Entertainment, Films, music, Nostalgia

Blade Runner C-beams speech: A throwback to 80’s sci-fi films

In my previous blogs, I have often mentioned about serendipity. It’s a magical word, and the effect of serendipity in our lives is even more astonishing. One such example would be how a great inning from the maestro Sachin Tendulkar would lead me to Blade Runner and the C-beams speech, and following that through to my revelation about the science fictions in Hollywood.

It was the summer of 1998 when I witnessed what is known as “The desert storm” — Sachin dismantling the ominous Aussie bowling attack in Sharjah. The ferocity and sheer brilliance cannot be explained to anyone who hasn’t witnessed it. It was devastating and lyrical. The next day as I still reminisced the flurry of strokes by the little master, I came across a compilation of musical scores. One of them caught my interest instantly as if it complemented the replays of the previous day going through my mind. I noticed that the music was called Chariots of Fire, a tune I had heard many times before, composed by none other than Vangelis.

Fast forward a few years, when I’m working and have all the money to splurge as I have no outgoings. Finding Vangelis albums in Calcutta was extremely difficult as the handful of well-known music stores mainly stocked what the most people wanted — 90’s boy bands, 80’s rock and 70’s pop. Who’d be interested in a Greek electro composer? Still, I found luck and the old love rekindled. Each CD cost equivalent of £50, but I still bought a few. Apart from albums like Chariots of Fire, China and Antarctica, there was another compilation album called Themes. That’s where I came across Blade Runner first. It was the title soundtrack of the film, and unlike the serene Antarctica or China, the music was strikingly different. The music seemed completely in sync with the name Blade Runner as though the protagonist running against time — the Laser beams shooting past him in a futuristic world. Learning from hearsay, later on, I thought it’ll be another cop film. But regardless the genre, Blade Runner compositions has been permanently etched in my memory.

Let’s blitz past another decade. The year is 2017. I came across reviews of the Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to the original film. The superlative reviews, about how the sequel befits the original film perfectly, made me want to watch Blade Runner, which, despite initial low earnings, is now hailed as a cult classic. However, a lesson I’ve learnt watching Tron: Legacy is that I should at least learn a little about the original film if I’m going to watch the sequel first. And that’s how I decided to watch Blade Runner.

This brings me to the role of serendipity again. I needed all these preludes to tell a story behind deciding to watch Blade Runner. The rest is pure magic. It is undoubtedly one of the best science fictions I’ve ever watched. Set in 2019, this doesn’t perhaps resemble the world we will be living in two years, that most of Earth’s populations will set sail to intergalactic colonies, and there will be flying cars and replicants. But when you think that the film was made in 1982, the concepts of the film and visual effects are mind-boggling. Most of the film features a bleak backdrop — a dystopian LA full of darkness and dereliction. And throughout the film, the music from Vangelis casts the web of magic that complements the feeling of noir in the film, yet in a dreamy world. He pulled all the stops in making the soundtrack for the film — from Indian classical instruments to techno-synth — and the result is magical.

I’m not writing a film review here, so I won’t go into the nitty-gritty of the film. But it was an amazing experience, even watching it on my iPad. All I would say is that it was a thought-provoking film, and asked many existential questions. Questions that are still unanswered and admirers are still looking for answers arising from the closing scene of the film. And then there was the C-beams speech. A speech that immortalised Rutger Hauer amongst the Blade Runner fan community. The sheer contrast of character that the viewers witness in Roy Batty during the closing climax was baffling enough when he saves Deckard from falling. Just as we begin to take in what had just happened, Hauer delivers the C-beams speech and blows us away!

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

The words were profound, but beyond those dramatic words superbly drafted by Rutger Hauer himself, the C-beams speech leads to another window or realisation. A realisation that the film, just like its enigmatic soundtrack, was way ahead of its time.

