Our favourite films (Part One)

I’ve tried this sort of post before, in which I write about my favourite films and why they are my favourite films. Its a subject that really does interest me. There are good films, great films, average films, terrible films, we can judge films and drop them into one of those categories but whether we fall in love with them or not… something happens. Some connection. Its easy to explain why I might love a really good film, quite another to explain why I love a film that I know intellectually is pretty bad.

It is also true, I think, that our favourite films say everything about us. I’ve often thought that you can tell a lot about someone by looking at the books on their bookcase -presuming of course they even have a bookcase, or read books, which nowadays isn’t necessarily so- and that logic works just as well for someone with a film collection on DVD or Blu-ray that might reside on a shelf. Although, God knows, it would have to be a hell of a big shelf to house all my films on disc… okay then, imagine you have a shelf for your ten or twenty favourite films. What would they be?

This part is kind of fun, if sometimes frustrating. Ten or twenty favourite films. Its not really as  easy as you might think. Well, naturally, one film on that shelf of mine would be Blade Runner, my very favourite film that I have carried around with me since 1982, such a long time it seems it’s existed forever. Its not the best film ever made but it is my favourite….

Yeah, let’s be clear here: these are favourite films, not what you should  consider to be the best films ever made. That’s two seperate lists, really. I sound like some kind of film geek here, but it’s an important point. I know most of my favourite films are not perfect, and are nowhere near as important in the grand scheme of things as many other films. Now, some of my favourite films are indeed great films (that’s ‘Great’ with a capital ‘G’) which is a happy coincidence but that’s really all it is, coincidence.

We love the films we love for all sorts of different things. It might be the time in which we saw them, what they meant to us at the time, it might be how they made us feel, what emotional connection they made with us, it might be the connection they give us with the past and when we first saw them, the people we saw them with, the people and the places they remind us of.

So in my case, what would that shelf over there look like if I just put my very favourite films on it? Blade Runner, The Thin Red Line, Vertigo, The Apartment, Citizen Kane, The Assassination of the Outlaw Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Taxi Driver, Its A Wonderful Life, Once Upon a Time in America, How to Murder Your Wife, Glengarry Glen Ross, Alien, Jaws… it’s pretty easy at the start, but once you start limiting oneself to ten or even twenty, it gets pretty hard when you start to realise which films you might be omitting.

Hmm. This really needs more thought.

I think back to a list I made back in the early 1980s, I think I even have it somewhere in the back of a notebook up in the loft. It had a lot of films from that period of time. Blade Runner, Conan the Barbarian, The Empire Strikes Back, Citizen Kane, 2001… with time, all these lists can be embarrassing. What, I loved that film? I haven’t seen it in years! You know how that goes. I don’t expect we should love, say, the same ten movies for all our lives. There’s plenty of new ones to usurp old ones, afterall, or at least, you’d like to think there might be. Wouldn’t it be boring if there was nothing new to fall in love with and undo the sanctity of the list?

The list says everything about who we are NOW, and old lists, if we kept them, say everything about who we were THEN.

Films can be incredibly tangible, powerful connections with the past. Take Ridley Scott’s rather low-key film White Squall. Certainly, it’s not one of my favourites, I recall only mildly enjoying it when I first saw it. But, and here’s the but- I remember seeing it with my fiance the afternoon before we were to be married. More clearly than the actual movie, perhaps, I remember walking out of the multiplex cinema into a big car park and it was raining, a real storm in fact and remember thinking about what was happening the next day (the big day turned out fine, by the way). I have not seen the film since, not since that day so many years ago. Why I’ve never watched it again I’m not sure, but I am absolutely certain that if/when I do ever watch that film again, it will throw me right back to that afternoon and walking out into that storm.

I think my favourite films are like that. Films I have made an intense emotional bond with, and with which I connect in all sorts of ways and engender all sorts of memories and nostalgic connections with. The best films, our favourite films, they are a part of us, which is why it’s more an emotional connection than an intellectual one. I am pretty sure music buffs will say its just the same with their favourite albums and songs.

