Blade Runner – The Final Cut

Blade Runner: The Final Cut simply refuses to fade into the vast catalogue of forgotten film history. Its persistence as film’s pedestal sci-fi owing to its innovative and intelligent contemplation over ontological questions of authenticity and artificiality as they pertain to a rapidly, and terrifyingly, techno-advanced, mechanized, global future society.

Set in Los Angeles in the year 2019, Blade Runner depicts, through its neo-noir aesthetic, a dystopian future where humans have created their own robotic slave-race known as Replicants. In one sense the Replicants act as soldiers, in a time of hyper-universality on “Off-world” human colonies of other planets. Four dangerous Replicants have returned to earth in the hope of confronting the corporation responsible for their very questionable existence: Tyrrell Corporation. Alerted to their illegal activities in a hyper-modern police state, Blade Runner Unit enlist Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) to find and “retire” (kill) the four who are merely desperate to prolong what they think are their “lives”.

That the film is set in Los Angeles is far from incidental. Although New York is America’s foremost “global” city with regards to economic and cultural growth/wealth, LA is its “expansive” counterpart in that its spatial development and the sheer scale of its urban planning exemplifies the artificial “constructedness” that the film is concerned with in the first instance. As such, the dark, seemingly boundless sprawl of the dystopian LA landscape operates in the film as a psychogeographical reflection of the labyrinthine, almost indistinguishable cerebrally sound constructs of the Replicants’ cognitive minds.

Beyond their declared “at least equal intelligence to the genetic engineers who created them”, the Replicants, also described as “virtually identical” to humans, are suggestively “evolved” rather than “constructed” beings. The implication of their proverbial “evolution” affords the Replicants with organic rather than robotic capabilities, creating from the outset a distinct atmosphere of ambiguity; blurring the boundaries between the human/non-human attributes they are imbued with, rendering them, in some advanced cases, as liminal beings even unto themselves. Furthermore, following the “bloody mutiny” on Off-world colonies, Replicants have been “declared illegal on earth, under penalty of death”. In light of a Derridean comprehension of binary oppositions the very notion of “death” here suggests “life”, providing further substance to the idea that the Replicants are “living” beings. Moreover, the final two sentences of the prologue to the film read; “This was not called execution. It was called retirement.” The two sentences appear onscreen isolated from one another and from the paragraphs that came before. In using “called” twice in such close proximity Scott emphasizes the semiotic construction of a concept based upon two otherwise abstract things. That is to say that we (human viewers) comprehend the action as one thing and not another through a system of signifiers and signifieds that links the action to its name. This subtle note at the outset is designed to make the viewer think through the implications of the Symbolic Order itself, and therefore the constructedness of everything human, including something that mistakenly considered natural: language. The reminder so early on that almost everything is constructed and/or performed already alludes to Scott’s overarching provocative contention.

But what exactly does it mean to be “living” and where does that leave the boundary between legitimate “born” human beings and illegal “created” Replicants? For the purposes of distinguishing between the two (primarily so as not to accidentally “retire” a human), the Blade Runner Unit have created a test that is “designed to provoke emotional response” from its recipients, measuring their levels of empathy through indicators such as response time and pupil dilation. The only obstacle here being the fear that after a few years they would – in line with the aforementioned process of evolution – “develop their own emotional responses” and it is, for this reason, that their life-span is restricted to a short four years. Moreover, the more advanced and indeed “experiment” Replicants of which Rachael (Sean Young) is one, are given greater access to the concept of humanity through programmed memories which act as a “cushion” for their own subjectivity helping them to believe they are human. It is at this moment in the film that the true nature of every character, including Deckard himself, is brought into question.

Ignoring the extensive implications of this revelation, Deckard denies Rachael’s inference when she asks him if he has ever taken the test himself. Clearly hurt by the determination that she is a Replicant, implanted with memories from Tyrrell’s niece and believing them to be her own, Rachael sheds a solitary tear, displaying clear and unmistakable human emotion. Following this display the two become romantically involved which, if he is human and she is not, is dodgy ethical ground at best, but, if (as Scott certainly intended it to be) they are both Replicants who merely believe themselves to be human is an equally consensual union. The inclusion of this scene operates as reiterative of the Replicants’ ability to experience human desire and also to provide a strong ethical questioning of the resultant actions of a Replicant who considers him/herself to be human.

