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Incredibly resonant for film buffs

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Isidore

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Post Tue Dec 18, 2007 6:40 am

Incredibly resonant for film buffs

Not sure if this is the right place for these miscellaneous observations about one of my favourite films, but they were prompted by my having just watched my way through this excellent 5-disc set, and my delight that this classic piece of cinema has finally been accorded the attention and respect it deserves.

Not only does the visual richness of Ridley Scott's film reflect the conceptual density of Philip Dick's source novel, but, leaving aside its oft-discussed thematic power, for film buffs BR also offers an incredibly resonant celebration of classic cinema. Metropolis, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Night Of The Hunter and more - BR's breadth of reference is not just confined to film noir. And what more appropropriate a place for creating this feast for film buffs than the old Warner Bros backlot.

Scott was once quoted as having ambitions to become "the John Ford of science fiction cinema." It's maybe more accurate to call him science fictions?s answer to Sergio Leone. For as a viewing experience, BR has much in common with Leone?s Once Upon A Time In The West - the stunning cinematography, the unhurried, deliberate "European" pacing, the sense of style, the attention to detail, the marvellous synergy of music and image, the frequent nods to cinematic forebears. Both these films have turned out to be incredibly influential, and are now widely acknowledged as classics, yet both underperformed on initial release (and in similarly compromised versions).

I'm sure others can can add to the following incomplete list of films either consciously referenced or more vaguely drawn upon or echoed in BR:

Metropolis: well, obviously.

Citizen Kane: Scott himself has cited it as a stylistic influence - just compare the lighting and acoustics in the Thatcher Library scene with the scene in BR where Deckard visits the Tyrell pyramid to VK Rachael.

Touch Of Evil: the character of Bryant is somewhat reminiscent of Welles? seedy cop Hank Quinlan. In fact, if Orson Welles happened to watch BR, he would doubtless have recognized the cinematic debt.

Casablanca: The emotionally troubled Deckard recalls Bogart?s world-weary Rick Blaine, and the atmosphere of Warner Bros studio exoticism is recreated, celebrated and amplified into the dazzlingly eclectic milieu of 2019 LA. I?ve often thought of BR as "the Casablanca of the ?80s." (Also, Abdul Ben-Hassan is surely a little nod to Sydney Greenstreet?s fez-wearing Ferrari character?)

The Big Sleep: BR?s debt to Chandler is unarguable, and the scene where Deckard slips into the guise of a nerdy official sent to inteview Zhora is surely a direct reference to the moment when Bogart?s Marlowe poses as a nerdy bookshop customer in order to obtain information.

The Maltese Falcon: Both films open with an explanatory text crawl that sets up the story, and both end (or, at least, were intended to end) on a scene involving the fateful descent of an elevator/lift. Also, the character of Rachael is styled and costumed to resemble Mary Astor?s Brigid O'Shaughnessy (or Joan Crawford?s Mildred Pierce.)

Night Of The Hunter: Deckard?s aghast reaction to his own shooting of Zhora and, especially, Pris always brings to my mind the look of horror on the face of the Lilian Gish character when she blasts Robert Mitchum?s phony Preacher with her shotgun and he flees, yelping demonically, to seek refuge in her barn.

Alphaville: Godard?s playful 1965 science fiction noir, whose hard-boiled detective hero falls for a beautiful young woman, whom he rescues from her ?programming?.

The LA exoticism of Chinatown and the steam-and-neon streets of Taxi Driver also come to mind - and Vangelis' Love Theme has a very similar feel to Bernard Herrmann's main theme for the Scorsese classic.

Scott has also mentioned the films of Stanley Kubrick and, I think, Bernardo Bertolucci?s The Conformist as stylistic influences, and I also vaguely recall Paul M. Sammon saying something about the 1979 film Agatha (starring, oddly enough, Dustin Hoffman). Think I?ll have to track that one down and give it a watch.

I?d also add those hypnotic, cerebral SF films of Andrei Tarkovsky - Solaris, Stalker - to the list of influences on BR?s rich texture. (And Soderbergh's Solaris remake pays tribute to BR with its rain-drenched earth scenes.)

On a minor note, Rutger Hauer?s Roy Batty, strutting around in his leather trenchcoat, seems amusingly like a pumped-up version of all those haughty SS officers played by Anton Diffring in countless World War Two films, while JF Sebastian functions as a kind of Elisha Cook Jr 'fall guy' character. And there's even a bit of Bond - note the distinct resemblance between Pris? acrobatic attack on Deckard and the Bambi & Thumper fight scene from Diamonds Are Forever.

