As some of you know, some fraction of the value of this blog is that it carries context with it. Some of it is historical and some of it is in real-time opposition, contrast and synergies in the comments. But something just came up that makes me think of the historical - although it is outside the blog. It's the movie Strange Days.
Strange Days was the first DVD I ever purchased. I remember because of the coincidence of it being about a new way to consume information. For those of you who don't know, it's a story that centers around a sort of drug dealer who deals in memories. There is a device, in 1999's future according to this film released in 1995 but made many years earlier in the wake of Rodney King prior to the LA Riots.... This device allows one person to experience another's thoughts. So the whole film has this anticipatory feel to it, anticipation of social collapse which was in the air during those days. I would say that this was the last film that I took very seriously as illustrative of the sort of doomsday Y2K millenarian social breakdown of the sort that my bete noir Nulan continues to anticipate.
In one of the opening scenes to set that stage, the protagonist aptly played by a shaggy Ray Fiennes drives down Hollywood Boulevard as the radio voiceover speaks of school shootings, expensive gasoline, teetering economy. We see the LAPD as paramilitary enforcers with APCs on the street, roving gangs and somebody mugging a Santa Claus. The entire point of this in the film is to play up the sense of a powderkeg society - and Fiennes finds a memory tape that documents the execution of a political rapper the equivalent of Chuck D at the hands of the LAPD as well as the brutal rape and murder of a prostitute who was a witness. Obviously - take Rodney King to the nth degree, with multiple rapes and murders and have the evidence all on full sensory tape and you have the perfect storm for revolution. The tale of intrigue surrounding the discovery of this evidence is the story. Everything was thrown in the mix.
As a young progressive, this was the kind of cultural production that got all eyes burning. As it happened, I took this film particularly seriously because I was aware of it as it was being made. There was a call for extras - they needed a multicultural mix for a climactic scene. I and my girlfriend were hyped to participate, but she more than me. She answered the call and related some controversy about the ending as communicated to her by Angela Bassett who stars in the film. As you could imagine, back in those days, progressive politics tried to intervene in the very process of making such a film.
Fourteen years later I squeamishly sat through the brutality of this film with an eye towards placing it in the context of 'feral motorcycle films' of the 70s days of malaise. Yet it stands up to time very well as a fine litmus test of several tropes I deal with in the crossfire of political debate today.
I expect that the themes of this sort of film will be explored again. I find it an interesting take on the future of the past - in terms of explaining what people used to think, or perhaps what some people always think. The film avoided being preachy in that it didn't portray any of the main characters as everyman. Surely the suburbs and ordinary middle class seemed to disappear into a Los Angeles that looked like a rave turned inside out, but like most action thrillers, there isn't much for ordinary people to do except stare with their mouths open - to be innocents and marks, people who get pushed out of the way on the stairs during chase scenes. So you can argue that Strange Days is not social commentary about the way we will be living. But does anybody give films like this such an easy way out. I think not.
Have you seen it?