Like Deckard and Rachael, Roy (Rutger Hauer) and Pris (Daryl Hannah) are “coupled” Replicants, only in this case they know themselves to be so. The difference here is that along with their knowledge of what they truly are comes another human desire: the will to live. Their mission is to have their lives extended at any cost, their fear of death very human indeed. But it is Roy who goes to see Dr Tyrrell, leaving Pris to defend their newly acquired “home”. His presence at Tyrrell Corporation is met with a combination of kindness and cruelty as Dr Tyrrell lovingly refers to him as the Prodigal Son returned. At this moment Roy becomes Jesus to Dr Tyrrell’s God and Roy’s anger towards his maker results in a murderous crime of passion – yet another decidedly human action. Dissatisfied and disillusioned with the God who created him, Roy returns home to find Pris has bled to death, and Scott lingers on her blood to reiterate yet again the very human qualities of the Replicants.

In the final showdown between Roy and Deckard, Roy makes an ultimate sacrifice of himself, accepting the inevitability of his life cycle. Mirroring his surroundings, like the rain that gushes into the house, Roy is in many ways an organic being trapped into a constructed environment. As he forces a nail through his hand and then his own head through a tiled wall, he further blurs the boundaries between natural and unnatural, removing the confines and limitations that one necessarily holds over the other. In this way the final scenes of the film move towards breaking down Derridean binary oppositions, suggesting that there are grey areas and ultimately that humans are the result of both organic evolution and the extraneous influences and input that are responsible, at least in part, for their existence.

The Directors’ Cut (and with very minor differences this Final Cut) in particular, is the version of this film that led to the discussion surrounding whether or not Deckard was human or Replicant. Ridley Scott has himself professed that Deckard is a Replicant and if we take this reading at its word then he is, by his own admittance, justified by the system: “Replicants are like any other machine: they’re either a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a benefit, it’s not my problem.” Ultimately serving the system and its self-perpetuating myth surrounding the significance of authenticity versus the threat of artificiality, Deckard is the exemplary product of a well governed police state; unwittingly serving its needs to his own detriment; ignorant of its ideology and only able to see through its constructedness so far as it allows him to. If we however, do not take Scott at his word and allow Deckard to remain ambiguously human then the film does not fail, it merely suspends itself and its determination in the liminal space that it so brilliantly creates.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre. Originally published in an Astor e-newsletter in 2010.

Blade Runner – The Final Cut screens at the Astor Theatre Friday January 9th, 8pm.

Chaplin Greats

Given the world’s ever-increasing obsession with technology – the way gadgets control us more than we control them; as these technologies, supposedly designed to make our lives easier, only lead to further reliance on technologies – Modern Times (1936) is now more timely than ever before. The promised future of a world where machines do everything, allowing humankind to bask in an eternal glow of idleness, shall never arrive, for the machines will always be dependent upon humans to build, oversee and repair them (and many of the products made by the machines need to be replaced – see the comedy masterpiece The Man in the White Suit, 1951). And that’s exactly how the wealthy industrialists of the world want to keep things: the worker shackled to a life of fruitless labour, threatened with the prospect of unemployment at a moment’s notice if he or she refuses to toe the line and accept substandard working conditions, lowly remuneration, and lack of entitlements.

Such is the plight faced by the hero of Modern Times, a nameless factory worker (played by Charlie Chaplin, who also wrote and directed the film) who finds himself at odds with the monotony of work and harsh realities of unemployment, as well as numerous other misadventures. In a cinematic climate (and society in general) cluttered with motion pictures that attempt to sell us on the idea that avarice is admirable and everyone can be rich (which is a bit different from saying that anyone can be rich), a world that teaches the workers to demonise the unemployed (instead of encouraging the workers to direct their rage  – as they should – towards the capitalists who rely on the perpetuation of poverty to maintain their wealth), and would have us believe that stealing a loaf of bread is akin to attempted murder, Modern Times is refreshing for its enlightened view of society.

It is a film that casts a sympathetic eye over the mitigating circumstances that makes so-called criminals out of decent people, as well as being a film that is disdainful towards those capitalists who strip workers of their dignity and reduce them to little more than slave labour. Despite becoming the biggest name in the world of motion pictures (for a time) and the toast of Hollywood, Chaplin never forgot his impoverished roots back home in England. Modern Times is not only a satire of modern factories and machinery, it is also Chaplin’s valentine to the indomitable spirit of the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, those desperate individuals who have nothing but their dreams, a few garments of clothing, and perhaps one last remaining shred of integrity, in the face of adversity.

