Movies to See in New Orleans This Week 5/23/19 – 5/29/19

Here’s a quick rundown of the movies we’re most excited about that are screening in New Orleans this week.

Movies We Haven’t Seen (Yet)

Booksmart I’m a huge sucker for films like The To Do List, Blockers, and Wetlands that reclaim the (traditionally macho) gross-out teen sex comedy for a freshly femme perspective, and Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut promises to be an exciting new entry in that canon.

Rafiki A lesbian love story that was temporarily banned in its native Kenya “due to its homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law.” Only screening at Zeitgeist.

Shadow A new historical martial arts epic from the legendary wuxia director Yimou Zhang, best known for Hero & House of Flying Daggers. Only screening at Zeitgeist.

Movies We’ve Already Enjoyed

The Godfather Part II (1974) Surely, you’ve seen Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscars-sweeping mafia epic by now, but have you ever seen it projected on the big screen? Maybe so; I don’t know your life’s story. Screening Sunday 5/26 & Wednesday 5/29 as part of The Prytania’s Classic Movies Series.

Long Shot A formulaic Seth Rogen/Charlize Theron romcom that’s funny & cute in all the traditional ways you’d expect. What’s really interesting about the film, though, is how it manages to pull that off while discussing something most by-the-books romcoms actively avoid: politics.

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu A very silly neo-noir blockbuster in which Ryan Reynolds voices a wisecracking Pikachu. Not everything onscreen works but, no matter what you have to put up with to get a look at them, the Pokémon themselves remain very, very cute and worthy of your patience.

-Brandon Ledet

Filth & Divinity at the Ace Hotel

The Ace Hotel in downtown New Orleans is a very strange space. It’s a clean, trendy, expensive hotel I couldn’t possibly afford if I ever needed to spend a night in the CBD, but it’s still a facility I find myself utilizing fairly often. The fresh oysters in its seafood restaurant are refreshing & addictive; they have a decent coffee shop & bar; and, most importantly, it’s an abnormally comfortable place to mooch free Wi-Fi downtown – a service I abuse often. The most surreal experiences I have at the Ace, however, are when the building functions as an art space. Whether it’s a New Orleans Film Society screening, a brass band set, or a mixed media art instillation, it’s always strange to see the bougiest hipster-prone space in town play host to something that’s actually, genuinely cool. I had the most extreme art vs. venue dissonance I’ve ever experienced at the Ace just a couple weeks ago when the venue played host to a local drag show. Not only was it the kind of drag revue we’re used to seeing at dive bars & dimly lit cabarets in much cheaper corners of the city; it was also a show dedicated to the honor of a drag queen whose persona was the spiritual antithesis to the Ace Hotel’s upscale cleanliness: Divine.

As part of Harlequeen’s Honor Thy Mother series, the Ace Hotel played host to a local Divine Tribute Show drag revue in early May. Seven performers paid tribute to various milestones in Divine’s career throughout the show – lip-syncing to her disco hits, restaging scenes from her appearances in John Waters films, and – in one of the more inspired gags of the evening – reading beat poetry in her voice. It was a lovely evening in a pristine venue that was meant to honor a performer defined by Filth & Chaos. There was a dissociative effect between the vile acts being pantomimed onstage & the general chic, professional atmosphere of the venue. The show was cheap; the performers were consistent to the depravity they’d stage anywhere else in the city. Still, it was bizarre to step into a “late night” drag revue that was well-lit, punctual, relatively sober, and frequently disrupted by a straight-girl bridal party (okay, maybe that last part was fairly typical). The venue’s clean-cut hipsterdom was in sharp contrast to the various visions of Divine that graced the staged and smeared it in filth, which only made the experience more surreal. It was like the difference between seeing Divine rip through the trashier sets of early films like Multiple Maniacs & Pink Flamingos and the later films like Polyester & Hairspray where she irons clothes & pretends to be a suburban mom: it was almost even more perverse through the contrast.

