In Movies and News, Vegas Always Wins

Tangiers in Casino

Robert DeNiro in the Hollywood winner Casino

With Nevada’s new film tax incentive in place, this seems the perfect time to ask: What is the best Vegas film ever made?

I’m no film expert, but I know what I like, and I enjoy many Las Vegas movies for aesthetic reasons. Diamonds Are Forever, Viva Las Vegas and Ocean’s 11 (the original, Sinatra-fueled version) capture images of Sin City as it once was: an intimate, isolated, neon-soaked adult playground. Other Vegas films thematically illustrate the sensibilities of our unique desert asylum. Meet Me in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Swingers each reflect various perceptions of our city throughout its history.

Other films work because they are objectively very good (The Godfather Part II), or good because they are so very bad (Showgirls). But for me, one Vegas movie stands above all: Martin Scorsese’s 1995 Casino. Whether or not the (ahem) fictionalized account of the Mob’s Last Stand at the Stardust rings factually true, it certainly does so aesthetically and thematically. That works for me.

All of this reminds me of one of those only-in-Vegas stories, one that (allegedly) pits Francis Ford Coppola against the casino industry with his 1982 Waterloo, One From the Heart. Vegas lore (which I was unable to substantiate) was that Coppola, riding high from the success of Apocalypse Now, boldly wanted to turn Fremont Street into a closed set for weeks at a time. “No can do!” said the City (allegedly), so Coppola returned to his Zoetrope Studios and wholly manufactured a sound-stage replica of Fremont Street. Coppola’s film crew never set foot here. The result? A mediocre $27 million film (with an amazing set) that only earned $4 million, and bankruptcy for Coppola. Vegas. Always. Wins.

Why is it that when someone runs away to Vegas, it makes national news?

Ah, the strange, incomplete tale of 20-year-old Kentucky woman Jena Chisholm, who left behind the bluegrass in December and was “found” (in good health and no apparent danger) at the Cosmopolitan on January 4. Blame the media fascination on a confluence of youth, beauty and the temptation of sin. After all, many adults run away every day without making the national news. It’s likely we will never hear this entire Vegas story, unless Ms. Chisholm writes a tell-all book later. Coppola? Scorsese? Doug Liman? Are you listening?