Last Week

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                                              Great Scott! Those Mattes!

Well there goes another week in the mad tumble towards what some people are still hoping will turn out to be Christmas. Regular readers may have noticed a wee drop in the number of reviews being posted lately- its partly because I’ve been turning my attention to watching television shows this month, which obviously take more time to watch than a movie does. This week, though, much of my time has been taken up with other distractions, including watching Back to the Future and its sequel, the imaginatively titled Back to the Future Part II which have just been released on 4K UHD (I’ll likely get around to the third entry sometime today). Visually these films are rather more problematic than some catalogue releases on 4K UHD, which I gather is partly down to the filmstock used at the time and the optical effects, which is a particular problem with the second entry. I remember watching the film at the cinema and being wowed by those visual effects, particularly the flying cars (at the time seeming much more sophisticated than the flying car sequences in Blade Runner) and the clever split screen techniques. Watching them on this 4K presentation, some shots still impress but goodness some are pretty terrible, really: in some places the optical effects leave the flying cars looking like smudgy animation and at other moments almost pasted on like cut-outs. I don’t know if its a degradation of the original elements, or an inevitable consequence of 4K resolution and HDR making mattes etc much more problematic, but some of that once so impressive stuff looks fairly dire now and quite distracting. If anything, it makes those flying car sequences in Blade Runner all the more impressive as they seem to hold up much better (probably a case of the more simple shots being easier to realise back then, or the digital trickery that was applied to the restoration for the Final Cut).

I do have to wonder though about how this film originally looked in the cinema, my memories of it- were we so much more forgiving? Or is it something to do with how we watch films now on these 4K panels. Back when I saw the film it was blown up on a huge cinema screen, and yet still seemed to hold up better than now on my unforgiving OLED- or is it really just how I’m remembering it? Was my old VHS copy, say, simply much more low-resolution, low-contrast and therefore much more forgiving itself, too?

Fortunately the films themselves remain quite fun and endearingly old-fashioned- once all blockbusters were made this way; there’s a sense of innocence to them that was possibly cynically calculated for all I know, but nostalgia certainly clouds over some of the bad points. In some ways Part Two seems eerily prescient- the middle section looking rather uncannily Trumpworld- I’ll never see those alternate 1985 sequences the same way as I used to.

But thinking of how the films effects turned out some thirty years later on 4K UHD, and how problematic these BTTF films have been on home video over the years (some purists reckon the Blu-rays were unwatchable), made me think about home video and owning films. I remember a time when owning a film was impossible, frankly, and a time when expensive early VHS tapes were sold (I recall seeing a copy of Jaws in a cardboard slipcase for sale for something like £76 in a posh department store in 1982). Eventually films could be found more cheaply, early examples being the Cinema Club range I remember seeing in Woolworths. One of the latter included 2001: A Space Odyssey, a copy of which I had for Christmas one year.

But of course it wasn’t really a case of owning the movie, not properly. That copy of 2001 I had was on a pan and scan, horribly fuzzy VHS- if Kubrick himself ever had the misfortune to watch a copy I’m sure he would have been mortified. Which makes me wonder how film-makers re-watch their films and what they really think of some of the home video editions over the years, but that’s really another conversation entirely.

So anyway, it wasn’t really owning a copy of the film properly- more like owning a second-rate approximation of 2001. One could argue that of all the formats, the only version where I came really close to owning a genuine proper copy of Kubrick’s epic is the 4K UHD released late last year, which looks utterly gorgeous and certainly far superior to how those Back to the Future films look in 4K. Which is where filmstocks used over the years, and how certain prestige films were shot over the decades, complicate matters (Vertigo, for instance, is a revelation in 4K UHD).

Some great, classic films, some of which are my favourites, have been released on 4K UHD over the past few years, surely the last home video format we’ll ever be asked to buy, and which some of us are fortunate to watch on pretty large, sophisticated 4K panels. Returning to that £76 copy of Jaws I looked at in that department store so many years ago, I’m pretty confident it looked bloody horrible compared to the excellent 4K UHD disc of the film that came out earlier this year. Are we REALLY owning definitive copies of our favourite films now, ironically at the end of physical media?