It?s often been noted that the Bradbury building was previously employed as a location in Harlan Ellison?s classic Outer Limits episode, Demon With a Glass Hand, which not only shares BR?s ominous ambience, but also a final revelation not unlike that intended by Scott for BR. Also, those weird stocking-caps worn by the replicants when Bryant shows them to Deckard on his TV screen make them look rather like agents of the Kyben. And Batty breaking Deckard?s fingers during the showdown in the Bradbury could be taken as a reference to Trent?s quest in Demon to obtain his missing fingers. All largely coincidental, perhaps, but all adding to BR?s incredible resonance.

Like the man said, the more you bring to a film, the more you get out of it. And BR is one of those solid classics that, to coin a cliche, really does reward repeated viewings.
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Post Tue Dec 18, 2007 7:04 am

excellent reading, Isidore :wink:
i realize there are many masterpieces i yet have to watch :shock:
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Post Tue Dec 18, 2007 12:45 pm

Great first post! I am recent convert to Alphaville. I purchased the Criterion DVD a few months ago. In March, I saw the actual reel-to-reel film at a small film-festival in Providence.

If you enjoy 2001, Logan's Run, and Blade Runner then you will enjoy Alphaville! It pre-dates all three and has many of the themes that are covered in those movies.

8)
Last edited by Nexus Frog on Tue Dec 18, 2007 12:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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deepysea

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Post Tue Dec 18, 2007 12:51 pm

Re: Incredibly resonant for film buffs

Welcome, Isidore, it's great to have cinephiles complimenting fan arenas!

Isidore wrote:Scott was once quoted as having ambitions to become "the John Ford of science fiction cinema." It's maybe more accurate to call him science fictions?s answer to Sergio Leone...

That's a nice comparison. For me, Ridley Scott has always seemed a kind of modern day Carol Reed (Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol, The Third Man), a maker of visually refined thrillers with a British theatrical-literary sense of subtext and theme.

The other strong comparison would be Josef von Sternberg (The Blue Angel, Shanghai Express, The Scarlett Empress), who consciously or not was perhaps the biggest visual influence on BR in its expressionist lighting, density of visual information and textural clutter, and ornamentalism.


Citizen Kane: Scott himself has cited it as a stylistic influence - just compare the lighting and acoustics in the Thatcher Library scene with the scene in BR where Deckard visits the Tyrell pyramid to VK Rachael.

Great comparison--I think you're absolutely right.


Touch Of Evil: the character of Bryant is somewhat reminiscent of Welles? seedy cop Hank Quinlan. In fact, if Orson Welles happened to watch BR, he would doubtless have recognized the cinematic debt.

Perhaps, although I don't think Bryant was as crooked as Quinlan--he seems more willing to let other people do his dirty work than to practice the kind of vigilantism of Quinlan.


I?ve often thought of BR as "the Casablanca of the ?80s." (Also, Abdul Ben-Hassan is surely a little nod to Sydney Greenstreet?s fez-wearing Ferrari character?)

I love it! You may be right. Certainly Deckard's alcohol imbibing and general disillusioned, sour tone--and spiritual rebirth--is reminescent of Bogart's Rick.

We should note, too, in passing that film noir is a style more than a genre, too. (It doesn't have the kind of hard-and-fast rules of, say, westerns or musicals.) BR is a nod to film noir even if it doesn't have a femme fatale or a real mystery to be solved; it's in its tone and look and '40s homage. I think its lack of genre cliches actually threw off early critics, who expected a narrative that was more by-the-numbers in this regard.


The Big Sleep: BR?s debt to Chandler is unarguable, and the scene where Deckard slips into the guise of a nerdy official sent to inteview Zhora is surely a direct reference to the moment when Bogart?s Marlowe poses as a nerdy bookshop customer in order to obtain information.

You're really good at this! I'm not sure it is a conscious nod, but it's certainly the same trick.


Night Of The Hunter: Deckard?s aghast reaction to his own shooting of Zhora and, especially, Pris always brings to my mind the look of horror on the face of the Lilian Gish character when she blasts Robert Mitchum?s phony Preacher with her shotgun and he flees, yelping demonically, to seek refuge in her barn.

Yes, but in Gish's case, I think her surprise is more due to Mitchum's reaction (reminiescent of the wolf in sheep's clothing that he is; as is an earlier scene of Mitchum stretching his hand toward the moon) than a moral quandry about shooting someone down in the street. Gish is the mother hen protector throughout.


Alphaville: Godard?s playful 1965 science fiction noir, whose hard-boiled detective hero falls for a beautiful young woman, whom he rescues from her ?programming?.

I think a stronger resemblance is Godard's mixture of noir and SF.


The LA exoticism of Chinatown ...

Some of the neon-drenched night scenes, perhaps, but Polanksi's film has a much sunnier visual look in general.


I?d also add those hypnotic, cerebral SF films of Andrei Tarkovsky - Solaris, Stalker - to the list of influences on BR?s rich texture.

