The 2021 List: April

So there goes April. and I watched all of eight ‘new’ films/TV shows. Yeah, I’m still re-watching ‘old’ stuff, but my general apathy/weariness continues.

Books are good. I’m currently reading J W Rinzler’s excellent ‘The Making of Planet of the Apes’, which I bought from Amazon for £18 a week or so ago- at that price its almost giving it away, considering what magazines cost these days. With its on-set photographs and old-fashioned (pre-2001/Star Wars) pre-production paintings/storyboards, its really evocative of the 1960s and something of an escape to the myth of simpler times. I’ve really enjoyed the fascinating story of its long gestation period. I’d never really appreciated what a hard sell it was in the early 1960s to sell a film project featuring talking apes. In hindsight it seems a perfectly natural premise for a series of films but when one considers it in an time pre-Star Trek, even, its quite remarkable the film ever got made. Great book- its a lovely reminder of those retrospective articles in Cinefantastique, Fantastic Films and Starburst that I enjoyed reading (albeit with its 300 pages, this book is much more detailed, Cinefantastique‘s in-depth articles notwithstanding).

Hey, we had the Oscars this month. More nauseating than ever. Privileged and pampered millionaires preaching some more. I’m not sure they ‘get it’, after the year so many of us have had. I suppose its all true that the rich just get richer and the poor poorer because looking at their expensive gowns and suits and haircuts the pandemic and its economic woes doesn’t seem to have affected them very much. Instead I rather think it has put into sharp focus just how much of another country/planet Hollywood really is, and how increasingly distant it is. Those Planet Hollywood restaurants have a very apt name indeed, indicative of a truth I didn’t really appreciate. 

Or maybe I’m just getting old, and tired of the game.

Television

46) The Flight Attendant

Film

41) Chelsley Bonestell: A Brush With The Future (2018)

42) Secret Behind the Door (1947)

43) The Tunnel (Tunnelen) (2019)

44) Anti-Life (2020)

45) Stowaway (2021)

47) Voyage of Time (2016)

48) The Heist (2013)

Last week: Ancient (1980s) Artifacts

raiders2Last week I did some wife-mandated cleaning in the garage. I have a storage box in there sitting against a far wall hidden by, er, other boxes and piles of miscellania (it’s a wonder we manage to park a car in that garage). I suppose the box should have, you know, garagey things in it like tools or paint tins or something, but instead its got books, magazines, tapes, cds… stuff that Claire has cleared away and put in there. Basically anything I’ve been looking for unsuccessfully for the past few years, it’s all in there. Opening it was like opening the Arc of the Covenant and screaming “its beautiful!”

Cue my face melting like a Nazi caught out by his blind confidence. Well, in a way, anyway- some of the stuff in there certainly messed me up, books for instance, that I cannot ever remember buying, let alone reading, and old xbox games that likewise I cannot remember owning or ever playing, at all. Its like I’ve found stuff that belonged to someone else. Its a little disconcerting, but this post isn’t about my frazzled marbles or ensuing memory loss, but I think that might be a later post regards some Blade Runner-linked examination about what is memory and what is real.

So instead, here’s a post about some of the magazines that were stored in there, particularly a few copies of Fantastic Films, a magazine that I’ve written about before but which I absolutely adored back in the day. A sort of poor-man’s Cinefantastique, the mag was at times beautifully designed for its day and at least turned up in my local newsagents (Cinefantastique was the best, but reserved for speciality comics stores and naturally cost more).

P1090842 (2)Looking through these mags was a strange experience, having not seen them in years but instantly familiar, having read and re-read them so many times over the years. Sure they look a bit beat-up and smell a little like old second-hand bookstores do. Back before the Internet, kiddies, this is what us geeks used to do- go to stores, buy magazines, read them, then re-read them, and maybe re-read them some more. We’ve gotten so used to instant news now it’s a little odd to realise this used to be how we found out about new movies, reading these monthly magazines, and probably it was all old news long before we ever got to read them. I used to read magazines like this, finding details about films sometimes months after their release in America but that didn’t really matter,as the world was slower back then, and often it would be before or even concurrent to the film’s release over here (Blade Runner didn’t turn up here until September, and E.T. didn’t get released until Christmas 1982 long after most had seen it on pirate VHS copies).

P1090843 (2)Naturally its those issues that concerned a little obscure film titled Blade Runner that are the most dog-eared and re-read copies. The issue with Elliot and E.T. on the cover is the one I used to pore over for years, because it had an analysis of Blade Runner by Sara Campbell that I used to read so many times, like it was some kind of Holy scripture. You have to bear in mind that Blade Runner was for many years simply forgotten, a box-office failure that most people had written off. Sara’s inciteful essay was a respectful and fascinating insight by someone who loved the film as much as I did. Sara would go on to found Cityspeak, a Blade Runner fanzine I wouldn’t learn of until years later, and unfortunately passed away not long after, but as a post on my old blog years ago (that I will have to repost here sometime) will attest, I’ll always fondly remember Sara for this review and consider the sadness that she never saw the ‘proper’ Blade Runner that would have blown her away. Life is so unkind.

