Thursday, 7 May 2009

Recycled place

Via Bad Science, I just ran into an interesting Australian magazine, Rouge, devoted to cinematic critique: plenty to browse. In the current issue, I especially liked Mark Rappaport's The Secret Life of Objects, which looks at some classic examples of sets and props recycled across different films. Viewed pragmatically, it makes perfect financial sense for film companies to do so, but Rappaport argues that such "connections" add psychological depth to films:

And for us viewers willing to believe that the transformation was complete, sometimes an unidentifiable prop that may seem like we’ve seen it before, or a familiar looking piece of furniture that we can’t quite place, the films with their sometimes interchangeable parts, provided the feeling of a dream or a sensation of déjà vu which may have all too well been true. The sad but also wonderful thing about this knowledge is that it really doesn’t demystify the movies, but only makes them seem more mysterious and unknowable, not more artificial but more densely textured, than ever – their histories even more complex and convoluted than we imagined, with even more cross-hatched and interlocking connections

This sort of thing is bound to set the reader thinking of more examples. A well-known one is the set of the 1964 Carry on Cleo, the re-used abandoned London set from the 1963 Cleopatra. A more geeky one: the rooftop sets of Dark City re-used in The Matrix. A pretty gross one: the exploitation film Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS, made on the sets of the prison camp sitcom Hogan's Heroes.

My particular favourite, however, is the wonderful Bradbury Building in Los Angeles. It was used as the decaying mansion where JJ Sebastian lived in Blade Runner, but apart from being simple historical prop (showing location and urban decay) it seems more than coincidence that it features notably in the original D.O.A. (which is, unusually, in the public domain through failure to renew copyright - see the Internet Archive). The two films are connected thematically by a noir flavour, and by major characters seeking the truth in the face of impending death (in Blade Runner, replicants with an artificially short lifespan; in D.O.A., the hero poisoned by a slow-acting "luminous toxin"). I suspect intentional allusion.

- Ray

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