I remember watching Robocop as a kid, having to evade my mom’s natural instincts to prevent me from watching a film many deemed to be a bad influence for the youth given its extreme violence.
So on Monday I set out to watch Robocop once again at the Prince Charles Cinema (again), surrounded by a mixed crowd of artsy-hipsters-nerdy people in their twenties and early thirties. All I could remember as a kid from Robocop was the effusion of blood and skin-deep bad guys versus good guys caricatured characters.
While we were watching Peter Weller (Agent Alex Murphy) die at gun point in a horrific execution by hardened criminal I learned a valuable lesson: I need to re-watch every movie I have seen as a kid.
If all I could remember were the murders and Robocop’s suit as a kid, all I could see in this viewing, 25 years later, was the profound mirror this sci-fi movie provided our era.
Indeed, the 1987′s movie directed by Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instincts, Starship Troopers, Total Recall with Schwarzenegger) begins with a satirical news bulletin that reports South Africa getting ready to use nuclear weapons to prolong the Apartheid regime, blurring the line between cinema and reality.
Then comes the image of the city of Detroit. Once the jewel of American capitalism, industrialization and entrepreneurship à la Henry Ford, by the late 80s it is only a shadow of itself riddled by the cancer of crime, unemployment and de-industrialization in a world divided by the Cold War and permanently threatened by nuclear annihilation. Verhoeven uses satire once more as we watch an advertisement for a board game played by a happy familly called ‘Nukem,’ simulating nuclear war.
‘Robocop‘ is at its core the ugly reflection of a society afflicted by nihilism that is illustrated by rampant crime and the lack of any respect for human life by what could otherwise be a simple factory worker with strong family values. It may be no coincidence that the scene where agent Murphy dies and where Robocop fights off the gang of criminals takes place in an abandoned factory.
The movie approaches the concept of regeneration, not only since a man enforcing the law is reborn through cybernetics, but as a corporation tries to build a new modern and utopian city over old Detroit in order to erase the previous city that died with the American automobile industry.
Deindustrialization, economic crisis, privatization of public services (the Detroit Police Department is privatized to the corporation that develops and owns Robocop) and unemployment sounds familiar to your ears? It should. Minus the Soviet Union, 2012 is not so different than 1987.
Add to this dark and pessimistic vision of a society that reached a post-industrial age, is witness to the merging of the human body and technology and the moral dilemmas it raises such as to the role of technology in the increasing powers of Big Brothers and you have what Peter Weller describes as an “anthropological film that you could watch in 100 years and it would still resonate.”
Here is a video of Weller talking about Robocop and cinematography in general. His rant on driving scenes in the industry is particularly enjoyable.
For those that would like to know more about Detroit and its history, I suggest Requiem for Detroit directed by Julien Temple, a documentary about the rise and fall of the city. The soundtrack is particularly good too.
Be sure to read more of my work on my site: www.philippelabrecque.com
I recently moved to London and being the cinema fan that I am, I looked up the different cinema venues in the city of Shakespeare and found the Prince Charles Cinema, a jewel at the heart of London just off Leicester Square for any cinema enthusiast looking for something else than blockbusters.
On Tuesday, the Prince Charles Cinema was presenting The Killing, a 1956 film noir directed by Stanly Kubrick. telling the story of the heist of a racetrack vault by a group of ordinary men led by a a former inmate.
Kubrick is well-known for his many classics such as 2001: Space Odyssey, Dr. Strangelove, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange and The Killing was his sixth movie.
For anyone living in the era of 3D movies and surround sound, a movie made more than half a century ago seems to be coming from a strange planet only seen through a telescope. We try to imagine what it feels like to be there but we can’t truly grasp it since we’re forever stuck in a different era with no recollection of the previous one.
For once however, I didn’t try to compare a movie from a previous era to today’s cinematography and instead I remembered the only movie made before 1956 that I could remember: Birth of a Nation by D.W. Griffith.
Griffith’s movie, taking place before, during and after the Civil War, was and still is controversial due to its glorification of the birth of the Ku Klux Klan and how African-Americans are portrayed.
But the Director was nonetheless deemed the ‘father’ of American cinema due his ability to make cinema an art and shed its reputation from being merely the bastard child of theatre.