Regardless of the ambiance, the performers did an excellent job paying tribute to Divine without stepping on each other’s heels in overlap or repetition. Tarah Cards & (Krewe Divine member) CeCe V DeMenthe did traditional lip-sync routines to Divine’s disco hits, but in entirely different tones; Cards filtered her interpretations of the original numbers through the Mink Stole temper tantrums of Female Trouble, while DeMenthe nailed the music video originals with impeccable accuracy in her attention to detail. DeDe Onassis & mistress of ceremonies Franky gently mocked the high-brow venue where the show was staged with the classic glamor of stage musicals & Torch Light singers, respectively. It was Mary Boy & Puddin’ Tain who really leaned into the absurdity of staging a Divine-themed drag show in the early-evening sobriety of the Ace Hotel, though. Puddin’ Tain’s first number was well behaved enough in a Lust in the Dust-themed foot fetish routine. It was her second number in a beatnik mutation of the classic Babs Johnson flamenco dress, now topped with a black sequin beret, that truly had the room in tears. Listening to her perform a beatnik poem about a meatball sub (in honor of Dawn Davenport) to a chorus of appreciative finger-snaps really felt like witnessing something special. For their part, Mary Boy went full carnival geek with two gross-out routines: First, a very literal homage to Eat Your Makeup. Then, a gag where they liquefied cash money in a blender and drank the contents in front of our horrified eyes. I’ve never been more hyper-aware of what I was watching and where I was watching it then I was in that moment.

You can see a picture of the full cast below (courtesy of Michael Meads) for reference, as well as a poster that includes a portrait I took of CeCe V DeMenthe in her first year “marching” with Krewe Divine. I don’t think either of those documents fully capture the absurdity of that evening though. For the full effect, I’d encourage you drop by the Ace hotel in the next time it sounds like they’re hosting something especially raunchy & uncouth in one of their various art venues (the next Honor Thy Mother event may even be a good start). Whether it’s a risqué art film, a series of nude photographs, or a drag show dedicated to the undisputed Queen of Filth, there’s something about that building’s buttoned-up, bright-eyed atmosphere that accentuates the depravity of art that does not belong there. It’s good to know they’re worthwhile for more than free Wi-Fi & a decent cup of cold brew, even if most of us could never afford to stay the night.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to See in New Orleans This Week 5/16/19 – 5/22/19

Here’s a quick rundown of the movies we’re most excited about that are screening in New Orleans this week.

Movies We Haven’t Seen (Yet)

Under the Silver Lake David Robert Mitchell’s twisty noir follow-up to It Follows (our favorite film of 2015) premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to mostly positive reviews a full year ago but was quietly dumped on VOD in recent weeks with little fanfare. In case you still value the theatrical experience for these festival-circuit art films, you can see it on the big screen this week at Chalmette Movies.

Shadow A new historical martial arts epic from the legendary wuxia director Yimou Zhang, best known for Hero & House of Flying Daggers. Only screening at Zeitgeist.

Movies We’ve Already Enjoyed

Amazing Grace A 1972 Aretha Franklin concert film that wasn’t fit for distribution until this year because of technical issues in its production (original director Sydney Pollack forgot to use clapperboards while filming, making editing the footage together a logistical nightmare). A one-of-a-kind theatrical experience nearly a half-decade in the making. Only playing at The Broad & Zeitgeist.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) – Long after the silent 1920s Lon Chaney original helped launch Universal’s Famous Monsters brand, the studio attempted to stage a talkie remake that eventually became this RKO picture instead, one of the most expensive productions in RKO history. A lavish horror classic that seems worthy of being experienced on the big screen. Playing Sunday 5/19 & Wednesday 5/22 as part of Prytania’s Classic Movies series.

-Brandon Ledet

Finding Belizaire in the Modern Cajun

The biggest shift in onscreen Cajun representation achieved by Belizaire the Cajun, our current Movie of the Month, is that it was a film written & directed by a member of the Cajun community. Previously, most Cajun representation on the big screen came in two forms: documentaries about Cajun culture filtered through the eye of an outsider and as dangerous backwoods yokels that spooked the protagonists of thrillers who wandered too far outside the safety of the big city. Belizaire marked a shift from there only being movies about Cajuns to there also being movies by Cajuns. Writer-director Glen Pitre had already been making self-funded “gumbo Westerns” for local markets before Belizaire, but that film was a breakthrough in budget & distribution thanks to financial & creative support from The Sundance Institute. Still, Belizarie the Cajun was somewhat of an educational drama about the history of Cajun culture; it did not do much in the way of representing what contemporary Cajun culture looked like in modern times. That update didn’t arrive in any significant way for another decade, represented in a film by fellow local director Pat Mire.

