruise is too busy trying not to get upstaged by the surrounding set – a clutter of vibrant hues and dry-ice effects more indicative of glossy MTV music videos than Middle Earth.

Darkness has become a darling of the ASMR community in recent years, and it’s only a matter of time before Micheal Fassbender’s David, the haughty android last seen in Alien: Covenant in 2017, inspires similar tributes. “Watch me, I’ll do the fingering,” he whispers to Walter, an identical but inferior droid, when teaching him to play the flute in the film’s most memorable scene. And although Walter can hold a tune, we soon learn that, unlike David, he has no desires of his own, and nothing – not even a Fassbender-on-Fassbender kiss – can change that.

It’s when David finally kills Walter that the dark potential of his personality comes to light. Toggling between narcissistic and cruel, he’s one of Scott’s most overtly camp characters, but also one of the most significant. After all, it’s David who engineered the xenomorph (the formidable creatures at the heart of the Alien franchise), attempting to create a species superior to that of his own maker. Sure, Covenant answers the saga’s big questions, but if Scott teaches us anything, it’s that there’s nothing more dangerous than a pretty boy with daddy issues.

Thankfully, this House is no stranger to danger. Scott takes in the wicked, the damned, the bewigged and behooved. There’s no one too powerful not to deserve ridicule, nor anyone too callous not to earn sympathy. From low-brow thrills to high-fashion frills, Scott has put on plenty of shows over the years – let us pray for many more, in the name of The Father, Son and House of Ridley.

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