How “Blade Runner” Became a Cinematic Classic

September 20, 2017 § Leave a comment

As the countdown to “Blade Runner 2049” continues, it’s worth remembering that the original “Blade Runner” wasn’t met with the kind of reverence it enjoys now. When it came out in 1982, I was living in Berkeley and saw it in a packed theater on what I’m pretty sure was opening night. From the first scene–explosions over an ominous-looking Los Angeles–I knew “Blade Runner” was a masterpiece. I loved the dystopian future it depicted, from the constant rain to the Japanese-influenced motifs. I loved the fact that Deckard was an updated Raymond Chandler detective who lived in a famous Frank Lloyd Wright house. I loved the fact that the climactic chase scene was filmed in the Bradbury Building, George Herbert Wyman’s 1893 iron-and-glass masterpiece that, like the film itself, was years ahead of its time.

I was surprised, to put it mildly, when the critics didn’t share my enthusiasm. Janet Maslin, though she praised the movie’s special effects, called “Blade Runner” “a mess, at least as far as its narrative is concerned.” On their TV show “At the Movies,” Gene Siskel called it “a waste of time,” while Roger Ebert gave it a thumbs up only for the effects. Twenty-five years later, Ebert reappraised it positively, in part because the once-futuristic lighted billboards had become a reality: “the story benefits…by seeming more to inhabit is world than be laid on top of it.” (Siskel died in 1999, so there’s no way of knowing whether he would have changed his mind.) The Hollywood Reporter called it “a Felliniesque journey into Dante’s Inferno, with Micky Spillane in tow,” though it also called it “mesmerizing.” Thanks to its decidedly mixed critical reception, “Blade Runner” was a box office dud.

The film’s reputation started changing with the release of Ridley Scott’s director’s cut in 1992. Shorn of its voice-over narration, “Blade Runner” gained a new following and began to be regarded as a science fiction classic. The lack of narration–tacked onto the original because some thought the story confusing–gives the film greater dynamism, as did additional footage that seems to affirm the theory that Deckard himself is a replicant. In 2007, the Final Cut, which I haven’t seen, expanded the unicorn dream sequence, remastered the haunting Vangelis score and added three scenes.

On October 6th, we’ll finally get the sequel: “Blade Runner 2049,” starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, it looks worthy of the original and will draw a massive audience of fans, including me. As for the critical reception, it’s safe to assume a much better response than the original received in 1982.

My ebook on “Blade Runner” is available here:–FOUR-ESSAYS?keyword=BLADE+RUNNER%3A+FOUR+ESSAYS&store=ebook

Holiday Gift Ideas From Under the Hollywood Sign

December 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

Back of the Hollywood Sign/Hope Anderson Productions

Back of the Hollywood Sign/Hope Anderson Productions

In 2009 I started this blog to promote my work as a documentary filmmaker and writer, the fruits of which are available as downloads and/or DVDs. If you’ve enjoyed my blog, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the work that inspired it.

DVDs will be shipped overseas as well as domestically. Please order soon to have them arrive in time for the holidays.

Documentaries on DVD:

JIM THOMPSON, SILK KING–Remastered 2015 Version with DVD extras




Documentaries on Vimeo:

JIM THOMPSON, SILK KING–2015 Version with DVD extras






The Urban Magic of “Her”: How Great Production Design Created the Los Angeles of the (Near) Future

March 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) at Home in "Her"/Courtesy  Annapurna Pictures and Warner Bros

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) at Home in “Her”/Courtesy Annapurna Pictures and Warner Bros

Regardless of one’s opinion about a romance between a man and his OS (let alone whether such a romance can be considered futuristic), “Her” is undeniably gorgeous to watch. It’s also the only film in recent memory to be set in a future that is livable, much less desirable. Instead of the dark, dystopian city of “Blade Runner,” we are dropped into a bright, orderly Los Angeles of tall buildings and excellent mass transit. Though single-family homes still exist, Theodore Twombly prefers a high-rise apartment, and is so well served by public transportation that he neither owns nor needs a car. Why would he, when trains and subways take him everywhere, including the beach and the mountains?