Dirty Rice didn’t reach quite as far or wide as Belizaire the Cajun, but it did see its own international distribution thanks to its inclusion in the 1997 London Film Festival. The film was also an extremely localized hit – breaking records for the longest running movie to play in Lafayette theaters, thanks to what ended up being a five-month engagement. It’s been largely forgotten in the decades since. Currently, the only official means of distribution for the film is for libraries to order DVDs from Pat Mire directly, for $100 a copy. The copy I borrowed from my own library was a VHS transfer with no closed captions tracks or special features – just a barebones home video release with zero fanfare. Considering the movie’s lowkey romantic & crisis-of-faith conflicts, this lack of prestigious distribution does make some sense, since there isn’t much of interest on the screen for anyone who’s not especially fixated on cinematic representations of Cajun culture. However, since there are so few narrative feature films in the Cajun canon (not to be consumed with Bobby Hebert, The Cajun Cannon), Dirty Rice is a significant work worthy of study & discussion – one that’s even more lost to time than Belizaire.

In the film, Benjamin Mouton plays a big-city architect who abandons his corporate life in the middle of a major development deal to save his family’s struggling rice farm on the Bayou. The divisions between his rural Cajun hometown and his corporate New Orleans world are about as broad & cliché as you would expect. The architect leaves behind his blueprints & business-woman girlfriend for shrimp boots and an old-fashioned Cajun girl; it’s a kind of reverse crisis-of-faith narrative as he rediscovers his Cajun roots and leaves behind the atheistic temptations of big-city hedonism. His new Cajun girlfriend challenges his prejudices against the community where he was raised, balking at his distrust of old-world holistic medicines with the retort “It’s not superstition if it works.” His big-city ex become increasingly villainous as he comfortably backslides into his old Cajun ways, eventually exiting the film to a chorus of “boos” when she calls him a “coon-ass” in a local dive bar. Meanwhile, he struggles to transform the farm into a profitable business despite its poor rice yield by distilling homemade rice wine & selling crawfish from his fields in city markets. Both the romance & bank repossession crises work out exactly the way you’d expect, but narrative surprise was never Dirty Rice’s focal point anyway. This is a film that’s merits are defined entirely by local flavor.

The depictions of Cajun culture you’ll see in Dirty Rice aren’t all that different from what’s onscreen in Belizaire the Cajun despite the century’s difference in their respective settings. It’s difficult to decipher exactly how much of that overlap is true to historical accuracy and how much is due to the national popularization of Cajun culture around the time of the two films’ releases. Zydeco music & Cajun chefs like Paul Prudhomme saw an unusual uptick in pop culture attention in the decade between these those films, which is likely what helped them get greenlit in the first place. As such, both films pay particular attention to the local musicians featured in their soundtracks (in the case of Dirty Rice, Wayne Toups & Zydeco Cajun), and the local specialties of their cuisine. This is the first narrative film I can remember ever seeing stage a traditional Louisiana crawfish boil, complete with newspaper-lined tables and a Tony Chachere’s salt bath for the little buggers when they’re fresh out of the pot. Fried catfish, gumbo, and conversational Cajun-French flavor the air around the film’s barebones romantic & financial conflicts, so that it gradually amounts to more than the sum of its parts. There’s even a sequence that thinks to document the costumes & rituals of Courir de Mardi Gras, which is a major aspect of Cajun culture that isn’t touched in Belizaire.

Belizaire the Cajun is a better movie than Dirty Rice, especially when considered only on its dramatic merits outside the context of Cajun culture documentation. Both films are important works for bringing the basic tenants of Cajun culture to the world at large, though. They’re rare examples of Cajun creators representing their own culture onscreen on their own terms. That localized culture preservation leads to some great people-watching among the extras in both films too, which might be the one area where Dirty Rice has Belizaire the Cajun beat in terms of quality. It’s one thing to see local extras restaging age-old Cajun rituals in period garb in Belizaire, but it’s almost even more substantial to see those customs & mannerisms continue into the blue jeans & sunglasses era represented in the modern setting of Dirty Rice. Both films are substantial in their allowance for Cajuns to control their own cinematic representation in legitimate movie productions, but only Dirty Rice can claim to show how that community’s traditions ­still looked & thrived in modern times.

