Tina Bexson interviews Dutch cinematographer, Robby Müller

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Since the Seventies Dutch cinematographer Robby Müller has steadily established himself as a creative risk taker, collaborating with the likes of Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, Lars Von Trier, on films such as Paris Texas, Down by Law, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, and Breaking the Waves; and most recently with Michael Winterbottom on 24 Hour Party People. Not bad for a man who says that he decided to become a cinematographer as a way of getting out of the Army.

Here he gives us a rare insight into his technique and why he favours black and white:

What was it like working on 24 hour party people?

“Michael (Winterbottom) had asked me twice before to work with him but I was busy on other films. Then we met up and he interested me in the story of Factory Records and the Hacienda. I was especially keen to work in this rougher and fresher style he had in mind. Shooting a film can be very mechanical, it’s all slate, camera, action, cut, then you prepare, and repeat the whole process over and over. You lose momentum, but Michael wanted all the shots improvised and we managed to keep the pace going. I got into the history behind the story too, and Manchester, but not the rain. ”

You’ve often said you like to create situations where ‘happy accidents can happen’. Why?

“These can end up helping the way the director wants to tell his story. Like in Breaking the Waves. We were very much operational with the cameras for the sex in the toilet scene, and worried we had fucked it up, but the result ending up being just what Lars Von Trier wanted, it bought about the sense of drama he was after without that polished look.”

So what is Lars Von Trier like to work with?

“Lars has a very clear idea of what he does and doesn’t want. Like on Dancing in the Dark he had us use 100 DV cameras to film the musical scenes, we all had the freedom to move 360 degrees, and all those camera shots were perfectly in synch with each other so we could easily cut between them, it was very magic. So was Björk, I liked her very much, she was a very professional woman, and a good actress.”

You also collaborated extensively with Jim Jarmusch on many of his films, what was your most memorable experience?

“There are many. I liked working on Down by Law (with Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Roberto Benigni) where I felt it was important to be shooting in black and white. Colour should only be used if it supports the story otherwise its just exotic background wrapping, giving superfluous information. Its like a poem, you leave out what you don’t need. And because we shot in such an exotic location (New Orleans), it would have been a completely different film if it was in colour, making the audience look at the landscape and the surroundings rather than the people. Jarmusch was very receptive to this way of thinking.”

What’s distinctive about the way Wim Wenders works?

“He often barely had a script or a storyboard, and would nearly always shoot in buildings already occupied by people, never studios. So I was always working with natural light and more intimate surroundings but I like that sense of realism so if there’s not enough I would open up the lens rather than add extra lighting.”

“I also like to work chronologically as he does, without any rigid time scales imposed so you can work in more of an organic way. You can bring in new people too, you can get a feel of the film and develop it as you go along.”

What advice do you have for young filmmakers and cinematographers?

“Don’t rely on new technology, its only a tool, a means to an end, don’t let it make you lose sight of where you are going. Don’t over do it, keep things simple.”

“Don’t have a second agenda, be honest, keep the integrity, at least to yourself, and always ask yourself why you are doing a certain project, do you really like it, do you know where you stand? I try to do this on all the films I work on. But of course there were certain times when me and my gaffer have asked ourselves ‘what on earth are we doing here?’”

“Oh, and always ask the director why you are shooting in colour (if you are) then at least you know what you’re working with and you’re not just a zombie following rules.

What film has particularly inspired you?

“Fellini’s 8 ½. It was beautifully shot in black and white.”

Robby Müller’s credits include:

Coffee and Cigarettes

24 Hour Party People

Dancer in the Dark

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)

Buena Vista Social Club

Breaking the Waves

Beyond the Clouds

Dead Man

Mad Dog and Glory

Until the End of the World

Mystery Train

Barfly

Down by Law

To Live and Die in L.A.

Paris Texas

Repo Man

Kings of the Road (1976)

Alice in the Cities (1974)

Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty Kick (1971)

© Tina Bexson

Tina Bexson interviews Daryl Hannah on why she appeared in ‘Dancing at the Blue Iguana’, an improvised film about Los Angeles pole dancers and strippers

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The Making of ‘The Blue Iguana’: Interview with Daryl Hannah by Tina Bexson

In a strip club Deep in Los Angeles San Fernando Valley Daryl Hannah defies gravity as she gradually gyrates upside down around a tall pole, her long blonde hair cascading to the ground. A dreamy somewhat stoned smile escapes from her lips as Marianne Faithful’s “Angel” gathers momentum and she flips over onto her transparent platform shoes.

But hang on, what’s happening? Why have we cut to the dressing room? This isn’t sexy in the way we know it. It’s complete chaos. Pandemonium. There’s a saga about a missing g-string; a positive pregnancy test; and a dispute over where Nico, the visiting porn star, should sit.

This is ‘Dancing at the Blue Iguana’, a new film by Michael Radford, the filmmaker  who has managed to resist any form of categorisation. And this is no exception. It offers a sharp contrast to the fishing village of ‘Il Postino’, the group of decadent colonialists of ‘White Mischief’, or the Orwellian futuristic vision of ‘1984’.

Conceived entirely by improvisation, with both script and character emerging from the efforts of a cast (including Hannah, Jennifer Tilly and Sandra Oh) who were unafraid to delve into the contradictory darker sides of their psyches, ‘Dancing at the Blue Iguana’ is unique. Even Mike Leigh has never gone this far with his penchant for improvisation. But it offers a further deviation in its portrayal or rather probing of the unsettling world of strip tease for there’s the psychological exposure along with the physical.

“It’s not Striptease, the Demi Moore thing,” insists Hannah, (who plays Angel), as she takes an enormous bite out of a cream scone in the lounge of the Covent Garden Hotel, where I’m interviewing her this morning. “It’s amazing how the nudity becomes the background. That’s what the film was for, to find the people and not focus on the body parts.”

Though in all honesty it’s hard not to focus on them, they are in tiptop form, and this is undoubtedly a very sexy film. But every aspect was meticulously researched during the five months the actresses frequented Hollywood strip clubs to learn the lingo, the routines, the dances, the pole tricks, and the interaction with punters.

