Tag Archives: Blade Runner

Cutting the Director’s Cut

tv times
Cover art for Yorkshire TV Times Magazine

The first film I ever saw at the cinema was Star Wars. I was six years old. We queued outside the cinema in northern English cold, and, by the time we made it into the packed auditorium, the front crawl had already crawled and the Storm Troopers were storming the rebel ship. I wouldn’t see the complete film until 24 October, 1983, when it debuted at 7.15 in the evening on ITV, at the time Britain’s only commercial TV channel. Five and a half years had passed and yet Star Wars had been a constant in our games and our toys, as well as listening to the soundtrack and reading and re-reading George Lucas’s first novel with ‘16 pages of color illustrations’.

Today the situation is obviously different with instant downloads, simultaneous DVD releases, or at the longest a wait of a few months before a film can be owned and re-watched over and over again, complete with audio commentary, deleted scenes, and perhaps an alternative ending. And though I don’t want to wax whimsical about the good old days, I do want to emphasize the amount of air that could exist around a film. In this space, there was plenty of room for rumour and speculation, and the legendary director’s cut, the first six-hour version of a film, was a commonly repeated theme: the cut would be butchered and hacked back by an unsympathetic studio and what we saw was only a remnant of the artist’s vision.

An example of this was a film that had been planned as a follow up to Star Wars, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, which had been released in the UK in the autumn of 1982. The rumours of a five-hour version were encouraged by the film’s narrative ambiguity, some apparent inconsistencies (how many replicants?), and later by the occasional surfacing on late-night TV of versions that included bits no one remembered. The rumours were also encouraged once more by the space such thinking had to play in. The lack of internet sites – from encyclopaedic collections such as IMDB to the plethora of geek blogs – meant that such speculation took place in the letters pages of fanzines and on the bus to school, with very little ground for confirmation or decisive rebuttal. It also helped that Blade Runner evoked a world that seemed to stretch far outside the frame of the cinema screen or the VHS pan-and-scan TV screen, the first way I got to see it. The idea of an epic five-hour film was sustained by the idea that Los Angeles in 2019 looked such a big and detailed world. There was room to explore.

Such hopes and illusions came crashing down with the release of Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut in 1992. Although it gave us the opportunity of seeing this film – most of us for the first time – on the big screen, it decidedly was not the five-hour epic of the director’s vision. In fact, it was shorter than the original release. The changes were at once momentous and weirdly inconsequential. The theories about Deckard being a replicant – encouraged by a close reading of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – were rendered explicit: out went the off-cut from The Shining, in went the off-cut from Legend, and banished was the sleepy noir-ish narration (which I guiltily still love: ‘no one advertises for a killer in a newspaper’). With the further release of Blade Runner: The Final Cut, complete with a five-disc edition containing deleted scenes, all the major alternative versions and a documentary about the alternative version, the legend was now the province of purists, pedants and the bird-spotters of cinema, a frame here, a rerecorded line there. Clarity was given not only in the re-mastering of the image but in the elimination of those beguiling inconsistencies (how many replicants?) and, more damagingly, ambiguities: ‘I want more life, FATHER.’

Nowadays, the director’s cut is no longer a mysterious legend but a marketing tool, a way of boosting ancillary sales and a counter in getting directors to compromise on the theatrical release. Watching a Ridley Scott film at the cinema seems almost a waste of time, as we do so knowing full well that the director’s cut will be on the way, with an introduction by Scott at the beginning, grumpily disavowing any compromises made. Robin Hood, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster and most dramatically Kingdom of Heaven all had big director’s cut releases, often with a cynical delay to allow the dedicated the joy of effectively buying the same movie twice. The latter is often cited as a director’s cut that vastly improves on the original, but 1) the increased amount of Orlando Bloom offsets any subplot; and 2) given it is a better version, why didn’t Scott fight for it tooth and nail? I can only watch a film for the first time once, so that experience should be optimal. Directors’ cuts encourage carelessness and compromise even as they pretend to authenticity and definitiveness, sometimes providing opportunities for endless noodling with flawed material. See Francis Ford Coppola’s appalling Apocalypse Now: Redux or Oliver Stone’s Alexander, Alexander: The Director’s Cut and Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut, or better still, don’t.