For more on May’s Movie of the Month, the 1986 historical drama Belizaire the Cajun, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film.

-Brandon Ledet

Panic in the Streets (1950)

Usually, when a Hollywood production is shot on-location in New Orleans, the expectation is that the audience will be doing some tourist sightseeing. 80s thrillers like The Big Easy & Hard Target where especially shameless about this, setting scenes in conspicuous tourist spots like Tipitina’s, Mardi Gras parade float warehouses, and Bourbon Street strip joints for easy, sleazy atmosphere as they drunkenly stumbled around the city. The 1950 health-epidemic noir Panic in the Streets aimed for an entirely different kind of local seasoning. Directed by respected dramatist Elia Kazan shortly before he fired off major hits like A Streetcar Named Desire & On the Waterfront, Panic in the Streets was something of an experiment & a gamble for the Studio Era way of doing things. The business of exporting productions to shoot entirely on-location in far-off cities wasn’t business as usual yet, which might explain why Kazan didn’t think to make use of the city in the now-traditional ways of visiting famous clubs, capturing Mardi Gras crowds, or just generally making a big deal about the environment where the action is staged. There are a few familiar shots of French Quarter exteriors that haven’t changed at all in the last 70 years and the film eventually concludes in a shipping dock warehouse setting that feels unique to its chosen location, but most of its drama is confined to the city’s interior spaces, which are familiar but not entirely unique. The novelty of shooting a Studio Era film entirely on-location did lead to a different, less frequently travelled path to local authenticity, though. Over 80% of the hired cast & crew for Panic in the Streets were local to New Orleans, which is still an unusual way of doing things by big-budget Hollywood standards, even with all the productions that film here for the tax credits. There may not be much documentation of what the city itself looked like in the 1950s here, but the film offers something a little more precious instead: documentation of and collaboration with the city’s people.

Outside its context as a New Orleans peoplewatching time capsule, Panic in the Streets is a fairly standard noir. Its central hook promises something novel beyond the standard antihero cops vs. wise guy criminals dynamic that usually defines the genre. NOPD detectives and representatives from the federal US Public Health Service reluctantly team up to track down a murderer who is now patient zero in a potential city-wide epidemic of the pneumonic plague, thanks to a comprised victim. This unusual medical angle to the crime thriller drama does allow for some distinctive detail unusual to the genre: scientific jargon about “anti-plague serums,” wry humor about tough-guy cops who are afraid of taking their inoculation shots, an excuse to burn all the evidence with the infected-and-murdered man’s body just to make the mystery killer’s identity tougher to crack, etc. Mostly, the plague angle is merely used to build tension by giving local cops & federal officials a tight 48-hour window to catch their killer before his contagions become a city-wide threat. There are some conflicts built around “college men” health officials and blue-collar detectives flaunting their authority in the investigation, but most confrontations mostly amount to angry macho men yelling about jurisdiction at top volume, which feels standard to most cop thrillers. The rest of Panic in the Streets is a faithful amalgamation of classic noir tropes: post-German Expressionist lighting, witty retorts muttered under hard-drinking cops’ breath, a villain who looks like he was plucked from a Dick Tracy lineup, more sewer-grate steam that New Orleans has ever seen, and so on. Anyone with a built-in appreciation for noir as a genre won’t need much more than the plague outbreak premise and the New Orleans locale for the film to be of interest, but it still doesn’t go very far out of its way to distinguish itself beyond those novelties – especially considering the prestige Elia Kazan represents behind the camera.