In the near future of “Her,” Los Angeles has grown better as well as bigger. Shots of the Basin show a recognizable skyline, except that there are many more highrises in the areas between Downtown, Hollywood, Century City and Westwood, as there undoubtably will be in the years to come. These new buildings are CGI creations, but the jarringly smoggy scenes featuring elevated plazas and walkways were filmed in Shanghai. In them, one catches glimpses of the Bund, Shanghai’s riverfront commercial district, where old colonial buildings co-exist with new skyscrapers. And though Los Angeles will never have a navigable waterway, the broad curves of Huangpu offer a tantalizing suggestion of the future LA River.

Shanghai Stands In for Los Angeles

Shanghai Stands In for Los Angeles

But many aspects of “Her” didn’t have to be imagined at all, since they already exist. Theodore makes extensive use the Metro, even if it doesn’t yet go all the way to the beach. And he lives in a real place: the South Park district of Downtown, on the 35th floor of the Watermarke Tower (705 W. 9th Street). The buildings seen from his windows are all real buildings, shown to maximum advantage by the production designer K.K. Barrett, who covered the upper window panels and switched the glass from tinted to clear.

Says Barrett, the “focus was to bring the outside city in, and push light towards [Theodore].” The resulting message is unmistakable: Theodore lives in the heart of a dynamic and desirable city. Though he is shy and lovelorn, his location confers an enviable status. In the photo above, Theodore is framed against a view of nine notable towers: (l-r) 777 Figueroa, Ernst + Young Plaza, PWC Plaza, Union Bank Plaza, HSBC, City National Plaza, Bank of America Plaza, AON and Verizon (MCI Plaza).

Arguably, the real love story in “Her” is not between Theodore and his OS but the director Spike Jonze and Los Angeles. Having escaped both the dull suburban sprawl of its past and the ruins of its previously imagined future, Los Angeles appears a beautiful, modern and sustainable place. It’s obvious why Theodore, a dreamer of the first order, would want to live there, and why others would as well.


Thanks to Ian McFarren Anderson for identifying the buildings seen from Theodore’s apartment.

On “Blade Runner”: Four Essays

August 28, 2013 § 3 Comments

blade_runner1That’s the title of my new eBook, which is available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon, among other eBook publishers. Two of the essays appeared here in somewhat different form. Two longer pieces–a comparison of the film and the book on which it is based, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and an exploration of Japanese influences in the film–have never been published before. Here’s a link:–FOUR-ESSAYS?keyword=BLADE+RUNNER%3A+FOUR+ESSAYS&store=ebook

Discovering the Greek Hero in “Blade Runner”

May 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

Time to Die: Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty in “Blade Runner”/Courtesy Warner Bros.

A version of this article appears–along with new, unpublished essays–in my new eBook, “On Blade Runner: Four Essays.” It can be purchased for $4.99 at:–FOUR-ESSAYS?keyword=BLADE+RUNNER%3A+FOUR+ESSAYS&store=ebook

Other eBook sellers that have it include Amazon, Kobo, Baker and Taylor, Copia, ebookpie and Scribed.

Related article:

The New “Blade Runner”: Prequel or Sequel? Either Would Be Fine, Thanks!

August 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

Los Angeles, 2019-ish

From the New York Times comes this tantalizing update on Ridley Scott’s forthcoming “Blade Runner” movie. Apparently we can’t call it a sequel, because it might not be.

Who cares whether the new movie is set before or after the original? Just make it, and we’ll come out for it.

Blade Runner Contest: The Deadline Approaches

June 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

A New Life Awaits You in the Off-World Colonies….

Remember my Blade Runner contest? It’s still on; the deadline is June 15th.  Email your essays (700-1000 words) on “Blade Runner” to me at with “Blade Runner Contest” in the heading. I’ll publish the winning entry on this blog; the writer will get an interview and a free DVD of “Under the Hollywood Sign.” The winner will be announced June 20th.

