By Chris Packham
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Maybe it was the toxic convergence of celebrity worship, hyper-materialism, shitty parenting, and Adderall: Starting in late 2008, a gang of spoiled Valley kids walked into the unlocked homes of Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, Audrina Patridge, and others, pilfering over $3 million in designer clothing, jewelry, artwork, and Brian Austin Green's handgun. Inspired by Nancy Jo Sales's March 2010 Vanity Fair article on the real-life criminals, Lost in Translation auteur Sofia Coppola's artful, thrilling The Bling Ring taps into the arrogance and ennui of this teen mob. It's not so much this season's hedonistic answer to Spring Breakers as it is a post-Internet-generational The King of Comedy, with all that film's sadness, insolence, and absurdity.
"It just felt like a movie, so foreign and crazy and of our time," Coppola says of the true-life tale, phoning up earlier this month before the film's Cannes premiere. "I liked that tradition of teen movies where they get in trouble, but this one seemed unique to our culture today. It couldn't have happened in another era. The more I met the journalist and read all the transcripts from the real kids, it just intrigued me to know more about what they were thinking."
Though she's no stranger to reimagining other people's work (The Virgin Suicides) or stylizing true events (Marie Antoinette), Coppola admits she definitely steered toward verisimilitude: "I changed the names and wanted it to be fiction so I could take liberties, but so many absurd little details were based on real things just because they were interesting."
Having previously scored unprecedented access to filming locations like Versailles and Chateau Marmont, Coppola plucked yet another trophy venue of authenticity: Paris Hilton's inner sanctum. Invited over to Hilton's house for a party—she thinks it was by Somewhere star Stephen Dorff, who knew the heiress and about Coppola's project—the filmmaker spotted the pillows emblazoned with Hilton's face that appear onscreen. "She let us film in her house, which was incredible, and she agreed to come do a cameo," Coppola remembers, tickled by Hilton's curiosity that a movie was being made depicting events that actually happened to her. "It's funny because she was asking me questions about it, and then showed me the security footage of the kids in her house."
Coppola's research also led her to one of the young burglars, who disclosed that his cohort wanted to steal Hilton's dog on the way out—a bit that also steals a big laugh in the film, too ridiculous to have been invented. Coppola puts actual quotes from the police report in her actors' mouths, like when the Rebecca character (a riff on ringleader Rachel Lee, played here by newcomer Katie Chang) asks the arresting officers about one of her victims, "What did Lindsay say?" That would be Ms. Lohan, who shared a jail-cell wall with Alexis Neiers, the former E! reality star and most outspoken of the Bling Ring accomplices.
Since the film's trailer began circulating, Neiers—whose onscreen analogue is Nicki (Emma Watson)—has publicly expressed outrage that the film would be "trashy and inaccurate" and "just another party movie based on teens robbing celebrity homes." When informed of Neiers's reaction, Coppola laughs: "Did she really say that? She is a fountain of incredible quotes, so I think they're pretty sincere. That's my impression."
Why any of the gang would be upset about their Hollywood moment is perplexing, as Coppola films the act of stealing so alluringly that it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of being bad. "I wanted it to at least start off in a seductive, fun way so you could understand why they kept doing it," the director explains. "I was trying to get into their point of view. When they talk about it, it was definitely a thrill." By the time the judge's gavel drops, Coppola allows audiences to form their own ideas about these delinquents. She says she didn't want to glamorize it too much, even while letting us have our kicks: "I was trying to balance the two without being preachy, but I definitely have my opinion about them."
Asked about the most trouble she's ever been in for stealing, Coppola claims she hasn't been in any. Come on, though, not even in childhood? Unlike the Bling Ring, she's in control of her own story: "OK, I can think of one thing," she says, with a tiny laugh. "But I don't want to tell you."
'The Bling Ring '(A24) opens June 21
The Jackie Chan Experience
Way before Chan was fighting crime with his Rush Hour partner Chris Tucker, Hong Kong's biggest action star and stuntman was already developing a multi-hyphenate career (writer! director! theme-song vocalist!). Set to be the largest retrospective of Chan's films ever held in North America—all uncut, in their original language, on 35mm—this alt-blockbuster series revisits his 1980 directorial debut, The Young Master, 1994's martial-arts landmark Drunken Master II (still on Time's 100 greatest films list), and on up through his latest and 101st feature, Chinese Zodiac. On June 10 and 11, Chan will participate in an onstage discussion, public signing, and Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony for his riotous cinematic innovations in death-defying physical comedy and choreography. The entire event is co-presented by the New York Asian Film Festival, which follows on the Chan series' heels June 27 to July 14 with its own annual curation of fantastic Eastern freakiness, spotlighting social-realist Taiwanese exploitation flicks from the '80s, new Filipino cinema, and a 40th anniversary screening of the Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon. The Film Society of Lincoln Center, West 65th and Broadway, filmlinc.com, subwaycinema.com
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