“ I had no choice but to do a lot of research because I had no idea what the world of an exotic dancer or stripper was apart from the clichés you get from cheesy movies”, reveals Hannah. So at 3pm everyday, after rehearsals, and when the strip clubs were closed for cleaning, she was taught the routines by the strippers she befriended. Some of them, mainly the stripper Nikki, feature in her documentary, ‘Strip Notes’, that she made during her time in the clubs.

“I was black and blue for two and a half months, I must have looked like I’d been brutally assaulted, but I got into incredible shape,” explains Hannah. You will no doubt recall her lithe athletic mermaid in ‘Splash’ or her acrobatic android in ‘Blade Runner’.

“Doing all those slow motion squats and presses mean you immediately get your thighs toned and it really builds up your upper body strength, your stomach muscles. Those girls don’t need to go to the gym because they’re in the ‘gym’ every night when they are working. The more experienced use it to do these miraculous things that look as though they are floating with no limbs attached, it’s sensuous, and very gymnastic.”

“I learned to do a dozen pole tricks upside down,” she continues, “you feel like a kid swinging around on the jungle gym, I really enjoyed it.” (So did Sheila Kelley, who played Stormy, in fact so much that she had a pole installed in her house after the film.)

Perfecting a suitably slinky, not to mention, stimulating routine is one thing but performing for real in front of a live audience is a real tester. Hannah did a few routines in a bikini bar but the girls in the clubs proper also threw her up on stage at the beginning of the night when the places were only littered with a few customers.

“Then they grabbed the front row seats and lined the stage with dollar bills. Most of my money was from them. All my nerves went because they were cheering me on and laughing with me, they kind of shielded me from knowing that there was anybody else there.”

One of these clubs had quite a high profile clientele: “I’d see a lot of people from my industry there. And even though I was in disguise and got away with it for a while, I didn’t want to push it too much because it was very important that my cover was maintained.” But in her documentary the club owner, Eddie, tells us that a punter told him that his stripper currently on stage “looked just like Daryl Hannah.”

The only time she really stripped in front of a big audience was in front of a bunch of extras in the film. “Here I wanted to show that Angel really knew what she was doing, that she’d been working for quite a long time, but I also wanted her to have a kind of ethereal dance routine, because it fitted in with her character, dreamy and flirty.”

“But I was kind of disappointed with myself. I was trying to emulate Nikki who you saw in the documentary, and who I got a lot of my characteristics and story ideas from. Most dancers have a really practised and studied hypnotic stare. Nikki was just the opposite, she would giggle and wave at people and carry on conversations. She’s silly and light and I really wanted to pull that off on stage as well. But I was so nervous when I was actually dancing that I couldn’t so I made another choice and decided to be the ‘stoned Nikki’ instead and just did my routine with my eyes closed. I wish I had been able to get over my nerves enough to be the way she is. “

Hannah says that she didn’t even think that those kind of characters existed in the world until she’d met some of the girls, and it was in the dressing room that she got an insight into their real desires and motivations, which she would then use later. Here it was mostly “bare naked ladies” who stripped off more than the physical layers as they laughed, swore, argued and occasionally punched.

“I was hearing all these funny stories in there. I’ve been in a lot of comedies (Hannah was in Roxanne with Steve Martin, Grumpy Old Men with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and the romantic comedy Too Much with Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas) but I’ve never got to play a comic role. I’m always the straight man to the comedian, and I thought, this is a chance for me to be funny. Also Jennifer (this is the fourth time Tilly and Hannah have worked together), who usually plays a brazenly comic character, wanted to play someone a little harder, so we decided to switch places.”

Hannah is indeed very funny. Things happen to Angel, who is an endearing and curious mix of vulnerability and jadedness, a child-woman that Hannah naturally tuned into. There’s a great scene with no cuts, when she gets arrested for grass (partly based on one of Nikki’s experiences) whilst asking an officer to take a photograph of her in front of a huge billboard featuring her in an ad for the show. All the dialogue was improvised; created on the spot from the recesses of the casts’ imaginations. The rather confused Angel comes out with absurd lines: “Officer, is this going to be on the news and everything?” and “But I didn’t inhale.”

A Russian hit man taking ‘time out’ visits the club and develops an obsession with Angel, further fuelling her fantasy world. There’s some languid scenes of her outside the club attempting to smoke movie star style, clad in a ludicrous long white fluffy coat whilst he spies down on her from a window above. “When I was doing my research I would see the girls go outside for a smoke and that was their only respite. So even girls who weren’t smokers became smokers, including myself for the time I was making the film, because its your only chance to get some fresh air, and look up at the stars and imagine being somewhere else or someone else.”

Hannah, herself, became so embroiled in the construction of her character that she would often imagine what Angel’s reactions would be for many months after the film was completed. “Where ever I’d be, I’d start giggling to myself, thinking about what Angel would be saying right now, I could hear her takes on things, it cracked me up. You could throw her into any environment, in any country, with anyone, and she would be as funny and sad and as ridiculous as she is. But I’d like to only work like this, to have time to research and be so involved in the character that no matter what situation you’re in, you are the character.”

Radford’s decision to improvise on film was only made after they had started shooting a script taken from the scenes they had improvised in rehearsal (he’d had these transcribed and made into a script). But he missed the freshness and threw the scripts away and got them to re-improvise the scenes with new dialogue. “It was a totally insane idea to take on”, says Hannah, “but he’s so brave and it’s so cool he had enough respect with actors to give them that trust.”

Still, it was a big gamble. There was no guarantee the film would be made so none of the cast would receive any payment. Then they were told they’d be no financing until the financiers had viewed what they had come up with. Not everyone Radford was initially interested in was prepared to take that risk. But he was very happy with who he got in the end and has said that he’d always wanted to work with Sandra Oh and Jennifer Tilly. He has also said that “the biggest surprise was Daryl – she literally forced herself on me. She’s so interesting to watch, so brilliant and profound.”

Hannah certainly has no regrets, apart from not taking more time to understand the male psyche perhaps. “I had so much to learn: getting my character, story, wardrobe, my look, my routine, dancing, that the one thing I really didn’t spend time doing was understanding the customer and the relationship I was supposed to have with them.”

