When I first saw the film in 1982, I was a young adult still enamored with science fiction novels and stories that I'd read growing up. I was sorely disappointed by the very narrow type of science fiction stories that were being told cinematically; space wars are fun, but where were the movies that challenged my perceptions of the universe? Blade Runner felt like a huge step forward, though even then the original ending and other elements felt like compromises of Ridley Scott's vision.
Revisiting Blade Runner after so many years, I was struck again by its anti-narrative leanings, but I was even more caught up in the splendid visual details. As much as Blade Runner's graphic schemes have been appropriated by and influenced others, the original maintains a great deal of authentic power, a bold mix of past, present and future.
Looking around the auditorium, I was glad to see that I was probably the oldest person there. When I first became fascinated by film, way back in the Mesozaic Era (i.e. pre-VCR), I was living in Los Angeles and could attend a multitude of repertory theaters to catch up with movies from past decades. Nowadays, the opportunities are few and far between. Dallas does not have a single repertory theater and screenings of older films are usually limited to the acknowledged "classics," overly familiar warhorses that are, presumably, more likely to draw a crowd that will enable the exhibitor to break even or perhaps earn a small profit.
To be sure, I love the DVD era, which allows an awesome degree of flexibility and selection, and I'm positive that economics of exhibition make it prohibitively difficult to run a repertory theater. I suppose what I really miss is a curatorial voice that would say: "Watch this with that -- does it make you think differently than you did before?" For example, while watching Blade Runner, I developed a strong hankering to watch Alien again -- not because they're both science fiction films with a strong visual stamp directed by the same man, but because of the quiet, empty stretches in Blade Runner that reminded me of the lengthy sequence in Alien when the alien planet is being explored. And then I wondered if it might not be beneficial to watch The Duellists and Legend, Scott's films preceding and following Alien and Blade Runner, to see what further connections might be found. And what about a double bill of his neglected, often trashed Someone to Watch Over Me and Black Rain?
Dallas has a growing number of fine festivals and some of them are well-programmed with a clear vision in mind. Not to demean the tremendous amount of work involved behind the scenes, but festivals are typically annual showcases that spring out, demand attention, and then retreat for another year. As good as festivals can be, they don't replace a really good curatorial voice with an ongoing, weekly showcase. Such a curatorial voice might assemble series that would offer a fresh look at a neglected director or highlight new directors. That's what's done in many other metropolitan areas, not just New York and Los Angeles, and it seems essential for the lifeblood of any city's arts community.
It's true that such voices can still be found on the printed page and, increasingly, on the web. Stuck in the past as I often am, though, I can't help missing what used to be and wishing for what could be, something real and projected onto a giant screen, leading a younger generation to make associations and think thoughts they've never thought before, reminding older generations why they fell in love with cinema, and filling the retro hole that we all should be lamenting.
Cinematical's Ryan Stewart wrote at greater length about Blade Runner: The Final Cut earlier this year. Monika Bartyzel covered the multiple DVD sets earlier this week.