Fantastic Fest 2023: Blonde Death – Angsty SOV Gem from ’84

All they’ve got is a gun and a bad idea. Blonde Death (1984) is Bonnie & Clydesploitation made with no budget and a lot of pithy dialogue. “A video by James Dillinger,” the cover proudly states. We’re operating outside the normal zone of cinema. This is a vanguard cinema powered by a flagrantly amateur shot-on-video approach. James Dillinger went to the school of John Waters filmmaking and made his own twisted teen movie that through its provocations and risqué attitude, is a rejection of the form and function of this sort of movie. By making a rowdy version, Dillinger discards sensibility and pisses in the wind, not trying to make money or make friends, but nobody loses in this game, either, we all win when risks are taken and rules are broken.

Having integrity is sometimes about the denial of conventional modes and methods of storytelling. We need outsider art to air out our old ideas. We need to escape the customary molds of stories like Bonnie and Clyde by radicalizing their themes and ideas, like Blonde Death so deftly does. It’s not a heady proposition. The movie is too acidic for that. It is too rejecting of a status quo by which movies are made and shaped under the premise of “good taste”.

We are dealing firmly in the world of exploitation. You can argue about who is being exploited and for what. Is the titular Blonde exploited? The boys who fall in with her and the woman who just wants to make love with her? All of them at once? Movies like Blonde Death get by twisting language, making jokes out of refined common statements, “like taking Dildos from a baby.” The stronger and more reactionary the language, the more the movie is pushing against the imaginary boundaries of what movies have to be like.

The boundaries are, of course, totally imagined. There is a ratings board for movies but nobody is saying anything cannot get made. You can make things in abjectly “bad taste” and have a circular moment where it comes back around and through the overuse of harsh tropes against a common story, we just arrive at a new version with a new message about that story.

But what is Blonde Death even rejecting? Seemingly a hetero-normative understanding of the Bonnie and Clyde story. The institutional storytelling of legends within genre formats, where the genre is brisk and risky, but the stories stay the same as they have ever been. In a more formally acceptable way, that’s what Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise (1991) is doing years later. Thelma and Louise act as counterpoints to the typified runaway way of telling a story. That’s how it is with Moses and Addie in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1973 con-on-the-run story Paper Moon, which must have the most complete understanding of this cinematic juxtaposition, knowing everything that has already been done, and where to insert new value into these stories.

It’s not that Blonde Death stands shoulder-to-shoulder with these cinematic heavyweights. It’s that it doesn’t. That it’s unabashedly unconcerned with the matter entirely and is forging its own way with such reckless artistic abandon, that we can only say it’s done something stunning in rerouting that particular method of storytelling. Sure, we are not approaching the cinematic pinnacles of Bonnie and Clyde (1967), but Dillinger is now conveying, by way of style, a punkish way of telling a story, which is exactly best suited to the experiential model of the characters in it. You can do this kind of story in all kinds of ways, you can make a classically searching picture like David Lowery’s The Old Man & the Gun (2018), or you can abandon all taste and tell the story you need to tell to really differentiate yourself. Back in 1984, Dillinger was already paving his own way through this most American story, wherein he captures the peculiarities of the subcultures that would then (by the ’80s) inform two (or four) souls just lost enough that they ought to run off together.


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