Then there are the restored classics. Sergio Leone’s Once upon a Time in America was famously butchered by the editor of Police Academy at the behest of the studios. Even though there has been a longer European cut available for some time, a new version was recently released, which restored many missing scenes. But what the film gains in coherence it loses as a watching experience. The film stock has obviously degraded and there is a glaring difference in footage quality with the lost scenes. For a restored version of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the original cast now in their sixties and seventies overdubbed additional scenes to a similarly jarringly effect. A restored scene in Spartacus between Tony Curtis and Laurence Olivier had Anthony Hopkins doing an impersonation of Olivier in the overdub.

The dream is always that hidden treasure will be found, a lost version restored, the director’s vision finally realised, but time and again films are significantly damaged by these interpolations. Of course these aren’t necessarily directors’ cuts. They are alternate versions and, as with the recent rerelease of The Shining, there is evidence to suggest the directors might well not have wanted their films released in these versions. Sometimes less is more.

Directors’ cuts exist also in the context of ‘Unrated Versions’ of comedies (more tits, less funny), and horror movies (more gore, less scary). Having given you everything so quickly and so completely, there is still the need to shove the idea that you are somehow getting more, quantity though and not necessarily quality. ‘Including 23 minutes of previously unseen footage’ doesn’t promise much except perhaps the studio wanted an R, and the director gave them an NP-17. As a film writer, I can’t bemoan the availability of all these versions (although that is what I’m doing). I just feel disappointed; disappointed that the universe is shrinking. Now we can see the director’s second thoughts and they are rarely as good as their first. Films become flabby with additional scenes, and that sense of unseen possibility is stymied and ultimately destroyed.

The experience I had between 1977 and 1982 of nurturing the memory of a film and reliving it in so many ways can’t ever be regained, but with all our wealth of cinematic accessibility it is worth remembering some of the positives that came in the austere time, when Han Solo shot first and Jabba wasn’t CGI.

John Bleasdale

In ‘A Catholic Childhood of Unwatchable Terror’ John Bleasdale recalls his sinful teenage days watching forbidden films.

The Created Woman

Frankenstein Created Woman
Frankenstein Created Woman

Format: Cinema

Screening dates: 5-7 December 2014

Venue: Broadway Cinema, Nottingham

Broadway Cinema Website

The Created Woman is a three-day festival presented by Mayhem Film Festival and Film Hub Central East, with support from the BFI as part of their nation-wide programme Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder. The festival promises to deliver a new perspective on the genre by exploring the theme of the ‘created woman’, with highlights including screenings of 60s Hammer horror Frankenstein Created Woman, 80s SF B-movie Cherry 2000 and satirical classic The Stepford Wives, as well as discussions on topics such as ‘robot women and created wives’.

Eithne Farry spoke to Mayhem co-directors Chris Cooke and Steven Sheil and London Film Festival Programme Advisor Sarah Lutton, who co-curated the season.

Eithne Farry: Tell me a little about Mayhem.

Chris Cooke: Mayhem started as a short film programme dedicated to horror, but it quickly expanded into an annual four-day festival covering horror, science fiction and cult cinema held in October, bringing great guests and audiences together. We’ve welcomed Nic Roeg, Gareth Edwards and many more through our doors, and the audiences have grown in size and enthusiasm. But Mayhem also screens films throughout the year and our interest in sci-fi has grown too.

Steven Sheil: Over the years we’ve altered and expanded our programming, partly to reflect our own interests and tastes as curators, but also in response to our audience and what they tell us that they’re interested in. Over the past few years we’ve brought more science fiction into the mix, and the BFI’s Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder programme seemed like a good opportunity to do something centred around the genre. We always want to be looking at new opportunities to reach out and expand our audience, while still keeping a solid genre grounding to what we do.

What got you thinking about ‘the created woman’ in sci-fi?

CC: It’s a strong, visible theme in the genre and one that isn’t always given focus and attention. Women can be central to the narrative, but the idea of creating life seems to have led a number of writers and filmmakers to contemplate the notion of ‘creating’ women, from robots to brides for Frankenstein’s monster, and asking what that means for society, culture and sex.