“But I certainly learned how to move sensuously with confidence. I’d always felt kind of awkward and geeky before when I tried to act or move in a sexy way. But you can analyse it and break it down and learn a few little tricks. On the other hand it’s not a job I would ever want. Being in the clubs was fascinating whilst doing research and making a documentary, but it was hard, those environments are hard on the soul.”

So is Hollywood and at least Hannah built up close bonds with the dancers, some of which are still there today. “They really support each other which is something I haven’t experienced in my profession amongst other actresses or movie people,” she adds ruefully.“ But what I found most surprising was their sense of humour and irony. I’d often hear them say (she adopts a drawn out tired voice) ‘I cant believe this, its Friday night, I’m in Hollywood, and I’m crawling around on my hands and knees – I’m a stripper!’”

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Tina Bexson investigates the real life story behind William Friedkin’s, ‘The French Connnection’ for Hotdog Magazine and Spike.

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Real-life drug-busting narc Sonny Grosso was the inspiration for The French Connection, advised Coppola on The Godfather and cruised gay bars with Pacino in Cruising.

Story by Tina Bexson –

http://www.spikemagazine.com/the-french-connection-grosso-point-blank.php

A dozen or so shiny, black suits and their flashy women were enjoying the exotic floor show of Manhattan’s Copacabana nightclub, whilst the slick-haired man at the head of the table splashed the cash around. It was a sight that would change the lives of the two off-duty NYPD narcotics agents quietly sipping their drinks and surveying the scene from the terrace above.

The man with the dough was Pasquele “Patsy” Fuega, a major player in a Mafia-linked New York drugs ring. “I recognised a lot of the others as being dope pushers up in Harlem,” Detective Sonny Grosso recalls. “I told Egan and he wanted to put a tail of the Patsy at the end of the night.”

So Grosso and partner Eddie Egan tailed Patsy and his bouffant blonde as they drove off on a stop-start tour of the Lower East Side, before heading across the East River and drawing up in front of a Brooklyn diner at 5am. Suspicion was aroused and they set up round-the-clock surveillance and wiretaps. That was just the beginning. During the next four months they uncovered an operation that had 50kg of heroin being smuggled from France to New York every six weeks for a quarter of a century.

The investigation culminated in one of the biggest drug hauls in American history, worth a mega ¢32m, all thanks to a chance encounter in a nightclub in 1961.

Shoot forward ten years, and chance changes Sonny Grosso’s life again. Up-and-coming filmmaker Phil D’Antoni and maverick director William Friedkin decide to turn the case into a film, The French Connection, based on Robin Moore’s factual book of the same name, and starring Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider as Egan and Grosso (renamed Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and Buddy “Cloudy” Russo). Once released it became a worldwide box-office hit, winning five Oscars and beating A Clockwork Orange and The Last Picture Show for best film. It had it all: realistic locations, spontaneous camerawork, an unromantic portrayal of policing, and unbeatably pacey action. All of which proved ot be a major catalyst in the revival of the cop genre in the ‘70s, evident in movies such as Serpico and Dirty Harry.

The French Connection’s authenticity was down to advice from the experts. Friedkin immediately hired Egan (who died of cancer in 1995) and Grosso. Not only were they the film’s inspiration – both played small roles – but proved unbeatable technical advisors and location scouts. In fact, they were cinema’s first cop consultants, earning $150 each for working every day of the 60-day shoot as well as continuing 12-hour nightly shifts with the NYPD.

It wa the weeks in pre-production that helped dictate the raw undertones of Friedkin’s feature. Not only did Grosso and Egan grow up in East Harlem, it was also their beat, they knew the score. And in the weeks leading up to the shoot, Hackman, Scheider and Friedkin were taken on a journey they would never forget.

Grosso: “We let them run through the whole gambit with us: the investigations, arrests, even the paperwork and court appearances so they could see us testify. In the beginning they were all shocked by what they saw.

“The first time we hit a shooting gallery it was on 110th Street and 5th Avenue, that’s Harlem. There were about 20 people shooting p. One was a massive woman, about 260 pounds, with a tube around her arm and the needle still jabbed in a vein.

“They came with us when we hit the bars and interrogated people. No one knew they were actors and we let them question the dealers and addicts so they got to feel comfortable dealing with them as though they were policemen. That’s why the movie stands up so well, they’d done it for real.”

In one of two Harlem bar scenes, the extras were all cops posing as drug addicts and pushers. In the other, they were all off the street. “They were people Eddie and I had busted at one time or another. We went to see them at some centre where they were trying to re-habilitate themselves and when we asked if they wanted to be in the movie, they all jumped at the chance. It was that which gave it a real wild smell.”

There were a couple of gun-running scenes, so Grosso and Egan taught them exactly how to hold and fire the weapons during sessions at the police firing range. “They both used our guns in the film, too. Scheider also wore my watch and ring so he felt really comfortable. He wanted my shorts, but I wouldn’t let him have those.”

Scheider was, of course, an excellent choice to play Grosso – same build and colouration; and he hit the right note as the careful detective known for seeing the dark side to situations, hence the nickname “Cloudy” (given to him by Egan). Grosso was the perfect antidote to the flamboyant, risk-taking Egan who mastered disguises such as a hot dog vendor, a deaf mute and a priest. He was nicknamed “Popeye” for his constant “popeying” around Manhattan’s drinking holes. As Grosso says: “He was a real character, way out there, and a great cop.”

Egan’s idiosyncrasies are marked out early in the film. His bizarre method of confusing suspects during interrogation by asking them whether they “picked their feet in Poughkeepsie” is used in the scene when Hackman, dressed as Father Christmas, questions a young guy he and Scheider had chased through the streets. Grosso, having witnessed this so often during the ten years they worked together, hoped Friedkin wouldn’t use it. But he did. “Friedkin loved it. So did Hollywood. They lapped it up, so did the public,” he groans.

