ROOM 666 (1982)

Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on July 31st, 2011 by Jim Delaney

From Wednesday January 24, 2008

Directed by Wim Winders, featuring Steven Spielberg, Jean-Luc Godard, Werner Herzog, Susan Seidelman, Monte Hellman & Michaelangelo Antonioni.

During the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, Wim Wenders rented out a hotel room and set up a camera inside. He invited a crowd of directors to go into the room one at a time and ponder the question “What is the future of cinema?” For each guest, one reel of film was in the camera, giving them about 8 minutes to answer. It was a neat idea in 1982, and it’s more fun now a generation later, to see who came closest to reality.

Wenders is as well known for documentaries (BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB, LIGHTNING OVER WATER) as he is for narrative films (WINGS OF DESIRE, UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD). Not much “film making” going on here, but the idea to do this experiment almost in the manner of a Confessional booth is pretty cool.

It’ll finish Friday,
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from 7.31.11

As intriguing as this film continues to be, watching the 2006 Anchor Bay DVD affords the benefit of Wenders’ own commentary, which itself has already become something of a look into past expectations of the future. The term “visionary” gets tossed around by any critic who admires a director’s pretty compositions. Wenders’ brief list of questions becomes a litmus test for artists truly worthy of “visionary” praise, versus those who have made themselves a perfectly respectable career, but who have not yet reflected on that career and their place in the film medium.

We see for ourselves why certain directors who visit Room 666 do not fall into the visionary category through their limited stumbling answers; in a few cases Wenders corroborates that assessment by expressing his own disappointment on the DVD commentary track. There are directors whom he had clearly hoped would offer greater insight, though in fairness to those less eloquent, Wenders acknowledges difficulty sitting alone in a room pondering the questions he himself posed.

Wenders comments on his calculated design for the experiment, not only in his sheet of questions, but his preparation of the room. He left the TV on in case its presence might spur conversation, and provided a chair and table, yet set the camera far enough back to allow one to pace the room should they choose. The more interesting directors react with at least one aspect of Wenders preparations.

Jean-Luc Godard opens the conversation with a philosophical bang. He almost immediately notes the television in the room, on which a tennis match is being played, and pouts that the position of his chair impedes his ability to watch the match. He does not bemoan this issue, but rather quickly launches into a matter of fact comparison of the film aesthetic versus the television aesthetic, without ever again acknowledging the TV. Wenders notes with awe and some affection that as stream of conscious as Godard’s thoughts seemed to be, he was instinctually cognizant of how much time he had to answer. Godard ties his spider web of an answer up with enough time to light a cigar, rise, and limp on an injured left leg out of the frame.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder gives a similar but far more succinct answer compared to Godard’s. On a personal note, I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the original enfant terrible of 70’s European cinema answering questions posed by a fellow German, while the goofy Filmation animated TARZAN Saturday morning cartoon plays on TV behind him. Fassbinder’s answer does not expand much beyond Godard’s, however being as this was among Fassbinder’s final interviews before his untimely death by overdose, Wenders reveals a hint of soul within this intellectual exercise by including all of Fassbinder’s comments. We continue to hear Fassbinder’s voice and read his subtitles as Wenders fades to a Lebanon cedar tree near the Paris airport and then back to room 666. That tree, which also opens and closes the film, is presented to us as a reminder of humanity’s existence long before and hopefully long after film’s relevance as an artistic medium. Wenders’ treatment of Fassbinder’s answer, including his commentary on the relentless and reckless pace under which Fassbinder worked, suggest that an artist purely giving their absolute best for as long as they are physically capable may prove a detriment to the artist and the medium if that artist burns out before his or her time.

Werner Herzog’s interview is a personal delight for me. Before responding to Wenders’ list, Herzog says that one must take their shoes off to answer these sort of questions. He not only takes off his shoes, but his socks, and also is the only director to turn off the TV. Before Herzog even begins to answer, he alters factors of the experiment to suit himself.
This is a visionary. If making himself comfortable regarding his shoes and socks are not enough evidence of his uniqueness, Herzog’s observations take two transcending steps, one of which was too far sighted to even be acknowledged by Wenders in 2006. Herzog presages the rise of the internet, which Wenders addresses by commenting to the effect that Herzog in ’82 would be impressed by how far technology had advanced by 2006. But here’s where Herzog’s vision goes a step beyond: he even suggests that we will be shopping for vegetables with our phones. Herzog foresaw 4G smartphones in 1982, which as recently as 2006 was not yet assumed to be the next phase beyond the internet. Herzog also ruminates on how film itself as a medium may soon come to pass, but he regards the tools of filmmaking as vital to whichever of these new media will drive the final nail in film’s coffin. If you know Herzog, you know this is about as close as he comes to being optimistic.