As we are left spellbound at the climax of the Batty vs Deckard duel — Roy Batty said his last words, the white pigeon fluttering away symbolic of his freedom, the downpour and the dark background and finally, the mesmerising music from Vangelis — the film seemed unmistakably 80’s. And it made me wonder. Was 80’s the best decade for science fiction movies? And you think of Tron, Blade Runner, Terminator, ET, Back to the future, Predator, Alien. The list goes on. And when you look at the visual effects and the concepts adopted in the films, the ideas are still fascinating even considering forty years of advancement in science and technology. At times it feels like we have let down those visionaries who depicted a picture of the future, by not advancing enough! I mean, there are brilliant science fictions since the eighties like Jurassic Park, Matrix trilogy, Inception. But the flurry of maverick ideas that we see in the 80’s seems to have been lost. The scripts are much more mainstream and cautious. We have talking robots like in Transformers, but they don’t make C-beams speech anymore.

Watching Blade Runner was nostalgic in another sense. Apart from marvelling at the concept behind the film, it reminded of the growing up, the teenage years, forbidden pleasures of going to the cinema without telling parents. I recently came across a term — Xennials, a generation born between 1977 and 1985, a crossover between Generation X and the Millennials. They are characterised by having the cynicism from the Gen X and optimism of the millennials. This unique combination is perhaps the result of an analogue childhood and a digital adulthood. Living in an analogue world meant the digital reality of today was science fiction then. The information was scarce, so science fictions opened the magic doors to a glimpse of the future. Blade Runner rekindled those memories of the past, and provide inspiration to explore the magical world of science fictions. All this due to a whirlwind inning nearly twenty years ago. Butterfly effect? I call it serendipity.

Rutger Hauer, the C-beams speech and Vangelis soundtrack

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Film review, media

Watching Nightcrawler: A wake-up call on media morality

Film poster

Poster for the film
Source: Den of geek

Films are a luxury these days, compared to the old times when they were a commodity. Writing a film review is easy now than it has ever been, as we cherish things that have become a rarity, and moreover, if I tried to write a film review when I watched more than one film a day, there wouldn’t have been enough hours in a day. After probably six months since watching a film, during the Christmas period, I watched Gnomeo and Juliet, and De rouille et d’os of Jacques Audiard. Then this weekend my eyes suddenly fell on a DVD while doing the grocery shopping in Morrisons. The blurb on the jacket suggested a gripping story of a freelance cameraman getting sucked into the underbelly of the LA criminal world. It had a promise of a crime thriller where the amateur cameraman uncovered the vicious criminal gangs. He did, but Nightcrawler was by no means a Hollywood good vs evil story. It is a far darker and sinister storyline that probably broke many stereotypes about Hollywood films produced over the years. It was an uncomfortable film to watch, and the effect is still lingering as I type these words.

Nightcrawler was released in 2014 so there is no spoiler alert here. And just reading these words won’t create the effect the film did. In short, Lou Bloom lives a destitute life in downtown LA, living off odd jobs but his hunger to achieve more, drives him to desperately start looking for newer means. One night as he was turned down a job where he sold stolen material, he drove past an accident scene and found a freelance cameraman filming the scene. Lou learns that by becoming a stringer — a freelance cameraman, he could earn easy cash. He buys a camcorder and a police radio scanner. After a few failed attempts, Lou captures someone shot in the neck and sells the footage to a news channel. There he meets Nina, the news editor. Her penchant for serving the story people want to see, mainly concerning affluent white families as victims in central LA neighbourhood areas gave Lou a clear idea what she’s looking for. As Lou starts to find success, his inner drive to do more, and Nina’s unrelenting support violating ethical boundaries of news reporting makes Lou take more risks, become more dangerous and desperate. He hires an assistant, and soon Lou realised that Nina is as desperate for his videos as he is for achieving something in his life. The film climaxes as they reach the scene of a shooting that would become breaking news, Lou hides the part of the tape showing the gunmen so he could film them getting caught another time, in another neighbourhood. After a shootout, one gunman escapes who is later killed by police after a chase that Lou and his assistant catch live, and Lou manages to trick his assistant in believing the gunman was dead. He gets shot and the gunman faces Lou, filming death of his assistant before police shot the gunman. Police later interrogate Lou but couldn’t prove that he hid the information. On the last scene, he’s seen to be running a new business hiring apprentices.