Hackman didn’t lap it up, however. Grosso: “Hackman got all disturbed the first time he saw us arrest and lock up a guy. He kept saying, ‘I’m not a copy, I shouldn’t be involved in this.’ Then, when we took the guy to court, he couldn’t wait to get him a hot dog when he was hungry, but Eddie was having none of it. I tried to explain that we had to arrest and bring to court 30 people a month, and bring in another 130 for questioning. If we bought everyone a hot dog, we’d be broke. About three weeks later, he saw the same guy in another shooting gallery. Then he started to get the idea.”

Hackman was far from ecstatic about portraying such an unconventional and sometimes prejudiced cop, and became increasingly irritated by Egan’s Irish “charm”, recalls Grosso: “Eddie was always teasing and chastising Gene. I think Gene had a bit of a problem with the character at the beginning. But as time went on I think he found that there were many similarities between them. When I saw the final cut I was amazed how much Hackman had become Eddie. It gives you the respect you have to have for actors who, with the proper research and direction, actually become the people they play, such as De Niro in Raging Bull.”

It was a great true-life story for the big screen, but the mechanics of filmmaking meant artistic licence was employed to ensure optimum visual effect. The famous scene where Hackman chases an L train was based on an actual chase in which Egan and Grosso tried to keep ahead of a subway train between Penn Station and Grand Central so they could catch the drug-dealing Frenchman as he got off. To make it more visual, D’Antoni and Friedkin got Hackman to chase an L train which ran above ground along an elevated railway line. A kamikaze stuntman drove the car, driving flat out whilst weaving through the traffic to keep up with the train. The inspired filmic version of this event makes a great action sequence and culminates with Hackman shooting the unarmed Frenchman in the back. Then there’s the ominous and frenzied climactic shoot-out, giving a suitably ambiguous ending to the complicated tale.

Godfather

Grosso’s new vocation as technical advisor didn’t end here. While Friedkin was completing the final shoot of The French Connection on Wards Island, Francis Ford Coppola was preparing to shoot the interior scenes for The Godfather nearby. Friedkin took Grosso over to meet Coppola. “Friedkin told Coppola that he couldn’t make a movie in New York without ‘Grosso and his gorillas’, so I was hired on the spot. I found locations, showed them how to search, hammered the crowds, drove cars and provided 75 cops as extras as well as members of my family for the wedding scene.”

Grosso made two small appearances in The Godfather as Phil, one of Captain McClusky’s (Sterling Hayden) cops. The first was outside the hospital when McCluskey orders him to lock up Michael (Pacino) and he says: “Give him a break Captain, he’s a war hero. He’s not mixed up with the mob.” They had to do about 18 takes. “I wanted to kill myself,” laughs Grosso. “Because I was acting with Pacino and Hayden, my voice went up in the air like a woman being chased in a dark alley. I learned how difficult it is to be an actor.”

“Phil” was also one of the four guys who shot Sonny Corleone (James Caan) in his car by the tollbooth out on Long Island. “I said to Coppola, ‘If four buys are shooting at him with machine guns each holding 45 slugs, not only would you not find Jimmy Caan, you wouldn’t find the car. They’d all be completely blown away.’

“The next day Coppola called me over, he was such a gentleman, and said: ‘I thought about what you said Sonny, but Jimmy Caan is bigger than life in this movie and we’ve got to kill him bigger than life.’ I still thought he was making a tremendous mistake, but I was dealing with reality and he was dealing with movies. Not only did I learn that he was right, but I also learned that that scene ended up being one of the most memorable in movie history.”

It was on Cruising (1980) that Grosso really came into his own as a technical expert. Reunited with Friedkin, he worked with Al Pacino tracing an undercover cop’s troubled journey into Manhattan’s S&M gay underworld to fish out a crazed killer. Grosso had spent over five years working undercover on all kinds of cases, including a community of deaf mutes (for which he had to learn sign language) and homosexual rings. “We took Pacino out to the gay clubs in Greenwich Village to show him how to operate in that world, so he could observe and get a feeling for how people act.”

But just as Hackman and Scheider would never know what it was really like to work as a narcotics agent, to live immersed in the overlapping worlds of the cop and the mobster, Pacino would never experience the reality of undercover work. He would never know what it took to actually get results, nor would he ever have to master the psychological tactics, or experience the fear.

“Apart from mastering your cover story, the biggest thing is to know how to get information without anyone realising; also, to know how to remember faces, times, locations so you can go back and complete a report. You’ve got to remember to adopt all the characteristics, too. It’s stupid, but I was once trying to buy marijuana in East Harlem. I wasn’t smoking because I don’t smoke, and a guy came over and asked if I wanted a cigarette… I almost said ‘no’.”

Then there’s the decision on whether to take protection. “You’re often afraid to wear a wire or carry a gun into the bars because women will pat you down or touch you in all different places when they hug you – they’re told to do that to check if you’re carrying. So you need to be really creative about where you’re gonna carry a pistol.

“I was once searched when I was carrying a gun in my crotch, they never pulled my pants down, but it got pretty hairy. I don’t konw what they would have done if they’d found it. Same goes with a wire. I’d wear it in a real strategic spot running down the lining in the back of my jacket. They won’t always pursue a search if you have a good line of crap, but you’ve got to have the bravado to call their bluff. I don’t want to make out this is 007, but it’s a dangerous job.”

Grosso went on to advise on many other movies as well as being story consultant on numerous television projects, including Kojak, The Rockford Files and Baretta. He formed his own production company, Grosso-Jacobson Communications Corp, in 1980. They’ve produced some of the most successful TV movies and action series sold worldwide, starring big names such as Martin Sheen and Paul Sorvino.

Still, doesn’t he miss the danger of being a cop and the thrill of the chase? At least that dry sense of humour is still evident in his reply: “What I do is I go once a month to a precinct and the cops let me slam the cell door a few times. Every cop says you get an orgasm when you hear it close.”

This article originally appeared in Hotdog magazine. Many thanks to Tina Bexson for permission to republish.

The Norowzian Redemption

Tina Bexson interviews Mehdi Norowzian, director of Leo which tells a tortured tale with two seemingly disparate but concurrent story lines, one of which has a killer of a twist. Best of all, it’s a dysfunctional ‘family’ drama without either excessive meandering, ‘drama’, or sentiment.