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

darkfWe’re currently in a period -have been for quite some time, actually, and it seems there’s no end in sight- where pop culture seems obsessed with the past. With re-visiting old icons. Its actually been going on in film for so long now that one could be forgiven for thinking its just always been this way, that this is normal and entirely intellectually ‘sound’. Its gotten to the point at which, having remade and rebooted so many huge successful properties of the past, attention has turned to those that failed first time around; I still have to pinch myself that anyone deemed it a good idea to make a sequel to Blade Runner, box-office flop that it was. News has been circulating recently that John Carpenter’s 1982 flop The Thing is being remade/rebooted. I suppose so many years has gone by that the financial failures of those two 1982 duds has been softened by decades of ancillary sales on various video formats and platforms, and their critical reappraisal won’t have hurt either. But the performance of BR2049 should always be a sobering reminder of the dangers, even if it turned out (in my eyes, anyway) a quite brilliant film possibly equal to the original. So you know, maybe a remake/reboot of The Thing is not the monstrously horrible idea that my gut instinct thinks it is.

The Terminator franchise is one of those properties that Hollywood just hasn’t been able to quite leave alone, but by the time Terminator: Dark Fate arrived one had to wonder whether film-makers were rebooting/continuing the original two films or the successive sequels/reboots. It had gotten to the point at which my apathy left me curious about it, but not enough to actually shell out any coins to watch it. Which might be why the film failed -with a slightly higher budget than BR2049 it barely surpassed that films likewise dismal worldwide box-office, perhaps some measure of just how little any of those old movies actually resonate with modern audiences, no matter how good/bad/popular they were originally.

To be brutally honest, Terminator: Dark Fate is a totally unnecessary movie. Its like Terminator is some Hollywood corpse that keeps on getting kicked around, or which some mad Hollywood studio executive scientist keeps subjecting to lightning screaming “Its alive! Its alive!”until finally realising, no, its still quite dead and kicks it into a dark corner again until some other Peter Cushing lookalike decides its worth a shot.

Maybe this time is the last time. Maybe this time they’ll let it lie.

Its not that Terminator: Dark Fate is a bad film – well, maybe it is, but at least it isn’t terrible- its just that its so redundant, just bringing back the old tropes and stunts and, in this case, two of the original actors/characters. The whole franchise has gotten so wrapped up in various timelines and realities and paradoxes that the first thing this film does is wipe out everything post T2 in one brutal opening sequence to, as it were, simply clear the state. Unfortunately at the same time it also pulls an Alien 3, by pretty much negating everything in T2 itself, too. Which is either very brave or incredibly stupid- some Alien fans still get dangerously fluctuating blood pressure issues when Alien 3 is ever raised in a discussion.  For the record, I’m a fan of Alien 3 and quite like the sheer audacity of what it did to the characters who survived Aliens, but I have always been able to appreciate the ire that fans invested in the characters of Aliens felt at the time and indeed still do. Intellectually it wholly undermines the events of that film, threatening to negate any investment in that film whenever re-watched (possibly fans instead watch and stubbornly (wisely?) ignore the fact that Alien 3 exists at all- something that likely quite a few original Star Wars trilogy fans are attempting in this Disney Star Wars era.

darkf3What Terminator: Dark Fate proposes is that all the efforts of Sarah Connor and Arnie’s reprogrammed Terminator to protect her son John from the shape-shifting T-1000 and destroy Skynet were all for nothing, because in the first five minutes another Terminator (several, it seems, having been sent into the past to kill John Connor because, well, redundancy) comes along and kills John shortly following the events of T2. Its perhaps saying something about the inevitability of fate and AI that although Skynet has been stopped, it is instead simply delaying the same Apocalyptic events, this time orchestrated by another, later AI entitled Legion.

Now on the one hand, this is a fascinating proposition- similarly to the mythology of the BSG reboot, it seems to be suggesting that whatever we do, humanity is doomed to repeat the same mistake, in that the drive/forward momentum of scientific advancement we are always destined to create machines and then AI which, when sentient, always turns against us. In BSG, what has happened before is destined to happen again, a cycle of advance and disaster. So that defeating Skynet in T2 is always futile because some other scientist is going to eventually stumble upon the knowledge that leads to AI and another Skynet- in Dark Fate‘s case, an AI called Legion. It suggests a particularly dark viewpoint, the nihilistic view that humanity is doomed whatever we do. This isn’t really dwelt upon, more the pity, because Dark Fate lacks the darkness of the first Terminator film in particular The one thing I did appreciate, is that Dark Fate actually offers a possible break in the cycle: the issue with T2 was that it ended Skynet but not the industrial/economic drive for scientific progress that led to Skynet (because Judgement Day never happened,  the lesson of Skynet couldn’t be heeded by the public/powers that be). Dark Fate is never about stopping Judgement Day, it happens eventually, and Dani is the leader to lead the resistance and defeat Legion. One would suppose that afterwards, whatever the world is like, its one in which scientists won’t be so eager to create AI that threatens the Apocalypse.

