In Defense of the Slow Burn & Blade Runner

So I am a big fan of Blade Runner and am very excited to see 2049 sometime this weekend. I begged my friends Mary and Kyle to watch it. Now, in hindsight, Mary doesn’t go in for that kind of stuff. She is much more partial to Baby Driver and faster-paced movies because, you know, attention span. She found it boring and couldn’t get past the scene where Deckard meets Rachel. Kyle, on the other hand, is the biggest nerd I know aside from his roommate Alec. I thought they would both be totally down for Blade Runner, and was disappointed when they said they didn’t really dig it. Mary, I get, though. Anyway, she sent me the Honest Trailer for Blade Runner.

I actually agree with the Honest Trailer for Blade Runner. It is slow but that isn’t a bad thing. Baby Driver was very fast in every regard, from the editing to the action. Baby Driver, though, never explored anything thematic. I can’t really tell you what the broader themes of Baby Driver are, but that’s OK. Baby Driver did not ask questions of the audience. Baby Driver was meant to be fun. It was not a character study; actually most of the characters were very thinly written. That’s not a criticism, they don’t need to be complex. It’s not that type of movie. The more complex the themes and characters in the film are, the more analysis needs to be done. The more analysis needs to be done, the slower the film needs to be. Slow does not necessarily mean bad, although being slow can often leave general audiences bored and distracted. I’m not saying Joe Public is wrong for not appreciating slower movies, but Joe Public, if watching a film, may need to be prepared to invest himself. My parents didn’t really enjoy Hell Or High Water because it ended up being a deliberately paced, slow burning character study rather than a high-octane bank robbery thriller. My parents aren’t one for slow. Some of the movies I enjoy a whole lot are ones they really don’t. I, knowing what type of film it was going in, found it rather enjoyable.

Of course, there’s rare films like Heat that can do both high-octane and deep at the same time. Those are very rare, though. Heat might actually be the only film I know to pull off that tightrope act successfully.

The Godfather, a film Mary and I both enjoy very much, is slow as balls. I tried to watch it at various points throughout my life. I hated it. I could not stand it. Because, on the surface, nothing ever happens. No crazy gunfights, no action, no flash, no style. I hated it. That is until I was forced to watch it in class for Sociology. By the time Kay closed the door, 17-year-old me was like “That was brilliant.” The Godfather isn’t Heat. It’s not a crime film. It is a family drama with crime as a backdrop. It is a complex, slow, methodical character study of a good man slowly and subtly driven to evil. You need it to be long, and drawn out for that reason. Films like that are an investment that some people, like my friend Lauren, my parents, sometimes Mary, and sometimes Kyle aren’t willing to make. And that’s OK. The thing is, people are then very confused at how anyone could enjoy this, mainly because they don’t understand the concept I am attempting to explain. I encountered this with my aunt. She didn’t like The Godfather, or at least, she didn’t enjoy it as much as I do. I was surprised, because she indirectly introduced me to The Wire, which, though different, follows the same logic I am trying to explain. Due to the fact that The Wire asks weighty questions about society, socioeconomics, institutional corruption, basically all the things, it has to be methodical. Exploration of those themes cannot be done quickly.

In the 1940s and 1950s, a popular genre of film was noir. Noir were films inspired by pulp fiction popular at the time. Noir movies, like the hardboiled detective novels which they draw inspiration from, focused on the seedy underbelly of society and featured characters of dubious morals and were chock full of violence and sex. The Maltese Falcon and Sunset Boulevard were two you’ve probably heard of. Noir films were often told through the lens of a detective or PI who must navigate and deal with these shady people in order to find and discover the truth. Stylistically speaking, noir films made use of low-light and exaggerated shadows to create a feel of mystery and bewilderment. A character’s face will be obscured by shadow until the lighting of a cigarette reveals his face, for example. I can’t find a good video of a scene that properly demonstrates this but you get it.

With the advent of color, the neo-noir was created. My favorite film, The Usual Suspectsis a neo-noir. Chinatown is another great example.

The core concepts of what we now deem science-fiction were created by a guy named Isaac Asimov. Interesting dude; I would recommend further reading. He pioneered the genre and used it to ask complicated questions concerning humanity and the meaning of humanity using robots as a proxy. I have read some of his work in grade school. I haven’t read anything by him since seventh grade, and I was too young to fully grasp the thematic approach to his work. Surface level, they were still excellent and captivating to young me and got me to appreciate the genre more. Seriously, he’s good. Back to Blade Runner.

Ridley Scott said from the get-go that he wanted to make a combination of neo-noir and science-fiction. At the time in 1982, a genre-bender like that had never been attempted. It was very ambitious and, although it underwhelmed upon its theatrical release (mainly because that cut sucked, but you can reread my review for further explanation), it found success after several other cuts surfaced over a period of several years showing Scott’s true vision.