A mostly silent film (similar in this respect to the mostly silent recent revival film The Artist, 2011), and generally considered to be the swansong for Chaplin’s Little Tramp character, Modern Times also proved to be the breakthrough picture for Paulette Goddard (Chaplin’s third wife), playing the role of the Gamine (a more charming street urchin I’ve never seen – she is one of my favourite motion picture characters).  Chaplin and  Goddard would later reunite in front of the cameras for the talking picture, The Great Dictator (1940), featuring Chaplin in the dual role of a meek Jewish barber, and Adenoid Hynkel, ruler of Tomainia. I don’t believe I need to tell any of you readers who is being lampooned by the latter character, but you might be interested to know that according to records kept by the Nazis, the real-life Führer twice watched The Great Dictator. Alas, no record was kept of Hitler’s reaction to the film (this being a source of frustration and curiosity for Chaplin for the rest of his days).

The running gag throughout the film is the uncanny resemblance between the Jewish Barber and Adenoid Hynkel, inevitably leading to a case of mistaken identity. Consider the more recent tyrants and the cults of personality that surround each one: how much stock do their followers place in the carefully-fabricated image, and how much do their followers know of the person behind the facade? If the so-called important politicians of the world are so special, why are they as interchangeable as light globes? Could anybody become a dictator, given the right image, fed the appropriate words and blessed with a little bit of luck? It’s a sobering thought, and it’s exactly what continues to happen across the world with terrifying frequency.

ModernGoddardKnife_smPaulette Goddard appears in the picture as Hannah (named after Chaplin’s mother), and it was Chaplin’s intention to write a romance starring his spouse, but according the Chaplin, from My Autobiography (1964);

“I  could make no progress. How could I throw myself into feminine whimsy or think of romance or think of the problems of love when madness was being stirred up by a hideous grotesque, Adolf Hitler?”
Thus instead of an old-fashioned romantic comedy as his follow-up to Modern Times, Chaplin gave us The Great Dictator, an audacious political satire that for all of its humour, is best remembered for The Speech, a profoundly poignant monologue where Chaplin breaks the fourth wall, and seemingly breaks into a third character, that of himself. It is one of the greatest spiels committed to film; but how strange, how wonderful, that such a serious speech was written and delivered (magnificently) by an actor known mostly for silent comedy.

Modern Times and The Great Dictator are films rich in humour, pathos and humanity, from one of the guiding lights of early motion pictures, Charles Chaplin. For those of you who are enjoying the Jacques Tati retrospective, it should go without saying that Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and The Great Dictator are staples of the era, recommended most highly, as two veritable landmark achievements in the history of cinema.

Written by Mark Vanselow for The Astor Theatre.

Modern Times and The Great Dictator screen as a double bill on Sunday June 22nd, 7pm.

1973: A Great Year For the Future

There is a tendency for less enlightened film viewers to classify old motion pictures as “dated” due to superficialities such as quaint anachronisms present in the dialogue (“Groovy, daddy-o!”), wardrobe choices that haven’t been fashionable for decades (turtlenecks and bell bottoms, to name just two), archaic production design (loud wallpaper, mirror balls), right down to hairstyles that are nowadays considered offensive (seemingly, anything prior to the 1980s).


When I think about the year 1973, in film, the first two works that spring to mind are Soylent Green and Westworld. And both films just so happen to be right up there with my all-time favourite motion pictures. Even though less perceptive types ridicule these two futuristic science fiction thrillers for being “dated” – due to the aforementioned though insubstantial reasons – the reality is that Soylent Green and Westworld are more relevant to what’s happening right now than whatever short-life noisy blockbuster you watched yesterday.


Granted, the visions of the future as depicted in Soylent Green and Westworld look very much like … well, it’s all very similar to 1973 – albeit with a few genuinely futuristic trimmings here and there. Still, one of the reasons why I enjoy watching 1970s science fiction is because it’s so obvious when the films were produced, just from looking at them. However, the primary reason I’m so infatuated with these two films is the ideas behind them. Yes, these films are brilliant pieces of entertainment, but they also happen to be about something. They have imagination, they make me think; and I never tire of watching and thinking about them.

Soylent Green depicts New York City in the year 2022. The population of the Big Apple has swollen to more than forty million inhabitants. Organic wholefoods (in addition to water and fossil fuels) are scarce, and much of the (mostly impoverished) population depends on a line of highly processed foodstuffs for their nutritional requirements: Soylent Red, Soylent Yellow, and the new (and by the looks of things, extremely popular) Soylent Green. In scenes that resemble a Soviet Russian breadline, the teeming masses crowd the streets, desperate for Soylent Green.