 

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Cutting Edge: The Making of Blade Runner by Tina Bexson

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Cutting Edge: The Making of Blade Runner

Reviled at the time of its release, and now considered a cinema classic, Blade Runner still attracts attention. Tina Bexson has an audience with the androids

“I’ve seen things that you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near Tanhauser Gate. All those… moments will be lost… in time. Like… tears… in rain. Time… to die”.

It’s the climactic speech of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic, where Roy Batty, the dying replicant leader played by Dutch actor Rutger Hauer, enlightens ‘blade runner’ Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) of the more enriched lives, and physical and emotional superiority, of Nexus 6 replicants. And it’s proceeded by an act that eloquently depicts the ambiguous nature of what it is to be human and not human with Hauer’s ebbing replicant saving the life of his killer by pulling Deckard to safety. Most of all, the scene perfectly sums up the whole point of what has to be the most famous sci-fi film ever made.

Set in a decrepit 2019 Los Angeles, and based on Philip K Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner traces the attempts of cop Deckard to ‘retire’ four genetically-engineered androids who have escaped from an off-world colony to track down their creator and persuade him to expand their pre-determined four-year life span. Its cult status is of course legendary, for it’s a film that had it all, making its longevity quite unique. There’s the exceptional and eclectic mix of sets and special effects creating a Metropolis-style futuristic cityscape that includes the Trumbull-designed Tyrell building, a Mayan pyramid with Art Deco detail; Deckard’s spinner, a quasi-helicopter; and the existing 19th-century Bradbury building in LA where Deckard finally comes face to face with Batty. The visuals are accompanied by a suitably eerie score by Greek composer Vangelis to take us further into Scott’s ‘other world’.

Then there are the offerings of what defines us as human using not extra-terrestrials, but a set of man-made aliens, replicants, played by an unconventional cast. And, as both Hauer and Daryl Hannah (who plays Pris, the ‘pleasure model’ android and Batty’s lover) told me, Blade Runner offers something enigmatic, indecipherable, that makes it intriguing rather than unnecessarily confusing.

“When I read the script it was so great, so different from anything I had ever read before, and still it,” reveals Hannah who still maintains it is her favourite film. “It was almost hard to understand, it was almost like another language because it was so ahead of its time. Before Blade Runner, all futuristic films were quite stark and modern, you know what 50s idea of the future. This was really different, quite complex.”

“Movies where a man fights a robot have been around for many years”, observes Hauer. “Blade Runner’s special irony is that a man fights a robot which is more human than human.”

Hauer’s bleached blonde hair and Nordic looks, gave him an image of ‘perfection’ swiftly grabbing the attention of Scott and producer Michael Deeley, who said that, apart from The Italian Job, it was the best casting experience he has ever had on a picture. “It was wonderful because we had a completely blank page and we went for people who were not comic figures, but who were original looking.” K. Dick was also suitably enchanted: “Seeing Rutger Hauer as Batty just scared me to death because it was exactly as I had pictured Batty, but more so.”

Unsurprisingly Hauer is amongst those calling for a re-release: “The global publicity around Blade Runner has been going on for 20 years. I’m convinced a re-release would make perfect sense now. It would be lucrative. Thinking has changed.”

Thinking has indeed changed since 1982 when it failed quite dramatically at the box office taking only $17million though it cost $28million to make. This initial release (which is the second of Scott’s sci-fi trilogy commencing with Alien and culminating with Legend) included a pathetic voice over and taped on happy ending inserted after the screen tests proved disappointing with audiences baffled by the story line. The Director’s Cut 10 years later brought the film back to what Scott had originally envisioned and got rid of the voice over and silly ending enabling it to receive the critical success it deserved.

Hauer thinks its commercial failure was to do with it being “cold in sentiment and high in intelligence. Blade Runner raises intelligent questions. Some people don’t like questions”, he adds, when prompted to explain why the American public were so outraged by the film’s depiction of their beloved LA. But those who do like questions continue to take great pleasure in the searching for answers amongst its many layers of meaning. Especially those associated with who is an is not human.

Philip K. Dick, whose work incidentally is increasingly being filmed, what with his short stories Minority Report and Impostor made into feature films [and now The Adjustment Bureau], got the idea of the replicants by reading the diary of an SS officer who said that “the screams of children keep me awake at night”. Scott’s film though depicts replicants as being rather more human than SS officers are. It plays around with their differences and similarities resulting in the ultimate debate relentlessly fuelled by die hard fans on whether Deckard himself is a replicant, used to catch other replicants, and part of the original team of Nexus 6s having had his memories altered after capture. In hindsight and to the increasingly sophisticated cinemagoers, the answer seems pretty obvious. The ‘signs’ are there, they’ll hit you at sometime and in one way or another be it subliminally or smack in the face. The most obvious sign being found in the origami tin foil unicorn left by Gaff at Deckard’s apartment, though it meant nothing until The Director’s Cut when Scott edited in Deckard’s daydream or reverie of a unicorn (using footage from the rushes of Legend) in an earlier scene when Deckard is drunkenly striking keys on his piano. The fact that Gaff makes and leaves the origami unicorn means he must know about Deckard’s ‘daydreams’ and how else could he know unless those ‘dreams’ are memory implants? Perhaps he also wants Deckard to know his life is limited so he will attempt to join Rachel (played by a very restrained Sean Young) on the run. All the other characters, human or not, seem to know he is too – Bryant, Tyrell, and of course Rachel, who cryptically asks Deckard in his apartment: “have you ever taken that test yourself?” referring of course to the Voight-Kampff test which uncovers the emotional and empathic distinctions between replicant and human.