Whenever I think of Blade Runner, I’m not really thinking of the 2007 Final Cut, although that is clearly the definitive version. I’m really thinking of that original voiceover version, staying in the old ABC cinema to watch it twice that first Saturday afternoon, watching it in a double-bill with Outland early in 1983 (and being shocked at someone walking out midway through Blade Runner), and having it on a VHS (ahoy, pirate!) copy for Christmas 1983, and darn near wearing that damn thing out. I remember staying up late on Boxing Day, the rest of the family asleep upstairs, and me watching Harrison Ford entering the Bradbury building, the eerie music, the moody lighting, just wallowing in it, thinking it was the best Christmas present ever.

So anyway, I think this all deserves more thought and I’ll return to this a little later, perhaps with a selection of my favourite films and what makes them favourites.

Anybody out there got ten, or even five favourites that they can easily share?


Ghosts in the corners, and well done, Ridley!

roomThe building where I have worked for the past 25, going on 26, years is being demolished, to be replaced by something newer/cheaper/more impermanent, which has necessitated in being temporarily relocated to a building towards the city centre and trips up and down busy motorway at an ungodly hour. Unfortunately this has impacted on the frequency of my posting here, and I suspect will continue to do so, which is why I’m writing this post. Hopefully things will return to normal in a few months.

I feel a bit like Noodles in Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon A Time In America; I’m spending my days going to bed early. Five am is a lousy time to be getting up, and cold dark February mornings trying to beat the peak motorway traffic (and usually failing, as like the eponymous city, the motorway never sleeps, and that traffic just keeps on rolling) is a depressing way to start any day. Back end of the week, thirteen to fourteen-hour days have a way of wearing you out. Oh well, as the song goes, a change is gonna come, but I’m sure these long days were rather easier years ago. None of us are getting any younger, and neither are our movies- did someone mention that Blade Runner is 36 years old this year?

Changes. They have a way of sneaking up on you. Where do 25 years go? That last Friday evening, when I walked the empty corridors and rooms of that old building, alone in the shell of what was once a bustling, vibrant building full of people (in truth, it’s been a long slow decline towards this inevitable end, but when I started there back in 1992, it was something else entirely. It was like every corner, every room, was full of ghosts. I could almost hear them in the suddenly echoey, empty rooms; old voices and laugher, lurking like ghosts in the corners.

The majority of the building had been emptied in preparation of the demolition teams and asbestos removal experts (the building dates from the 1950s/1960s and the building practices of unwiser times), so most of it was already a dim shadow of its former self of decades ago. In the early nineties, the canteen/mess room on a Friday evening such as this would be bustling, like a working men’s social club minus the booze- smoke hanging the air, men playing cards, shooting their mouths off, watching the television bolted high in a corner… voices long gone, now. And soon the building with them.

riddersI mentioned that Blade Runner is 36 years old this year. Last night at this years BAFTA, Ridley Scott -sorry, Sir Ridley Scott- was given a BAFTA Fellowship award, marking his 40 years in the film business. Well surely it’s longer than that, when did The Duellists come out, 1977 wasn’t it?  Well, whats a year or two? Nice to see Ridley up there taking an BAFTA award for once -the first time, in fact, according to him, and he was certainly visibly moved by the occasion.  A video segment with clips from many of his films demonstrated two things – one: that they may not all have been brilliant, but it’s one hell of a body of work for any director to have behind him, and two: bloody hell I’m getting old, I’ve seen most of them at cinemas over the years, many of them at cinemas that no longer even exist. Here we go again, demolished buildings.

At least in LA 2019 they had the good sense to retrofit them rather than demolish them.

