Monday, September 24, 2007

Conventions of 2008, Movies of 2007, and Blade Runner


I mentioned in my last entry that Iron Man kicks off next year’s (very busy) summer-blockbuster season, which reminds me of three other things all going on around that time, all of them in Denver, CO: the Libertarian Party presidential convention (in May), the annual WorldCon of sci-fi and comic book nerds (in early August), and the Democratic Party presidential convention (in late August). This odd confluence of conventions — so soon after people took note of the GOP’s loss of the libertarian-leaning “interior West” states in 2006 — will be missing only one thing to spark a Colorado-led cultural revolution: regrettably, the Atlas Shrugged movie (based on the Ayn Rand novel that climaxes with the escape of America’s capitalists to an oasis of unregulated freedom in Colorado), which was at one point scheduled for summer 2008, appears to be delayed again.

Who knows what subtle, positive effects it might have had on the minds of convention-goers of all stripes in Colorado if they had looked at the surrounding Rockies with Hollywood-induced laissez-faire capitalist lenses? (And don’t doubt Hollywood’s power to shape mass perceptions in this way — it’s about the only thing that still does.) There might have followed a reinvigorated Libertarian Party campaign, several capitalism-themed comic books, and an ever so slightly less-socialist and more Coloradoan-sounding Democratic Party. Instead, we will just have to hope Ron Paul unexpectedly dominates the GOP convention in St. Paul. (I suppose that collapsed bridge might remind someone of Atlas Shrugged.)


This year brought no film as epic as Atlas Shrugged would be, but a few of my favorite films this year did evoke struggles (of varying historical accuracy) against authoritarianism across different eras: The Lives of Others poignantly and claustrophobically captured 1980s East Germany, 300 reimagined (to put it mildly) Spartans as defenders of Western freedom and reason against the Persian horde, and Across the Universe shamelessly but pleasingly mythologized the basic 1960s story as one of self-discovery vs. boredom and militarism — with Beatles songs (the lesbian version of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was my favorite number).

On a related note, I missed but heard good things about Rescue Dawn, about an escaped prisoner of war in the jungle, and Abduction, the documentary about Japanese citizens kidnapped by the deranged communist regime of North Korea. I expect that these films, when I do see them — as well as (the non-political) Zodiac, which so elegantly and creepily captured the flat, non-disco side of the 1970s — will stay in my memory long after fluff like Transformers, Live Free or Die Hard, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and Spider-Man 3 has receded. I can feel them fading already, in fact (indeed, delighted though I was to discover Transformers‘ unmitigated, unapologetic similarity to the original cartoon show — complete with Megatron standing atop a skyscraper shouting “Prime!” — it still wasn’t as much fun as this short video of the Transformers breakdancing).

In just the past few days, by the way, I also got the chance to see — for the third time in my life — Blade Runner in the theatre (having seen it in 1982, when I was too young to notice its painful, Frankenstein-like moral tensions and merely hoped the nice cop would catch the bad robots, and again in 1991, in Seattle, when the Director’s Cut was released). The twenty-fifth (!) anniversary re-release of the founding cyberpunk film is barely altered from the 1991 version — which mercifully eliminated Harrison Ford’s stiff narration — but remains beautiful and well worth seeing on a big screen again. Absent the narration, it’s one of my five favorite films, along with Star Wars, Alien, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Casablanca, each of these five films bearing some resemblance to at least one of the others.

(Speaking of Star Wars, the Family Guy one-hour season premiere parodying it was hilarious and ever so slightly disturbing in its almost shot-for-shot faithfulness to the original, and the “casting” of imperious Stewie as Vader and whiny Chris as Luke was inspired — all that was missing was Chris whining about wanting to go to Toshi Station for some power-converters.)