Kubrick’s The Killing is no doubt debtor to Griffith’s transformation of cinema into an art as Kubrick uses high and low shots as well as close-ups shots and different scenes taking place simultaneous as the story unfolds, all novelties from Griffith 40 years earlier.
Of course Kubrich himself made cinema history, especially with his allegorical and aesthetically groundbreaking 2001: A Space Odyssey that made use of technology to a degree never seen before.
In conclusion, The Killing achieves something original in our own times, despite coming from the past: it doesn’t leave us with an aftertaste of having been force-fed a certain form of moral preaching as too many movies do nowadays (think pro-environmental Avatar) that, in the process, only succeed in commercializing the cause they supposedly defend.
Claire Danes is back in the second season of last year’s hit show ‘Homeland’ in which she plays the part of a psychologically unstable, pill-addicted, CIA intelligence officer Carrie Mathison whose self-assigned mission is to prove her own ‘intel’ over a recently freed American prisoner of war Nicholas Brody, played by Damian Lewis, as been turned and is a sleeper fighting for the enemy.
Season 1 of Homeland had everything a political-espionage-psychological drama has to offer. The show’s 1st season was good enough to receive 9 Emmy nominations and that may only have raised expectations that were already high even higher for next season. Season 1 got us accustomed to rational villains able to do anything and to outwit U.S. intelligence and U.S. civil servants waltzing between political demands from higher echelons and complex tactical problems on the ground. If we are to judge by the trailer released on youtube, Season 2 should be a psychological showdown of the first order.
But beside the great acting and incredible story-line, ‘Homeland’ seems to be part of a new trend of smart, complex, based on current geopolitical issues scenarios that inspires American political fiction.
In my previous post I mentioned what is an example of such trend in HBO’s ‘John Adams.’ The show has being able to depict the American Founding Fathers as realistically flawed beings in difficult times, yet as heroes that inspired patriotism and pride.
We all remember ‘The West Wing,’ the political drama that, perhaps, has defined greatly what political dramas should be and forced us to look at politics for what it is instead of the ideal we want it to be.
Even characters like Jack Bauer( Kiefer Sutherland), from 9 years hit show ’24′, transformed from this great national hero and defender of the nation into a drug addict, giving depth to the character and displaying a dichotomy between the hero and a flawed man.
Claire Danes has come a long way from playing Juliet alongside Leonardo Dicaprio in the modern adaption of Shakespeare’s classic ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ Now we get to enjoy her acting alongside a solid group of actors such as David Harewood and Mandy Patinkin in what is surely the drama to watch this fall starting September 30 on Showtime.
Very often we watch television to escape reality. Whether you like Jersey Shore, ironically labelled ‘reality TV’, or prefer the good old Seinfeld or even Family Guy, TV is that friend we turn to after a hard day of work in order to live someone else’s scripted romanticized life for an hour or so.
John Adams, the 2008 HBO series named after the 2nd President of the United States, is not that type of TV show.
I’m taking you back to a show that was on the air in 2008 because for anyone interested in American history like I am, John Adams is both a superb display of acting skills by Paul Giamatti (John Adams) and Laura Lenney (Abigail Adams) as well as the rest of the cast. More importantly, John Adams is an amazing depiction of revolutionary times and the first 50 years or so of the United States of America.
John Adams will not help you numb your mind to forget the horror of your daily routine but it may immerse you into colonial America and the historical roots of the creation of the United States. In doing so, the producers of John Adams, including Tom Hanks, have managed to avoid falling into the trap of glorifying the founding fathers or even the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary war itself and yet, kept all the mystic and the right dose of patriotism that makes you fight tears of admiration and that should be attached with this part of American history.
For those that are not into history, John Adams is still a gem to watch for its acting as Giamatti and Lenney won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor and Outstanding Lead Actress respectively and the show as a whole won 13 Emmy awards, a record, including best miniseries of 2008. If it wasn’t enough, even the soundtrack received multiple Emmys.
One last thought…If I was blown away by John Adams, the show and the man himself, I couldn’t help but notice how oratory skills were highly valued in those days. It’s clearly a lost art with today’s politicians…