M -1951-

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Directed by Joseph Losey. 88 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Seen at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre)

Booyah!

I’ve been trying to see this re-make of Fritz Lang’s 1931 masterpiece ever since I first learned of its existence about seven years ago. Screenings of this version are extremely few and far in between – until last year, the only known remaining print was in possession of the British Film Archives and seldom circulated. The screening that I saw (for the closing night of the Egyptian Theatre’s Noir City Festival) was a new 35mm print, hopefully a sign that the film will become more widely available. Are you listening, Criterion?

Even if the movie sucked (it doesn’t), I would consider it worth my time for its rarity alone, just as it would be worthwhile to talk to a bitterly racist unicorn. The film can’t reach the heights of the original, mainly because of the change of setting. Weimar-era urban Germany is soaked with dread and lends itself to a tale as chilling as M. Conversely, post-WWII Los Angeles is a whole lot brighter and much less scary. Losey fortunately understood that emulating German expressionism would be futile, and so he reimagined the plot to be much closer to a gangster movie than its source material. This shift in tone isn’t a complete loss by any means. For example, a sense of humor is present in the film that would have fallen flat if it were in Lang’s version.

All sorts of great character actors make up the cast (including, but not limited to, a pre-Perry Mason Raymond Burr). David Wayne (not to be confused with the Stella guy) makes a great killer, crafting a mania that stands completely on its own and without imitating Peter Lorre’s performance. The film on the whole stands up though I wouldn’t put it on the list of all-time great noirs.

(Seen and written on 2014-04-06)

Dark City -1998-

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Directed by Alex Proyas. 112 mins (Director’s Cut).

Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on Blu-ray)

Who would have thought that before directing turns such as I, Robot and Knowing, Alex Proyas made arguably the best sci-fi film of the 90s? I mean, I would have thought as much since I’ve seen Dark City before. You, on the other hand, may have been none the wiser.

The film was a flop in 1998 because Titanic was still dominating the world box office at the time. The Matrix, having lifted much of the Dark City premise without any of the style of context, was the toast of the town the following year. Luckily, the director’s cut – and be certain that it’s the director’s cut – is on home video for everyone to enjoy.

The film is a visual marvel, taking cues from German expressionism and the American noirs that followed the movement. Many films demonstrate these aesthetic influences, but Dark City is unique in that it takes the hallmarks of the subgenre and incorporates them directly into the narrative. The amnesiac protagonist, the twisting streets and alleys that lead nowhere, the clashing architectural styles, and the night that never ends all have deeply unnerving explanations.

What I personally find most disturbing about Dark City is the way in which it reminds me of Bertrand Russell’s Five Minute Hypothesis. Russell contended that for all we know, the Universe sprang into existence five minutes ago along with the Earth and everyone on it. All of our memories prior to the five minutes are false, but so long as they are generally consistent with how the Earth appears to be, we would never be able to know. Russell didn’t actually believe in the hypothesis – rather, he used it as a thought experiment to highlight the limits of epistemology. And in Russell’s mind, it wouldn’t much matter even if the hypothesis were true since the Earth would be identical to how it would be if it had been billions of years old as is today’s scientific consensus.

Dark City shows, in horrifying fashion, that Russell was wrong; a young world with a population saturated with false memories could hide sinister secrets.

Aside (SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT): One of my favorite  mysteries of Dark City is the fate of Earth. Did the Strangers simply harvest a select few humans from our planet and then leave it alone? Does humankind even exist beyond the City anymore? *shudders*

(Seen and written on 2014-03-08)