KLAATU YOU (40)
September 30, 2020
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite pre-Star Wars science fiction movies.
WESTWORLD | d. MICHAEL CRICHTON | 1973
Perhaps you saw me in Westworld
I acted like a robotic cowboy
It was my best role
I cannot deny I felt right home deep inside
That electronic carcass.
— Stephen Malkmus, “Jo-Jo’s Jacket”
The silvery, shining eyes. The programmed, terse lines. The persistent, if measured, gait in pursuit of humans to eradicate. If anyone tells you there’s a better element to Westworld than Yul Brynner’s role as the Gunslinger? They’re wrong.
I’ll admit, my affinity for Brynner isn’t solely rooted in his performance in the film in question. It actually goes back 17 years earlier to The King and I. As a person in the world in the year 2020, I know that The King and I is rooted in extremely problematic moviemaking of the time — casting non-Asian people in Asian roles, awkwardly telling stories of white supremacy couched in the catchy songs of a musical. As a person in the world in the year 1990, we’d borrow VHS tapes of musicals from my neighbor. I watched a lot of his VHS musicals, but none of them stuck like The King and I, and no one’s role was as crucial to me as Yul Brynner as King Mongkut of Siam.
There’s a quote he says in an interview, how shaving his head liberated him from “stupid vanities” and how it “opened a lot of doors.”
I have to believe one of those doors led to playing a homicidal robot cowboy.
Watching the Westworld of 1973 is a far cry from the dense, intricate (and I would venture to say, laborious) storytelling of its cousin, HBO’s Westworld. The original, in comparison, has a hollowness to it. What was intended as the technology of the time is now camp, and it’s challenging to not carry that camp across its characters. Despite that, what seems to connect the two is the persistence and bloodthirst that the robots of the current-day Westworld share with Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger.
The Gunslinger’s role is to provoke, providing vacationing tourists the opportunity to get in a bar fight in a saloon and then presumably exchange gunfire. Every time, the Gunslinger comes back with his same teasing lines, his same cold delivery. It’s when he begins to cross over, to pursue Peter and John, his motivations become more than just instigation. All of his daily deaths are about to be repaid with theirs.
One third of the movie is dedicated to the Gunslinger following Peter across the various fantasy worlds of Delos — there’s no rush to his walk, there’s no quickening of his pace. He methodically stalks him from Westworld, to Romanworld, to Medievalworld. His facial expressions do so much to show his emotions, pat phrases are disposed of.
So much of King Mongkut’s appeal was dramatics, flair, a raised voice. The Gunslinger has his own unrelated to any of that. While I love both characters, I know in the end my true love is for the man free from vanity and hair atop his head.
KLAATU YOU: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Matthew De Abaitua on ZARDOZ | Miranda Mellis on METROPOLIS | Rob Wringham on THE INVISIBLE MAN | Michael Grasso on THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN | Gordon Dahlquist on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | Erik Davis on DARK STAR | Carlo Rotella on THE OMEGA MAN | Madeline Ashby on KISS ME DEADLY | Adam McGovern on SILENT RUNNING | Michael Lewy on THIS ISLAND EARTH | Josh Glenn on WILD IN THE STREETS | Mimi Lipson on BARBARELLA vs. SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | Vanessa Berry on THE FLY | Lynn Peril on ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN | Peggy Nelson on SOLARIS | Adrienne Crew on LOGAN’S RUN | Ramona Lyons on THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH | Kio Stark on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Dan Fox on FANTASTIC PLANET | Chris Lanier on IKARIE XB-1 | Devin McKinney on IDAHO TRANSFER | Mark Kingwell on THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO | Luc Sante on THE TENTH VICTIM | William Nericcio on DEATH RACE 2000 | Rob Walker on CAPRICORN ONE | Gary Panter on ANGRY RED PLANET | David Levine on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Karinne Keithley Syers on ALPHAVILLE | Carolyn Kellogg on IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE | Sara Ryan on ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN | Lisa Jane Persky on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE | Adam Harrison Levy on BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES | Gerald Peary on CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON | Susannah Breslin on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE | Seth on WAR OF THE WORLDS | James Hannaham on GOJIRA/GODZILLA | Lydia Millet on VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED | Matthew Daniel on FANTASTIC VOYAGE | Shawn Wolfe on ROLLERBALL | Erin M. Routson on WESTWORLD | Marc Weidenbaum on COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT | Neil LaBute on 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA | Vicente Lozano on DAY OF THE DOLPHIN | Tom Roston on SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE | Katya Apekina on A BOY AND HIS DOG | Chelsey Johnson on THE BLOB | Heather Kapplow on SPACE IS THE PLACE | Brian Berger on THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS | Anthony Miller on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.
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