So, decades after John has been killed and Sarah lost in semi-drunken rage, two new Terminators arrive from the future- well, one, as it turns out, is not quite a Terminator, but the other is a black-liquid T-1000 variant obviously up to no good- and the basic plot of the Terminator movies is up and running again. The AI of the ‘Future End of the World (Delayed)’ has identified the human that usurps it in its future and has sent a deadly assassin into the past to kill her and ensure it isn’t, er, usurped. And, er, someone else has then sent someone into the past to ensure she, er, isn’t.

darkf2Its like the very definition of reboot. And of course, it perhaps reflects the current obsession of our times that the hero that can save humanity is a woman not a man, and that the ‘good’ Terminator sent into the past (actually an augmented human, named Grace) is a woman too. I’m not concerned with the sexual politics, its boring and largely irrelevant except for those that choose to make a Big Deal about it on YouTube etc (afterall, we had Ripley and Sarah Connor herself kicking ass in films 40-odd years ago so its really the same old, same old). But the gender choices do impact the casting, and its that casting that chiefly damages this film. On the one hand, Mackenzie Davis as Grace is great – she’s excellent at the physical work in the action sequences and she is a very fine actress so is emotive and is, really, the highlight of the film. Unfortunately, while Natalia Reyes, who plays Dani, the Dark Fate variant of John Connor, is probably a good actress in her own right, she never at all convinces as the future saviour of the human race. She doesn’t have the hardness or physical attributes to really convince that way, particularly (and most damningly) in the future sequences in which we see her leading the resistance against Legion. Maybe it was an attempt to cast against type, but it doesn’t work, at least it didn’t for me. To be honest, it was almost laughable, and her future leader proves even more unconvincing than her present-day unwitting factory worker destined for Greatmess. As if ‘anyone’ can be The One.

Arnie, of course, is back, as the Terminator that assassinated John at the films opening but is later redeemed by living with humans and getting a conscience. Yeah, I know, even typing that feels stupid, but its one of those leaps of logic that Dark Fate inflicts upon us in its strange insistence to stay positive about everything- the film really misses the darkness of the first film. This Terminator seems to have even adopted a family and had success selling Drapes. Excuse me while I barf… I don’t know. Maybe they should have written a backstory of Sarah hunting the Terminator down for revenge, capturing and reprogramming it as her robot-slave or something, or maybe that would paint her in a bad light. Speaking of Sarah Connor, Linda Hamilton makes a welcome return as the great haunted anti-heroine, but again, she utterly lacks any chemistry with Reyes as Dani, I mean, there is literally nothing there.

Its like the film lacks any emotional depth or profundity at all, and that Reyes is this strange Black Hole when the character really needs to be an icon, a gravitational force of depth and substance. Only Mackenzie Davis seems to make any real connection with Reyes or Hamilton or anyone, really. Arnie is pretty much wasted, he gets a few funny gags/one-liners but its not as if the film has a dark mood to alleviate. Without the emotional connections there really can’t be any drama, and some of the decidedly ropy CGI work in the stunts with digital characters substituting for the actors and their stunt doubles while plainly necessary is so poorly done, and sticks out so badly, it just seems to turn it into an animated movie so minus any real tension.

Its bad enough that we’ve largely seen so much of this before, but the films tendency to try to do action sequences up there with the daftest Marvel Studios spandex hero nonsense just makes it, well, silly, totally lacking any weight or depth. It really needed, in my opinion, to return to the physical reality of the first movie, and a violence that looked real and hurt, away from the Marvel stuff that threatens to infect everything now.

Dark Fate is not a complete disaster, but its really not particularly good either, completely negating any reason for its existence, even if it could argue for one in the first place. Did we need another Terminator movie? If we did, we needed one better than Dark Fate.

