BFI Visions For The Future Event – Blade Runner – Final Cut (2007)
To celebrate their 75th anniversary the magnificent National Film Theatre held a poll to determine which one film their panel felt most appropriate to share with future generations, a nice alternative to the usual ‘Best Film Ever’ tradition and I think a sign of our entrenched, forward looking cultural temperature. It wasn’t a huge shock to see the mighty Blade Runner steal the top spot, it regularly and appropriately gets nominated as one of the most intriguing and prescient movies ever made, as the years slip away and the inexorable march to 2019 continues it seems that more and more of its 1982 predictions come incrementally closer and closer to realisation. I was naturally overjoyed at the award to one of my favourite films and couldn’t wait to see the arrangement of events the NFT had programmed, it was quite an agenda which I’ll outline for you here. After the Kubrick retrospective and this event I wonder if I’ve accidentally sold my soul or something, if a John Carpenter season emerges toward the end of the year then I will run shrieking to the nearest cathedral. Again.
The day kicked off with a screening of the superb Mark Kermode narrated documentary On The Edge Of Blade Runner (it’s been pulled from Google Video I’m afraid) which is always worth a look, it’s an ideal primer which delivers all the essential details of the movies tortured production history, its genesis in the amphetamine addled mind of Philip K Dick through to the release of the films directors cut in 1992. It’s one of the better documentaries on the movie with some insightful observations, this moment got a huge laugh (1:28) from the terrific M. Emmet Walsh. I also love the story of David Fincher going to see the legendary screening of the recently unearthed pre-director cut print in LA back in 1991, (the reaction to which prompted Scott and Warner Brothers to work on the Directors cut), Fincher attending the screening with the editor on his then current project Alien III, Terry Rawlings who of course was also the editor of Blade Runner and, um, the first Alien which of course was directed by Ridley. How’s that for the incestuous world of film-making?
The documentary was followed with a lengthy panel discussion of the film including producer Michael Deeley, academic Will Brooker (curator of the recently released ‘The Blade Runner Experience‘) and probably the worlds foremost authority on the movie Paul M. Sammon, author of Future Noir which I strongly urge any film fan to pick up not simply for its comprehensive coverage – Sammon was actually on set for 75% of the film’s shooting schedule – but also for a prime exemplar of the very best of film writing, at least from a production and trivia modus operandi. Sammon has spent years trying to identify who in the art production department came up with the films specific marketing font used in the poster art and VHS packaging, that’s just one example of the obsessive level of research. The first section of the panel discussion was a little idiosyncratic, focusing on the projects financial construction, the $21 million budget parsed equally between domestic theatrical US rights for Warner Brothers, foreign theatrical territories resting with Sir Run Run Shaw and the peripherals, the VHS, merchandising and TV transmission global rights resting with the idiots Jerry Perenchio and Bud Yorkin who are entirely responsible for the production difficulties, the constant heckling and interference culminating with the sacking of Scott and Deeley once the film went $1 over budget and the subsequent poor quality releases of the film over the intervening twenty or so years. Deeley outlined exactly how they are essentially the archetypal Hollywood money men, utterly uninterested in any artistic merit who only invested in the film as a complex tax evasion strategy. Responding to the inevitable sequel questions Deeley remarked that those rights now rest with Yorkin due to a complex sequence of legal manoeuvring which gives them preference over any new material, according to recent lore his son is in the midst of writing Part 2. Yeah, can’t wait for that…
Every film fan loves a tale of their beloved artists pitted against the philistine executives who fuck up a potentially outstanding piece of work by constantly turning the screws to make a project more ‘commercial’, more marketable with more merchandising opportunities however Deeley quite rightly conceded that sometimes that sense of pressure and conflict on set can actually push people to produce even more outstanding work, a peaceful and harmonious production environment sometimes resulting in bland and tepid films. A fair point I think, nothings changed in the past 25 years it seems. Some more specific anecdotes and general observations were then discussed including the films title being culled from a William Burroughs story, the antipathy between Ford and Scott, the outstanding model and effects work and other well known facets to the film that I won’t regurgitate here. I did enjoy Brookers observation that one of the alluring facets of the film beyond its core as a movie itself is the existence of the many different versions of the film, the inconsistencies (the differing number of replicants in many of the versions for example) and amendments that occur in each incarnation reflecting back on the films central themes – a detective story within a detective story – making it a truly meta-textual post modern masterpiece. Heh, yes I guess he is an ivory tower academic but what can I say, I unapologetically love that kind of observation. As you’d expect the discussion concluded with the most obvious question, is Deckard a replicant or not? Does he even know he is if he is? Does he think he’s a replicant even if he isn’t? The usual arguments were expressed, I prefer to keep it ambiguous and treat it as a logical reaction to the films intrinsic depths and strengths.
In the interim between the discussion and next event I rushed to the NFT bookstore and picked up a hardback copy of Future Noir and got it signed by Sammon, (he quite amusingly penned ‘Have A Better One’ before his signature which may raise a knowing smirk amongst you fellow fans out there) along with a copy of Brookers book, some photos of the set-up from a fellow blogger
here (EDIT – Alas the link has been updated to the homepage). I’m a nerd I admit when it comes to certain films, I was in amused awe however at the fellow attendees who produced some truly remarkable pieces of Blade Runner memorabilia such as Roy Batty action figures, original UK story annuals and most impressively in front of me one acolyte unfurled a perfectly preserved original movie poster signed by at least fifteen people (including Scott, Ford, Hannah and screenwriter Hampton Fancher from what I could see) for Deeley to add his autograph too. That’s far beyond my level of obsession I have to add, I have never been in the least bit interested in the (for me) irrelevant action figure Otaku sub-culture that coalesces around these events, I will however confess a secret ambition to one day develop an expensive film poster acquisition obsession but that’s just me. Whatever floats your boat I guess, using my ESPER I’ve located some links to deleted and alternate scenes of the film that may interest you.