It was nice, too, to see Blade Runner 2049 pick up two awards at least. Roger Deakins award for cinematography was no great surprise (although the huge injustice if he had failed to win might have broken the internet for a few hours “suddenly a great wail was heard, as if a million film geeks had cried out and were suddenly silenced…”) but the visual effects award was a pleasant surprise. Its fully deserved, but I rather feared the more ‘showy’ spectacles of  films like The Last Jedi might have trumped it. I do feel rather aggrieved that it didn’t win for Best Sound though. I think the sound design in BR2049 is just sublime, its gorgeous, like an aural painting, a sound canvas if you will that’s equal to the rightly-lauded Deakins cinematography.

Well, two awards isn’t bad. Blade Runner won three, mind, back in 1983…(it didn’t win for sound back then, either, which is a similar grand injustice- they gave that one to the team behind the Pink Floyd movie The Wall, go figure…).

Moreover, it didn’t win for Best Visual Effects either- they gave that one to Poltergeist.

I know. Poltergeist. I mean, sure, its a good film and the effects were nice for the time… still are, I guess, but come on, Blade Runner‘s effects are in a whole different league.

Awards never get it right, every film geek knows that, just wait for Oscars to upset everyone. The Oscars REALLY know how to not get it right. They gave the Best Visual Effects that year to E.T. for goodness sake. Bloody E.T. I’ll never make my peace with that film.


More 2049 thoughts

I’ve now seen BR2049 five times and that doesn’t feel enough, I really want to see it again. Its been a long time since I’ve been so hooked by a film that I get drawn to repeat viewings like this. There’s this strange quality to it. Its a beautiful film, visually quite extraordinary at moments, but there’s more to it than just visuals. So many films now look pretty or have impressive effects etc- here there is a mood, and a dreamlike pacing that coupled with its running time leaves me with a sense of falling into it. I can’t really think of any other way of explaining it.

And yes there are all the mysteries and possibilities and suggestions to unpack and ponder over. That is one of the major pluses of this film- we are dropped into it with little preamble, little is really explained other than by offhand remarks. References to famine, global environmental catastrophe. The particulars of Offworld remain as vague as they were in the original film. Dialogue is kept deliberately minimal- I do think this is one of the brilliants aspects of the film. It doesn’t beat you over the head with verbal explanations of the plot.

Yesterday I watched a few scenes again, and out of film order too, just to see them out of story-context, appreciate the visuals and art direction etc outside of the usual film experience. I know, it sounds like something akin to heresy, but it’s an interesting way to pick a film apart and enjoy its constituent parts. Not many films reward such an approach of course, but I used to do that with Blade Runner in the old days. That was in the VHS era, which was harder work with its fast-forward, rewind, not-at-all instant access. Discs rather spoil us.

So anyway, a few thoughts.

2049aIt isn’t implicitly stated in the film itself, but I understand that the eye that opens the film belongs to Dr Ana Stellline. She opens her eye and ‘sees’ immediately prior to K waking up in his spinner and opening his own eyes. This forms a curious bookend with the close of the film, where K dies outside in the snow, looking up at the snow falling down on him, which is then mirrored with Ana in her room standing in a column of falling snow, hand outstretched as K does and she comments “Its beautiful, isn’t it?” I’m sure there must be some significance to all of this, I just don’t know what it might be just yet. Does it mean that Ana is somehow aware of K’s fate outside?

It does seem a bit too much of a coincidence. She opens her eyes at the beginning and K wakes, K dies outside in the snow, and she stands in holographic snow inside her building. But what could it mean? Does Ana somehow orchestrate everything? Does she have some kind of link with K beyond her memory implant of the orphanage and the wooden horse? Has she ‘set’ him on his journey through the film? Are her memory implants more than just artificial memories, are they laden with hidden code like a Trojan horse, buried programming controlling/freeing the thousands of Replicants that have her implants? Is she remotely instigating the Replicant rebellion, which, afterall, doesn’t appear to be limited to old rogue Nexus 8s?

