From Bowie to Madonna to Gaga, pop music has always been as much a visual medium as an aural one. To wit, the successful launch of Lizzy Grant's Lana Del Rey persona can be attributed not just to her songs, but to the DIY music videos that accompanied them. As the singer graduated to the majors, so too did the scope and budgets of her videos, culminating in a "mini-movie" for "Ride," the first single from last year's Paradise. And in a perhaps inevitable move in light of her fascination with movies and, specifically, short film (she recently donated to the Kickstarter for a new short film project starring Daniel Johnston), Del Rey has re-teamed with "Ride" director Anthony Mandler, who also helmed her cinematic "National Anthem" clip, for a short film titled Tropico.
Ostensibly the closing chapter in the First Lady of Instagram's Born to Die era (she's been calling the film a "farewell project"), the 27-minute movie is structured around a trilogy of songs from the Paradise EP. Tropico is billed as "a tale of redemption" and shot in super-widescreen (because nothing says "serious" like the girth of one's aspect ratio), touching on all the themes that have run through Del Rey's work over the last three years: loss of innocence, good versus evil, and trading beauty for money. The opening segment, "Body Electric," takes place in the Garden of Eden (Del Rey stars as Eve, naturally, opposite 22-year-old model-actor Shaun Ross as Adam), co-populated here by Elvis, Marilyn, Jesus, a unicorn, and, of course, an albino snake. Also, John Wayne is God.
After the couple is banished to the Garden of Evil (Los Angeles, obviously), the second segment, "Gods and Monsters," flashes forward to the present, where Del Rey recites Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" while a group of strippers and thugs stage of robbery of wealthy business men. The dreamily edited film probably should have ended there, but the final segment, "Bel Air," finds Del Rey and Ross fleeing, post-robbery, cross-country. Their redemption (and resurrection) feels unearned, but maybe that's the point, as the sequence is overwrought with literal baptismal imagery. It's obvious from the big bang that opens the film that Del Rey and Mandler have zero interest in subtlety, but interestingly, Del Rey doesn't position herself among the film's icons of Americana the way, say, Kanye West or Lady Gaga might. Instead, her work continues to serve as both a tribute to an imagined past and a critique of contemporary pop culture.