One noticeable auteurist touch Kazan brings to the table is an interest in this port city’s immigrant Greek population, which feels unique to him given that the director himself was born in Constantinople to Greek parents. Besides the expected police stations, race tracks, and shipping dock locations that naturally arise by setting a noir here, one of the few vintage local spots the film takes a documentarian interest in is a Greek-owned restaurant named Athena’s, presumably now long-gone. The rest of the local cast & crew are much less conspicuous, sporting neither the thick Y’at nor Cajun accents typical to Hollywood productions set here (or, at least they weren’t undetectable to this local’s ear). It’s nice to have a movie character pronounce “New Orleans” correctly on the big screen (a rarer occurrence than you might expect) and it’s a little funny how the plague victims’ dazed stumbling resembles the drunken zombie tourists of Bourbon Street, but most of Panic in the Streets’s local people-watching is just as subtly played as its minor deviations from the noir template. There’s a natural authenticity to the movie that arises from casting real-life characters in a majority of the roles, so that very few faces on the screen are the pristine, homogenous brand of Hollywood Beauty we’re used to seeing. For my taste, there are far too few women with substantial roles to paly in that dynamic (especially for the genre that effectively invented the femme fatale), but for the most part I was riveted just picking faces out of the crowd anyway. Shotgun Cinema projecting the film large & loud for a free screening at the Marigny Opera House was a major help in that regard. As a shot-on-location noir and an Elia Kazan procedural drama, Panic in the Streets is a solid genre entry, but not much more. As an act of local-history people-watching, however, it carries a lot of clout as something exceptional and I was glad to have the opportunity to share that experience with a live, local community.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to See in New Orleans This Week 5/9/19 – 5/15/19

Here’s a quick rundown of the movies we’re most excited about that are screening in New Orleans this week, just in case you have some free time outside the Mother’s Day Mayhem.

Movies We Haven’t Seen (Yet)

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu Look, Ryan Reynolds turning Pikachu into Lil’ Deadpool sounds excruciating, but there’s still something incredibly exciting about watching a live-action Pokémon story on the big screen. We’ve had fun with a couple of the animated Pokémon movies in the past, so hopefully Reynolds’s snarky annoyances will be outweighed by the massive cuteness of seeing a big-screen Squirtle or whatever.

Wild Nights with Emily Molly Shannon stars as Emily Dickinson in this playful revisionist drama that attempts to recontextualize the supposed reclusive-spinster poet as someone much more passionate & raucous. Playing only at The Broad.

Movies We’ve Already Enjoyed

Amazing Grace A 1972 Aretha Franklin concert film that wasn’t fit for distribution until this year because of technical issues in its production (original director Sydney Pollack forgot to use clapperboards while filming, making editing the footage together a logistical nightmare). A one-of-a-kind theatrical experience nearly a half-decade in the making. Playing only at the new & improved Zeitgeist cinema in Arabi.

The Wrong Man (1956) – I’ll let Hitchcock himself describe what distinguishes this picture from his other thrillers that regularly play at The Prytania, borrowing his own introduction for the film wholesale: “This is Alfred Hitchcock speaking. In the past, I have given you many kinds of suspense pictures. But this time, I would like you to see a different one. The difference lies in the fact that this is a true story, every word of it. And yet it contains elements that are stranger than all the fiction that has gone into many of the thrillers I’ve made before.” Screening as part of The Prytania’s Classic Movies series Sunday 5/12 and Wednesday 5/15.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to See in New Orleans This Week 5/2/19 – 5/8/19

Here are the few movies we’re most excited about that are playing in New Orleans this week. Just in case you haven’t already gotten your superhero fill with Endgame‘s chokehold on the majority of the city’s screenspace, Fathom Events’ month-long celebration of the Batman franchise is pretty exciting for anyone who was too young to catch the Tim Burton run the first time it graced the big screen.

Tim Burton’s Batman Movies

Batman (1989) – Returning to the big screen for its 30th Anniversary, Burton’s goth superhero epic/Prince dance party is a stylistic wonder. From our review for the Roger Ebert Film School series: “Burton’s mixed media visual accomplishments in Batman are stunning to this day, a distinct personal artistry that doesn’t require a strong narrative to justify its for-its-own-sake pleasures. Although he wouldn’t make his most fully personal Batman film until Returns, you can still feel his own idiosyncrasies creeping in through the influence of Nicholson’s goofy-scary Joker and an overall production design unmistakably of his own.” Screening Saturday 5/4 via Fathom Events .

Batman Returns (1992) – While Batman ’89 is a more compromised vision, Returns is pure Tim Burton – an untethered, perverted goth kid rampage that broke free from studio exec influence to hide Batman as a background character in his own movie so total freaks like Danny DeVito’s Penguin & Michelle Pheiffer’s Catwoman could run amok in a horned-up kink nightmare. It’s my personal favorite Batman movie and easily among my favorite Burton pictures (behind only Pee-wee’s Big Adventure & Ed Wood). Screening Monday 5/6 via Fathom Events .