SS: There was an interesting season I saw advertised last year at the Brooklyn Academy of Music which was called ‘Vengeance Is Hers’, themed around female-centred revenge movies. It looked great – I really liked its themed, cross-genre approach. I guess that was an inspiration. And as Chris says, the idea of the created woman is a recurring one in fiction – and especially in science fiction – from the Pygmalion myth right up to things like Her and the great British sci-fi film from last year, The Machine. I think it’s interesting from many aspects, not least from a gender perspective. The story of the artificial human is often one which culminates in a fight over agency – whether the creation can be his/her own person – and the fact that this often takes place within a male/female dynamic offers a lot of scope for analysis.

Sarah Lutton: As a woman and a fan of sci-fi I was always intrigued, if not a little bemused, by the common perception that the genre was seen as very ‘male’. In some ways I can understand it, since it’s easy to see that many of the most active roles in sci-fi films are taken by male characters. However, for me, science-fiction film in particular has always offered really interesting alternate realities in which to explore gender relations and dynamics. I responded to the wealth of interesting female characters, both active and more passive, that I saw on screen. I felt that there were some very revealing messages being communicated about creativity and society in general.

Was there a particular film that was the starting point?

CC: Two sprung instantly to mind for me. The Bride of Frankenstein is Gothic science fiction at its wildest, James Whale really enjoys himself here. But the film that immediately made me want to progress with it was 1987’s Cherry 2000, from Steve De Jarnatt, who made the incredible cult film Miracle Mile (1988). Cherry 2000 is another forgotten gem from him. The ideas are really clear in this: a society where people have to draw up contracts before men and women can even go on dates has led to a division between genders, and yuppies, like our central character, have robot sex-dolls. But when those break down, real people (real women) are going to have to come to their aid to find the spare parts in a desolate wasteland (the result: a future American civil war). Metaphors are everywhere, but the film is bold and direct. And Melanie Griffith has a great time as a tough and resourceful ‘tracker’ tasked with finding the elusive Cherry 2000 for her yuppie client (all very 80s). The film was written by Michael Almereyda, who directed the great alt-vampire film Nadja in 1994, which was shot on pixel-vision cameras (continuing a love affair with technology and narrative).

SS: With Metropolis and Bride of Frankenstein, you have two really iconic images of created women, so those two really helped to spark off the ideas for the season. I was also interested in getting something like Hammer’s Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde into the mix – it’s such a weird film with lots of strange undercurrents.

SL: The film Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick’s source novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep have always been iconic for me in terms of thinking generally about artificial life and created female life specifically. I found the ideas about creating life forms for such varying reasons both intriguing and hugely provocative (especially the creation of the niece/Rachael model). We’ll be screening Blade Runner as a kind of coda to the ‘Created Woman’ season on 14 December at Broadway Cinema.

How do you think that the idea of the created woman has changed over time?

CC: The theme of creating women to replace real women has become real – there are sex dolls that talk, and real fembots on the way, disturbingly. Maybe that’s the real difference, that what was suggested by Metropolis has been made fact. But the ideas are there, from Spike Jonze’s Her to S1mOne, the advance of technology suggests new spins on older themes and ideas.

SS: I’m not sure how much has changed really – that’s why it’ll be good to see the films up against one another, to look at whether things have really developed. I think it’d be interesting to see more films that look at created women from a female perspective. We have Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Teknolust, featuring Tilda Swinton as a scientist cloning herself, but otherwise it’s mostly stories of men creating women, which is just a by-product of there being fewer female filmmakers working in the genre, I think.

SL: I think that maybe we as audiences have changed a lot. I’m really hoping that by offering the opportunity to see these films in a more comparative context we can watch them with fresh eyes and make new connections. I think that in the wake of films like Her audiences are approaching ideas about gender and artificial intelligence/life in a rather different way.

Is there a subversive slant to this idea of the created woman?

CC: The main idea, for me, is to get audiences talking and exploring the themes themselves, as well as discovering some new titles they’d perhaps missed, or getting to see some wonderful classics on the big screen. But the perverse pleasure of James Whale casting Elsa Lanchester to play both the creator of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, and the bride that Frankenstein creates for his man-made monster throws up all kinds of readings… And robots from Maria in Metropolis onwards have often been constructed feminine, only to turn on their societies in revolutionary acts. The films we’ve selected are fun, entertaining, exciting and provocative. Hopefully the audiences will have a lot to talk about as well as enjoy.

