#25: Emerson Ray Rosenthal

FreeMovieIdeas' Emerson Rosenthal on SSION's music videos, Sword and Sorcery movies, Michael St. John’s “Portraits of Democracy", and more

Cool people like cool things, which is why we asked cool person Emerson Ray Rosenthal to come on Perfectly Imperfect & spread the hot rec wealth.

Emerson is the charitable Screenwriter behind @freemovieideas, an account where, you guessed it, he gives away free (& brilliant) movie ideas. He’s got a deep knowledge of ~fine cinema~ & stellar taste, so I highly recommend following his Letterboxd. You may also recognize Emerson from his various Vice documentaries or the hilarious character comedy he makes with Lauren Servideo. He’s a man of many talents & lucky for us, he’s here to talk about what he’s been into.

Without further ado

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Emerson Ray Rosenthal (instagram, letterboxd)

I’m a screenwriter. Is that short enough?

💃  Yves Tumor - Kerosene! (Official Video)

Anybody remember a clip show about banned music videos that, incidentally, ended up on one of the networks that banned them? It was either VH1 or MTV2, and they ran stuff like Nine Inch Nails’s “Closer,” Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy,” and Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up.” Anyway, I was glued to the TV whenever it came on and I think a lot of my aesthetic sensibilities came from that 90s-00s golden age, making me into (regrettably) a bit of a music video snob. No offense, but the VFX-driven spectacles of today just don’t hit when you cut your teeth on stuff from CANADA and the Directors Bureau (whose website sadly doesn’t even have their best stuff anymore). 

The unique exception is director Cody Critcheloe, who goes by SSION (pronounced like the latter half of *passion*), and his new video for Yves Tumor is nothing less than what I’ve come to expect from the multihyphenate: a hyperreal vision of Los Angeles replete with larger-than-life characters who are characteristically drawn up from real life, and handmade props that belong in a museum, but I’ll settle for a gallery. (In this case, it’s a smashed-up hand-painted sunburst convertible and a leather jacket with a The Cochran Firm logo.) It’s the stuff dreams are made of, cementing Critcheloe as one of the most exciting and visionary directors of our time (other notable mentions include Eugene Kotlyarenko, Anne Alexander, and Minister Akins). 

🇺🇸  Michael St. John “These Days” at Pio Pico 

If there were a gun to my head pointed by an assailant who demanded that I describe the feeling of living in the USA using only pictures (hey, this is my unreal conditional—worry about your own), I’d simply point them in the direction of Michael St. John’s “Portraits of Democracy,” which are currently on view as “These Days” at Pio Pico gallery in LA (now extended thru Jan. 1). St. John is probably your favorite artist’s favorite artist: a lifelong student of the aesthetic form who cares more about the Big Issues than making big paintings just because that’s what someone said collectors want. He’s also a preternaturally gifted painter (by practice, no less!) whose every choice involves the deliberate reproduction of the very tension that makes life in 2020 one nonstop “Party in the U.S.A.” if you know what I mean. If you’re gonna look at art, why bother with anything you couldn’t spend your whole afternoon uncovering the intricacies of, anyway? Viewings are by appointment only, but don’t let that intimidate you—it’s literally a phone call, prolly even a DM away

👻  SALEM - “STAY DOWN” MIXTAPE

Ummmmmm ten years or so these creeps from the midwest changed music, more or less...And ten years later they have a new album that fucks harder than ever? And then there’s this mixtape, which also really fucks. I’ve probably listened to it 20 times now (and counting). I don’t know, listen to it. It’s hard to describe. (If I wanted to write about music, I probably would have kept writing about music lol)

⚔️  Lancelot of the Lake (1976)

I found this on a massive list of Sword and Sorcery movies on Letterboxd, which is where I find obscure films that other, sharper connoisseurs already know about. Well! I was looking for something like Berserk, Excalibur, and Joan La Pucelle, and boy was this it: Bresson’s 1974 reimagining of the grand finale of the Grail Quest is as earthbound as it is transcendent, smashing the depths of legend and poetry against humanism to produce a stark vision of the end of the Age of Myth. Most of the criticisms in the Letterboxd reviews are aimed at its seeming dryness, or lack of emotion. Hooey! It’s all here. If you want to see knights cry, go watch The Witcher or something. 

🏈  Plimpton! The Great Quarterback Sneak

My writing partner and I spent the last two weeks or so working on a pitch for a sports comedy about a gawky journalist who decides to pick up basketball. As part of our research, I came across George Plimpton, who older and more literary people will think of you a goose for just hearing about. Well, HONK! This here’s a documentary about that time he, a blue-blood with an unbeatable attitude, trained to play in a pre-season exhibition game against the Detroit Lions. It’s sort of like if you put JFK in Jackass. 

🍸  Martinis 

Well, we started drinking martinis. I guess it’s a cool drink. The whole point seems obvious now: it’s an easy way to get a lot of liquor down at once. The secret is that they’re cold, which makes it refreshing and not taste bad. Pretty simple. Then again, it is the simplest of cocktails, requiring only two ingredients. I’ve been using Wheatley Vodka, which is an imprint of Buffalo Trace Distillery (also the makers of Benchmark, which is a whole head and shoulders better than every cheap bourbon I’ve ever had… and I’ve had a lot, believe me), and Noilly Prat Extra Dry vermouth, which seemed like a good place to start. I’m extremely happy with the Wheatley, but as for the vermouth, I’d be willing to experiment (see also: shaking vs. stirring, and the length of time you spend on either). For science!

🎭  Jeopardy!

What is, the best game show of all time? Oh, Alex. I hope you’re roasting nerds in Heaven with Grandma and Pop Pop. They were huge fans of you, too. These days, we end up watching like 2-3 episodes a night, which is okay because that’s barely an hour without commercials, and they’re only on Netflix until Nov. 27. 


We like to ask our guests if there’s a cause they want us to shout out & for Emerson, this is Together We Rise, a non-profit that works with thousands of volunteers, social workers, CASA advocates, and other partners to transform the way kids experience foster care. Consider donating here.

You can follow Emerson & Free Movie Ideas on Instagram

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