Which leads me to another possibility. The films text opening assures that Wallace Corp Replicants (Nexus 9s) are programmed to obey and can be thoroughly trusted, explaining the resumed manufacture of Replicants following the issues with Tyrell Nexus models running amok. And yet Luv behaves rather oddly, shedding tears during times of stress, killing people and even, indeed, inferring that she will lie to Wallace about why she killed Lt.Joshi. She even suggests to Joshi that her own trust in K may have been misguided, and that K may have lied to her (which indeed he has). I wonder if this might be related to Ana’s memory implants having some other code as I have mentioned, thus possibly explaining some of Luv’s and K’s behaviour. I guess you might call it freewill, or independence from set programming- maybe it’s the same thing.

On the other hand: this is what the baseline test is designed to pick up, perhaps stress/trauma is the one thing that breaks through the Nexus 9 programming to ‘obey’. A Replicant Blade Runner experiencing combat and near-death moments would experience sufficient trauma to break its programming. Likewise, Luv, doing what she feels she has to do to protect/satisfy Wallace, experiences stress and trauma that breaks her own programming and causes her to act more erratically/aggressively. She certainly doesn’t react well to Wallace killing the newborn Replicant, and goes downhill from there.

One of my favourite scenes from the film might seem a strange one. Its in the orphanage, after K has learned that the records book has been tampered with and the specific information he is after has been ripped from it and stolen, leaving him with a dead end. A noise outside the office draws him back out to the engine/furnace area, and in a perfectly-paced, almost hypnotic sequence, he feels compelled to approach the furnace of his memory and where he remembers hiding the wooden horse. The place of his memory is evidently real, and he slowly gets pulled back in, his memory of a past event, implanted or not, like some kind of inexorable black hole. The music is an ambient dirge, as he is slowly pulled into an emotional and intellectual abyss. There is no dialogue. No voiceover. Its just pure cinema, and finally, when he holds the real wooden horse and the camera slowly closes in on his trembling face, we can see he’s on the verge of exploding, his mind unravelling with the implications of where he is, what he is experiencing, who he is, what he might be. A Replicant who thinks he might be human, a delicious twist on the original film’s Rachel thinking she’s human but realising she’s actually a Replicant. Its bloody brilliant, how its staged. Pure Cinema, as Trumbull used to say.

The transition/cut from the desert campfire where K is recovering, the sparks and embers from the fire rising into the night sky suddenly transforming into the cityscape. Brilliant, a cut as good as the Kubrick bone to orbital bomb in 2001, its that good. A primeval fire’s sparks and embers rising up into the night and leaping thousands of years of technology into future megalopolis. Almost thrown in as an incidental aside as we change scenes. Extraordinary.

2049dWhen K takes Joi up onto the roof, in the rain. The sound design in that scene is just sublime, perfect. The sound of a disembodied voice echoing in the concrete canyons, the rain, the whoosh of distant air traffic and machinery. The subtle textures of the synth soundtrack gently picking its way through the sound effects. Its exquisite work. And of course the cinematography is awesome, I think I could re-watch that scene over and over.

Ridley Scott would have us think that the central question of Blade Runner is, is Deckard a Replicant? I don’t think that is the central question of that film; I rather think that it asks how much who we are, and what we are, is defined by our memories, real or false. That question is asked again in BR2049, and yet with an ironic twist on what Ridley would have us obsess over- here we know K is a Replicant, but at the end of the film, is he actually human too? When Roy Batty saves Deckard in the original, and K here sacrifices himself to rescue Deckard and reunite him with his daughter, do they each attain humanity enough to deserve the term ‘human’? In a spin on the original thesis of Philip K Dick’s original novel, which was regards defective humans and what is ‘human’ in a world of atrocities like Nazi death camps etc, do the films offer a suggestion that engineered Replicants can actually by their actions become truly human, which further suggests that humanity is not a physical state but one that may be intellectual or emphatic, a result of actions and deeds.