SS: I don’t know about subversive. With all of these stories there are strong subtexts about the nature of creation and about idealized versions of women, as well as what women’s role should be from a male perspective – which is quite chilling and damning in something like The Stepford Wives. So I guess that opens up a lot of debate about how society sees women and their role, but that’s an ever-present question. I guess we’re presenting the films in this context as a way of opening up a discussion about the theme, and I think it’ll be interesting to see the responses we get.

SL: Yes, I’m not sure about it being subversive but I’m hoping that the ideas are provocative in some way!

Interview by Eithne Farry

Jack Wolf is Blade Runner’s JF Sebastian

Blade Runner

Jack Wolf wanted to be a singer, but he got waylaid by faerie tales. His debut novel, The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones (Chatto & Windus) is a dark and deliciously twisted Gothic tale of goblins, mental instability and love. Tristan Hart, who’s the bloody heart of the novel, is a young 18th-century physician, who has a penchant for pain; neatly encapsulating the tenor of the times, Hart is a complicated blend of Enlightenment forward thinking and the violent superstitions of the past. This explains his love of gore, and philosophy. His filmic alter ego is JF Sebastian from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Eithne Farry

If I were a film character, who would I be? I’d be JF Sebastian from Ridley Scott’s dystopian sci-fi vision of the future, Blade Runner. I first saw this film when I was a teenager, and the question that runs through it – ‘what is real?’ is one that has excited me creatively and philosophically ever since.

JF Sebastian is a hopeless loner, like me. He is socially awkward, like me, and again like me he prefers the company of those friends he has made for himself. Of course, my friends, in that sense, are characters in my novels rather than genetically engineered creatures, but I think my point still stands. Who’s to say that in some different universe I am not a genetic engineer doing exactly that?

In this world, however, I am a writer. And because I am a writer, and my creations cannot physically exist in this world with me, I have one great advantage over JF Sebastian. My characters cannot blame me for what befalls them. Unfortunately for JF Sebastian, however, his creations are alive; and his greatest creation, Roy, comes back to kill him –by killing his creator acting out a metaphor for the inexcusable human hubris of ‘killing God’. But was JF Sebastian ever truly God? Clearly not, although, certainly in Roy’s eyes, he obviously seemed to have usurped the divine power of creation.

Poor JF Sebastian. Perhaps he did not truly understand the implications of the work he was doing for the Tyrell Corporation. But when do any of us really get the chance to comprehend the full significance of the things that we create? If we could see that, perhaps we would be – almost – godlike. But would we ever choose to create anything?

Or perhaps JF Sebastian did know, and knew better than anyone else in the film (he is supposed to be a genius, after all) – and chose creation anyway. Publish and be damned, they used to say in the book trade. In his case, perhaps it was always going to be a case of publish and be killed – but to die at the hands of his greatest triumph was perhaps not so bad an exit.

Jack Wolf

The Treachery of Memory and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner

Blade Runner

My first memory of watching Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) is on New Year’s Eve 1983. A family friend had a new VHS player and I, my mum and her partner had been invited round. I remember the images blinking through the fog of cigarette smoke. We were watching in the dark, which was strange to my 11-year-old self. I was drawn into this world of sky-climbing buildings and the euphoric Vangelis soundtrack. I may also have nodded off for some of the time. I could see the clock on the video player shunting through the minutes, then hours, and gradually ease its way towards midnight. No one said anything, no one switched over to the TV for the countdown, no celebratory drink was poured, nothing. The display flicked to 0.00 and I wondered if I was the only one who had noticed. Far from feeling the coolest 11-year-old on the block, I felt cheated, and that, I suppose, is why the memory is so vivid. Now of course, I usually delete this emotionally weighty part of the story and give the cut version, that yes, I saw Blade Runner when it came out, and started my second decade well versed in cinematic sci-fi. Such is our capacity to retrieve and retell memories, to have our own variations of events.