Non-Batman Films

High Society (1956) – A Technicolor movie-musical remake of The Philadelphia Story, featuring a Cole Porter score, musical performances from Louis Armstrong, and the final big-screen appearance of Grace Kelly before she became Princess consort of Monaco. Screening as part of The Prytania’s Classic Movies series Sunday 5/5 and Wednesday 5/8.

Black Mother An artsy, cinematography-focused documentary exploring the culture clash between sex workers & the pious in modern Jamaica. Appears to echo the economic anxiety & poetic fine-art portraiture of Hale County This Morning, This Evening. Playing only at the new & improved Zeitgeist cinema in Arabi.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to See in New Orleans This Week 4/25/19 – 5/1/19

Here are the few movies we’re most excited about that are playing in New Orleans this week and don’t slowly kill off all your favorite superheroes for three hours solid.

Movies We Haven’t Seen (Yet)

Rope (1948) – Hitchcock’s first Technicolor picture is a real-time thriller made to look like it was filmed in one continuous shot. Screening as part of The Prytania’s Classic Movies series Sunday 4/28 and Wednesday 5/1.

Amazing Grace A 1972 Aretha Franklin concert film that wasn’t fit for distribution until this year because of technical issues in its production (original director Sydney Pollack forgot to use clapperboards while filming, making editing the footage together a logistical nightmare). A one-of-a-kind theatrical experience nearly a half-decade in the making.

Family A heartwarming, R-rated indie comedy about a makeshift family shaken up when a troubled teen runs away from home to become a Juggalo.

Movies We’ve Already Enjoyed

High Life Claire Denis launches the same fascinated disgust over human bodily fluids she exhibited in Trouble Every Day into outer space in an eerie, slow-moving sci-fi horror. This is divisive, artsy-fartsy filmmaking that has even split the opinions of the Swampflix crew, but it’s something that demands to be seen in the immersive dark of a proper movie theater. Playing only at The Broad.

Buckjumping A local documentary on New Orleans dance traditions that captures the spirit of the city in a way few films do. It often feels like a 2010s update to Always for Pleasure, which I mean as a high compliment. Playing only at The Broad.

Us Jordan Peele follows up his instantly iconic debut feature Get Out (Swampflix’s favorite film of 2017) with a surreal freak-out about doppelgangers & class-disparity. From Boomer’s review: “Us is more ambitious than its predecessor, meaning that sometimes it swings a bit wider but ultimately has the same meticulous attention detail, from literal Chekovian guns to a multitude of characters being literally and metaphorically reflected in surfaces both pristine and cracked.”

-Brandon Ledet

Blogging & Zine-Making in a Post-NOCAZ World

When we first started this blog in January of 2015, I had no idea what I was doing. From a web design, self-promotion, and editorial standpoint, it’s arguable that’s still true in our fifth year of operation. Swampflix is still an exceedingly amateur blogging project – somewhat by choice. I do think we’ve come to properly contextualize what we’re doing as an amateur film criticism collective over time, but our initial months were purely run on impulse. It was a time when all my favorite professional critics were losing their staff jobs on dream projects like The Dissolve (R.I.P.) to enter into the nightmare world of writing freelance, so I had no ambitions to turn this into a lucrative profession. Mainly, I just wanted to write. A few years away from the college classroom (where I l earned a very useful degree in Poetry), I found that I was no longer writing anything creative without the impetus of deadlines or a community to share feedback with, so I created both stimuli as best as I could in Swampflix. After we were all simultaneously laid off from the same call-center job in late-2014, I banded together with James & Britnee to fill our sudden wealth of free time by putting into print what we were already doing on our work breaks: chatting about movies. I set arbitrary goals for myself: writing one new movie review a day for two consecutive years while pushing my collaborators to post as much as they could contribute and both editing & illustrating each post myself. While I can say for sure that my Sharpie-doodle illustrations have noticeably improved over time, I’m not sure the same is true for my writing. I feel like I’ve hit a personal plateau with the quality of my craft in the past couple years and have only continued to produce daily #content out of pure personal compulsion – both the compulsion to discuss & discover movies with a like-minded community and the compulsion to do something creative with my free time. Those early jobless months have gradually given way to a newfound bureaucratic routine that pays my bills, but at least I have a somewhat creative hobby on the side in Swampflix to keep myself sane & entertained.