P1090845 (2)I must also mention a letter in the ‘Reactions’ section of the mag. By the time the issue went to press Blade Runner had already bombed Stateside and this particular letter reflected on that and praised the film. Titled ‘Blade Runner deserved better‘, I have to admit I read and re-read the letter so many times over the years. It was written by Irene Tumanov of Paylin, New Jersey, and bless you Irene wherever you are today (I hope you still love Blade Runner). Irene’s letter- well, maybe someday I’ll type out her letter here in its entirety. But here’s a taster:

“It is only too tragic that the year 2019 is indeed in the midst of us now. We must indeed be dehumanized if we should turn our noses away from such a beautiful film! Not only do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep they also dream of the immortality of such great cinema. I believe it a terrible waste that Blade Runner should be put out to pasture!”

Irene I hope you enjoyed the resurgence of Blade Runner and its rise to success, and the Directors Cut and later the Final Cut, and its eventual sequel. All surely impossible to have imagined back in 1982.

P1090844 (2)But what a summer that was, what a year for genre releases. I took a picture of the contents age of that issue of Fantastic Films, to just demonstrate what an extraordinary time that was. We may have seen better films since, but I don’t think we saw such a group of diverse and interesting genre films like that ever again- when they all come out over that summer in America, it must have been pretty exciting. This edition of Fantastic Films featured articles on  E.T., The Dark Crystal, Blade Runner, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Tron, The Thing, Poltergeist, Firefox, The Secret of Nimh, Creepshow… I’ve always considered that year to be the true reaction to the original Star Wars. Its a little sad that in all the years since, we didn’t really see another year quite like that- back then I thought every year was going to be like that. What a damned fool I was…

 

 

 

For the BR2049 Bookshelf

cinefexBack in 1982, I remember standing in the old Andromeda Bookshop in Birmingham, upstairs in the magazine section. looking through Cinefex issue 9, which was devoted to Blade Runner. I very nearly bought it, but on limited pocket money funds decided to buy a few REH paperbacks instead, and maybe pick up the Cinefex at a later date. Damned fool I was. There was never any later date for Cinefex 9, as it quickly sold out and I spent years looking for a copy. Fortunately the issue was reprinted by Titan books in a hardback book many years later, which itself is OOP now and fetching rather large sums, so I did manage to eventually own and read it.

So, when I learned the latest issue of Cinefex would feature BR2049, I quickly ordered it, keen on history not repeating. It arrived a few days ago and it’s a pretty good read. It doesn’t look as if Cinefex devotes issues to single films as it used to (God knows there’s far more effects films these days than there used to be) so the BR2049 article shares the issue with articles on Dunkirk, The Dark Tower and the latest Kingsman film. Consequently the coverage isn’t as in-depth as it was for the original film (the issue also devotes a few pages to a pictorial of the original Blade Runner coverage from 1982, which is nice but does raise the forlorn wish that the issue might have simply been devoted to both films).

Of course in the good old days Cinefex coverage meant brilliant pictures of behind the scenes stuff, like models being built and matte paintings being painted on glass, and on the whole that’s all gone now thanks to CGI taking over. But BR2049 does feature extensive miniatures so there’s some nice pictures of that, amongst the CGI renders and wireframes that no-one on this planet can make exciting. I think the Cinefex article suffers from the cloak-and-dagger secrecy around the film prior to release, so although it discusses the creation of the 1982 Rachel, it doesn’t have any images to back it up, which have been made available elsewhere on the internet since the films release. Ultimately it’s a good article but not as exhaustive or complete as I would have liked, but hey, it’s different times now. We don’t even have the massive articles of Cinefantastique these days either. Progress, eh?

artbrA much more complete package, imagery-wise at least, can be found in The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049 book. Its an oversized (and consequently rather expensive, although Amazon have since reduced the price substantially) coffee-table book, that from the title might be inferred to be an art book but is actually more of a making-of book, dominated more by behind the scenes and production photographs than artwork. As a visual record and memento of the film and how it was made, it’s quite brilliant and everything a fan of the film could hope for. The imagery for the visual effects material is superior to the Cinefex article, although the text less substantial (so yeah, you really need both sources, unfortunately). The book also shares some of the limitations of the Cinefex article regards some of the more closely-guarded sequences (no imagery, again, of the CGI Rachel for instance).