But what is the secret of Soylent Green?


Somebody knows, and others know that certain somebody can no longer be trusted to keep the secret, leading to an assassination, followed by an investigation from hard-nosed detective Frank Thorn, played by Charlton Heston (and let’s face it, Chuck was as hard-nosed as they came). Assisted by his police-issued “human book” and housemate, Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson, in his silver screen swansong), Thorn attempts to solve the murder case, but what he shall discover is something so horrifying…well, you’ll just have to find out for yourself!

Soylent Green opens with a wonderful montage showing North America from its earliest days of European colonialism, following through to the various ages of technological advancement, humankind’s encroachment upon the natural world, and finally dropping us in the midst of its hellish illustration of the year 2022. The film is a scathing indictment of capitalism, depicting New York City as being, for the most part, a third-world country, as the so-called middle class masses have been obliterated, creating an insurmountable abyss separating the impoverished millions from the wealthy few. Perhaps Soylent Green was a little hasty in its prognostication of the breakdown of the capitalist system and the levels of poverty created by it, at least as far as New York City is concerned – perhaps the film should have been set in Detroit – but, give it time…the century is yet young.


Just as Soylent Green doesn’t hold much hope for the future of capitalism, nor does it paint a cheerful picture of the coming years if you happen to be female. The women in Soylent Green come in two types: the miserable wretch who stands alongside the menfolk, enduring insufferable levels of smog and heat to procure her meagre rations of highly processed food, and…

Furniture: this is the dehumanising description applied to the glamorous femmes who are thrown into the bargain when a well-to-do male purchases an exclusive apartment in the world of Soylent Green. To put it  plainly, the women in the film are either beggars or prostitutes. And for all of the noise made about the ostensible emancipation of women in modern society, it only takes a stroll down Chapel Street to see that above all else, the female of the species is still prized as decoration, an artifact – or a piece of the furniture – for male consumption. Superficially, things might be different, but in essence, it is my opinion that little if anything has changed for women the since the days of Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre.


Aside from examining the implosion of capitalism and the subjugation of women, the film asks us to consider the ecological question: whether Mother Earth can survive our present exploitation of her resources. It never rains in the perpetually heat-stricken world of Soylent Green, and if it did, it would probably rain acid. Looking at the world today, Society encourages the consumer to strive for the most expensive clothes, the fanciest motor vehicles, all the cosmetics we can cram into an overnight case, yet we happily accept food (a necessity) of the most lowly variety – which is to say, many of us consume garbage as a dietary staple. The present-day Much Making of Things will mean that in the future, third-rate food shall no longer be a lazy option, but the only option, for millions of economically disenfranchised persons, in a world of depleted natural resources. But will we care? Even in the world as it is today, we are taught to consider a luxury motor vehicle or a pair of designer shoes as a higher priority than the air we breathe and the food we eat, so how different shall it be in the future?

Soylent Green, far from being a dated motion picture, is a film fit for our time.


The same can be said for Westworld, a science fiction techno-thriller about an ultra-sophisticated amusement park for adults. James Brolin and Richard Benjamin appear as two vacationers who visit the eponymous amusement park, populated with robotic hosts, to indulge in their wildest Wild West fantasies. In sharp contrast to Soylent Green, the future prophesied in Westworld seems idyllic; after all, who would complain about a world where for one thousand dollars a day, one can indulge in the fantastic computerised virtual reality of the Old West, complete with (harmless-to-humans) gunslingers and barroom brawls? Alas, to realise such a world, an overwhelming dependence upon technology would be required and, naturally, since human beings are not perfect, it stands to reason that nothing we create could be truly infallible – especially when dealing with robots designed to mimic the actions of humans in every possible way. And, when you arm robotic gunslingers with live firearms, you’re simply asking for trouble – especially when one of them happens to be made in the likeness of Yul Brynner (a most clever piece of casting that heightens the film’s sense of authenticity. Rather than watching Yul Brynner as a robot, we are given the feeling that it’s a robot deliberately constructed to resemble one of the iconic Brynner’s gunslinger film characters. In fact, the actor wore the same outfit he sported in the 1960 western The Magnificent Seven.


