Monday, June 16, 2008

Blade Runner, Ridley Scott and Me

Blade Runner is probably as famous for having five different versions as it is for its place in film history. At the beginning of the cyber-punk phenomenon, the film inspired a generation of filmmakers, musicians, graphic artists and writers alike. It was a movie that was visually unlike anything anybody has seen before and still remained true to the themes in the Philip K. Dick short story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Released in 1982, the film was widely panned, but found its critical acclaim on VHS, laserdisc (!) and with revival showings of the workprint and later, a new director’s cut in 1992. I stole a copy when I was younger of the VHS original theatrical cut, so I was always partial to that version. I liked the voice-over narrations, believing it adds to the noir feel of the movie, which was how I saw it. (It’s my belief that in high school films studies, once you learn about noir, you worship at the feet of Billy Wilder for awhile.) Everything screams noir in the movie, like Rachel’s hairstyle, Deckard’s costume and detective-style, locations, set dressing, dialogue. It’s all there to me, I guess, happy ending notwithstanding.

I own all five on DVD and saw The Final Cut last year. I liked it a lot because I thought the ending was upbeat still, and again felt that Deckard was NOT a replicant. Everytime I watch the movie, I notice something different and when I saw The Final Cut, besides seeing it for the first time in a theatre, I realized the movie is more about Batty trying to be human and Deckard learning what it means to live. Batty experiences the most basest human emotions through the two definitive acts of the species, life (saving Deckard) and death (his own and the other replicants). Just my interpretation, mind you, but that’s what I read into. Therefore, if Batty is teaching Deckard what it means to be human, he must be human. Harrison Ford said in an interview that he felt if Deckard weren’t human, there would be no human connection for the audience. I agree, because if Deckard is a replicant, one who is constantly getting outsmarted, outmaneuvered and beat up by other replicants, then the movie is about robots beating up robots. That’s not Blade Runner, that’s Transformers.

Gaff was always my favorite character. I am comforted at the sight of Chicanos in the dystopian future.

I posted a blog last month about the special screening of the film for Paul’s Brain Trust. I attended the screening at the Stephen J. Ross theatre on the Warner Bros. Studio lot with my friend Graham who got the tickets as an early birthday gift. We arrived with our Blade Runner t-shirts, Sharpies, DVD’s and a copy of Future Noir, by Paul Sammon. The audience was quite an eclectic group and even Frank Darabont was in the house! Charles de Lauzirika, a producer on the new DVD of Blade Runner, introduced the film and thanked us all for coming before letting Paul’s wife, Cristin say a few words that really touched us all. Then, the theatre went completely dark, the curtains parted and we watched the film again. It was more beautiful than I remembered it and the score really stood out to me this time. Although Vangelis’ score is a techno-pop synth score, parts of it, including Rachel’s theme are very jazzy and evocative of 30’s and 40’s noir and other parts are quite epic like more popular science fiction films before it. The film stills holds up and I was pulled into the film, like it was the first time.

Following the credits, the lights came back up and a panel of ten guests walked onto the stage including Joanna Cassidy, artist Syd Mead, producer Michael Deeley, screenwriters David People and Hampton Fancher and of course, director Ridley Scott. They took questions from the audience, mostly questions about unicorns and replicants. While Ridley said he liked the idea of Deckard being a replicant, Hampton forcefully told us that Ridley was wrong, at which point half of the audience broke into applause, especially Darabont. They joked and laughed with each other and it felt like despite all of the chaos that went into the film’s production, or perhaps because of it, they all had a warm, mutual respect for each other now. Ridley was forthcoming, charming, honest and funny. Anybody who can compare the Lil’ Orphan Annie comic strip to Silence of the Lambs is aces in my book.

Then I got in line to ask my question.

I had thought about it for weeks. I had to take this once in a lifetime chance to talk to Ridley Scott and pick his brain. The man made Alien. Blackhawk Down. American Gangster. What would I ask him? What did I most want to know? I didn’t care about technique or influences. I am long past fancying myself a filmmaker. I am but a humble lover of the cinema. I wanted to know about how this man was engaged to us, his fans, his life blood, his motivation. Does Sir Ridley Scott understand the mindset of his fans and does his share our opinions about his work and its place in film history? I ran through this thought process again as I waited patiently for me turn to speak. I stood up in front of the microphone and looked at the man who created Blade Runner.