The rental on Room 666 wraps up with Michelangelo Antonioni. We hear from the tone of Wenders’ commentary that he has as great affection of Antonioni as he does Godard. It is easy to see why. Antonioni is equally as profound as Godard, but focused in an entirely different direction; where Godard’s concern is the evolution of his chosen means of expression, Antonioni considers his responsibility to an audience to be of primary concern. Antonioni was also among the few who did not feel threated by TV and video, even suggesting the rise of “high definition video,” a foresight so ahead of its time yet so casually delivered that it barely registers in 1982. Antonioni is such a warm and intelligent gent that watching him here makes me want to re-watch all of his films immediately.

ROOM 666 concludes with Wenders reading a prepared statement from Yilmaz Güney. Güney was a Turkish writer/director whose film YOL won the Cannes Film Festival that year, but who remained in hiding outside of Cannes throughout the festival, as he was wanted in Turkey as an escaped political prisoner. This vital conclusion reminds us that even as film changes to video, and then to hi-def internet, the true visionaries of the form will always find a way to get into trouble with their stories. That’s a lot to pack a 46 minute running time, huh?

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BLADE RUNNER: The Final Cut (1982/2007)

Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on July 26th, 2011 by Jim Delaney

From Friday, January 25, 2008.

Directed by Ridley Scott, starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson, James Hong, Joe Turkel and M. Emmet Walsh, featuring a score by the mad Greek, Vangelis.

Los Angeles, 2019: Androids, herein called Replicants, have taken the place of humans performing hazardous occupations. Among those occupations is the colonization of space. Four replicants mutiny in space, return to Los Angeles seeking their creator, and leave a path of violence in their quest. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a burnt out detective who specializes in hunting down rogue androids, leaves his own pretty grim wake trying to keep the mutineers from their goal.

While BLADE RUNNER is stylistically the most fully realized dystopian nightmare sci-fi movie this side of METROPOLIS (1927), its story is pure Film Noir. It took me several viewings to get past the stunning visuals and understand that Deckard is following up real clues like a proper detective, and not merely stumbling from cool action moment to cooler action moment. After I noticed that, I started noticing other colorful subtleties (like the fact that Deckard is an alcoholic) that a lesser movie that didn’t trust its audience would have beaten them over the head with.

Why are we watching this, haven’t we all seen it already? I missed this new Ridley “Final Cut” when it played at The Landmark last November, and I dunno about you guys, but my TV at home is nowhere near as big as the one in the 8North conference room. If this version contains differences from the 1982 Theatrical and 1992 Director’s Cut versions, I want to be able to spot them on the best screen available! If you’ve wondered whether this new DVD is worth buying, come check it out.

It’ll finish Wednesday.
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from 7.26.11
I tend to prefer movies that attempt multiple levels, even if they are not entirely successful on all of them, to movies that attempt and succeed on only one level. BLADE RUNNER is a favorite among science fiction movies plus it resonates as an existential quest film. In addition to this being one of my favorite film noir detective movies it is, at least in my estimation, the quintessential Los Angeles movie. This movie fires on all burners and the end result is delicious.

I was fortunate enough to be born within the wake of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY where suddenly it was no longer enough for science fiction movies to simply be about robots and rayguns. Movies like SILENT RUNNING and LOGAN’S RUN and Charlton Heston’s trilogy of doom (PLANET OF THE APES, THE OMEGA MAN, SOYLENT GREEN) used science fiction as a framework to explore political instability, environmental degradation and nuclear annihilation. Though STAR WARS proved that it was more profitable to turn that frown upside down, this did not spell the end of future fear; 1982 blessed us with THE ROAD WARRIOR and BLADE RUNNER. BLADE RUNNER envisioned a future of of haves and have-nots where a few live in fantastic opulence, like Replicant creator Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel), and the rest exist in squalor.

This is a cautionary tale at its most pointed; virtually every promise of a “brighter tomorrow” is balanced by a glimpse at the failure of that promise. Replicants are not the only technology having the reverse effect of their intended design. Plumes of fire shoot into a permanently sooty sky as a by-product of generating the power necessary to run the city’s massive high rises. Modern conveniences in Deckard’s home, including a lightning fast elevator and voice activated amenities, do not make the place any less of a dump. Sure there are flying cars, but seemingly few for a city this crowded; most are exclusively for police surveillance.

It is rare that an existential quest is handled as directly as it is in BLADE RUNNER. Films where human characters confront their perception of their deity or search for meaning in their life tend to be ponderous, what supporters would call deliberately paced, and detractors dismiss as tedious or boring. The search of the Replicants, led by Nietzcshian superman Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), is somewhat less complicated in that they know where they were manufactured. They only need to find their chief designer, the aforementioned Dr. Tyrell. Deckard’s hardboiled voiceover in the original theatrical release explains that Batty and his crew simply want the same answers the rest of us want from life. Where human characters questioning their existence struggle to define the questions they wish to pose to their chosen higher power, the Replicants have precisely defined questions, but face the task of locating the intellect who designed their minds to find their answers.