BR2049: Interlinked- The Art

P1100243Much-delayed, BR2049: Interlinked- The Art finally got published this week. Written/curated by Tanya Lapointe, this book is a companion piece to her 2017 book The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049, which was published back in 2017 shortly after the film originally came out. That book was a reasonable examination of the making of the film – the cast/crew and the sets, etc- but considering its title surprisingly had little actual artwork, instead focusing on behind the scenes imagery of the sets and actors and props, its title seemed rather a misnomer, something which this book addresses.

P1100244Its telling that the majority of the artwork within Interlinked -most of it artwork created in computer art packages as opposed to pen, brush and paper- is very tonal, very concerned with atmosphere and mood. Its clearly one of the things that most interested Villeneuve, or something that he prioritised. You can see it in the film itself, the studied attention to lighting and cinematography. An artbook for the 1982 film would have been more about the design details, the intricacies of objects, form and function, than what seems to have been the chief concern of the artists on BR2049. That being said, in this dawning age of limited behind-the-scenes documentaries on home video releases (we were so spoiled by Dangerous Days the 2007 documentary on the making of Blade Runner by Charles de Lauzirika and his Alien 3 documentary Wreckage and Rage) anything we can get now about the making of these films is fascinating and valuable. Obviously a detailed, definitive making-of book about BR2049 is some distance away, if ever, but if these artbooks are all we get, fair enough, its certainly better than the little afforded by the films marketing and home video teams.

P1100241They actually have a third book due out next year containing all the BR2049 storyboards, I imagine the three books together will be everything that the 1982 film never got even after all these years. Not that I’m sore about that. Well okay, a little- I waited years for an Art of Blade Runner and we never really got one; apparently all the rights issues derailed several attempts to actually get such a book of the ground. How odd though that the 1982 pretty much got no proper books (Future Noir may be the ‘bible’ of the making-of the film but it is deplorably lacking in imagery/presentation, and the few paperbacks we got in 1982, the sketchbook etc were basic) and yet the sequel seems to be getting so much attention- you’d think it had been a huge success and the franchise going from strength to strength).

P1100245In any event, its nice to see that BR2049 is still subject top some interest and attention. Maybe there is life in it yet. I suppose the chances of the film getting an in-depth and expansive future home video release with docs and commentaries etc -much as I would love to see it and double/triple-dip yet again- are so remote as to be quite inconsequential. Its simply the world and home entertainment landscape we’re living in. Interlinked is a very handsome book; and I’d certainly recommend it to fans of either of the Blade Runner films – its particularly interesting to see the evident mark of the 1982 film and the artists gradually moving away from it- I would have perhaps appreciated more text and anecdotes but its clearly more of a visual exercise, and that in-depth examination of the making of the film may yet be in my hands someday. I certainly wouldn’t rule it out considering the lasting interest/legacy of the 2017 film.

Its coming outta the Goddam Couch! : Split Second (1992)

split1
“Operator? Get my Agent!”

There’s a scene in Split Second in which our hero’s love interest, Michelle (Kim Cattrall) is sitting in her lover’s apartment being stalked by the monster, and she’s frantically sweeping the room with her gun for sign of the menace, when its huge claws rip up from inside/under the couch she’s sitting on… utterly ridiculous and nonsensical (this thing is ten or twelve foot tall but it can sneak up out of the sofa?) this moment sums up the whole sad, silly film.

Its a very cheap, very dumb British sci-fi film trying so very hard to be an American action thriller, heavily indebted to Blade Runner and Predator and Alien, set in an unconvincing flooded future London with a plot and characters that come across as pure unadulterated fan fiction: the kind of thing where being adult is saying the F-word endlessly, so much so that this film may have the most F-bombs of any film I’ve ever seen. The kind of film where sophistication and ‘cool’ is mistaken for chomping cigars and eating junk food. Its the kind of film that can star actors like Rutger Hauer and Kim Cattrall and waste them completely.

I have Rutger Hauer’s book All Those Moments, in which he reminisces about his film career. I just searched through it for any mention of Split Second. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe some self-deprecating comment, some wry humour, some telling anecdote. But no. No mention at all. Maybe Rutger was trying to pretend it never happened. Maybe his book only had so many pages permitted and some topics/films just had to be cut. Maybe he had forgotten it.