Even if my personal increase in quality has stagnated in recent years, Swampflix has remained interesting & rewarding to me in how it’s evolved as a collaborative project. Over the years, we’ve expanded the one-movie-review-a-day template into a much more complex routine. A bi-monthly podcast, weekly film-screening bulletins, monthly conversations, recurring features on niche topics, film festival round-ups , and all sorts of collaborative projects have helped define the Swampflix ritual as our initial three-person team has included & cycled through eight contributing writers over five consecutive years of daily posts (with Boomer being our most consistent additional contributor since late in our first year). None of these sub-projects have been as revelatory & invigorating as making zines, which we were entirely inspired to undertake by attending NOCAZ. The first New Orleans Comics and Zines Festival was held in November of 2014, exactly at the time when the original Swampflix trio were about to be laid off & looking for a creative outlet. Without a doubt, I would have started a movie blog that following January even if I had not attended the first NOCAZ; I had already started writing movie reviews in unlikely venues like The Dissolve comment sections and – I kid you not – weekly newsletters Britnee organized & edited for our defunct call center job, so an official blog was somewhat inevitable. I might have even arrived at the zine-like, high-contrast Sharpie illustrations aesthetic without it, given my ancient past drawing up flyers to promote long-dead punk bands I was in a lifetime ago. One thing is for certain, though: there would be no Swampflix zines without NOCAZ. I attended the first NOCAZ fest as a customer, never having made a zine before in my life, and I dutifully distributed Swampflix zines at each subsequent year’s fest until 2019 – the fifth & final NOCAZ. Making movie fanzines for NOCAZ was an intensely rewarding, labor-intensive ritual both because there was a tangible product associated with the work that we obviously don’t get from blogging and because it helped contextualize everything we were doing as an amateur film criticism collective with no chance of ever going Legit. Basically, everything I know about blogging & online self-promotion I learned from physically tabling zines for NOCAZ in the real world.

Self-publishing in the digital hellscape of the 2010s often feels like shouting into the online void. We occasionally receive positive feedback from a reader (or, more often, an amateur filmmaker whose work we caught at a festival), but those exchanges maybe occur twice or thrice a year. Mostly, we publish movie reviews for their own sake – finding enjoyment in the act of writing and the impetus to analyze films on a deeper level than we would if we were watching them purely as passive entertainment. I’ve found the most joy in this project when collaborating with similarly-minded bloggers – We Love to Watch, Luddite Robot, Jean-Pod Van Damme, etc. – but even those exchanges are sparse, as we’re all doing this in our free time outside the jobs that actually pay our bills. What I get from attending NOCAZ every year is a concentrated, amplified macro-dose of my favorite parts of film blogging in a potent two-day span. The New Orleans Comics and Zines festival was an annual opportunity to spend an entire weekend in the nerd-sanctuary of the public library with an overwhelming influx of amateur & outsider artists. Comic, zines, art prints, and everything in-between lined labyrinths of tables in the exhibition room, fostering a powerful environment of pure creativity uninhibited by official publication gatekeepers or access to the means of production. Every year, NOCAZ had the ideal D.I.Y. punk effect on me, the exact spirit you hope to be infected with at any punk community event: it made me want to make art. A lot of work goes into making new zines & buttons for the festival every year on top of our daily blogging, making for the most needlessly labor-intensive form of self-promotion imaginable. Still, it’s a way for us to make sure a few more locals are aware that we exist every year and a way for us to enjoy our own work as a tangible product instead of a shout into the digital void. Most importantly, though, NOCAZ was invigorating & inspiring as a temporary community of artists encouraging each other to keep doing their thing and trading around samples of their wares in conversational creativity.