Two strange stories about the breathtaking Blade Runner cityscape, the most amazing on film since Metropolis (which there was some talk of Ridley Scott quasi-remaking):

1. Katherine Taylor tells me that her friend James Sanders (who co-wrote the eye-popping, inspiring, incredibly dynamic Ric Burns documentary mini-series New York, which girlfriend Koli has been showing me, with its 1903 subway footage and the like) explains in his book Celluloid Skyline, about the use of New York City in films, that Blade Runner was always intended, until the final draft of the script, to take place in a future New York City rather than a future Los Angeles, and it’s hard now to see its Times Square-like signs and crowds as dwelling anywhere but here in the Big Apple.

2. Bizarrely, and in a schizophrenic, postmodern fashion after its creators’ own hearts, Blade Runner began life not as one novel/movie but as two — fused after a failed attempt by, of all people, William S. Burroughs to turn one source novel into a film. Alan Nourse wrote a novel called Blade Runner that had nothing to do with “replicants” — it was about a future of socialized medicine, in which the only way to get decent care is to hire black-market doctors and the kids called “blade runners” who sneak the doctors’ bags of scalpels and other instruments to them. Burroughs wrote an impossible-to-film treatment of the novel, attempting to depict hundreds of characters in minute, fractal detail against the backdrop of a postmodern megalopolis. Only the title and cityscape survived, tacked onto a new, simpler plotline taken (of course) from Philip K. Dick’s novella Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (you’ll notice the film gives no rationale for calling the cops “blade runners”). This is a film-production story so strange, it resembles something out of some of my more confusing dreams (and reminds me a bit of the almost-as-strange real-life story of Salvador Dali doing early set-design work on the movie version of Dune before Dali-influenced director David Lynch took over the project, leading to three increasingly-long, increasingly-awful cuts of that ambitious, doomed film).

However Blade Runner came together, I’m glad it did — and grateful to my film critic friend Kyle Smith for getting me into the movie. As if being a critic and novelist weren’t enough, Kyle’s now a columnist as well, launching the new gig with a linguistic-philosophical lament about overuse of the word “just,” exactly the kind of topic I like. I don’t always agree with Kyle about movies, actually — he didn’t like 300, for example, while I saw it twice — but even on those occasions, it is more enjoyable to watch him intelligently argue some position I disagree with than it is to watch most people echo my own thoughts (and if you never admire the thinking of people you disagree with, you’re missing out and probably a jerk to boot).


P.S. In other media news, my friend Nichelle Stephens, who blogs about cupcakes, will be on TV next week talking about Hostess snack cakes, while her co-blogger Rachel Kramer Bussel is quoted in this article about people fighting over whether to love or revile cupcakes (my friend Chuck has been urging a trip to the disturbingly-named restaurant Burgers and Cupcakes lately, so I think he’s on the love side) — and coincidentally or not, I notice the writer of the article calls cupcakes more “libertarian” than full-size cakes, since they’re individual-portion-sized. Blogger Seanbaby, meanwhile, has long had a whole website subsection devoted to very funny analysis of the old comic book ads for Hostess cakes.


Ali T. Kokmen said...

And, of course, the mere mention of those great old comic book ads for Hostess cakes requires me to point out one of the prize elements of my comic book art collection:

Todd Seavey said...

That is beautiful. By the way, in my callous comment above about your old home region of Minneapolis-St. Paul, in case anyone was wondering, I meant that Ron Paul would have to satisfy our libertarian cravings, not provide another dose of Colorado, for which we’d have to root (as a tiny handful of my acquaintances do) for Tom Tancredo to triumph in the prez race.

Nichelle said...

Thanks for the shout out, Todd!

Kyle said...

It is amazing how badly the narration spoiled the original version of Blade Runner. You couldn’t get past it; it overwhelmed everything else. Apart from stripping out the narration, the final cut isn’t all that different from what I saw in 1982–but how much more serious and poignant the film seems now. Of course, it always looked great but looks even better today because the effects are just there in the (rainy, filthy) background rather than trying to wow you.