Scott finally settled the issue and confirmed Deckard was a replicant in a 2000 documentary, On the Edge of Blade Runner. It seems he meant it to be that way all along, though the intention could have come about by accident. One of the screenwriter’s (David Peoples) original ending had Deckard meditating on the meaning of humanity in a voice over, but his words were misinterpreted by Scott to mean Deckard was a replicant. Peoples: “The script read: ‘In my own modest way, I was a combat model. Roy Batty was my later brother.’ He was supposed to be realising that, on a human level, they weren’t so different. I think Ridley misinterpreted me, because he started announcing: ‘Deckard’s a replicant! What brilliance!’” Although Hauer said in the documentary that he didn’t perceive Deckard as a replicant, that the question of whether he was, was “kind of a joke”, he told me that he thinks Deckard was a bit of both. “What I understand and think I understand it very well is that Deckard is a human replicant. A man who’s lost his soul to some ‘killerbizz’ and who can easily be manipulated and blackmailed. A man who’s lost mind and matter of what makes him human and a real man.

“Ridley likes playing games with your head. Blade Runner raises questions but doesn’t answer them. I like it too. I think the whole piece is an intelligent mind-fuck.”

Understandably, Hauer quickly related to Ridley’s vision of the future. “Ridley’s vision, I got it, vacuum fit.” That vision is also especially known for its bleakness; it offered an image of dehumanised society as the consequence to technological progress, but Hauer, unlike those many Americans during its first run, seemed to find something almost visionary amongst the negativity.

“Dark is just a word for the black in black and white. To me darkness is what gives us light, and vice versa of course. I find Blade Runner’s visual and musical tones quite exotic, even romantic in a few ways as well as a kind of Miles Davis’ Blue… What I found genius is that by depicting the future as being in decay Ridley gives the future a past, and, therefore, a deeper sense of history and reality.”

It’s not surprising he is so thoughtful and fond of a film that clearly became a turning point in his career and made him the unexpected star over the more bankable Harrison Ford. Ford wasn’t a happy man and frequently fell out with the director and other cast members, most notably Sean Young, both on and off the set. But it seems everyone was falling out with each other. Scott in particular was in the firing line (quite literally at one point), and was constantly battling against an overworked crew and cast with Ford being the most vocal, accusing the director of worrying too much about the special effects rather than the actors’ performances. The moneymen were Scott’s biggest headache, with one of the funding companies jumping straight down his neck the moment he went over budget. The increased stresses and strains made Scott a ‘screamer’, a term he gave himself in hindsight.

Still, Hauer is sanguine, somehow managing to maintain a positive if slightly over-romantic take on the troubles that surrounded him at the time. “Tension, problems, they all helped create what ended up as my screen work. The distance between what is real and not, is very clear to me.”

In fact, he got on very well with Scott, as did Daryl Hannah whose suggestions Scott readily took on board. “Blade Runner and Dancing at the Blue Iguana are sandwich ends for me, because they are two films that I feel satisfied me as to what I always wanted to do as an actress”, she explains. “They are the only two roles that I got to use myself in the way I wanted to, the only ones where I got to disappear in to a role and be creatively involved. Blade Runner wasn’t an improvised film, but I really got to be involved in the creation of Pris.”

Naturally lithe and athletic, Hannah decided she could add something extra to Pris’ physical attributes. “The fight scene with Deckard originally took place in a gymnasium. Basically it was just me bashing around with weights and hanging from rings, kicking him and stuff, and dragging him into exercise machines. The idea of the cartwheels wasn’t in the script but I said to Ridley ‘I can do lot of gymnastics’, and then I did some in the office for him during my audition and I did it again for him during my screen test. He then took out the gymnasium but kept the gymnastics.

“And Pris was a wonderful character to play because I could get really lost in her, even just on the most superficial level. I’d go to work everyday and no one would even say hello to me because no-one would recognise me. Then I’d get into the costume and every one would go ‘good morning Daryl’ because I had transformed into someone else. And I loved that. That’s what I worked for. The fact that she wasn’t even a human being, it was really cool to play with that.”

Hauer’s input was of course slightly more cerebral. Shortly after Pris’ dramatic and horrific ‘death’ at the hands of Deckard, Batty returns to Sebastian’s apartment to be confronted by her dead body, tongue protruding from her mouth. Batty kisses the corpse and gently teases her tongue back into her mouth with his own. “By pushing Pris’ tongue into her mouth, Batty buries her,” explains Hauer who instigated the idea. “It’s a way to make her presentable. He waxes Pris up. Makes her look decent again.”

The subsequent fight scene between Batty and Deckard was storyboarded to a kind of Bruce Lee showdown. Hauer insisted that he wasn’t built like a martial artist and suggested they perform more of a chase, a bizarre dance that reflected the replicant’s final physical and mental state, but one that was over in a flash. “After having had four Nexus 6 replicants die in various big stunty ways of greatness, and it being the end of the film, I felt it better to go back to the truth of death. With batteries running out of steam, the ending would be short and simple.” But Hauer had a further and much more memorable input, and for this we need to go back to Batty’s famous last lines spoken on the rooftops of the Bradbury building. These were unexpectedly ad-libbed by Hauer on the day of shooting.

“The speech – as written – for the ‘end’ was thick and very high-tech. I kept the expressions that still had some space around them and added ‘All those moments…’

“I tend to digest the ‘character’, as far as that goes, and chew the lines, tasting them like some sort of food, see how they feel. In the process I drop unnecessary words. With fewer words they all become slightly more pregnant with possible meaning. But they travel the airwaves in good speed, just like special moments. They are not created. They pass through by accident. But it all depends on the director’s willingness to go there.”

Umm. It could be interesting to see whether actor and director ever work together again during their current lifetimes.

Futurefacts

Early drafts of the script were called Android, Mechanismo and Dangerous Days. The name Blade Runner came from a William Burroughs book, to which Scott bought the title rights for $5,000.
Another early draft ended with Deckard taking Rachel to safety out of the city – and then shooting her!
Dustin Hoffman at one stage wanted the role of Deckard.
The original budget was $5.5million – it ended up costing over five times that.
To make the industrial cityscape at the beginning of the film, metal cutouts of oil refineries were lit with seven miles of fibre-optics.
The Warner Bros New York street backlot, redressed for the exterior scenes, was nicknamed ‘Ridleyville’.
A UK newspaper interview with Scott, where he unfavourably compared American crews with British ones, did the rounds on the set, prompting the US crew to wear t-shirts saying ‘Yes guv’nor… MY ASS!’
Scott was actually fired at one point for going over-budget, but was still able to complete the film because nobody else was capable of doing it.
When he was told he had to record a voiceover for the original cut, Harrison Ford deliberately put no inflection into it, thinking this would make it unusable. He was wrong…
The tagged-on ending of the original cut came from Stanley Kubrick’s personal collection of outtakes from The Shining.