I’ll be honest, I was rather disappointed. His memories of making a film like Split Second would be fascinating, I think. We are used to hearing actors talk about their finest moments, their greatest films (for obvious reasons), but I suspect we might learn the most telling things about them if they talked more about their mistakes, their embarrassments. Tom Cruise, for instance, has never, to my knowledge, ever reminisced about starring in Ridley Scott’s Legend– its a film he’d clearly rather forget and strike from his filmography. Indeed, maybe dear Tom has absolutely forgotten that film, had it excised from his memory totally I’m not so sure Rutger would be like that regards Split Second; he seemed the kind of guy that wore all his films like some badge of honour: proud of his finest hours, pragmatic about his more embarrassing efforts. Goodness knows he had plenty of the latter: so many times in the 1980s and 1990s I was horrified in seeing his face on the cover of some straight-to-VHS b-movie fodder, far too many times.

The guy was Roy Batty. I always thought he deserved better, but then again, I was an LA 2019 obsessive. Everyone who was involved in that film was touched by greatness, in my book.

So how to explain Rutger in trash like Split Second, a film so bad even its title doesn’t bear any connection with anything in the film itself, it feels so absolutely random, nonsensical. I suppose Rutger was practical. He needed the money, it was a job, you can’t expect every film to be a Solder of Orange or Blade Runner or LadyHawke or The HItcher (moment of confession: I only ever saw one of those. There are so many films of Rutger’s that I have to catch up with).

I find it so very difficult to say anything positive about Split Second. It seems well-intentioned, but the story is so weak, the direction so amateur, it feels like something based on a very dated, very poor 1970s comic strip so obscure most people forgot it and it got handed to a creative team still in film school. Rutger is hamstrung by a very poorly written, cliche-ridden character, but he’s also actually very good in it: you can see a wry gleam in his eye at times, like he knows he’s in a piece of trash only dreaming that its Blade Runner (and God knows he was in that, so he’d know the difference) and that he’s going to have fun with it anyway. There’s a gentleness to Rutger: you could see it in his Roy Batty even though he was ostensibly that films villain. Rutger deserved his own franchise, his own Indiana Jones series of films.  He could have been great in it.

KIm Cattrall of course is as sexy as ever- she just exudes this aura in everything she did, and that’s true even in something as poor as this- the film suddenly brightens, quickens, somehow, as soon as she (eventually) appears in it. The film  missed a trick not bringing her appearance forward by about half-hour. Indeed, she perhaps shouldn’t have been Rutger’s lover at all, but rather his buddy cop. She must have come to the set straight adter appearing in Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country, because I swear she’s wearing the same hair-do. That’s one of the most interesting things I can say about Split Second, its that poor a movie.

Split Second is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

25th June

signdeluxeI had intended to post on Thursday (June 25th) about a number of things- firstly the fact that it was the 38th Anniversary of the release of both Blade Runner and The Thing in America. Just imagining those two classic films being released on the same day is pretty wild- studios seem much more cautious these days about releasing tent-pole films at the same time, preferring to allow each other at least a week or two for each such release to dominate screens/recoup costs before the next big release comes along. Just imagining genre fans over in America being able to go to the cinema and watch both films on that opening weekend, or even on the same day, rather blows mind. Just imagining it was 38 years ago blows my mind too, but for all the wrong reasons.

Simultaneous international releases were simply not a thing back then, so over here in old blighty we had The Thing in August and Blade Runner a few weeks later in September (I was too young to get into a screening of The Thing, eventually watching a pirate copy on VHS later that Autumn, but did indeed see Blade Runner on its first weekend- the rest, as they say, is a well-documented history here on this blog).

On Thursday I also wanted to comment on the official announcement that day of Prince’s classic album Sign o’ The TImes getting a Super Deluxe release. Widely rumoured over the weeks prior, the announcement set in stone the contents and packaging, both of which was subsequently scrutinised and deliberated on forums worldwide. On the whole, the track contents are excellent with very few glaring omissions, and I’m particularly pleased to see All My Dreams (a wildly bizarre track only Prince could come up with) and two versions of Witness 4 the Prosecution (the kind of funky classic that only Prince could create and then shelve) included- these are two of my favourite Prince songs that have appeared on bootlegs. As with last year’s 1999 Super Deluxe, the fact that I have heard most of the vault tracks listed for Sign o’ Times Super Deluxe in bootleg form in the years since Prince’s passing seems a double-edged sword; on the one hand the prospect of hearing what I know are really great songs in better quality is really exciting, on the other hand, the sense of discovery most fans will experience hearing these vault releases for the first time is something I’m quite envious of.

