Rick Schmidt’s Emerald Cities was filmed primarily 1979-1981, capturing the uneasy period when Ronald Reagan’s television Presidency began and daily fear of nuclear annihilation was perhaps as extreme as during the during the Cuban Missile Crisis, yet at a constant slow boil. So, if you’re going to chart the end of the world in progress as a kind of pre-Repo Man black comedy, why not turn to San Francisco’s the Mutants and Flipper to appear on screen as a sort of Greek Chorus to provide the music? Both bands specialized (and still do, decades later) in arch critiques of popular culture, but one did it as impossibly catchy pop-punk with a dirty edge (the former), and one did it by scraping out the grimiest and most deceptively plodding-tempo scum-rock on earth.
How perfect, then, that smack in the middle of this spectrum lies the narrative of Emerald Cities, where a bored and frustrated daughter of a drunken small-town desert Santa Claus impersonator flees to the big city (with Ted Falconi of Flipper, no less), with hapless dad in pursuit. Hijinks ensue. Meanwhile, Schmidt reminds us that it’s an emerald-green TV world out there by way of tracking current events in semi-documentary style and analyzing the meaning of Christmas, Santa Claus, psychotherapy, and the use of psychedelics.
ByNWR went back to the original 16mm camera negatives and digitally restored Emerald Cities from scratch, unearthing an entirely unused song by the Mutants which was cut just prior to release in the process. It is presented as part of the film here for the first time.
– Peter Conheim