Blade Runner asks a bunch of very complex Asimovian questions: What constitutes a human, the philosophical questions surrounding slavery, rebellion, emotions, personal experiences, the list could go on endlessly. My Film Studies class took two whole class periods analyzing the film’s philosophical implications. In order to sufficiently cover all these complex ideas, it has to slow down and pull a Godfather. And it does this very well. Not to mention the score is amazing and the special effects still hold up because of the Final Cut rerelease. It is slow, and I realize that, I think everyone does, but people appreciate that.

There are a lot of “slow burn” movies out there that mainstream audiences may not appreciate. Heck, there are a lot of truly great movies that I didn’t appreciate at first. Slow burners may very well require a passage of time, a change in perspective, multiple viewings, or a combination of all three to really get to a point of appreciation, as Chris Stuckmann explains in this video.

I’m fine with Mary, Kyle, and Alec not digging Blade Runner, although I do hope they give it another shot someday. Maybe they’ll never like it, and that’s OK. I really just felt like talking about Blade Runner again.

Advertisements

Baby Driver

Baby Driver is a 2017 American crime comedy thriller film with musical elements written and directed by Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World director Edgar Wright and starring Ansel Elgort, Lilly James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx. The film follows Baby, a young man and extremely skillful driver who unfortunately became indebted to criminal mastermind “Doc” at a young age. Baby is forced to work off his debt as a getaway driver for various jobs organized by Doc. Baby meets an attractive diner waitress named Deborah and falls for her, hoping to have a normal life after reluctantly working off his debt. Baby is coerced into a series of increasingly high-risk jobs and must balance the criminal part of his life with the life he wants to have with Deborah.

I’m just going to tell you right off the bat, Baby Driver is an amazing movie. Edgar Wright has, quite simply, outdone himself in every imaginable way with this film. This is certainly the very talented writer and director’s magnum opus. I cannot think of a single thing I didn’t like. It’s hard to review this movie because, in my opinion, everything was so good.

Ansel Elgort was an amazing lead, every line he spoke was almost dripping with charm. Kevin Spacey only had about ten minutes of screen time, but he was excellent, as is to be expected. Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm were the perfect mixture of crazy and unstable that made portions of the film wrought with tension and fear, but in a good way. Lilly James was also excellent as Deborah.

I feel now is a good point to mention something I found excellent about the script; there is no dialogue in the film that doesn’t need to be there. Baby as a character is very laconic and Doc is a man of all business, so when they talk, you need to listen. Every word spoken in this film is very important. In fiction, no matter what the medium, everything that is in a scene should be there for a reason. Wright takes this idea to heart. There is not a single breath nor frame of film that is wasted. In so many films, there is a lot of dialogue that doesn’t need to be in there; this is not the case for Baby Driver and it is all that much better for it. Whether dialogue is meant to be sly and comedic or deadly serious, it all serves a purpose. Make no mistake, although this is Wright’s most serious movie so far, there are portions of it that had my friend and I cackling out loud. Such is the true genius of a filmmaker like Edgar Wright.

The best aspect of this film by far is its use of music to inform, and sometimes even propel, the plot. Baby was stricken with a case of tinnitus following a car crash, so he listens to music constantly in order to drown out “the hum in the drum.” As such, the majority of the scenes in this film are given a score of their own. During the opening scene for example, Baby is rocking out to Bellbottoms by Jon Spencer Blues Explosions in the midst of a bank robbery. This musical motif runs throughout the entire film. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, this could be a horrible decision. Thankfully, Wright is as good a DJ as he is a director, turning what could have been the most annoying parts of an otherwise good film, into the most memorable part of an amazing film. It is almost reminiscent of an actual musical without cheesy showtunes or dance numbers. My musichead friend is considering getting this soundtrack on vinyl, and I’ll just say that if there was ever a soundtrack to get on vinyl, it would be this one. It is just great.

The action in this film is also nothing short of a grand achievement. At about the halfway point of the film there is a shootout set to Tequila by Button Down Brass that may very well be my favorite scene of the entire movie, although the opening car chase presents a fierce competition. The car chases are extremely well-done and well-shot, like everything else in this film. I have not seen Bullitt but I can say with certainty that the opening car chase alone outpaces The French Connection. The car chases might not be the best put to film, but they are some of the best that I personally have seen.

Even scenes without action or bare-knuckled chase sequences are masterfully filmed. There are a number of brilliant long takes and deftly edited sequences. There is a three-minute long coffee run set to Harlem Shuffle by Bob & Earl, and thanks to Ansel Elgort’s acting and Edgar Wright’s filmmaking and never-ending supply of style, it is captivating.

To put it simply, Baby Driver will certainly end up being one of my favorite films of the year. It is full of awesome music, amazing acting from all involved, unique and inventive chase sequences, and a well-written script, all masterminded by one of the most underrated directors of my generation. Everything about it is well-done. Even if you are not an action movie fan, there is enough different stuff there, whether it be romance, comedy, or music, to draw you in. It puts every other movie Wright has done to shame, and he has already made some films that might as well define my generation. Baby Driver, especially its soundtrack, will stay with me for a very long time, and I will be telling people to see it as long as I live. It has broken both mine and my friend’s personal Top 10, possibly even Top 5. You should go see it.