CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1)
August 1, 2019
One of 25 installments in a series of enthusiastic posts analyzing and celebrating some of our favorite action movies from the Seventies (1974–1983).
BLADE RUNNER | d. RIDLEY SCOTT | 1982
My earliest memory of Blade Runner is my father trying to cut together a master edit of it on his Betamax. He did this, occasionally — he spent years trying to cobble an edition of Close Encounters together from TV and rental releases, splicing the Gobi Desert sequence in, tweaking Roy Neary’s ending until its selfishness became forgivable through transcendence. Both stories are about men who want nothing more than to get away from their circumstances. Deckard has mysteriously “been quit” when he’s dragged back into his former boss’ office, and even his former colleague tries to explain the desire to get out of LA before exiting it permanently: “Maybe you’re fed up,” he says, wearily. In Close Encounters, Roy abandons all responsibility and escapes to the stars. In Blade Runner, Rick and Rachael simply get in a car and drive away, continuing their affair with the same queasy optimism with which Ben and Elaine catch their bus at the end of The Graduate. Depending on which cut of the film you watch, they actually drive straight into the opening of The Shining, offering the prospect of a mashup too delicious to ignore.
Like The Shining, Blade Runner is fundamentally a film about terrible fathers. Deckard orbits the Frankenstein narrative unfolding before him, by turns a Biblical or Freudian parable of a son destroying his father, the story of an Adam who, like Milton’s, chooses his own kind over his creator. In Blade Runner, that original sin becomes a capital crime. It’s impossible not to read LAPD history into the film. The “skinjobs” are simply the next in a long line of groups targeted for removal by the carceral state. Not much of Philip K Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? remains in Blade Runner, but the politics do. The film makes it abundantly clear: if you’re not cop, you’re little people. Patriarchal power exerts itself over and over again throughout the film, from the marginalization of the Replicants to the pressure on Deckard to kill them to Tyrell’s deception of Rachael to Deckard’s assault on her, a violent expression of his perceived powerlessness. It’s the one scene in the film when Deckard actually seems like the stone-cold killer his superiors insist he is.
Unlike most action films, Blade Runner relies on Deckard’s physical and emotional vulnerability to create tension. He’s not a badass. He’s not a martial arts master. He’s weaker on every level than the creatures he’s hunting, and he knows it. As such, it makes sense that Deckard’s one act of rebellion at the end of the film is to lean into his tenderness. Like the Replicants, he chooses to love. And that is the one choice the powers that be cannot abide. There are many science fiction films about terrible fathers — it’s baked in, from Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s DNA. But there are far fewer about rising above that trauma and choosing something different.
Perhaps for this reason, Blade Runner works best as a series of vignettes, not an action film or even a science fiction film. Unlike Ridley Scott’s other seminal science fiction film Alien, it has little sense of direction or pacing. This is because Alien is properly a horror film in a science fiction setting, with a menace that forces the plot and characters to move. Similarly, Star Wars is an adventure film dressed in science fiction costume, and moves with a sprightliness that must have felt refreshing after the plodding pace of ’70s realism. Rather, Blade Runner moves at the langorous pace of an Alphaville or La Jetée. It’s a noir film in which no real crime has been committed, a police procedural in which the cop does not want to do his job. Blade Runner moves at the pace that its protagonist moves: reluctantly, grudgingly, bullied along by the relative industriousness of its nominal antagonists. It’s a series of realizations, most of them crushing, about what is real and what isn’t.
CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION | Madeline Ashby on BLADE RUNNER | Erik Davis on BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA | Mimi Lipson on CONVOY | Luc Sante on BLACK SUNDAY | Josh Glenn on THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR | Lisa Jane Persky on SORCERER | Devin McKinney on THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | Adam McGovern on QUINTET | Mandy Keifetz on DEATH RACE 2000 | Peter Doyle on SOUTHERN COMFORT | Jonathan Lethem on STRAIGHT TIME | Heather Kapplow on THE KILLER ELITE | Tom Nealon on EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE | Mark Kingwell on THE EIGER SANCTION | Sherri Wasserman on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK | Gordon Dahlquist on MARATHON MAN | David Levine on PARALLAX VIEW | Matthew Sharpe on ROLLERBALL | Ramona Lyons on ALIEN | Dan Piepenbring on WHITE LINE FEVER | Marc Weidenbaum on THIEF | Carolyn Kellogg on MAD MAX | Carlo Rotella on KUNG FU | Peggy Nelson on SMOKEY & THE BANDIT | Brian Berger on FRIDAY FOSTER.
CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.