Again, what we have in Westworld (as in Soylent Green), is a society paying the price for its hedonism, albeit on a much smaller scale. So often we are given cause to believe that we cannot do without modern technology but, as we see in Westworld, technology can certainly do without us: the machine becomes the master. Humanity is destroyed by the things it creates – could any message contained within a science fiction film be closer to the truth?

Westworld is often noted as the first feature film to utilise digital technology (not to mention the first sci-fi western feature), but unlike countless science fiction movies of today, writer-director Michael Crichton’s classic employs digital visual effects sparingly. That is to say, they are in service of the film and cleverly heighten tension in the movie, instead of being mere Oscar-bait for a film that would otherwise not be considered for any gongs from the Academy. Along with its cutting edge pixel technology, one must admire the fabulous work from Fred Karlin, the film’s composer. Is there such a thing as Wild West music from the future? Fred Karlin shows us how it’s done. It just so happens to be one of my favourite motion picture soundtracks.


indexIn addition to being considered a splendidly-matched science fiction double feature, the pairing of Soylent Green with Westworld can also be viewed as a Dick Van Patten double – see if you can spot the Eight Is Enough (1977-1981) actor as he makes a cameo appearance in each film!

Though both films might looked dated on the surface – especially to the eyes of children raised on the noisy, ultra-glossy science fiction monstrosities of today – but, if you take a closer look, you’ll see that these film don’t provide gratuitous special effects or boisterous soundtracks. Instead, they boast imagination and relevance to the world of today, not to mention some rather fine acting (of the “acting without acting” variety) and genuinely tense drama. They are films that, to this film fanatic, simply get better with age.

Written by Mark Vanselow for The Astor Theatre.

Soylent Green and Westworld screen in a double bill this Sunday June 15th at 7pm.

Acting Without Acting: On Michael Caine and Lee Marvin in Sunday’s Crime Drama Greats

Several years ago, I attended the Melbourne leg of a national speaking tour by Australian ex-pat journalist and humourist Clive James; back Down Under to promote his latest book, Cultural Amnesia. For some obscure reason that I cannot recall, during the audience interaction at the event, the subject of actor Michael Caine cropped up for discussion. James had the following to say about the English thespian:

“Michael Caine cannot act. He can’t act any better than you, he can’t act any better than me. He simply is.”


My own opinion is that Michael Caine can indeed act, but I do agree that Caine seems to be at his best when, as James put it,’ he simply is’. In other words, Caine is at his best when he doesn’t try to give a performance – or as it’s sometimes (paradoxically) called, ‘acting without acting’, where the player merely reveals another facet of his or her real-life personality.

For his part in the film Get Carter (1971), Caine obviously allowed the more ornery side of his personality to take over, as he appears as a ruthless, heartless bastard named Jack Carter, an English underworld figure whose general lack of humanity would make Margaret Thatcher look like a saint by comparison. Between his role in Get Carter and his much more recent outing as the eponymous vigilante in Harry Brown (2009), I’d hate to see Michael Caine angry in real life.


Get Carter takes place in Newcastle, England. Jack Carter is visiting for the funeral of his brother, Frank, whose death was allegedly subject to ‘accidental circumstances’. Jack, believing that foul play was the cause of brother Frank’s demise, hangs around Newcastle to find some answers. Basically, this is Michael Caine in full-tilt bastard mode. He’s playing a gangster. He’s extremely angry. Need I tell you that much mayhem ensues?

Directed by Mike Hodges (his feature directorial debut – he went on to direct Flash Gordon in 1980!), Get Carter had been recommended to me a number of years ago, and when I finally got around to experiencing it at the Astor the year before last, it surpassed even my loftiest expectations. The jazzy theme music by composer Roy Budd is absolutely sublime (it will be stuck in your ears for days, if not weeks, after the screening), the script is teeming with witty dialogue and sharp one-liners (it’s quite funny, in a dark sort of way, for a gangster film), and despite the occasional deadpan comic relief from Michael Caine, the whole affair is immersed by an air of impending danger. As the film moves closer to its climax, the feeling of suspense grips tightly and doesn’t let go until just before the closing credits.


Get Carter is a gangster film devoid of heroes and bereft of glamour. The world presented is as sordid as one could imagine, Newcastle in the early 1970s looked like it would’ve been a positively miserable place to live (at least insofar as it’s depicted in the film), and nobody seems to be safe; not even Doreen, Jack Carter’s niece (?),  the most innocent character in the film. But aside from its aforementioned strengths in various areas, Get Carter would be a much less impressive film without the work of Michael Caine; it’s a character that you couldn’t imagine anybody else playing, as Caine certainly puts his stamp on the film.

