Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Mischief Maker: Sofia Coppola's LICK THE STAR (1998)

Just as Francois Truffaut's 1957 short Les Mistons haunted nearly his entire canon, Sofia Coppola's 1998 mini-feature Lick the Star has also clearly foreshadowed every one of her films as well.  Opening with what has become Coppola's trademark shot (a character staring longingly out of a moving vehicle's window at something the audience can't see), Lick the Star is most closely aligned to Sofia's first feature The Virgin Suicides but elements of this striking fourteen minute feature can be felt in everything from Somewhere to even the trailer to The Bling Ring.  Like Les Mistons, Lick the Star is ground zero for a filmmaker's future canon and it would mark Coppola as one of the last true auteur's in modern cinema.

  While the film wouldn't be her first behind the screen credit (most notably she had co-written her father's short Life Without Zoe a decade before and had co-directed a little seen short entitled Bed Bath and Beyond in 1996), the shot on 16mm black and white Lick the Star marks the first time a film was graced with the "Directed by Sofia Coppola" credit.  Simply put, Lick The Star marks the true introduction to the artistry of Sofia Coppola even though she had been in the public spotlight for most of her life.   

Focused on a group of junior high school girls who have come up with a sure to be doomed plan to slowly poison the boys in their school, Lick the Star is a striking first work that benefits greatly from Coppola's precise directorial stylings and the rich photography of Lance Acord, who would soon become one of the most important cinematographers in all of modern American cinema.  Powered be a soundtrack featuring Free Kitten, The Amps and The Go Gos, and featuring cameos from the likes of Peter Bogdanovich and Zoe Cassavetes, Lick the Star is funny, haunting, provocative and sexy. 

If Lick the Star felt like a successful short upon its release in 1998, viewed today after nearly a decade and a half of feature films by Sofia Coppola it feels like a minor landmark work.  It becomes especially enduring after seeing The Virgin Suicides, Somewhere and the extraordinary "Playground Love" video Sofia directed for Air.  While it might only last fourteen minutes, there is an entire lifetime of planning behind Lick the Star that can be felt in every frame of the film. 

Lick the Star would play on The Independent Film Channel throughout the late part of 1998 and would later appear as an extra on a DVD entitled Hop.  For the people who saw it in 1998, Lick the Star helped erase the infamy that had followed Sofia Coppola in the nineties due to her viciously maligned performance in The Godfather Part 3.  More importantly it would help her secure funding for The Virgin Suicides, a work that would establish her less than two years later as one of the key new voices in modern cinema. 

-Jeremy Richey, 2013-


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