Chris Alexander’s SHOCK TREATMENT: The Dark Passion of Vangelis’ BLADE RUNNER Soundtrack

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ShockTreatment!

In this ongoing column, SHOCK’s managing editor Chris Alexander muses on his favorite movies and music and moments in cult cinema history.

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Recently, I made the move to catch a solo screening of Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking existential science fiction noir BLADE RUNNER, a picture that needs no class of lengthy introduction but a movie that means so very much to me.

It was a Tuesday night screening at The Kingsway Theatre, a West end Toronto movie house, a holdover from the 1940s that still retains some of its original architecture and is one of the last surviving neighborhood cinemas left in full-time operation. And yet, sadly, not many patrons visit the sprawling venue. Certainly not enough of them. And certainly not on a Tuesday night. I went alone to see the BLADE RUNNER on that warm evening and indeed, I was the only person there. The only person in an opulent, 500 seat room. Sitting before a massive screen, ready to lose myself in one of the most immersive movies ever made…

Now, I say BLADE RUNNER needs minimal preface, but in case you are not aware, the film – an adaptation and streamlining of the Philip K. Dick novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” starring Harrison Ford as a “replicant” hunting future-cop – was misunderstood upon release, by both audiences and short-sighted critics, like so many masterpieces often are, out of step with their time and trend. But now, BLADE RUNNER is a go-to picture for millions, a film whose art-directed vision of a grim, rain-soaked, neon-choked metropolis has influenced film and even fashion for decades and will continue to do so forever.

And music. The music in BLADE RUNNER, composed and performed by Vangelis, is unforgettable.

Lord knows, I have never forgotten it.

Because it was BLADE RUNNER’s music that first spoke to me, stronger than anything else. Anywhere.

As a child, every New Years Eve, after Dick Clark dropped his balls and millions of pointlessly inebriated people all over the world punched gaping holes in their wallets and livers, I’d sit at home on my couch, my mom and dad en route to bed, leaving me alone to watch Toronto station CITY TV’s annual screening of BLADE RUNNER. Fading in from CITY’s  “Late Great Movies” bumper (if you lived here and through this period, you know), The Ladd Company logo would appear, a forming pixelized tree, accompanied by a majestic horn sting, with the added credit listing that the film we were about to watch was produced in association with Sir Run Run Shaw. This ominous and familiar opening moment was immediately followed by the first deep bass note of what would be an ensuing wall-to-wall fortress of sound, ambient washes of synthesized aural sex and danger designed to draw the viewer into BLADE RUNNER’s weird world of rogue robots and hard boiled private dicks.

At this point in the evening, it took every ounce of stamina I had to keep my lids open and I knew that BLADE RUNNER was not the ideal company to keep when aiming to stay awake. This is not a criticism of the picture, rather a fact, one I acknowledged and welcomed. BLADE RUNNER is not an action film. It’s slow. Surreal. Meditative. And in that initial version I would watch, the theatrical cut, wherein Ford’s Deckard narrated – in true noir fashion – over his nocturnal adventures with heavy exposition (a studio-enforced affectation that has long since been remedied by both Scott’s Director’s Cut and The Final Cut of the film), it all felt like a dream. Like I was hallucinating a real movie. Like I had seen a science fiction film and some sort of vintage tough-guy potboiler and replayed an abstract hybrid of both behind my eyes in an opium haze. And I would always fall asleep whilst watching. Every time. But it was a waking sleep. Hypnotic. That gorgeous Vangelis music would serve as a kind of subconscious blanket draped over my senses. It was magical. Sometimes I’d jolt awake and attempt to make sense of the narrative, before surrendering and falling back into that sweet paralysis.

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It was like being high, I was told. But as I aged I never did drugs, never sought them out. I didn’t need them. I just watched movies that took me to other worlds. And the few times I did dabble in some sort of street hallucinogen, nothing could compare to that after-hours somnambulist bliss that was losing myself in a film like BLADE RUNNER.

Years later, after watching BLADE RUNNER dozens of times in every incarnation, I spent a dark night of the soul in a state of drink, looking for a connection with someone. Not a sexual one. Just a connection with another human who I could identify with.

I felt like a replicant then and in some ways, I always have; an outsider, hungry for a deeper connection and aware of how finite everything is.

So, anyway, a female friend and I did in fact connect. On a spiritual level. And after long boozy talks and some rock and roll, we ended up in her apartment. We were tired. So we agreed to just fall asleep. I was grateful for the womb of the warm flat and was ready to drift. But then she pulled out her CD copy of the BLADE RUNNER soundtrack. She put it on her player on repeat and we fell asleep. And I re-entered that strange state once again, but this time it was even more profound. Robbed of BLADE RUNNER’s visuals, I let Vangelis’ sound just take me away. It was a kind of salvation that I needed at the time. And as this woman snored happily beside me, I lay semi-awake and didn’t want this moment to end. She would never remember this moment. I know she doesn’t. But I would never forget it. As long as I live.

Later I would seek out my own CD copy of Vangelis’ score but, like so many other fans of the film, I got duped by the ersatz New American Orchestra re-score, an album spat out shortly after the movie’s release, presumably due to rights issues, lack of access to Vangelis’ master tapes or some other such skullduggery. The notes were right, but that inimitable, hazy magic was lost. That analog electro-voodoo replaced by organic instruments, the power of the “Main Titles” theme and the thundering, apocalyptic “End Titles” made more suitable for elevators than the soaked, glowing cyber-city where BLADE RUNNER’s dark drama unfolds. Of course, in 1994, Vangelis co-operated with Warner Music and they did in fact release a glorious collection featuring every cue from the film, remastered and awe-inspiring. It’s in constant rotation, in my home, my car, my head…

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But back to The Kingsway Theatre. Toronto. Me. Alone. Sitting down on one of the cinema’s lush and presumably well-used easy chairs at the back of the room. A glass of red wine. Just me. And BLADE RUNNER. In 35mm. The Final Cut. The Ladd Company logo. The first bass-note.

Me. BLADE RUNNER. Again.

Always.

That Tuesday night I got lost in Scott’s fever dream again once more, the only way I was used to, the only way I ever want to really experience it. Alone. And once more Vangelis’ music enveloped me, lulling me in and out of consciousness, the tinkling majesty of that opening theme, the haunting melancholy of “Rachel’s Song”, the beauty of “Memories of Green”, the twilight erotica of “Blade Runner Blues” and the Eastern menace of “Tales of the Future”.

It was a secret experience. Romantic. Personal. Intimate and sensual and lonely and pretty.

I honestly cannot think of a major mainstream movie (of which BLADE RUNNER most assuredly was and still is) where music is this essential to its very identity. It’s almost as if the film was built around this music. And as much as I love Scott’s visual poetry and the central themes of humanity and identity that Dick’s original tale explores, I don’t think BLADE RUNNER could exist without this music.

I certainly wouldn’t have the movie so hard-wired into my soul as it most assuredly is.

And I often consider this.

I often think about how profoundly in love I am with BLADE RUNNER. About the way it has the power, perhaps more than any other picture, to color my mind, my heart, my soul.

And I am reminded by Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty and his final monologue at the climax of the picture, his defeated, wrenching words as he mourns the loss of himself, of the things he’s seen and the way he’s felt. Of the end of his experience as a living organism and the pain of letting go of all that he is and was.

Because when I myself die, this feeling dies with me. I’ve tried to articulate it here. But my own written words would never work properly to express this. When I go, this fire will fade with me.

Like tears in rain.

 

 

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