Let me make this perfectly clear: if you have even the slightest interest in the gangster genre, or you simply relish truly great cinema, Get Carter is must-see material.


Following hot on the heels of Get Carter is Point Blank (1967), directed by John Boorman (who would later go on to helm Deliverance, 1972). Lee Marvin (in this instance, acting without acting – see how well it works?) brings to life the role of Walker, survivor of a violent double-cross, who is out to claim a sum of money (ninety-three grand, to be precise) that he feels is owed to him for his part in a heist. Just remember, kids, this was 1967 – these days, that would work out to be more than half a million dollars.

lee marvin point blank

Point Blank doesn’t reveal much about its protagonist, thus leaving us with few clues as to Walker and his past – basically, it’s an existential crime/action/drama, and it’s the sort of film that even if you’ve seen it before, warrants a second look. It’s also worth catching if you want to see what cinema tough guys looked like back in the 1960s, before your standard Action Movie Hero became interchangeable with the latest air-brushed, Laser-White smiling, manicured-and-pedicured cover boy from Men’s Health magazine. Lee Marvin didn’t have the body of Adonis, nor was he blessed with matinee idol features, but he was authentic. Suspension of disbelief is not required when Lee Marvin, playing the role of Walker, slices through anybody who stands in his way. Also, check out that horrendous-looking scar that adorns Marvin’s stomach – how in the hell did he get that? Forget about a washboard abdomen, you want to impress the ladies with how tough you are, you get yourself marked up with one of those! [Ed’s note: couldn’t find an appropriate scar image, you’ll have to get along on Sunday to see it on the big screen, folks!]


Point Blank, when viewed along with Get Carter, also led me to believe that no crime drama from the late 1960s/early 1970s was truly complete unless the protagonist, in a search for somebody, wanders into a swingin’ nightclub, complete with groovy music and hip young things dancing their troubles away. It also happens to Clint Eastwood in Coogan’s Bluff (Don Siegel, 1968). Lesson learned: if anybody is chasing you, don’t run into a nightclub, especially if it’s full of hippies, beatniks and mods, because you’re going to get caught. Those kids have a habit of attracting trouble.

Get Carter and Point Blank are ideally-matched as a double feature. This is rare chance to experience two of the most acclaimed gangster films of their period in their original theatrical format. Screening Sunday June 1st, 7pm.

Written by Mark Vanselow for the Astor Theatre

Great American Gangsters

They’ve been the subject of numerous films, documentaries, books – not to mention a song recorded by Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot. On the 23rd of May this year, it shall be precisely eighty years since Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, the most notorious outlaw couple to emerge from America in the Great Depression, met their fate under circumstances that many would say were inevitable. The story of The Barrow Gang, like most outlaw stories, is prone to exaggeration, even outright fictionalisation.


Bonnie and Clyde, the 1967 motion picture directed by Arthur Penn, takes numerous liberties with the real-life story of its subjects, most likely due to typical considerations of running time and to reduce production costs (I hesitate to cite dramatic purposes as a reason – much of what was omitted from the 1967 movie is fascinating in its own right, making one wonder why it didn’t figure in the picture). That said, Bonnie and Clyde makes for spectacular cinema – it really is one of the landmark motion pictures of its time, and helped usher in what many consider to be the true Golden Age of Hollywood that started in the late 1960s and continued throughout the 1970s.

The film features Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker alongside Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow, leader of the infamous Barrow Gang. In the real history, Bonnie met Clyde under rather innocent circumstances: through a mutual female friend in January 1930; but in the film, their fateful first encounter occurs as Clyde is attempting to make off with an automobile that belongs to the Parker family. Even the chronology of real-life events is greatly skewed – for example, the incident where an incarcerated Clyde has toes severed from one of his feet to avoid hard labour actually occurred after he met Bonnie. Placing its focus squarely on the daring crimes executed by its eponymous outlaw couple (and even some of this material is fictionalised), Bonnie and Clyde provides little insight into the years before the two met each other. In reality, Parker had numerous options available outside the world of armed robbery, as did Barrow – at least in the early days. However, once Bonnie fell well and truly in love with Clyde, for her, there was no turning back. As for Clyde, numerous stints in jail (one such prison sentence included being sexually molested by a fellow inmate), combined with the economic misery of the Great Depression, must have convinced him that there was no way out of the criminal lifestyle. Struggling against circumstances partially of their own creation, but largely due to pre-existing circumstances, Bonnie and Clyde took to the roads of the South, embarking upon a crime spree that lasted several years and perplexed authorities across the southern states.

