Best of 2018: Boots Riley Talks Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy

The writer-director of Sorry to Bother You, one of the year's most acclaimed films, on one of his favorites of 2018.

I saw Mandy about a month ago and really liked itas a matter of fact I’m wearing the Nic Cage shirt right now! Even though I’d seen the trailer and had heard a lot about it – I’d heard how crazy it was and plenty of people had described to me many things in detail already – it still really hit me.

There’s nothing in the film where it feels like they’ve just stitched things together. Visually, every shot is doing something, every shot seems like it is trying to make you feel a certain way. The world of the movie is so heightened, which works really well for Nic Cage’s style – he fits in with the colors, the lights; there’s a really effective use of the lighting in the film. There are lots of little moments that make a real impression on you, and the music in Mandy is brilliantly done. There’s one scene when Nic Cage is screaming, and because we’ve heard Nic Cage scream in movies before before, we know what it sounds like. But because there’s no sound, there’s just the score coming out, it’s like the score that is coming out of his mouth, and it seems to be moving in ways that are filtering in and out with the way his mouth moves.

In a weird way, Mandy reminds me of the 1970s sci-fi movie Laserblast, which I saw when I was a kid. Mystery Science Theater 3000 made fun of it, so maybe it’s a bad movie, but I had such an experience with it that I’ve carried it with me for many years and always ask people about the movie. It was about a teenager who finds an alien laser in the desert, and when he puts it on his arm he’s able to blast shit and blow up houses. It felt otherworldly to me. At the time I saw it, I was about eight, and as this laser is turning the main character more and more into a monster, I thought, “Oh, that must be what being a teenager is!” It changes him. In a similar way, Mandy feels like it’s about the anger that’s pent up in Nic Cage’s character. Both have a musical rush and flashing images, and a feeling that seems like it comes from the same place.

I watch all kinds of films, but I often end up depressed by many horror movies because of their pessimistic view of the world. I can’t sustain that inside me. I know there are horrors in the world to expose, but the question is, can it still be a horror movie and also be optimistic?

I think people have been desensitized to the idea that horror movies can be allegory. I’m not a horror fan, but the style here is so important – it’s something that elevates Mandy into a movie that I actually want to see again. I don’t usually want to go see horror movies again – even the that ones that work on me – but I’ve already watched Mandy multiple times. It’s maybe not the kind of kind of movie I want to make, but it’s the kind of movie I want to watch. I saw it at home, where I have a big sound system and the whole home theater experience, and it inspired me. I was like, “OK!” It was one of those films that I see and makes me say, “Oh yeah, I’m a filmmaker – this is great!”

Boots Riley is the writer-director of Sorry to Bother You, one of the most acclaimed films of 2018. Growing up in Oakland, he studied film at San Francisco State University before dropping out in favor of a major label recording deal. He put in two decades as leader of The Coup, a radical funk/punk/hip-hop band, where he penned six albums to widespread critical acclaim, receiving “Pop Album of The Year” by The Washington Post and the Associated Press, and “Hip Hop Album of The Year” by Rolling Stone. His book of lyrics and anecdotes Tell Homeland Security We Are the Bomb is out now on Haymarket Press. The Coup’s seventh, as-yet-unreleased album, The Sun Exploding, is the soundtrack to Sorry to Bother You. The New York Post says, “Boots Riley ranks as some kind of genius.” Jeff Chang said, “he is one of the most influential poets and thinkers of this generation.” Stereogum says, “Boots Riley is a national treasure.” While Slavoj Zizek says “The very existence of a person like Boots Riley is a miracle.” It is his hope to be a part of creating a new movement in film.