I'm not so sure, but certainly BR fits firmly into the post-2001 vogue for SF (pseudo) art films in the '70s (A Clockwork Orange, THX-1138 Fahrenheit 451, Zardoz, Slaughterhouse Five, Silent Running, Rollerball, etc.)


...while JF Sebastian functions as a kind of Elisha Cook Jr 'fall guy' character.

It's also easy to fit him into a Peter Lorre category.


It?s often been noted that the Bradbury building was previously employed as a location in Harlan Ellison?s classic Outer Limits episode, Demon With a Glass Hand, which not only shares BR?s ominous ambience, but also a final revelation not unlike that intended by Scott for BR.

For me (following the noir line), the Bradbury will always remind me of the cimax in the original D.O.A.
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deepysea

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Post Tue Dec 18, 2007 1:51 pm

Incidentally, there's another intentional/unintentional film reference. BR owes a lot to Frankenstein in its themes, and of course there's a direct lineage aesthetically between German expressionism, the Universal horror films, and film noir. A scene in the beginning of Whale's Bride of Frankenstein uses a cutaway to an impassive owl just as the monster is killing a farmer, almost exactly like Scott/Rawlings' use of the cat in Alien and the owl in BR during Tyrell's death. It's a great, disquieting emphasis on the dispassionate animal instinct of murder.
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deepysea

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Post Wed Dec 19, 2007 12:07 am

Re: Incredibly resonant for film buffs

The Big Sleep: BR?s debt to Chandler is unarguable, and the scene where Deckard slips into the guise of a nerdy official sent to inteview Zhora is surely a direct reference to the moment when Bogart?s Marlowe poses as a nerdy bookshop customer in order to obtain information.

I take it back...just listening to Scott's commentary, and he claims Ford came up with the idea based on a Humphrey Bogart film (though Scott can't remember the title). The Big Sleep it is.
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deepysea

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Post Thu Dec 20, 2007 11:27 am

Back to Chinatown, I've just watched the deleted scenes, and lo and behold, at Taffe Lewis' Deckard has a whole conversation with the bartender--played by a very recognizeable character actor. I kept racking my brain trying to figure out where I had seen him, and I finally broke down and looked him up at IMDb--turns out he was the morgue director in Chinatown. ("How you been, Mort?" *cough* *cough* "Never better!")
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Post Thu Dec 20, 2007 1:02 pm

deepysea wrote:Back to Chinatown, I've just watched the deleted scenes, and lo and behold, at Taffe Lewis' Deckard has a whole conversation with the bartender--played by a very recognizeable character actor. I kept racking my brain trying to figure out where I had seen him, and I finally broke down and looked him up at IMDb--turns out he was the morgue director in Chinatown. ("How you been, Mort?" *cough* *cough* "Never better!")


Really? I'll have to dig that out tonight.
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Isidore

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Post Thu Dec 27, 2007 5:07 pm

deepysea wrote:Back to Chinatown, I've just watched the deleted scenes, and lo and behold, at Taffe Lewis' Deckard has a whole conversation with the bartender--played by a very recognizeable character actor. I kept racking my brain trying to figure out where I had seen him, and I finally broke down and looked him up at IMDb--turns out he was the morgue director in Chinatown. ("How you been, Mort?" *cough* *cough* "Never better!")


I think the guy you're talking about is the late Charles Knapp. (In the deleted scene with the bartender, Deckard seems to have already adopted his 'nerdy official' guise, and the way Ford plays it here is amusingly reminiscent of Peter Falk's Lt Columbo.)

Incidentally, the Mulwrays' butler in Chinatown was played by none other than James Hong.

The Frankenstein comparison is very apt - I'd forgotten about the owl. Also, Scott's re-use of the 'Environ CTR - Purge' monitor screen from Alien is a self-referential touch akin to the way James Whale would have Ernest Thesiger repeat the same line of dialogue in The Old Dark House and Bride of Frankenstein. And Roy Batty's quirky sense of humour is rather in the Whale tradition. Come to think of it, Hauer's erudite and eloquent Roy Batty is perhaps truer to the tragic spirit of the monster in the Mary Shelley novel than anything to be found in the countless official adaptations.

Returning for a moment to Casablanca, I recently noticed for the first time, in that familiar scene where Bogart sits brooding over a bottle - "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world ..." - the lighting is distinctly proto-BR, featuring a more subdued version of the same kind of atmospheric strobing searchlight effect that Scott and Cronenweth would later employ so strikingly in Deckard's apartment and the Bradbury.

I'd agree that noir is more an approach, or a sensibility, than a genre in or of itself, and that BR draws upon noir traditions in inventive and creative ways without resorting to simple pastiche. The result offers not only a celebration of the noir sensibility, but of the technical expertise that characterizes classic, pre-CGI Hollywood studio filmmaking.

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