One of the highlights in the picture – something that is certainly not a work of fiction – is the poem that Bonnie Parker wrote whilein prison, ‘The Story of Bonnie and Clyde’. As poignant as it is prescient, the piece is but a small sampling of Bonnie’s poetic talent – at once hinting at the life that could have been, and foretelling the end that would be.

For ardent cinephiles, I recommend Bonnie and Clyde most highly; largely for its dazzling cinematic prowess, particularly the editing by Dede Allen. As for a more accurate, detailed description of the legendary 1930s outlaws, several books have been published since the year 2000 including; The Family Story of Bonnie and Clyde (co-authored by Marie Barrow Scoma, sister of Clyde Barrow, and Phillip W. Steele); Bonnie and Clyde: The Lives Behind the Legend (Paul Schneider), and My Life with Bonnie and Clyde, based upon the memoirs of Blanche Caldwell Barrow, wife of Clyde’s brother Buck Barrow.

Best fashion films - Bonnie and Clyde 1967
Readers who have already experienced Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde might like to take a look at film reviewer Ken Anderson’s very personal recollections on the film, which he first took in at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco back in 1968!

As for those of you who haven’t experienced this landmark of American cinema, please do take the opportunity to catch it!

Written by Mark Vanselow for The Astor Theatre.

Bonnie and Clyde screens in a double feature with The Getaway on Sunday May 11th 7pm.

Taking on The Fountainhead

I’ll begin this review with a confession: I have never read The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand’s 1943 novel that serves as the basis for King Vidor’s 1949 motion picture of the same title. Honestly, I’ve better things to read than Rand’s rather hefty tome, 700 pages in length, and I’m sure it isn’t much different to the film, considering Rand wrote that, too.


The Fountainhead is an oddly entertaining film experience, despite being saddled with a screenplay that is the ideological equivalent of Swiss cheese. Here’s the skinny: Howard Roark (Gary Cooper) is a fiercely idealistic architect, an individualist who defies contemporary trends in architecture (and some might say good taste and all semblance of practicality) to design buildings that are … well, unique, to say the least. In between scribbling blueprints for structures that might be termed most politely as avant-garde, Roark pontificates (often with a severe degree of absurdity) about his own sacred individualism, the ostensible evils of collectivism, and his general hatred of the masses. Against the tide of public sentiment, Howard Roark is going the design buildings his way, or die trying! The Fountainhead involves some kooky-looking skyscrapers, criminal activity, steamy romance, not to mention a somewhat confused-looking Gary Cooper delivering an extremely lengthy courtroom speech.


There is something to be said for individualism and defiance, especially in a world that is hellbent on exterminating the unique entity in favour of the single-minded horde (as an ardent non-conformist myself, I feel the world could use more individuals who refuse to follow the herd). Alas, Howard Roark’s self-indulgent monologues about his so-called freedoms – that often come at great expense to others – reveal unavoidable evidence of the rampant hypocrisy present in his egoist mindset. For example, Howard Roark despises any form of collectivism, but remains stubbornly oblivious to the fact that skyscrapers don’t magically build themselves the moment he has finished the blueprints: it takes workers (hundreds of them) to turn Roark’s vision into something physical. Despite his bluster over not giving help to anyone else, and never asking for help from anyone else, Howard Roark is apparently only too happy to have the assistance of hundreds of workers (acting as a collective) to erect vulgar monuments to his hideously inflated ego. As I wrote over at film reviewer Ken Anderson’s Le Cinema Dreams website, following on from his exquisite review of the film:

Ayn Rand calls collectivism “parasitic”, but then what does that make capitalism? Capitalism IS a collective agreement, one made between workers and employers. Let’s see the Howard Roarks of the world achieve anything “to the best of their ability” without thousands of worker bees and drone ants scurrying about the place, working for crumbs while the Howard Roarks reap the big fat dough.


Howard Roark also bemoans the notion of working for no payment as being akin to slavery, forgetting that people commonly perform tasks for no payment, either out of necessity or enjoyment, sometimes both. Roark cannot fathom for even an instant that all those workers employed to turn his blueprint dreams into concrete realities might well be seen as slaves, regardless of the fact that they are being paid for their endeavours (on the notion of waged slavery — see my comments from Le Cinema Dreams above). Countless other words and actions from Roark neatly contradict the architect’s ramblings about the sacred rights of the individual – far from being any sort of libertarian, Roark comes across as a tyrant and a bully – but I’ll leave you to discover the more insane manifestations of Roark’s muddled mind for yourself.