***SPOILER: Please skip to the next paragraph if you have not seen the film*** A debate has raged among fans as to whether Rick Deckard himself is a Replicant. In Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” the novel on which BLADE RUNNER was based, Deckard is revealed to be artifical. Ridley Scott has been cagey over the years, but his answer tends to support Dick’s novel. Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer prefer to believe that Deckard is human. Such a conflict of ideologies could have wrecked the story, and allegedly did cause considerable tension between Scott and Ford, but I think it makes for a better film. Since nothing is implicitly revealed as to Deckhard’s humanity, his own spiritual identity becomes a more gnawing mystery than that of the known Replicants. The Replicants may hunt, fight, and kill their way to their maker. Deckard continues to search for the vocabulary to even question his existence, or else quiet his soul with that great melodramatic indicator of human weakness and suffering: booze.

Deckard’s alcoholism is one of the time honored traits of a Film Noir antihero but it also humanizes him compared to his virtually flawless Replicant opponents. Deckard is not one of the MAD MEN drinkers who make viewers nostalgic for frequently slurred-speaking, occasionally falling-down drunks, who barely manage to do their jobs. He is more the alcoholic typified by Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) in DOUBLE INDEMNITY; return home from work? Pour a drink. Saying goodbye? One for the road. Shot a Replicant woman in the back on a crowded street? Don’t bother phoning it in promptly like a good cop, go buy a bottle first. The very notion that the hero cop is, in his own warped way, as twisted as those he pursues makes BLADE RUNNER stand shoulder to shoulder with other 80’s noir like Kasdan’s BODY HEAT or Eastwood’s TIGHTROPE.

The production and costume design take their cues from film noir of the late 1930’s to 1950’s. Before exaggerated shoulder pads became a staple of power suits for executive women in the mid 80’s, Sean Young sported classic Joan Crawford hair and Lauren Bacall / Katherine Hepburn style as a Replicant so perfectly constructed that she does not know she is artificial. The smudged makeup, spiked hair and fetish clothing of the renegade Replicants suggests a trajectory where the L.A. punk scene, pioneered by The Circle Jerks and Dead Kennedys during BLADE RUNNER’S late 70’s early 80’s development, had continued to spawn among an angry proletariat. Beneath Roy Batty’s punk surface we find an unexpected collision of two noir archetypes: the cold and calculating villain, and the wronged man seeking revenge. While Batty toggles between punk and noir, existential and visceral, everything about Rick Deckard’s world clings wholeheartedly to noir ethos. His shadowy Frank Llyod Wright tiled apartment, the dilapidated Blade Runner department (filmed in the Art Deco former splendor of L.A.’s Union Station), and the easy going unguarded racism of Deckard’s boss Captain Bryant belie the unsupressable decay of those clinging to a buttoned up 1950’s normalcy.

The finale of BLADE RUNNER plays out within the Bradbury Building, a downtown L.A. icon that has been featured in noir classics from D.O.A. to CHINATOWN as well as multiple episodes of THE OUTER LIMITS. The Bradbury has such a signature look and name that its mere inclusion becomes shorthand for the world we have entered. When I saw BLADE RUNNER in Westport, CT on opening weekend, you could spot the true sci-fi fans in the audience by who reacted when Captain Bryant informs Deckard to continue his investigation “at the Bradbury apartments.” I had not yet visited Los Angeles, didn’t know this was a real building, nor do I expect most of the audience did either. We simply took it as an invocation of sci-fi saint Ray Bradbury. As much as a nod to Ray elicits credibility in the fantasy realm of the incredible, it also enables the film to establish its L.A. reputation, Ray’s position being as solid as Chandler’s in the pantheon of L.A. writers. The very use of the Bradbury building and its name confirms that this is not New York or Chicago, San Francisco or Off-World, this is the City of the Angels.

BLADE RUNNER is a like a snow-globe representation of the past, present and future of Los Angeles, violently shaken so that 100 years of the city collide at once. Past Los Angeles is referenced via architecture and a shared history with film noir, with the present acknowledged by massive neon advertising for Atari, RCA, and Pan-Am, which in 1982 seemed like corporations capable of global dominance. The future of Los Angeles is evinced by more than Replicants and flying cars, more than electronic music and punk rock fashion. No less than the language of the people has evolved. Early in the film we were introduced to what Deckard’s voiceover in the original cut described as “city speak, gutter talk. A mishmash of Japanese, Spanish, German, what have you.” I remember thinking this prediction of racial and ethnic mingling must strike your average Klansmen as the scariest vision of the future any movie has ever created. In 2019 there is no Chinatown or South Central or Beverly Hills, no Boyle Heights or Koreatown or Little Tokyo; every community has overflowed its banks such that the language of Los Angeles encompasses elements of every ethnicity.

BLADE RUNNER is most often regarded as science fiction, but as with the sociological implications within METROPOLIS or the spiritual secrets of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, science fiction provides the foundation on which the rest of this experience was built. Is it an existential quandary with gunplay? A pulp mystery with a Kraftwerk style groove? One of the eight million stories in the cybernetic city? It hits me differently each time I revisit it. The one constant is that the words “Blade Runner” have become as loaded as the name “Bradbury” was in 1982, summoning immeasurably more than a film that was coldly received by critics and ticket buyers, to stand for the the kind of story for which you are not prepared but should have seen coming.

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