Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Haut 80s

[Fritz Lang, dir.: Metropolis (1927 / 1984)]

I recently bought myself a copy of Metropolis with the notorious "disco" soundtrack by Giorgio Moroder. I agree that this sounds a bit quixotic, given the fact that the "complete" restored version of 2002 has now been succeeded by an even more complete version based on the recent discovery of an uncut print of the original film (before it was edited down for American release) in an obscure film archive in Buenos Aires.

What can the Moroder version - with its garish tinting, subtitles substituting for captions, and stills standing in for certain scenes - have to offer to us now? Well, probably not all that much unless you remember sitting, breathless, in the Civic Theatre in 1984 as the opening titles appeared and that drum beat began! You had to be there, I guess.

Isn't Brigitte sublime? Only nineteen, with the huge eyes and waif-like face of the silent era star, she really comes to life when she has to embody the "evil Maria" robot ... Click here and you can relive the moment for yourselves, courtesy of YouTube.

Incidentally, don't you think the Magus / Inventor Rotwang looks a bit like our own Panmure poet and visionary Richard Taylor? Especially in some of the more recent posts on his mind-bending blog Eyelight ...

Watching the movie again got me to thinking about that whole feel of the 1980s: its strange mixture of grunge and glam, the apocalyptic tone of its art. For me, I guess the style of the decade had been set once and for all a couple of years before, in 1982, when I staggered out into the daylight after having first experienced the sublime vistas of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. The monstrous ziggurats dominating the skyline, the crowded Asian noodle-bars and ceaseless rain in the streets below ... On the one hand, it seemed like the landscape of a dream; on the other hand, I felt as if I'd literally seen the future. It was grimy, it was noir, it was retro, it was intensely melancholy - and I loved it.

[Blade Runner (1982)]

I couldn't believe it when the film promptly disappeared from the big screen, all the local reviewers prattling on about how "gloomy" it was, and awarding all their stars to whatever other vacuous space opera was uppermost at the time. What was it, in fact? E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial? How well that's stood the test of time!

For a while it was as if no-one understood that a new decade had begun, that a new sensibility had been announced by Scott's film. The seventies cast a long shadow. When I finally left for London in 1986, though, I saw that the revolution had indeed taken place. "Thatcher means Death" was the first piece of graffiti I saw shortly after landing: the monsters were real, the Tyrrell corporation really was in charge. The Cold War was still on, you must remember, and the most powerful country on earth was ruled by a zombie, controlled by his freeze-dried wife and her astrologers ...

I remember going to see a screening of Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin at the filmhouse in Edinburgh in about 1987. The film itself had been too thoroughly assimilated by subsequent cineastes to excite me very much ("Life," as Marianne Moore once memorably remarked, "is not like that.") But they'd put another Russian short on before it, to fill out the programme.

Now that film, "Chess-Crazy", totally blew my mind. It was completely stupid. The plot consisted of everyone being so mad on chess that they'd start playing it at the drop of the hat: peasants, businessmen, soldiers and all. The hero, on his way, to see his girl, is constantly distracted by random chess matches wherever he goes.

[Chess-Crazy (1925)]

It was a silent film, from the mid-twenties, I suppose, and yet the costumes looked completely up to the minute. The hero was wearing baggy trousers, a blazer, a striped jumper - I saw him in bars in town every day. The heroine looked pretty fetching in her vintage dress. Even her hair was in haut 80s style ...

I know that people see the 80s now as all Duran Duran and Cyndi Lauper: tight shirts and mullets or kooky fringes - but that's not how it looked at the time. Our revolution may have been betrayed ... what was it all for, in any case? Better fashion solutions? 1989, and the fall of the Berlin wall, the velvet revolution in Prague, did seem more like the end of something than a new beginning. It was bizarre to hear that the Americans seemed to be under the impression that they'd won something, that now they could really start ruling the world ...

Those of us who'd really assimilated Blade Runner knew better than that. If there was change coming, it was coming from the east: initially from Japan, but then from China itself, the sleeping giant.

What, after all, had the Americans won? Who were their enemies now? YOu can't have a military-industrial complex without a dastardly foe. For a while their movies seemed as if they were literally casting about for villains - no more commies, no more SMERSH, no more sinister commissars ... They tried "separatists," drug cartels, "terrorists" until they came up with the perfect solution: Islam. That's worked out really well for all of us, hasn't it?

Blade Runner had it right, once again. "I have seen the future and it works" - that silly remark by an American journalist about the Bolshevik revolution - had to be transformed, for my generation, into "I have seen the future and it's dark" ...