Of course there are many tracks included I haven’t heard before either, and some bootleg material from that period apparently missing but hopefully planned for the Parade Super Deluxe that is already being worked on – indeed originally this was actually intended as the follow-up to 1999 Super Deluxe but rights issues for Warner caused a rethink, as the label owns Parade material (and that of other film-related Prince material like Purple Rain and Batman) in perpetuity but the non-film albums move to Sony from next year. So Warner obviously figured that if it wanted to profit from a deluxe edition of what is widely considered Prince’s finest album/period, it had to do it now, and leave the other albums for 2021/2022. I think that’s fair enough, considering all the work the label did for Prince during that period of his career. No doubt we’ll also get a ‘proper’ Purple Rain Super Deluxe after those, too (for the 2024 anniversary?). The bitter irony that it took Prince’s passing to enable these releases to ever surface is not lost on me, indeed, its never far from my mind when getting excited by these releases.

Hopefully we fans will benefit from the oversight of both the Parade and Sign o’the Times Super Deluxe projects being worked on pretty much at the same time, ensuring a wealth of material between them- on the evidence of the Sign o’the Times release, that seems pretty likely.

Regards the packaging, it does seem a bit of a shame that the Estate hasn’t been able to ensure that all the CD versions of the Super Deluxe releases match each other in design, but the 12″ format of the Sign o’ The Times release means we get a lovely, impressive-looking 120-page book as part of the package. Its large size hopefully means that I’ll find it easier to read. I liked the compactness of the 1999 Super Deluxe and that it fits on my shelf with other CDs but my word, my eyesight has failed over the past year or two on the evidence of how I struggle with that boxes booklet. It should come with a magnifying glass or something. Hopefully when Sony takes over for other Prince Super Deluxe releases perhaps they will maintain this 12″ format (and likewise Warner with its own future releases).

 

 

Doctor Sleep = Shining Chills

drs1All being well I’ll post a review tomorrow, but having just seen Doctor Sleep, I just wanted to post my initial feelings: the spookiest thing about this film is how much it reminded me of BR2049. There were moments in Doctor Sleep -music cues, aerial shots details of which shall remain spoiler-free – that frankly gave me chills, and had me thinking about similar sentiments regards BR2049.

Denis Villeneuve’s film was that most miraculous thing, after so many decades, of being a perfect sequel to a film that never needed one. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was as different to its source novel as was Blade Runner from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, both films were met by fairly negative (scathing at times) critical response and subject to critical reappraisal over the years after, and both were self-contained and not in the slightest bit needed a sequel. Indeed nobody, I’m sure, ever really expected one for either film.

Yet here we are, both films have gotten really fine, respectful and sincere sequels that expand upon the original work while each treading a new path. Decades after. Its almost beyond bizarre. In a similar way to how BR2049 returned to the original source novel as well as the 1982 film’s rather distant adaptation of it, so does Doctor Sleep return to the original source novel of The Shining as well as the Kubrick film – in some ways both films turn the tone and themes back to the source in ways that enrich original and sequel. Of course Doctor Sleep is itself based upon Stephen Kings own sequel novel to his The Shining book, and I haven’t read either King book in all honesty, but it seems clear to me that this film is not simply that book, its clearly a sequel to both the widely different King book and Kubrick film, as well as the King Doctor Sleep book, and manages a brilliant balancing act.

It was just the strangest thing; watching BR2049 I had this sensation of the hair on the back of my neck standing on end, a kind of magical meta-reality going on, returning to that Blade Runner world after so many decades, and it feeling so authentic. I had that exact same feeling with Doctor Sleep, particularly two-thirds in when there are suddenly a few shots which… well, lets stay spoiler-free awhile yet. But wow. What a feeling. Its when pop-culture becomes something rather more than just pop-culture, when years in the real world are mirrored by years in the artificial film world, and there’s this weird clarity, almost, a feeling of meta-reality.

Anyway, I liked it.