The fifth & final NOCAZ, held in April of 2019, was a major success for us. We distributed around 40 Swampflix zines, reconnected with zinesters we met at previous festivals like last year’s ALA Conference, and met a real-life fan of the podcast (who is somehow a real human being & not a bot). There was even a sense of accomplishment in finally selling out of some of the zines we made in 2015 for our first year tabling at the festival – bringing our time with NOCAZ full circle in a satisfactory way. I was honestly embarrassed to sell some of those older zines, as I felt like the quality of our work has greatly improved since that first year, but there was still something encouraging about people being intrigued about something we made so long ago. That validation made me want to make more & better art. Talking to strangers about movies all weekend made me want to make more & better art. Being around so many creative, actively engaged artists in such an intimate, real-world space made me want to make more & better art. The final NOCAZ left me feeling the same impulse as every year’s festival before it: the need to do more and to do better. According to their own mission statement, “NOCAZ [was] an attempt to make a space for self-published artists and thinkers to put their work out in the public sphere and be able to reach each other without the constraints and expense of the commercial publishing industry. Zines are a participatory format and we hope bringing multiple perspectives under one roof [created] dialogue and [inspired] more people to express themselves through print.” I can report that, at least for us, the short-lived festival was a resounding success on those terms. I also suspect we were far from the only attendees who started making zines for the first time after attending the fest. The festival ending has obviously sent me into a tailspin of self-reflection and reassessment of what we’ve been doing over the last five years, since so much of our own work has been directly inspired & guided by our NOCAZ experience. There were more than enough people in the library for this last fest to prove that there’s an interest in a new annual zine event to fill that void now that NOCAZ is gone. And believe me, it’s a massive void.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to See in New Orleans This Week 4/18/19 – 4/24/19

Here’s a quick rundown of the movies we’re excited about that are screening in New Orleans this week, running the full range between weirdo art films & major studio superhero behemoths that don’t really need your money.

Movies We Haven’t Seen (Yet)

High Life Claire Denis dips her toe into eerie space horror, by which I mean she dives head first into the deep end. This looks like a creepily kinky slowburn of an outer space nightmare, something you do not want to miss while it’s on the big screen.

The Field Guide to Evil An international folktale horror anthology featuring contributions from the directors of The Duke of Burgundy, The Lure, Baskin, and Goodnight Mommy. Screening only at The Broad.

Amazing Grace A 1972 Aretha Franklin concert film that wasn’t fit for distribution until this year because of technical issues in its production (original director Sydney Pollack forgot to use clapperboards while filming, making editing the footage together a logistical nightmare). A one-of-a-kind theatrical experience nearly a half-decade in the making.

200 Motels (1971) – A road trip mockumentary co-directed by Frank Zappa as a kind of surrealist self-portrait. Features appearances form Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, and an onslaught of psychedelic filmmaking effects. Playing Saturday 4/20 at The Broad Theater as part of their day-long celebration of stonerdom.

Movies We Already Enjoyed

Life of Brian (1979) – The Monty Python’s cheekily blasphemous comedy classic about a man who was born on the same day as and next door to Jesus will be screening the morning of Easter Sunday 4/21 as part of Prytania’s Classic Movies series. Consider it a cathartic alternative to church.

Us Jordan Peele follows up his instantly iconic debut feature Get Out (Swampflix’s favorite film of 2017) with a surreal freak-out about doppelgangers & class-disparity. From Boomer’s review: “Us is more ambitious than its predecessor, meaning that sometimes it swings a bit wider but ultimately has the same meticulous attention detail, from literal Chekovian guns to a multitude of characters being literally and metaphorically reflected in surfaces both pristine and cracked.”

SHAZAM! A surprisingly goofy entry into the DCEU that combines campy throwbacks to superhero comics’ ancient past with a distinctly 1980s kids-in-peril aesthetic. Boomer called it “a whole hell of a lot of fun, a modern-day kid’s wish fulfillment film that harkens back to a time when it was still possible for such a thing to be dark, vulgar, and tongue-in-cheek.”

Captain Marvel In case you’ve been putting it off, it’s your last week to catch up with the 21st entry in the MCU before the 22nd arrives next week: Avengers – End Game. From Boomer’s review: “Fitting for a movie that is at least on some level about both Girl Power and The 90s, the comparison that kept coming to my mind was 1992’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The scene in which Vers steals a guy’s motorcycle for telling her to smile reads just like the scene in that film in which the original Kristy Swanson Buffy does the same after a rude biker asks if she ‘wants some real power between [her] legs.’ It’s a sanitization of something, to make it more palatable for you to be able to bring your kids to see the new superhero movie, but it’s almost the same scene, and I genuinely enjoyed that the film evoked that rhetorical space in the era of its birth.”

-Brandon Ledet