BLOW: The True Story behind the film starring Johnny Depp

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‘BLOW’: The True Story behind the film starring Johnny Depp
By Tina Bexson for Hotdog Magazine

Johnny Depp starred as George Jung the small town boy who rapidly transformed into a bloated coke baron. Here is the true story behind the film:

It could have been a scene out of Scarface. A group of men are coolly snorting perfectly cut lines of pure cocaine from a silver platter as they eagerly discuss future business deals. But who’s that man, the one in the corner, frantically vacuuming whole boulevards up each nostril? The gringo whom the Colombians trusted to be their first link with the United  States and now responsible for importing more than 80% of his country’s cocaine supply?

Exceptional entrepreneurs come in many guises and occasionally originate from the most unexpected of beginnings. In 1950’s small town America, George Jacob Jung, is keen on fish, diligently attending a large tank of them in his bedroom where the walls are lined with clippings from the local Massachusetts’ paper singing his praises as a halfback for WeymouthHigh School. But in 1967 he lands on Manhattan   Beach in southern California where just about everyone he encounters has some kind of involvement in drugs. Although this fit 25-year old has never smoked as much as a cigarette before, he soon partakes – even if it does mean filtering the pot through a water pipe filled with ice cubes and crème de menthe so his throat can handle the harsh marijuana joints.

George has found his calling card. Likening himself to Butch Cassidy, he moves a rapidly expanding operation down to Mexico. By 1974 marijuana’s popularity almost matches that of alcohol and when he faces trial for possessing a truckload at the Playboy Club in Chicago he promptly informs the judge that “it is foolish to sentence a man to prison for crossing an imaginary line with a bunch of plants.” The judge, who doesn’t lack a sense of humour, abandons a three-year deal and sends George down to Danbury penitentiary for four years.

Perhaps his disdain for authority is linked to the fact that the ‘truckload incident’ took place eighteen months previously and the only reason he has to face the music is because his mother didn’t take too kindly to her federal bond jumping druggy son, and grassed him up to an FBI agent on his trail.

In one way or another, prison is a turning factor in most criminals’ lives. No, George doesn’t ‘see the light’, something far more ‘electrifying’ steadily sinks under his skin in the form of Carlos Lehder, his charming young Colombian bunkmate. The couple bond and George explains the workings of his pot business along with his views on existentialism. “It’s simple. It’s free will,” he would say. He spends even longer patiently listening to Carlos idolise the revolutionary Che Guevara. Then one day Carlos politely asks George, in his very careful but excellent English, “George, do you know anything about cocaine?”

Once he hears that cocaine sells for $60,000 a kilo in the States when it costs no more than $4,000 to $5,000 in Colombia, the tills ring very loudly. “I couldn’t believe it”, he remembers. “Here I was, a kid from a fucking shithole town like Weymouth, smuggling some lousy marijuana – and I thought that was money! – And all of a sudden I knew I was going to have millions of millions of dollars. I didn’t just get sent to jail. I got sent a gift! I was thankful they put me there. ‘Thank you, federal government. Thank you, fucking FBI. You don’t know what you did for me.’”

Their planning includes everything from methods of transportation to money laundering. Craving the thrill of risk, George is desperate to return to smuggling. What’s more, his whole amour-propre relies wholly on mastering the art of defying the system. Shortly after release in 1975, with his hunger still fully intact, he manages to do this very effectively indeed, despite being on parole. The first import of 15 kilos, for which George gets his calm and collected kleptomaniac girlfriend and her mate to bring back from Antigua in Samsonite suitcases, soon vanishes via wholesaler, Mr T, earning him $45,000 a kilo.

‘Silver Fox’, a suave and sophisticated lawyer, and his twin-engine Cessna 310, are recruited to fly 300 kilos of 100% pure cocaine from Medellin, Colombia, back via the Bahamas. The Silver Fox has excellent contacts in Nassau, where the plane is safely left overnight before re-fuelling and returning on a Sunday night with the “mom and pop planes” so it can get lost in the radar, enter the country illegally, and land at a private airfield in North Carolina. The goods are delivered to Mr T in jars of Coffee-mate with the seal expertly glued back on, accompanied by Wheaties and Dipsy Dooldles in a grocery bag. The maiden voyage produces a mammoth $90 million in eventual revenue, and the Colombians are shown for the first time that you can take massive amounts of cocaine and simply drop it into the United States where an equally huge market will lap it up within days. It’s the beginning of the Medellin cartel headed by the infamous Pablo Escobar with Carlos and George organising the transportation and distribution.

By the late seventies the Colombians are keener than ever to provide them with endless supplies for the West Coast where Hollywood in particular has made it not only acceptable, but fashionable too. George buys a fleet of Learjets since small planes and commercial airlines can no longer carry the load, let alone travel fast enough. Life is good: “I had unlimited access to Cocaine and even if I looked like Bela Lugosi, I still had the most beautiful women on the planet because everybody at that time, especially women, were in love with cocaine and of course in love with the money…I was no different to a rock star or movie star. I was a coke star.” Carlos though isn’t. He vehemently disapproves of mixing pleasure and business, referring to cocaine as “poison”.

George finds the sex equally pleasurable, as long as it involves a bit of S & M, and being manacled to the bed whilst given a good going over with a bullwhip by a prostitute clad in four inch heels and a spiked leather collar. The session has to end with two hours of sex for which he is fitted with a cock ring tightened at the base with two plastic clips so he won’t ejaculate until the appropriate time. Expending so much energy in the bedroom along with spending 25 hours a week on planes means that even the coke can’t keep George awake all the time. “I didn’t know where I was half the time,” he says. “I’d fall asleep in the plane and wake up in my seat not knowing whether it was the money I had with me or the cocaine or which airport I was landing at.”