“Blade Runner” Three Decades Later: How a Masterpiece of Production Design Left Its Mark On Los Angeles (and Vice Versa)

April 18, 2010 § 31 Comments


Downtown Los Angeles, 2019, in "Bladerunner"/Courtesy

A version of this article appears–along with new, unpublished essays–in my new eBook, “On Blade Runner: Four Essays.” It can be purchased for $4.99 at:–FOUR-ESSAYS?keyword=BLADE+RUNNER%3A+FOUR+ESSAYS&store=ebook

Other eBook sellers that have it include Amazon, Kobo, Baker and Taylor, Copia, ebookpie and Scribed.

“500 Days of Summer,” and Its Real Star–Downtown Los Angeles

July 27, 2009 § 4 Comments

The Eastern Columbia and United Artists Buildings by Night/Courtesy Ian McFarren Anderson

The Eastern Columbia and United Artists Buildings by Night/Courtesy Ian McFarren Anderson

Over the weekend I went to this summer’s best-reviewed romantic comedy, “500 Days of Summer,” expecting to be amused and charmed.  But I didn’t expect to be electrified, which I was, by the film’s use of downtown Los Angeles as a romantic setting. It’s probably the first time since the Silent Era (e.g., Buster Keaton’s “The Navigator”) that downtown has looked desirable on film.

Although downtown Los Angeles figures prominently in many period films–“Chinatown” and its sequel, “The Two Jakes,” and “LA Confidential”  instantly come to mind–it’s usually a place of mystery and danger.  Whatever beauty shows through in its grand avenues and architectural masterpieces  is usually negated by sinister goings-on. And films about contemporary Los Angeles–“Heat,” and “Collateral,” for example–merely use downtown as a glittering backdrop for car chases and shoot-outs.

“500 Days of Summer” is a complete departure from these films, yet the district’s importance isn’t immediately apparent. When Zooey Deschanel, as Summer, says, “We live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world,” it’s not yet clear what city she’s talking about.

Summer’s love interest Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)  is a true urbanite, living and working in dark old buildings and going almost everywhere on foot. It’s not until the two start spending time together–in Angels Flight Park and on First Street, Pershing Square and Broadway–that we appreciate their location. It’s not LA but downtown, a planet away from the bland Westside millieu of countless films set in Los Angeles, movies so suburban they could take place anywhere.

Tom and Summer see a movie not at a multiplex but at a Broadway movie palace. Their world has no suburban houses with big lawns, no time spent on freeways. In fact, the movie’s only driving shot shows Tom’s car entering the Second Street Tunnel, a quintessential downtown experience. The one time they go out of town–to a wedding at the beach–they actually take the train.

Tom is an architect with a keen appreciation for the City’s surviving 19th and 20th century buildings. He points out the Eastern Columbia Building and the Continental to Summer and –at her insistence–draws a temporary tattoo of historic buildings on her forearm. And at the film’s end, he goes for a job interview at LA’s greatest architectural landmark: George Herbert Wyman’s iconic 1893 Bradbury Building, whose previous appearances in “Blade Runner” and “Wolf” placed it in some other time (the future) or city (New York). Here, fittingly, it appears in its actual downtown location in the present day.

This is important: Los Angeles is the only city where an obscure draftsman from Dayton, Ohio could have seen his plans for a utopian skylighted building come to life. The very fact that Tom has lucked into an interview with a firm headquartered there–amid the open staircases, corridors and cage elevators–foreshadows his own bright future as an architect. Joseph Gordin-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel make an appealing pair of lovers in “500 Days of Summer.” But the Bradbury Building and downtown Los Angeles are the movie’s true stars.

I am indebted to Gloria Koenig’s Iconic LA (Glendale, CA: Balcony Press, 2000) for information on George Herbert Wyman.

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