Here was my question.

I was fortunate enough to see The Final Cut while it was in its limited theatrical run, but there is a whole new generation of film lovers who have never gotten that opportunity or the chance to see Alien, or Legend in a theatre and I wanted to know what you thought of film preservation, as not all films get the treatment yours do and the balance between art and commerce and the need to fill the multiplexes with the latest comic books movie versus saving one or two screens for revivals of older films, like the great Warner classics.

At least, that was what I was rehearsing in my seat, but it actually sounded more like this.

Um, Mr. Scott, um, I was uh, lucky enough to see The Final Cut during its, um, re-release but like, I know there’s a whole, uh, uh, bunch of people who like, only have ever seen it on DVD or uh, uh, VHS and like, um, a whole generation who hasn’t gotten a chance to see uh, Alien! Or, or, or Legend, you know, on the big screen and I was wondering, like, you know, what you thought about um, film restoration(!) and like, cause, you know, not every movie has like, what your movies get on DVD and, um, ah, sorry, I am so nervous right now, uh, what do you think, you know, about like filling twenty screens with like, comic books movies, vice saving one or two screens for the great Warner classics, you know, sort of like, art versus commerce. Sir?

I sounded like the Dude trying to explain the new shit to the Big Lebowski. I felt like Chris Farley interviewing him. D-do you, um, do you remember, remember when you made um, Blade Runner? That was awesome. But somewhere, in my incoherent rambling, Ridley managed to find something of enough sense to try to answer and here’s what he said.

Sir. Ridley. Scott. What was the question, again? Ok. When I make a picture, I feel, you only got one shot, alright? You’ve only got one critic, that’s yourself. You’ve got to stick to your guns, alright? That’s what I did on Blade Runner, I stuck to my guns. I did it on Alien, did it on Legend. You’ve got to please yourself first, make the movie you want to make. That’s the art part. Hopefully, then the commerce follows. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Maybe he didn’t exactly answer my question, more the more methinks it, I sounded like a fool and I’m just grateful he didn’t tell me he would kick my ass like he told another fanboy.

I had a great time at the screening and it was a fantastic birthday gift from a great friend. Thanks, Graham.


Fletch said... remember that one time when you asked Ridley Scott a question, but fuddled it all up and sounded like a doofus?

That was awesome!


Regardless of the question snafu, sounds like this was an important and fun experience for you. Glad you enjoyed it.

Michael J. Mendez said...

Ha ha! Thanks Fletch. It was a good time. I'm probably being a little harsh on myself, but I can remember the last time I was so nervous speaking in front of an audience. God, what great film it was.

Dave C said...

Great writing. It was a very interesting question. One I'd like to know the answer to.

We all get nervous, and unfortunately I did the same thing when I met Syd Mead.

You now have one hell of a story to retell and make a story about ;) Congratulations.

Michael J. Mendez said...

Thanks for the comment Dave. I've been to a few different Q&A's before, a bunch for different Kev Smith events and met a fair share of celebrities. But, I don't know what came over me on Saturday, I was just overcome with the excitement of they day, I suppose.

Thanks again for reading.

Maz said...

When I last talked to Ridley Scott it was over a tape recorder for the pre-screening of Kingdom of Heaven, and I sounded even dumber. Kudos to you sir, for forming a full sentence in the presence of the acclaimed director of Black Rain.

Michael J. Mendez said...

Ah, Maz, I wish you had been there. Did you get my email about the Raiders remake?

K. Bowen said...

A great film on a big screen, isn't it? I saw it that way for the first time during the release of the Director's Cut in the early nineties. It's great that way.

Michael J. Mendez said...

It really is. That's kinda what prompted my question, because I have never seen it like that and its a completely different film in a theatre, a whole different experience.

Thanks for the comment!