Richard said...

Jack, ho!

You need some film buffs to comment.
I had never even heard of the film Metropolis.

I had seen the Eisenstein film years ago (a friend who was into films showed it at our flat).

I saw Blade Runner but I can't remember anything about it. In those days I didn't know who Philip K. Dick was.

You know that for me the 80s kind of flicked past, I was facing all kinds of work and personal crises and I didn't even read the News paper or watch TV very much. I didn't really care about Thatcher although I was not happy about the war against Argentina - that seemed really stupid -and indeed the Argentinian Government was stupid also. But I was pretty caught up with my own problems, So I cant really remember what woman or men wore or did in the 80s! (But I was playing a lot of competitive chess in the mid 80s I and I can recall games I played then!)...I seem to recall a lot of young people wore black a lot.

Interesting (for me) that film on chess. Capablanca was in it. There was another film with him in it and also Humphrey Bogart (who was a very strong and keen chess player.)

The Metropolis looks quite a strange and fascinating film though.

Dr Jack Ross said...

Dear Richard,

Yes, the Russian chess film was designed to publicise the world championship, and Capablanca acts as a kind of deus ex machina in it, as I recall ...

You do owe it to yourself to watch Metropolis - it still has a kind of bizarre power to it (even without all those 80s "stars" crooning in the background). Blade Runner is full of visual tributes to it, as are most subsequent dystopian SF movies.

I love that latest photo spread in Eyelight, by the way -- esp. those pictures of yourself in the mirror. Good luck with the rest of your five-year plan, comrade.

Richard said...

Where does one get these films? Ted has couple of classics I haven't seen. What is a good version of Blade Runner on CD?

Thanks re EYELIGHT. I have a big problem getting to do the art part. It is to do with a way I have of thinking I need to do huge amount of prep etc before I action but once I get going it is fun.

That was meant to be a simple explanation of what I planned but it started growing into an imaginative art-lit project and you can see how I combined - circuit diagrams of the sort we used to see when I was working on Microwave systems, so there is a "jungle chip" (there really is such thing!) but I mixed it with the inputs being nerve cells (just been reading a book on neurology by Ramachandran) and I invented a lot of pseudo scientific things "going on "and so it became a mix between a work of art, a circuit diagram and neurologists map of the or a (crazy?!) brain! Added to that the satirical stuff. Dewe, Rossian and Hamiltonian functions etc etc!

The self portraits. Yes. The mask was made by my daughter when she lived here about 1992 and in those days I was pretty dark and it is her expression of what I was like! (I realize now) I don't know why I am obsessed with Pascal as I have only read a few lines by him. I mainly just like the death mask on the cover...and there is my father's self portrait and John Ashbery's (Parmigianino's work Self-Portrait Convex Mirror appears on EYELIGHT a lot, which is often beside 'Ashes' a book of poetry by a sadly now deceased friend Nick Owens, whose semi abstract is there often also) and there is Rembrandt although I have none of him yet. Of course I play around with colour etc So I get mix of my own work, images I have done and so on and others images and texts...trying to create the ultimate "Total art" of Wagner etc A hopeless task!

I also have I think the world's first YouTube Poem, and the first published composed blacknesses (silences a la Cage etc or nothngnesses etc with positive and negative resonations.)

I applied for CNZ funding to do a book with colour etc based on EYELIGHT but no dice so far.

But thanks for your encouragement.

Richard said...

Of course I hope people see the humour also. I always laugh when I see that huge "sculpture: of a huge rabbit by Parekowhai!

I also have a "machine" to get light from pumpkins X - I mean cucumbers! Which references Swift of 'Gullivers Travels' and his satire of the various pseudo experiments by the Academy of Science etc

So I hope no one takes me at face value - ooops my face is in EYELIGHT and now on here!

Those 5 Year plans etc by the Soviets etc are all a bit dreary aren't they? Actually in many ways I find my old (70s) enthusiasm for socialism was kind of Romanticism - I sued to carry around a book about Che Guevara but only because I liked the portrait on its cover - I never read it (I read some). But politics overall I find rather dreary I'm afraid. It all seems to repeat. 5 year plans... 5 million year plans...

Comes of being 64 and not being looked after, needed, or loved!

Dr Jack Ross said...

Dear Richard,

Your work may be off-putting and even terrifying to many people, but that doesn't mean it isn't wanted or needed ... I think you may have more fans out there than you're aware of.

"Patience. And shuffle the cards!" as the protagonist of some children's book I was fond of once used to say.