Naturally such an event would have to include an actual screening of the film, right? I’ve seen the movie in its various incarnations around a half dozen times on the big screen but the pristine digital screening of the Final Cut version that followed in the enormous NFT1 was something special, far and away the best screening I’ve enjoyed. When I first saw the Final Cut version of the film it was at the cosy Ritzy Picturehouse in Brixton which was fine, you may remember my previous report on that event which I’ve already published on this blog but the scope and scale of the image and sound coupled with the electric atmosphere in this auditorium was quite a different experience, especially since I wasn’t distracted by geekily identifying the slight changes to the film that dominated my previous viewing. Every time, without fail that opening sequence as the music swells up and the Los Angeles hades of 2019 materializes on screen I’m in total and utter cinema heaven, simple as that. The sound of the Spinners reverberating around the theatre, the crystal clear fascinating imagery and the now defunct practice of presenting the credits for a good two minutes before launching into the movie itself, acclimatising the viewer to the cinematic experience and the future world we will be exploring are all unbeatable to me.
How do you beat that? Well, you have an interview and Q&A with Roy Batty of course. The event was appropriately chaired by Sammon, Hauer was thoroughly charming and very, very funny. Sammon had a curious tendency to begin talking about himself and his history with the film during the interview which was fine for the panel discussion but I and the audience begin to feel impatiently uncomfortable with his recitals as hey, we’re here to see Rutger and get his perspective and recollections of the film not your admittedly impressive but inappropriately timed recollections. When one anecdote relating to Sammon’s close relationship with Philip K. Dick started to trail on and on and on Rutger cheekily interrupted his speech with the question ‘Let me tell you about my mother‘?, you can imagine the reaction:
Once the crowd had stopped laughing we got some insights and further anecdotes, how he and Ridley envisioned the replicants as being essentially children (‘wow, you’ve good some really nice toys here…’) coupled with adult senses of mortality given their four year life span which informed his approach to the character. Roy’s unusual tattoos seen during the final scenes were never explained by the production designer or make-up artists, it was concluded that they may be the results of the gene bank style birth of the replicants rather than some adolescent stab at individuality. On the production side Rutger explained that he became increasingly aware of the outside pressures on the film which centred around the ‘hero’ – Deckard – being essentially an impotent, incompetent jerk who ‘ends up fucking a washing machine’ as the emphasis began to turn on the replicants and the themes surrounding their existence and experiences – he barely spoke to and never connected with Ford.
Finally of course the discussion turned to that scene. Quite honestly I always believed until relatively recently that the story of Rutger conjuring up that speech himself, independent of the screenwriters was one of those myths that actors sometimes verbalise, especially when talking about film moments that enter public consciousness and can effectively build an actors future career. Well, another slice of humble pie was choked down by the Mint when I saw this confirmed a few years ago, Rutger explained how he calmly developed the speech himself as the shoot came to its close, called Ridley into his trailer and delivered his soliloquy which resulted in Ridley pausing for a moment, looking down in a pensive fashion, smiling and enthusiastically murmuring ‘Lets shoot it now’. That’s how film history is born.
Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get tickets to the final event, an interview and discussion with none other than the great Sir Ridley Scott himself which given his commitments (he’s got two movies on the go and of course is based in LA) was quite a coup for the NFT. I’m in two minds on missing out on this one, on the hand I was furious with the NFT for once again releasing tickets for anyone, members and non-members alike at 11.00am on a phone line when the event was announced – I spent half an hour on the phone trying to get through to the Box Office without success whilst simultaneously attempting to book on-line (yes, I can multi-task) with a system that crashed every couple of minutes before you could get through to the payment section. Absolutely useless and I ask again, why do I pay my £40 yearly membership subscription again? A fair crack of the whip with other BFI members would have been fine, that’s life but such an approach to ticket allocation is not ideal. On the day however since I hadn’t had the chance to catch anything to eat since breakfast due to running around to buy books and signatures between events I was quite happy to slip away although I’ve had trouble tracking down any coverage of that interview since. C’est la Vie.
I’m normally a glass half empty kind of guy but given the pedigree of the previous segments of the day I had a fantastic time, I got some pointers on new avenues of exploration regarding the film – apparently there is a wealth of outstanding mash-up cuts out there on bittorrent (the ‘white rabbit‘ edit allegedly being the best) which normally don’t interest me but hey, this is Blade Runner. I’ve made a promise to visit LA ten years hence to see how things turn out, a pilgrimage I’m sure which won’t be unique amongst us film fans and new devotees who fall in love with this remarkable movie over the next ten years. Lets finish with a potentially controversial clip of the original ending to the movie, famously culled from out-takes of Kubrick’s opening scene of The Shining. I love the fact that some filmmakers still trumpet the original ending, Del Toro is on record for actually preferring the original theatrical noir voice-over and ‘bad ending version’, of course I agree that the re-dux versions are superior and the happy ending is nonsensical, however there is just something about this sequence that I will always love and enjoy. ‘Have a better one…..’