Still, for all the head-shaking that is to be had at the expense of its core values, for all the hypocrisy of its hard-headed protagonist, The Fountainhead is a film that I recommend most heartily, must-see material for fans of classic film noir. The romantic chemistry betwixt Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal (who thereafter embarked upon an affair – Cooper had been married to Veronica Balfe since 1933) positively sizzles – in others words, every time Cooper and Neal clinch, they’re not acting, but cheekily flaunting their real life – and socially taboo – affection for each other before the eyes of audiences all over the world. The film is also blessed with some rather handsome black and white cinematography – it’s the type of motion picture that simply wouldn’t have worked anywhere nearly as well had it been in colour. I can almost hear those haters of all things monochromic, complaining that real life isn’t black and white, and that all films ought to be colour. Still, real life isn’t presented on a flat surface framed by a neat rectangular border, either … it’s called art, my friends.

Annex - Neal, Patricia (Fountainhead, The)_02

I first experienced King Vidor’s Fountainhead inside the building that houses the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) – appropriate, considering the building could well have been the brainchild of Howard Roark, if he weren’t a fictitious character. As it stands, you, dear reader, have the chance to behold The Fountainhead inside a much more aesthetically-pleasing venue (so say I, and anybody else with twenty-twenty vision and even the slightest modicum of refined taste), the building that houses The Astor Theatre. The Fountainhead screens as part of a double feature with another film about an obsessive egomaniac given to ostentatious displays of wealth and pride, the landmark motion picture Citizen Kane (1941). This is indeed a rare treat to experience two enduring works from 1940s American cinema in the same evening, so do yourself a favour and behold these treasures in their original 35mm format at the Astor.

Written by Mark Vanselow for The Astor Theatre.

The Fountainhead screens in a double feature with Citizen Kaneon Sunday May 4 at 7pm.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Nobody does crazy like Jack Nicholson. Cuckoo isn’t his only kind of crazy – you recently saw him on the SuperScreen in The Shining – Extended Version, cutting it up with an axe. Still, where Stanley Kubrick examines the effects of isolation and the persistence of the past, Milos Forman questions our very perception of what it means to be mentally ill. Through group therapy and a structured social environment, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) is a groundbreaking film that really changed the landscape for filmic presentation of mental health issues. It’s also an indictment on the structures of society and our inability to properly or effectively care for the wide range of individuals who attempt to co-exist within its strict confines, walled by harsh, prescriptive rules.


When Randle Patrick “Mac” McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is moved to psychiatric facility for evaluation, following a short stint on a penal farm for the statutory rape of a fifteen-year-old girl, he believes the rest of his sentence will be a cakewalk. When asked upon arrival if he suffers from any mental afflictions, he responds, “Not a thing doc, I’m a goddamn marvel of modern science!”


Despite the steely Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), McMurphy is all laughs taking it upon himself to be the leader of the group who – to him at least – appear to be “no crazier than the average asshole out walking around on the street”. Perhaps none of them deserves to be in there at all? Certainly they don’t deserve to be confined to boredom by a killjoy nurse – or so McMurphy thinks; he commandeers a boat for a playful outing, introduces prostitutes and other illegalities to his new-found friend-followers, protesting the stale, clinical conventions of the institution and indeed the broader social structures responsible for his incarceration. Still, the questions remain: who is actually bound by these conventions and who chooses to be?; who is free and who simply believes that they are?


Not everything is as transparent as it first appears. Sometimes the fight is much bigger than what is directly in front of your face. Sometimes not all of the rules are visible.

Adapted from Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel of the same name, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was the second film to ever win all five major Academy Awards; Best Picture, Best Actress in a Lead Role, Best Actor in a Lead Role, Best Director and Best Screenplay – Adapted (the first was It Happened One Night in 1934.) Considered one of the greatest American dramas of all time, with a truly sensational performance from Nicholson, supported by the likes of Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Brad Dourif, William Duell, and Will Sampson, this is a big screen must-see, now returning in remastered 2K DCP format, with 5.1 surround sound.

Screens Thursday January 30th to Saturday February 1st.

Written by Tara Judah for the Astor Theatre.