WEIRDLAND: Californian Noir and Sci-Fi Dystopia: "The Day of the Locust", "D.O.A.", "Elysium", "Blade Runner"

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Californian Noir and Sci-Fi Dystopia: "The Day of the Locust", "D.O.A.", "Elysium", "Blade Runner"

Fred MacMurray & Barbara Stanwyck in "Double Indemnity" (1944) directed by Billy Wilder

Of the three writers [Billy Wilder, Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain] connected with "Double Indemnity", Cain was the least inclined to see California in dystopian terms—this despite the fact that he began his career as a journalist and college teacher on the East Coast and served briefly as an editor of The New Yorker. Like Dashiell Hammett, Cain was a veteran of World War I who wrote about violence and who published with Blanche and Alfred Knopf. In one of his most widely discussed essays, “Paradise” (1933), he attacked Southern California’s automobile fetishism, bad food, and lack of organic culture; in the same breath, however, he declared that the state was populated by a more talented class of people than other parts of the country, and that “some sort of destiny awaits this place” (quoted in Cain's biography by Roy Hoopes). But Cain avoided the pulps and did not write detective fiction; instead, he specialized in Dostoyevskian narratives of criminal psychology, transposed into lower-class America and strongly influenced by the naturalism of Theodore Dreiser, the modernism of Ring Lardner, and the cultural criticism of H. L. Mencken. He was therefore discussed alongside such “serious” writers as John O’Hara, William Saroyan, and Nathanael West, whom Edmund Wilson dubbed “poets of the tabloid murder.” -"More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts" (2008) by James Naremore

Still of Karen Black as Faye Greener in "The Day of The Locust" (1975) directed by John Schlesinger

The Day of the Locust is a 1939 novel by American author Nathanael West, set in Hollywood, California, during the Great Depression. Its themes deal with the alienation and desperation of a broad group of odd individuals who exist at the fringes of the Hollywood movie industry: "New groups, whole families, kept arriving. He could see a change come over them as soon as they had become part of the crowd. Until they reached the line, they looked diffident, almost furtive, but the moment they had become part of it, they turned arrogant and pugnacious. It was a mistake to think them harmless curiosity seekers. They were savage and bitter, especially the middle-aged and the old, and had been made so by boredom and disappointment. All their lives they had slaved at some kind of dull, heavy labor, behind desks and counters, in the fields and at tedious machines of all sorts, saving their pennies and dreaming of the leisure that would be theirs when they had enough. Finally that day came. They could draw a weekly income of ten or fifteen dollars. Where else should they go but California, the land of sunshine and oranges?" -"The Day of the Locust" (1939) by Nathanael West

A reformed thief with tattoos riding up his neck, Max now labors in a factory that manufactures the robots that police the masses and, shades of “The Jetsons” and Philip K. Dick, serve the Elysium elite. That the robots appear to have it easier than the humans stuck on Earth is one of the bitter truths that Mr. Blomkamp deploys as he begins filling in the story. He’s better with some big-picture details: On Earth, folks speak English and Spanish (Max switches between both), while on Elysium, the well-heeled drop a little French in between exchanging pleasantries and exercising their privilege. The movie gets going after Max receives a lethal dose of radiation, sending him on a mission of self-preservation. “I don’t want to die,” he says, voicing the fear of extinction behind all dystopian fiction.

Putting the world in Mr. Damon’s hands is as smart as making him the star of a big special-effects fantasia. At once preternaturally boyish and middle aged (he’s 42), Mr. Damon has become the greatest utility player in movies: No one can better vault across rooftops and in and out of genres and make you care greatly if he falls.

He’s so homespun that he could have sprung wholly formed from a corn silo (he shares James Stewart’s extraordinary likability if not his later-life, postwar neurotic edge).

But it’s the ease and sincerity with which Mr. Damon conveys moral decency — so that it feels as if it originates from deep within rather than from, say, God or country — that helps make him a strikingly contemporary ideal of what used to be regularly called the American character. Source:

The Stars My Destination is a science fiction novel by Alfred Bester. Originally serialized in Galaxy magazine in four parts beginning with the October 1956 issue, it first appeared in book form in the United Kingdom as Tiger! Tiger! – after William Blake's poem "The Tyger", the first verse of which is printed as the first page of the novel – and the book remains widely known under that title in markets where this edition was circulated. A working title for the novel was Hell's My Destination, and it was also associated with the name The Burning Spear. The Stars My Destination anticipated many of the staples of the later cyberpunk movement, for instance the megacorporations as powerful as governments, a dark overall vision of the future and the cybernetic enhancement of the body. Bester's unique addition to this mix is the concept that human beings could learn to teleport, or "jaunte" from point to point, provided they know the exact locations of their departure and arrival and have physically seen the destination.

Elysium feels like a hybrid of Alfred Bester's science fiction classic The Stars My Destination and Rudolph Maté's film noir classic D.O.A. It impresses not only in Blomkamp's use of visceral violence and body horror - holdovers from District 9 - but also in the compelling analogy for people smuggling. Source:

D.O.A. (1950), a film noir drama film directed by Rudolph Maté, is considered a classic of the genre. Small town accountant Frank Bigelow (Edmond O' Brien) goes to San Francisco for a week on the town before he marries his fiancée Paula Gibson (Pamela Britton). One morning Frank wakes up feeling more than just hung over. This prompts him to go to see Dr MacDonald, who tells him the shocking news: Frank is suffering from radiation poisoning and has only a few days to live. Source:

The film stars Edmond O'Brien and Pamela Britton. D.O.A. begins with what a BBC reviewer called "perhaps one of cinema's most innovative opening sequences." The scene is a long, behind-the-back tracking sequence featuring Frank Bigelow (Edmond O'Brien) walking through the hallway of a police station to report his own murder.

"Elysium" takes off from a pure existential thriller situation (which it borrows from the great 1950 film noir "D.O.A."), and it's been shot in an incredibly effective mode of raggedy, quick-cut anxiety. Yet apart from that health care allegory (and the 1 percent--versus--99 percent theme it emerges from), the plot is fairly basic. Source:

“Elysium” is kind of what you’d have if Philip K. Dick, author of “Total Recall” source material, had written the noir classic “D.O.A.” An orphan, Max is reunited with his childhood love Frey (Alice Braga), whose young daughter also has a death sentence hanging over her head. She has terminal leukemia. Mix in an exoskeleton turning Max into super-strong robo-drone makes “Elysium’s” connection to Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” even clearer. Also add similarly decked-out assassin Kruger (Sharlto Copley of “District 9,” chewing the scenery), an outer space Cruella de Vil (Armani-clad Jodie Foster, out-chewing Copley), a loyal buddy played by Diego Luna, a corporate pig named Carlyle (William Fichtner), as well as explosive shootouts and fight scenes, and you have “Elysium.”

In addition to the afore­mentioned classics, you’re going to catch bits of another Dick-based work, “Blade Runner,” as well as “The Matrix,” “Mad Max” and “Escape from New York.” Blomkamp’s perhaps apartheid-bred fondness for multicultural sci-fi fables is apparent once again. Source:

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