Blade Runner is set in 2019, just seven years away from the time of writing, and the projected reality in the film appears to be close at our heels. Touch-sensitive, zoomable screens mimic Deckard’s (Harrison Ford’s) photo enhancer, and the division between organic memory databanks and digital data spaces is breaking down. Photo albums backed up on flame-proof Flickr, years of diaries turned into blogs or Facebook timelines that we can carry anywhere.

The film leaves you with a nagging feeling, a dark paranoia, that our memories are a key to our sense of knowing ourselves, a way of holding on to valued experiences. When Deckard shows he knows android Rachel’s (Sean Young) personal memories, she is heartbroken.

Deckard: ‘You remember the spider that lived in a bush outside your window? Orange body, green legs, watched her build a web all summer, then one day there was a big egg in it, the egg hatched…’
Rachel: ‘The egg hatched… and a hundred baby spiders came out, and they ate her.’
Deckard: ‘Implants. They aren’t your memories, they’re somebody else’s, they’re Tyrell’s niece’s.’

Rachel, close up, in semi-darkness, has a lost, empty look. She shows an attachment to these memories that reveals the success of Tyrell’s project. She actually responds to betrayal as a human would. Of course, psychologists might tell us that memories are retained and pulled out of our mental archives for many reasons, largely involuntary. Nonetheless, for the most part, they feel like they are ours. It’s notable though that I write this at a time when neurologists are successfully implanting simulated memory traces of fear into laboratory mice. Memories now merge with film sequences, images seen before, dreams. We have to double-take and unravel the mess, driven by a need for authenticity. Facebook, with its best friend digital photography, allows this to happen publicly with sometimes thousands of photographs being uploaded to an individual user’s account.

Ridley Scott has released many cuts of Blade Runner. Noticeably, he marked every new video format on the market with a new version. To name some, theatrical versions were distributed on VHS in 1983, as was the Director’s Cut 1992. This was later released on LaserDisc in 1993 and was an early film to be released on DVD in 1997. A digitally remastered version of this DVD was put out in 2006 but with the 2.0 stereo soundtrack. The Final Cut in 2007 was released during the HD format wars and came out on HD DVD and Blu-ray with Dolby Digital Surround Sound 5.1. Each new version promised new answers. Would it finally reveal more of the beloved cult film, more cut scenes, more added scenes? Would Scott make any more suggestions that Deckard was a replicant? But this searching for answers is commensurate with the way the film in its various versions seems to shrug off our questions.

Part of Blade Runner’s appeal for me is its 80s futurist aesthetic merged with noir: Atari in neon; lip gloss with 40s hair rolls; oversized technology. It is a film made for clunky VHS distribution. The format’s very materiality is tied to the materiality of organic memory. It is in keeping with the human attachment to memory that is at the core of the film, where characters are driven by their questioning of the reliability of memory. To remember is a process of betrayal. We seek cogency from memories, but they exist as fragments, an affect, a trace, a sentence or two. The visual field produced by VHS is unstable, blurry, low-grade compared to contemporary formats. In Blade Runner, we see youthful faces against a metropolis that, although illuminated, remains in low contrast, where neon bleeds into incoherency and reds elude us. VHS magnetic tape corrodes with age and use and allows the surface to break down, the image and sound slip away, a dignified erosion. The VHS version of Ford and Young produces a romantic couple melting away with each watch.

What happens off screen is as important as the film fragments that fill our minds in a formulation of the memory of a film. Testament to this is a new generation of VHS collectors. A YouTube search for ‘my VHS collection’ reveals a category of uploads from teenagers discovering their parents’ VHS collection, or showing off their own Ebay purchases. A clip featuring a 1983 print of Blade Runner is a prime example. Here ‘VHS-ness’ is a prompt, a trigger and a way into the nostalgia for these films. The collectors seem to value the materiality of the tapes, fastidiously archiving various indices of authenticity. VHS boxes are carefully set out on makeshift backgrounds; the format involves a shot of the front cover art work, the spine of the tape box, the back, shots of the actual tape, the label and a recitation of the print dates. These collectors also proclaim the originality of their tapes by uploading opening previews and closing credits of their tapes in fierce competition. All this stands in for, and at the same time, is part of, the experience of the collected film. A way of feeling connected to the memory of the memory of the film (perhaps here their parents’) via memorabilia. Perhaps in the face of inorganic forms of digital communication such an activity has a special draw.