I remember watching Jake Gyllenhaal in October Sky and over the years, I thought he was Hollywood’s male version of Meg Ryan, having a face that never ages. Paired with the looks, he has a boyish voice that never developed into a baritone, like Tobey MaGuire’s. From that aspect, it was difficult to imagine Jake in a role that is so dark, and creepy. But at the end of the film, I was left wondering whether I’ve just watched the best career performance of Jake. He is a tour de force in Nightcrawler, it is not easy to watch, but that relentlessly uncomfortable feeling was Jake’s success. He lived and breathed in that character, emanating a sense of menace. Lou’s mannerisms, especially his business management parlance in almost every possible situation, paired with his obsessive expressions while covering the crime or accident scenes were uncanny, to say the least, and often monstrous. As he soullessly moved towards achieving one reckless feat to the next, his character shows no compassion or remorse for the victims. To him, they were just rungs of the ladder that will take him high up the corporate echelon he so painstakingly prepared himself for but was never allowed a break. He makes you squirm in disgust and enraged in hate. In the film, Jake looked almost emaciated, his bare arms uncharacteristically thin. I found out later that he lived on a diet of kale chips to lose all the weight. This brings to mind another virtuoso performances by Adrien Brody in The Pianist and Christian Bale in The Fighter, where the actors went to great lengths to mould their physique into the character they were portraying. Jake’s gaunt face, unassuming stature made him blend into the background of the film that all his expressions gained a new dimension. Nightcrawler is all about the superlative performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, and it is definitely worth watching just to watch him.

Yet, Nightcrawler is not just about Jake’s performance, it has plenty more to offer. The script is superb. It’s sleek, at times the suspense was too gripping to handle. And that is paired with fantastic night cinematography of LA, especially the long shots overlooking the city, or the crossroads. The film revolved around three central characters, and Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed played their part brilliantly to let Lou Bloom cast his dark spell on the viewers’ minds. Although a film is remembered by the actors’ performances, it’s the less praised behind the scenes work that makes the film successful. For Nightcrawler, this would be the scriptwriter and the director, for taking up a challenging subject. The film could be classified as Noir, with Jake Gyllenhaal as an anti-hero. It did not try to make him appear psychotic, and most of the Hollywood anti-heroes turn up, nor he dies in the end, nor he finds a sudden sense of morality and becomes the good guy in the end. Lou Bloom is a cutthroat optimist, he doesn’t let anything come between him and his success, he is desperate, and in the end, it shows that he gets away with all his unethical demeanour. A negative character not being punished at the end of the story — where does this stand on good vs evil? A non-ideal end made Lou Bloom more realistic, and thus more frightening. The other stereotype that was broken was the relationship between Lou Bloom and Nina. Hollywood hardly shows older women against younger men, unless it was like The Graduate, where the older female seduces the young actor. In Nightcrawler, Lou blackmailed Nina to get her to sleep with him. There is no love blossoming in there air, but just hard transactional relationship — Lou helps Nina keep her job, and he wanted sex in return. There are certain loopholes in the film that might interest the people who like finding gaffes, such as Lou getting away with hiding footage of the shootout from police, and CCTV evidence would easily have proved that he traced the killers and not the other way around. Also, confiscating his laptop would have shown that he searched for the car number plate. Yet, Nightcrawler will be remembered for the unforgettable acting by Jake Gyllenhaal, not the minor gaps in the storyline.

Finally, like moral of a fable comes a moment when you analyse a film with the present context and decide whether the film succeeds in conveying any message to its viewers that are relevant to our society. From this aspect, I’d hail Nightcrawler to have addressed one of the biggest perils of our society — of warped, directed and suggestive media reporting. Funnily enough, I remembered the Family Guy episode where Peter Griffin steals many Nielsen boxes and bargains with news channels how he wanted all the programmes altered. In reality, Nightcrawler is a stark reminder of the way media manipulates the truth, in order to make news sensational. Rene Russo in Nina personifies the uncouth, greedy media houses, where their viewership is fuelled by panic mongering and misinformation. The unfortunate events of Brexit and Donald Trump victory highlight the role right-wing media played in those two cases. In the case of Brexit, we saw Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express wage a hate campaign against the migrants in the UK and against EU governance. The failure of the Leave campaign to deliver any of the promises only outlined the vacuous media bias towards Leave. They worked on people’s fear, and distrust and created an atmosphere of animosity within the country that has split the country for the foreseeable future. The same has happened in the USA as well, and the consequences much grave than Brexit. The willingness to go any lengths to twist the reality is very prominent in Nightcrawler. Although a sane mind doubts whether a news channel could lower themselves that low just to with some TRP, a present appreciation of the current situation only corroborates the message conveyed in the film. It should serve as a wake-up call to the viewers — or the customers of the media that unless the public collectively rejects the sensationalist media reporting, they will resort to more dangerous means, just as Lou Bloom did in the film, and it could do irreparable damage to the fabric of our society.