How wonderfully special that here is a sequel that expands and informs upon the original. I have not re-watched Blade Runner since seeing BR2049 last October, but I probably really should. If only to give some new perspective on the question, is BR2049 as good as Blade Runner? Is it possibly even better? Ah, now that there feels like an extraordinary question, being someone who has revered the original film since 1982. But it is one that -incredibly- I find myself considering. A year ago, I would not have believed such a consideration possible.

What a strange world this is.


Blade Runner Art

Well, I’m sure you can all guess what I was watching last night.

On a related topic whilst I digest 2049 one more time (doesn’t the blu-ray look gorgeous? What in the world can 4K add, I wonder?), here’s some artworks inspired by the original film that have caught my eye recently. Some ‘work’ better than others, but I like how these pieces rather capture the spirit of the original film:





2049 is beautiful, isn’t it?

Hey, it’ll be here soon. To tide you over (its a bit like Christmas for us dystopia fans, isn’t it?) here’s a link to a lovely piece by screenwriter Michael Green about writing the screenplay and visiting the BR2049 set. Personally, I wish he’d write a book on the subject of his BR2049 adventure, as this tantalizing glimpse just isn’t enough.



Meanwhile, back in 2019…

blade4November 2019 is, I’m reliably informed at time of writing, just 1 year, 9 months, 16 days away. The countdown starts here, if only so I can post this lovely image from my favourite film. Every shot is a work of art, and I can only imagine what the film looks like in 4K.

Hmm. Maybe November 2019 is a good deadline to have a decent 4K set-up ready. It might seem a way off, but the future always arrives sooner than you think.

Ridley’s Blade Runner 3

br2049Well, call me a bit of a cynic, but no sooner was Ridley Scott complaining that BR2049 was too long (which was why it failed at the box office) and that he would have taken out a half hour, than he’s already commenting on making a Blade Runner 3- and I rather doubt he’d allow anyone to keep him out of the directors chair this time around. He told Digital Spy  “I think there is another story. I’ve got another one ready to evolve and be developed, so there is certainly one to be done for sure.”

Regarding that story, I would imagine (or hope) it’s the one that original scribe Hampton Fancher is keeping close to his chest. Speaking to The Los Angeles Times, Fancher revealed that his original idea for a sequel took shape around 1986 when Ridley first approached him about returning to Blade Runner.  The story involved Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard and centered around Deckard’s next job as a Blade Runner. Fancher called the idea “horrifying” and teased that we might actually get to see it if a sequel gets greenlit; “…that idea is back in my head,” Fancher said about the story. “But I’m not going to tell you what it is.”

Now, general perception of BR2049 as a box-office failure is rather wrong. For a rather long R-rated film based on a 35-year old property that was highly sophisticated and demanded attention from audiences, BR2049 did very well at the box office. Its scale and ambition likely proved its financial undoing, and would likely make that sequel seem a dim possibility, but Alcon Entertainment is apparently keeping the door open on further Blade Runner projects.  The IP likely cost them a packet, so they would likely see sense in investing further into that IP. The film was, after all, well-received by critics and fans and might well see recognition during Awards season. The home release might have considerable success. Who knows. A smaller, leaner, less cerebral Blade Runner story might get better traction with American audiences.

I’d rather hope Ridley sticks to producing, but maybe he thinks he’s got something to prove. Given a good enough script, he can still work wonders with a tight budget and schedule (look at The Martian).  So maybe, just maybe…

Wouldn’t that be something, a Blade Runner movie that proved a hit at the box office (I can see me complaining about it already). Third time’s the charm? I don’t know. A fast-paced, action-packed Blade Runner film popular with American cineplex audiences doesn’t really sound like a Blade Runner movie at all, but Alcon do deserve a break after giving us BR2049. As long as Ridley can keep himself from proving Deckard is a Replicant. Ambiguity is a powerful thing, Ridley…