A CS-80 Masterclass

Forgive me another YouTube link, but this one’s pretty special. This is a one-hour demonstration of the legendary Yamaha CS-80, most famous for its use by Vangelis in so much of his music, particularly during the Nemo days and albums like Spiral, China and the soundtracks Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner, portions of the latter being played  midway through the video leaving me amazed. Imagine sitting down with Vangelis at his Nemo Studio in London, as Ridley Scott must have done, and seeing/hearing him play that iconic Blade Runner score…I remember reading stories of Vangelis’ assistant redressing Nemo to establish mood and atmosphere for when the maestro was creating a particular piece of music or an album. Must have been spine-tingling, for instance, when he was performing the first movement from Soil Festivities, say, or Rhapsody from his collaboration with Irene Papas, Rhapsodies. What I would give to be there and to have witnessed it. All in a days work for the Greek maestro, I imagine, but something quite inspiring and astonishing to me.

You couple Vangelis’ mastery of the CS-80 with his vast collection of percussion instruments that filled Nemo and… well, magic is not the word, the recordings speak for themselves and his music back then formed the soundtrack for most of my life since. Timeless, gorgeous sound, and so much of it from this remarkable… do you call it a machine, or instrument?

Vangelis made the CS-80 his own, and funnily enough, it is commented upon by the presenter of this video that one of the only negatives regards the machine is that its so hard to play it without someone remarking “that sounds like Vangelis”. Frankly I think that is possibly the highest praise one could receive but I imagine some musicians would be infuriated by it.

If nothing else, the CS-80 goes to show that progress isn’t always, well, progress, and that in many ways this instrument remains unequalled. Mighty indeed. This is a fantastic video, absolutely fascinating stuff.

Altered Carbon Season 2 soon

Netflix has this week finally released a trailer for its upcoming second season of Altered Carbon,  which lands on February 27th. Quite looking forward to this- I just can’t quite believe its been nearly two years since the first season landed.  Altered Carbon was one of  the first shows I watched on Netflix; indeed it was one of the reasons why I started my subscription. I guess I just couldn’t resist its Blade Runner, cyberpunk vibe.

The first season of Altered Carbon had rock-solid production values and an intriguing premise, and was really, really good at times, just hampered by, ironically, perhaps leaning on those Blade Runner nods too often. I’m not familiar with the original books that the series is based on, but I gather this second season has a different cast, is set much later and has a rather different setting. This could be both a good and bad thing, really, with a danger it will lose some of the cast I liked and some of the setting and mood that I really enjoyed, but we’ll see. In any case, it should be a nice change from the rather weak Star Trek: Picard and frankly terrible Star Trek: Discovery. I doubt that The Expanse will be losing its crown as the best and most exciting sci-fi show currently on television, but I’m hoping that Altered Carbon will improve on its first season and fulfil its promise. There’s always room for more good sci-fi.

Suspiria (1977)

suspStyle over content- there is, oddly enough, nothing wrong with that. Its what elevates some films to classic status – Blade Runner, for instance, was criticised back in 1982 for being all style and little substance, but that ironically defined the very thing it became most famous for, and what remains so impressive about the film to this day: sometimes style is everything.  Such is perhaps the case with Dario Argento’s horror film Suspiria, which I have been a long time getting around to watching- indeed, seeing the remake/reboot beforehand.

Suspiria is all about style: its a horror film as arthouse movie, or maybe arthouse movie as horror film, if there’s a distinction looking at it either way. There is very little plot, pretty much non-existent characterisation. As a traditional film, it functions very poorly indeed.

As such, I have to confess I found it rather disappointing. I do believe a part of that is simply because I am so late to the party, the film being over forty years old now. When it first came out, when it was so new and fresh and experimental, such an assault on the senses, it might well have seemed extraordinary, and I can understand this reputation continuing for years, into its release on VHS and DVD. Certainly it has an atmosphere all its own, from its in-your-face, assault-on-your-eardrums score by Goblin, its garish colour schemes and rather surreal, other-worldly, dreamlike imagery. Back in 1977 and likely years later, it must have been astonishing, exhilarating, but to me it just seemed a little, er, irritating.