With the DVD format in the mid-90s came the remaster, a facelift for VHS. Films viewed through a haze of degrading magnetic tape were suddenly clear and crisp. With each release we have the new and still newer Rachel and Deckard. In Blade Runner: The Final Cut (2007), Harrison Ford seems to have defied time. He plays a hyperreal, uncanny Deckard, inorganic, invincible and situated in an immersive, three-dimensional space. The VHS Deckard seemed in tune with time, ageing and decay. To watch a new version is to give in to the rewriting, to turn your back on an intimate connection with your version, your personal favourite. The memory of Blade Runner as was, is corrupted, replaced with fragments of the new, each replicant attempting to supersede the last.

Nicola Woodham

Tom Benn is Roy Batty

Blade Runner

Tom Benn was born in 1987 and grew up in Stockport, but now lives and works in Norwich. His debut, The Doll Princess, is a gritty urban noir set in 90s Manchester in the wake of the IRA bombings. A speedy, adrenaline-fuelled chase through the underworld, it centres on Bane, a loan shark and fixer on a mission to find out who killed his childhood sweetheart. Tom Benn’s filmic Alter Ego is Roy Batty in Blade Runner. EITHNE FARRY

Roy Batty is my favourite sympathetic villain. He’s vicious, noble and fashion-conscious (the very foundations of cyberpunk were built upon his coat collar). He also has an extremely flexible girlfriend.

Roy, a replicant (an artificial human being), has come to Earth to try and force a meeting with his maker, in the hope he will be able to extend his life beyond its programmed four years. Our gumshoe hero, Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, must ‘retire’ Roy and the rest of his gang.

I’ve always felt for Roy. Most of us are full of questions, frightened of death, and at some point in our lives, want someone to blame for our design flaws. We’d probably be better off accepting what we can change about ourselves, and what we can’t. God is the ultimate absent dad. ‘I’m surprised you didn’t come sooner,’ Dr Tyrell, Roy’s maker, tells him. It’s very satisfying watching Roy beat him in a game of chess.

Rutger Hauer is otherworldly: his platinum hair and permanent sweat-glaze make him a lizard in the neon jungle of future LA. I watched the final cut of Blade Runner recently, and while the visuals are gorgeous, the dialogue is still one part stoic, two parts characters explaining things they’d already know. But Hauer delivers even the most wooden line with a regal menace.

Roy isn’t just a badass; he’s the most fiercely human character in a film where potentially no one is. I may not be as stylish or murderous as Roy, but he still speaks to me, and I always root for him over Deckard.

And although Roy doesn’t find the answers he needs to be able to cheat death, he does discover what it means to be human.

The Doll Princess is published by Jonathan Cape.

Tom Benn

When No Means Oh OK: A dubious return to 70s-style rape in film

Love and Bruises

68th Venice International Film Festival

31 August – 10 September 2011, Venice, Italy

Biennale di Venezia website

Love and Bruises, the new film by Chinese director Ye Lou, which premiered at the latest edition of the Venice Film Festival, is a rough-and-tumble love story between a French scaffold worker (Tahar Rahim) and a Chinese student (Corinne Yam). Taken from an autobiographical novel entitled Bitch, this is an uncompromising film that examines a self-abusive bad relationship from the point of view of the woman. Or does it?

The film begins with a humiliating scene of a very public split-up. Hua, the Chinese student, is dumped by her lover. She falls asleep at a bar, and when she then wanders past the market where some workmen are dismantling the scaffolding she is hit in the head by an iron bar being carried by Matthieu. He apologises and makes sure she’s OK. He helps her find a bank machine, then follows her and pesters her until she gives him her phone number. He phones her immediately as he walks behind her. They go for dinner. He walks her home. He tries to kiss her, and when she refuses he asks what the point of the dinner was if she isn’t going to agree to have sex. She refuses again, so he drags her into a building and rapes her. Thus love is born.

