Lick the Star: Sofia Coppola’s Very First Film Follows a 7th-Grade Conspiracy (1998)

Young women trapped in gild­ed cages: that’s the theme that comes to mind when think­ing about the films of Sofia Cop­po­la, so read­i­ly that her Wikipedia page uses the phrase almost ver­ba­tim. The Vir­gin Sui­cides starred five sub­ur­ban sis­ters under ever-tight­en­ing parental lock­down. Lost in Trans­la­tion found a rock pho­tog­ra­pher’s wife free yet adrift in a swank Tokyo hotel. Marie Antoinette made a sub­ject of, well, Marie Antoinette, and Some­where left its eleven-year-old daugh­ter of a dis­af­fect­ed movie star with no choice but turn up on on her dad’s Chateau Mar­mont doorstep. Even now, the film­mak­er com­pletes work on The Bling Ring, whose tit­u­lar clutch of teenagers find them­selves dri­ven to bur­gle the homes of Paris Hilton, Lind­say Lohan, and oth­er such lumi­nar­ies, sure­ly out of sheer ennui. But the most vicious expres­sion of the sig­na­ture Sofia Cop­po­la set­up came in her very first film, the 1998 short Lick the Star.

Set amid the aris­to­crat­ic court-lev­el intrigue of a mid­dle-class junior high school, the sto­ry traces the break­down of a con­spir­a­cy by the girls, led by sev­enth-grade queen bee Chloe, to grad­u­al­ly poi­son the boys with dos­es of arsenic. In what we by now will have come to think of as a Cop­polan turn, Chloe gets the idea from V.C. Andrews’ Flow­ers in the Attic, copies of which she pass­es around to the under­lings she pres­sures into help­ing her exe­cute the plan. Alas, what goes for the best-laid plans of mice and men goes also for those of spite­ful thir­teen-year-old girls. Shot on black-and-white 16-mil­lime­ter film, Lick the Star would at first seem to fit right in, aes­thet­i­cal­ly, with the oth­er quick-and-dirty debuts of the 1990s’ Amer­i­can indie boom, but a series of strik­ing styl­is­tic touch­es soon set it apart. More evi­dence for Cop­po­la’s defend­ers, who argue against the detrac­tors who accuse her of hav­ing got­ten by on nepo­tism. Then again, with­out the right con­nec­tions, could she have cast Peter Bog­danovich as the prin­ci­pal?

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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