Which is my loss, I expect. I’ve just come to the film too late. Intellectually I can appreciate what it did/does, and why it is so revered, but I’m watching the film in 2020. It just doesn’t work in the same way it did back then. Its a bit like when I talk to people who have never seen Blade Runner; before they do so I have to caution their expectations a little, or usually, discussing the film afterwards, I have to confess that to appreciate how new and fresh and special the film still seems to me today, you really had to be there in 1982. Or perhaps in understanding the impact the first Star Wars film had in 1977. You cannot really divorce films from when they were first released, they are forever of their time. They can’t hold that same magic forever.

But it certainly is a beautiful film; most of the shots of the film are exquisite and visually it remains quite extraordinary. I was just a little disappointed that this was all the film really was. The violence/horror is mostly a ghastly, over the top orgy of gore and so self-aware and artificial its clearly shocking for shocks sake (circa what people were used to in 1977). Perhaps that’s the point of it, engineered to repulse, but I can’t say I was ever involved in any of it. Instead I felt outside of it, distracted by its technique and artifice: its a dream that never feels real, and in so doing it never really involved me.

If anything, the film made me consider a reappraisal of the 2018 Suspiria: I can see now, having seen the 1977 original, what that film possibly succeeded at. It wasn’t a remake, and neither did it try to mimic very much of the 1977 films style and atmosphere. Instead it took the basic plot and made a more routine, traditional narrative: something more cohesive. Back when I saw it I felt rather frustrated by it, and I doubt that watching it again I’d enjoy the film anymore than I originally did- it strangely enough has its own problems, as I recall, and all of its own quite seperate to those of the original. But maybe the 2018 film wasn’t as terrible as I originally thought, or certainly not quite as inferior to the original as I thought it might be. Both films are quite flawed, but I suppose that, considering its age, one can give the original some credit for what it did back then that made it seem so unique and ‘new’.

Mind, I’m hardly an expert on the horror genre, but for all the hype over Suspiria’s bold and garish visuals, I think some are forgetting the colour-drenched visuals of the best of the Gothic Hammers and much of Roger Corman’s Poe horror line of the 1960s. Suspiria in 1977 may have done it to a heightened and lasting degree, but certainly it had its precedents.

 

Future becomes Past

esc1I am still beyond irritated that I never re-watched Blade Runner during November, 2019. It feels like something vaguely heretical that I never watched that film in that, of all months. Once upon a time, that film was of the future, now its not even of the past, but some alternate past, like the 1997 of Escape From New York, or the 2001 of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Alternative histories, of the future become past.

Perhaps that’s more powerful. It is, after all, the problem when predicting the future in science fiction movies. You can get judged by what you get right, what you get wrong, and maybe that’s missing the point- the films really tell us about when they were made. In the decade that gave us Taxi Driver, it wasn’t perhaps too much of a stretch to imagine New York becoming a maximum security prison to dump all the criminal filth of America into. Likewise when Kubrick and Clarke made 2001 in the 1960s, with America pumping so much money and effort into Apollo, it was no doubt easy to imagine the Superpowers with bases on the moon by 2001. In just the same way that Escape From New York shows how grim society seemed to be getting in the grim late-1970s, 2001: A Space Odyssey betrays the sense of hope and ambition of the 1960s.

In any event, its easy to re-watch 2001 imagining that Vietnam never happened and that political will championed an ambitious space program for decades to follow, or that when economic collapse threatened the America of Escape From New York,  far-right politics condemned society’s ills to the solution of a city turned into a prison. Or, in the case of Blade Runner, that perhaps the Axis won World War Two and set the world into the different path of a German Space Race, and an Off-World solution to the climate collapse of Earth.

In this way the films actually become more powerful, separated from the weight of prediction, instead benefiting from the freedom of dreaming what might have been. I think its something that film-makers etc should perhaps consider when contemplating possible futures: don’t make them ours, make them someone else’s. If the opening crawl of Blade Runner had been something along the lines of: “1946: The Axis wins WWII, 1954: The first man on the moon is a German,  2019: Now” then people would perhaps have been more open, even in 1982, to accept its future noir vision. Its an approach that Villeneuve and his team clearly seemed to relish when making BR2049 and furthering its alternate history/future, something that the film benefits from with its retro tech.

I note that perhaps the next film to join the distinguished company of Escape From New York, 2001 and Blade Runner is Soylent Green, whose grim future of 2022, of devastating climate change, pollution and overpopulation is next to become an alternate past. Mind, as predictions go they possibly weren’t terribly far off with that one.