It’s a brilliant book though. I might have preferred more substantial text but the imagery is breathtaking in the film so consequently that gets reflected here. There are some lovely behind the scenes shots and commentary about the film. It’s exactly the kind of book that I would have loved to see about the original film. Both are intensely visual experiences, and the Blade Runner ‘bible’ Future Noir is severely lacking in that regard. So maybe someone might write a more in-depth book about making BR2049 someday, who knows, but for now this will more than suffice.

george-hull-br6.jpgI almost wish one of the actors could have written a diary like Bob Balaban did for CE3K, that was a great book. Walter Koenig did a similar fly-on-the-wall book for ST:TMP. You don’t see that kind of book/coverage anymore but both were fascinating glimpses of the frustrations of making technically-demanding films and managing all the boredom behind the scenes. Yeah we get loads of DVD/Blu-ray featurettes on the best disc releases these days but that’s never as impartial/balanced coverage as one would prefer.

Cinefantastique, July-August 1982

I’ve waxed lyrical before about the old film magazines I used to buy as a teen – Fantastic Films, Starburst, Starlog etc- and how things have changed so much in the internet age. We have so much information now, and of course docs and commentaries on discs, that some of the mystery of movies has been lost somewhat. Film mags were like little glimpses into a hidden world. I’d pore over photographs and read interviews and look at pre-production art (the paintings of the late Ralph McQuarrie for Star Wars was likely my first experience of that). I loved reading all that stuff every month, read them, then re-read them. I’ve kept most of my old mags and many of them are stored up in the loft out of casual reach but some are handy and I sometimes get them out for a read. The news articles are glimpses of the publishing date and what was going on, the reviews sometimes funny in hindsight, sometimes perceptive, but always the behind the scenes stuff is priceless, even now.

20160528_164507-1So anyway, I picked up an issue of Cinefantastique to read, the double-issue of Blade Runner and Star Trek: Wrath of Khan. Reading the article about Blade Runner really took me back. That film was so big, so mysterious and magical to me back then. It is so odd to read interviews likely taken in 1981 talking about creating this incredible world of 2019 that must have seemed so long away at the time, and here we are now, with it just around the corner.

It was quite intense though, re-reading this article from 1982; I was experiencing the same old-forgotten feelings of awe and wonder I used to feel about Blade Runner back then.  Feelings triggered by the spread above or the one below that featured a Syd Mead painting that was printed everywhere at the time but always fascinated me.

I used to stare at it; the colours, the design-work… all that ambition and work that went into that film. The detail and layering that Ridley Scott employed- its rather usual now, as films are now more sophisticated generally than they were back then, certainly regards art-direction. People seem to forget how ground-breaking and important Ridley Scott’s work on Alien and Blade Runner was, how much that has impacted everything we see today- it wasn’t just how ‘pretty’ the photography and imagery was, it was all that layering and detail. It looked so real.

20160528_164528The Cinefantastique article, like the Cinefex one about the films effects, was a goldmine of imagery and information about this incredibly powerful film (it remains my most intense experience at the cinema) that somehow, at the time, was so quickly forgotten when it had failed at the box office.

All the books that would be written when the film was eventually reappraised were years away back then (though I have always wondered why no-one ever produced, in the long years since, a definitive ‘Art-Of’ book for Blade Runner). I used to re-read these same articles over and over in the years before any of that happened. Naturally as the years have passed,  some of the interviewed people are no longer with us, but it’s interesting too to see on-set photos Ridley Scott at work (he looks so young!) and read his comments and know how his career later progressed. He was intending to keep on making these incredible genre films back then, but the failure of Blade Runner and Legend put paid to that. I remember though, back at the time, reading this stuff- imagine, Ridley Scott following up Alien and Blade Runner with other ‘adult’ genre films, and George Lucas still busy with the Star Wars films (it wasn’t a Trilogy back then, we thought there would be several of them), Spielberg making genre films like CE3K, Raiders, ET… what an amazing time that was, some kind of Golden Age or something, I was just too young to really ‘get’ it.

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As an aside, regards these magazines being time-capsules of when they were printed, this issue of Cinefantastique also featured articles on Fire & Ice (Ralph Bakshi’s animated feature he did with Frank Frazetta), Something Wicked This Way Comes (prior to all its release/re-edit problems), Videodrome, the original Hawk’s The Thing, and a spread of McQuarrie paintings from a film still titled Revenge of the Jedi. Short features on upcoming films like Xtro, Brainstorm. Poltergeist, Firefox, Greystoke are a reminder of what else was going on and what would be future VHS rentals. They were good times indeed.

I mentioned this issue also featured Wrath of Khan– here’s a photograph from that issue that really got me excited when first reading it. The effects boys at ILM uncrating the Enterprise miniature from Star Trek: TMP prior to shooting Khan’s effects. God, that kind of stuff really blew me away back then- I mean, this isn’t just a model- this is the bloody Enterprise. Its funny considering the access to so much behind the scenes stuff we have with special features on discs and the internet now, but things like this photograph were mind-blowing back then.

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