Retrospectively, we can rationalise this wasn’t really rape as in the end she, you know, enjoyed it. By the way, this film was made in 2011 and not the early 70s when enjoyable rape wasn’t ruined by political correctness gone mad. The 70s, and films informed by that mentality, often gave us two types of rape to choose from. Remember Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. We have the non-consensual sex with an ex-lover that becomes pleasurable (no means oh OK), softened by romantic music and a single tear, swiftly followed by the anal brutality of another workman, which is facilitated by the ex-lover. This version of rape says ‘well, it all depends on who is doing the raping’. Bongwater, in their 1991 album The Power of Pussy, had a lyric that ran: ‘It’s easier to accept Jesus Christ as your personal saviour when he looks like Willem Dafoe’, and the same, according to Peckinpah’s logic could be said of rapists. Love and Bruises would be an altogether different film if Matthieu wasn’t played by the fantastic Tahar Rahim. OK, he’s a rapist, but look at his body and he has such kind eyes. In fact, his thuggish friend also has a go at raping Isako with Matthieu’s complicity (a test of her loyalty), but he doesn’t look like the guy from A Prophet (2009) and so this rape (whether he succeeds or not is left unresolved) is seen as purely nasty and violent. Nothing on the earlier rape, which after a night of drinking and dancing, the couple go back to the original building site to re-enact.

The other way of portraying/mitigating rape is to distinguish between victims. Just as some rapists are OK, so some girls can be raped with more or less impunity. Think of Sergio Leone’s Once upon a Time in America. Robert De Niro’s bank robbers are told about a teller called Carol (Tuesday Weld), who is in on the job – she is not to be touched – but when the robbery begins she starts screaming and bawling, and so Noodles (De Niro) does the right thing and rapes her on the desk, complete with ‘I’m coming’ joke when badgered by his fellow bank robbers to hurry up. This horrendous humiliation is later ‘justified’ because Noodles et al meet the teller again in a brothel where she’s now working as a prostitute. Not only is there no anger, but Carol plays a game of trying to pick out her rapist by identifying him from his cock. So Carol is readily characterised as a girl you can rape, a prossie, a whore. Someone who will be a good sport about it afterwards and in fact becomes the girlfriend of bank robber Max (James Woods). But that’s Carol. When Noodles rapes Deborah (Elizabeth McGovern), his lifelong love, it becomes apparent that he’s raped the wrong girl. Deborah is the romantic girl, the virgin, to be revered, not ravaged. Noodles’ tragedy is in mixing up the virgin and the whore. It might be easy to blame this Latin dichotomy on Italian Leone, who had form (see Fistful of Dynamite for another comedy rape scene), but WASP Clint Eastwood carried the idea over in its entirety for High Plains Drifter.

Of course, some might argue that I’m conflating rough sex with rape, but actually I think that is what the films are doing. A fight that turns into a clinch is a cliché that goes on and on: Blade Runner another example. It’s a way of showing feistiness in the woman, resolving a conflict into a relationship and making it all edgy. Sparks are going to fly. But at what point does this turn into a glamorisation of rape? Or at the very least, promote values in which rape (some rape) becomes less bad than other rape? It could also be said that I’m missing the point of Love and Bruises, which is about a woman who has low self-esteem, and who is throwing herself headfirst into an abusive relationship, which is no less abusive for her consent, but I’d argue this is basically Nine and a Half Weeks with shaky handheld camerawork. The rape scene is supposed to be to some degree sexy. It fits in with all the other sex scenes and stands in stark contrast to the ‘bad’ rape scene.

Rape scenes are notoriously difficult to make without there being the possibility of titillation. After all, some (hopefully small) part of the audience might get off on rape itself. A film that takes rape as an issue, like The Accused, tied itself in knots trying to imply the rape without actually showing it: a pinball machine banging against a wall. Gasper Noé’s Irreversible takes the opposite approach and eliminates all escape routes. In what is apparently a single take, we see Monica Bellucci’s Alex being accosted by her assailant and then raped and beaten to a pulp. It is a merciless ordeal to watch, the film dares us to look away because it won’t. There is no cinematic shorthand, no cutting away, no fade to black, it is crude, violent, disgusting, nauseating, repulsive. In fact, it’s rape.

This year’s FrightFest also featured a couple of films that had a fairly primitive, 70s view of women, sex and rape.

John Bleasdale