The long-term plan has always been to set up home on the Barrier Reef, Australia or in the Costa del Sol, but not just yet, first he’ll make another couple of million. A perfect opportunity to do just this arises when Carlos temporarily disappears after his car is searched at a border crossing on his way to pick up $2 millions worth of cocaine from George in Florida. Presuming Carlos will get arrested, George realises he could quite easily take off and disappear with the coke. But instead, he unloads it, collects the money and hands it over. “I suddenly saw how this could be great for me, really help me get my foot in the door,” he says. “The Colombians would start seeing me as trustworthy. So I said to myself ‘You’re not just looking at $2 million here. What you’re looking at is $200 million!’” But blatant greed is not the determining factor in this decision, the self-esteem he receives from being “the golden goose” with the Colombians is much more important.

Speak to any illegally self-made millionaire, and they will tell you that one of the most burdensome things about hoards of cash is not only the counting, recounting, stacking, wrapping and packaging, but the decision on where to put it. When George has nearly $6 million in cash in one hundred dollar bills, which when piled in a single stack is as high as a two-story house, he decides to buy a storage property. This is a three-story cottage looking over Cape CodBay with specially constructed additional heating ducts in the basement to stash the cash. It beat his previous method of lining the floors and walls. And after he conveniently marries into a Colombian family in 1978, the safe house also proves useful in providing him and his young bride, Mirtha, with a very special fantasy room in which George can transform himself into ‘Georgette’, the slave of ‘Mistress Mirth’. This scenario involves a lot more than bullwhips and handcuffs.

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George’s cocaine use is also escalating out of control, with him regularly snorting up to 5 grams daily and experiencing frequent bouts of paranoia and the hallucinations of cocaine psychosis. Then, shortly after his daughter is born and after consuming a record 25 grams within 15 hours, he suffers one “sledgehammer” of a cocaine heart attack. With both his health and the new arrival to take care of, things inevitably calm down and some kind of normality reaches the Jung household.

Carlos, meanwhile, is obsessed with transforming Norman Cay in the Bahamas into something out of Dr. No. He’d managed to buy up almost every house on the island, build an elaborate entertainment complex including casino, and now has drug flights landing and taking off from the islands airstrip around the clock – all patrolled by viciously armed body guards accompanied by equally savage Dobermans. He is also beginning to lose his mind and talks incessantly of how cocaine is the atomic bomb and he is going to drop it on America. George has been unceremoniously dropped from this vast venture, just as he had previously been cut out as the middle man shortly after he’d introduced Carlos to one of his wholesaler friends a year before. “Bob Dylan said, ‘If you live outside the law, you must be honest.’ But I found that with the people you dealt with in the cocaine business, it didn’t really pay,” George later lamented.

Despite his new contacts via Mirtha’s family, and a rapidly expanding Panamanian bank account, George knows he has come out the loser. And one night whilst dining with his in-laws, he is handed an ice pick by an elderly aunt, who promptly tells him: “The whole is so small, a person doesn’t bleed. If you don’t get him now, everyone will look down on you.” George thinks slightly differently at the time: “I knew I wasn’t going to kill anyone with a fucking ice pick. If I was going to get someone, I was going to shoot him”, he recalls. But despite a later near fatal car bomb attack from Carlos, George never retaliates. Extreme forms of violence are not something he feels comfortable with.

This became particularly apparent during his first visit to Pablo Escobar, the man the Colombians now refer to as “the Godfather”. He vividly remembers those few days in Medellin: “Pablo took out this big fucking rock of cocaine and slams it on the table, then he takes a machete and hacked it in half. It was tinged blue, like the inside of a cave line with ice…We had a couple of large hits from his spoon…. He said he liked me and that I was a ‘good gringo’.” The next day George witnesses his first execution as Pablo shoots a police informer. It’s a frightening experience for him: “In their eyes I was supposed to be this big fucking American gangster, and they were all these macho guys acting casual about it, so I was trying to be casual too. Inside, I’m thinking, ‘Holy shit! I’m glad he doesn’t think I’m a maleton.’”

During the late summer of 1980 an undercover cop is assigned to stalk out George and this finally culminates in him being busted at one of his celebratory parties in the Cape. If convicted he will go down for at least ten years. So he skips out, and with Mirtha and the baby, takes off to Miami. All three are in disguise with new identities, but the next few years see a flurry of further arrests, jumping bail and spells in jail.

By 1985 Prince and Madonna are topping the charts whilst George is on the run, alone, now Mirtha has left him. He gets an old friend to fly in a load before planning to live down in Colombia, but the friend works for the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency). The climactic bust takes place in a prosperous Fort   Lauderdale neighbourhood with George sitting in the house snorting cocaine in a state of absolute elation.

George agreed to testify against Carlos, and in doing so managed to walk out of prison in 1989, a free man, though flat broke since his $68 million in the Panama account strangely disappeared. He earned a living transporting fish up and down Cape Cod, taking home $150 a week, at least until 1990 when a former Newsweek editor, Bruce Porter, began research on a biographical account of George’s life, “Blow”, and they spend a year together re-visiting George’s old haunts. After all the excitement of the book being published in 1993 had died down, George went back into the pot business, and Porter believes, partly because of his tendency to brag, was soon arrested with 500 pounds of marijuana in his basement.”

Today George is in a New YorkState federal prison serving a 22-year sentence handed out in 1994. But at least he has recently been upgraded to “King of the prison” what with the likes of Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz turning up to visit him during the filming of “Blow”.

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His future is uncertain, and Porter, who keeps in regular contact with George in prison, says that despite his authority of the drugs world, “George is very naïve about the film business”. “He thinks that once he hits Hollywood on his release he will be taken care of by Ted Demme and all the others that played up to him during the making of the film. He translated that in his mind as love for George. His need for love made his judgements go out the window, and that is all connected with his self-loathing.”

So why did George return to smuggling having made such a miraculous ‘escape’ in 1989?  “He didn’t know what else to do but he didn’t really care about the money”, explains Porter, “it was the life style he craved because it was all he had to provide him with self-esteem, and he had no fear of the danger because he cared absolutely nothing about himself. This was what his mother had bequeathed him, and that, I think, is the key to George.”

© Tina Bexson