The thought that, what we watched in Nightcrawler is happening every single day at every single corner of the world, fills the viewer with an uncomfortable feeling. And that is the success of the film — the uneasiness, the queasy feeling that you get in your mouth after the film is over. Nightcrawler will be one of those films that I will be desperate to watch it again, but will never watch it ever, for the unpalatable truths that film makes us face, and we cannot just eject the disc and think — “It’s only a film”!

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Entertainment, Nostalgia

The fall of Top Gear : End of Clarkson era

When I was a kid, I often had fever, and whilst I was unwell, my dad would get me a toy of my choice, and a bag of Cadbury’s Gems, an equivalent of m&m’s. Most of the time, I used to pick up a car for a toy. A bit later, in the pre-satellite TV India, my most favourite programme was Street Hawk, where a masked protagonist fought crimes in his futuristic bike. Since late eighties until now, cars has been an integral part of my media experiences and like most of the youngsters, I was fascinated by the cars. Just like guns, cars probably represented the most widely rendered boys’ toys and I was no exception, marvelling at the Audi R8 Spyder ad, or the Batmobile in Batman Forever.

My tryst with Top Gear is only limited. After settling in the UK, following my MBA, I moved to a flat where my flatmate was a bike enthusiast — always participating in rallies circuits, and road trips. I found myself shell-shocked, when I came to know about Jeff’s accident in Germany, that claimed his life, whilst he was enjoying what he liked most — riding his bike on a road trip. It was after moving to the flat with Jeff, that I started to watch a few episodes of Top Gear, sitting down after a long day’s work. After Jeff moved out of the flat, I can count how many times I watched Top Gear since. Then there were the recent controversies and the exit of the original trio that marked the end of an era. It was during the Christmas of 2015, watching an anthology of Top Gear episodes that I reminisced the programmes in 2010, and the lounge overlooking the Thames outside the balcony in the setting sun. And the nostalgia feels even stronger knowing Jeff is not here any more.

Top Gear: under review by the BBC

Poster from the Top Gear
Source : The Guardian

The recipe for Top Gear seemed very simple, just as a low-budget Hollywood high octane thriller. Lots of cars, three presenters doing crazy things but most importantly exuding a sense of camaraderie, the burning smell of rubber on the Tarmac — that’s all the show had to offer, but packed with various stunts and laps by celebrities, review of new cars and other snippets. The introduction of Stig, the masked speedster reminded me of the double life of the Street Hawk protagonist, demonstrating extreme motoring skills in disguise. Top Gear struck a chord with the British adult men in their thirties and above. The universal likeness to cars and the interest about maintenance to discounts to spare parts, Top Gear became a holy grail for the ones following an active lifestyle, participating in motor rallies and cross countries, as well as the ones who were settled down in their life, yet the willingness to have a spin with mates was either not materialised or never happen in the frequency as hoped due to other familial and occupational commitments. Perhaps Top Gear, with all its revving the engines and spinning/ skidding round the bends, complete disrespect of the speed limits — the appeal attracted most of its viewer base. To say the show only appealed to adult males would perhaps be incorrect as I know many women preferred watching a real life entertainment programme rather than the prime-time soppy soaps. What struck out as the most significant contributor in the popularity of the programme was the bond between Clarkson-Hammond-May. It seemed as if three amigos got together testing some fast cars in a multitude of road surfaces with exciting backgrounds, having a laugh in a slightly touché undertone, but above all, they represented an eternal boyhood, the “lad” on the wheels and far away from the drudgery of the daily life. The followers basked into an hour of that virtual reality.

Then there were the controversies. Controversies that avid fans would like to laugh off as mild banter and political correctness gone crazy. Clarkson had been a tongue-in-cheek personality all along, but perhaps he became too big-headed towards the end. After repeated allegations of racism, prejudiced stereotyping and uncouth behaviours, it reached an all time low, while shooting the 2015 episodes, when he broke into a fight and punched the producer over a steak. BBC had to discontinue the contract as Clarkson became too arrogant and defiant to the BBC senior management. There were accusations against Clarkson of using racist terms, but he got away with a slap on the wrist. Top Gear was often alleged to have used inappropriate and abusive language, and at times being sexist, as well as promoting reckless driving, road rage, disrespect of the environmental laws. Amongst the mainstream viewers, the criticism came as the show was regarded as the big-boys-playing-with-machines. Also, public opinion was that the show perhaps had run its course, the presenter were a shadow of the past as most of the stunts and challenges have been attempted — leading to the programme either repeating the similar acts or plan newer stunts that are more daring and dangerous. Similar to many Hollywood sequels like Matrix and Jurassic Park, the series hit a stage, where the captive viewership may not drop drastically, but the purpose of the programme was finished. Although the camaraderie amongst Clarkson, May and Hammond was still there, the show already started to give a déjà vu feeling towards the end. So, when the allegations were raised against Jeremy Clarkson, it was a golden opportunity for BBC to cease the programme and let it end as the most widely viewed factual television programme.

On the contrary, driven by zeal, BBC continued to record new series featuring Chris Evans. With a completely new cast, BBC wants to pretend, quite childishly so, that the past 13 years of Clarkson-era never happened. The expectations are high from viewers, who want to see how the show in its new avatar turned up, whilst most of the Clarkson sympathisers have already defected to other shows. Unless the production team came up with a completely new format, the show is likely to fail. It will fail not because Chris Evans is not Jeremy Clarkson, on the contrary he is a fabulous presenter, but because the new Top Gear team will not have the same dynamics that the trio had developed over a decade. Rather than a flamboyant farewell, BBC has chosen to give the show a slow disappearance into oblivion.

I believe in absolutism, and for all the wrong reasons – all the casual racism, sexism, insensitive profanities and other allegations, Top Gear should have been withdrawn or moderated by BBC long before the fracas of 2015. However, for the ground-breaking success of the show, the Beeb carried on turning a blind eye, and therefore, passively encouraging Clarkson and the crew to be more audacious, more insensitive. That perhaps kept the TRP high for the show, as the viewers — especially the target audience — preferred it a bit rough, the big-boys-giving-a-toss-at-nothing attitude. Top Gear was the ultimate show for the thrill seekers, the car-wankers and the placid domesticated men who still in their imaginary world, dreamt of living a lad’s life. The show had been a grand success, with some fabulous illustration of driving, no-nonsense car reviews and some hair-raising stunts. It represented the journey of the three presenters picking up the baton for a popular show in its new persona, and developing it into one of the biggest money-spinners for the BBC. They represented the small screen version of the Fast and Furious, the ultimate high-octane entertainment. But the Clarkson-May-Hammond trio looked a shadow of their past, their presentation iterative, jokes repetitive and stunts sillier by the day. It became a representation of three haggard looking men trying to clutch to their wondrous past and failing. It became a dinosaur of our time, a show for pledging unabashed masculinity, a virtue suited for the 18th Century cowboys. In the 21st century world that is more multicultural, interconnected to all corners of the world, more diverse and less discriminatory, Top Gear was too passé, too out of league.

I’m not a Top Gear enthusiast, and on any day I’d choose a Nat Geo documentary over TG. And this is not a tearful adieu to the Top Gear swansong of the Clarkson-era. Instead, whilst watching the Top Gear: From A to Z during Christmas, I just remembered watching TG in that South-East London flat, when viewing the programme was an experience, and I didn’t pay much attention to the content. The Christmas homage to the past 13 years of the programme showed the highlights of the show, a summarised version sans the controversies. This is an obituary to the programme, which was a massive hit showcasing three men playing with machines, and now its demise perhaps should send out a wake up call to the wannabe boys to come out of their reverie and brace the world outside…

TopGearLogo

The logo for the programme
Source : Forums.finalgear.com

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