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Visual Futurist: Step inside the sci-fi world created by ‘Blade Runner’ visionary Syd Mead


A depiction of Los Angeles in 2019 by Syd Mead for ‘Blade Runner.’
 
Artist Syd Mead is probably best known for his work for the 1982 film Blade Runner, though his vast contributions to cinema can be seen in other groundbreaking works such as Aliens (1986), TRON (1982), and 2013’s Elysium which was directed by Neill Blomkamp. Blomkamp had a life-long obsession with Mead and his artwork which was what led him to engage the services of the then 80-year-old artist to design the sets for his futuristic film.

Mead’s background in industrial design is clear and present in his paintings. During the 1970s his artistic services were highly sought-after and widely respected within the companies and industries he spent time working for such as Ford and Phillips Electronics, illustrating catalogs and other types of publications. Mead also worked closely with elite members of the architectural design world including large hotel chains and other high-end establishments. His relentlessly busy schedule led him to move his base of operations to Los Angeles where he quickly found himself working as an artist for the motion picture industry in the late 70s. Though Blade Runner would not be the first Hollywood film that Mead would lend his visionary talent to, it can’t be disputed that his work on the film left an indelible imprint on the minds of filmmakers and cinephiles around the world, who adopted Mead’s grungy vision of what the year 2019 looked like, and other aspects of Blade Runner’s‘s essence in their work, like the hardwired goths from The Matrix, Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall and Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element.
 

A sketch of a uniform from ‘TRON’ by Syd Mead.
 
After meeting with director Ridley Scott to discuss the film (which at the time was going by the working title of Dangerous Days) Mead recalls that Scott told him that his intention was to create the framework for a noir film around its science fiction premise. To help drive his point home Scott used Michael Anderson’s 1972 film Logan’s Run as an example of the “slick and clean” presentation of more conventional cinematic sci-fi, opting instead for more of a bad-side-of-town feeling, pulsating in neon lights and depravity. Ridley Scott quite literally gave Syd Mead the job of creating 2019 Los Angeles for Blade Runner using his own conceptual ideas. During the process, Mead incorporated elements and influences from his travels around the world. Some of the vehicles in the film are based on autos from Cuba or the colorful “jitneys” (also known as “Jeepneys”) that serve as public transportation all around the Philippines. Architecturally, the future city of Los Angeles was based on a combination of Chicago and New York, and Mead’s work in Blade Runner continues to not only inspire filmmakers but also architects and a style that the artist referred to as “retro deco,” or “trash chic.”

Though I’ve only really scratched the surface when it comes to Syd Mead, I’m hoping it was more than enough to pique your interest in the impossibly cool artist. If that’s the case there are many publications based on Mead’s life and his long line of accomplishments. Perhaps the most lust-worthy is the forthcoming The Movie Art of Syd Mead: Visual Futurist which is set for release in September. The 256-page book is the largest and most comprehensive take on Mead’s career yet, including some never-before-seen works.

Mead is very much a living legend who deserves every bit of praise his fans give him and more.
 

‘TRON.’
 

Another conceptual work by Mead for ‘TRON.’
 
More Mead after the jump…

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Bill Paxton, William Burroughs, ‘Blade Runner’ and the making of ‘Taking Tiger Mountain’

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Taking Tiger Mountain is a strange film with an even stranger back story. It all began in 1974 when thirtysomething filmmaker Kent Smith saved up enough dough from making educational shorts to go off and produce his dream first feature. The folly of many first-time directors is knowing when to curb their ambitions. Smith was certainly ambitious—maybe overly so. He had an idea to make a kinda art house movie set in Tangiers—something inspired by Albert Camus’ novella The Stranger. There was no script, just a poem Smith had written on the kidnapping in 1973 of sixteen-year-old John Paul Getty—heir to the Getty oil fortune. Smith thought of his poem as the film’s framework. Add in a touch of Jean-Luc Godard and hint of Fellini and his debut feature was gonna be just peachy.

So, Smith had ambition—check. A basic storyline—check. And a nineteen-year-old actor by the name of Bill Paxton. Check.

Paxton was a hunk. A pin-up. The type of young actor who had I’m gonna be a big movie star pumping out of his pores. He had the looks, the demeanor and the talent. He was also fearless—as anyone would have to be if they were going to hook-up with Smith on a madcap movie-making adventure.

They packed their bags, leased some Arriflex Techniscope equipment and headed off to France. On arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, they discovered that their equipment had been lost in transit. It was the first of several small obstacles that eventually turned the film onto a different course. When the pair were eventually reunited with their equipment, they hired a car and headed for Spain. But the roads were like parking lots—gridlocked with holidaymakers on their way south to the coast. Eventually after a long, slow, infuriating drive, they made it to the ferry terminal and waited for the first ferry to take them across the waters to Tangiers.

As Paxton told Variety in 2015:

We got to Tangiers around midnight, and all of our equipment was impounded because we hadn’t paid the baksheesh. We got out in about 48 hours, and my attitude was “What the f–k?” I remembered I knew someone in South Wales when I was a foreign exchange student, so we drove there, and that’s where we shot the film.

 
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A young Bill Paxton as seen in the film.

Paxton and Smith traveled back up through Spain and France to England and then to Wales where things got “even crazier.”

We had purchased black-and-white short ends (film stock) from the film Lenny, and we sort of shot things as we came across them.

One guy had a Kenyan vulture, so we used that for a scene of eating my entrails. We met some girls and talked them into doing some nude scenes with us.

Basically it was a bunch of hippies running around naked. It was all silent, black-and-white footage.

They shot ten hours of footage—but what the hell to do with it all? They returned to the States. Paxton began making inroads into big screen movies, while Smith sat with his rushes wondering how to make a movie out of it.

In 1975, Smith showed the footage to a student at the University of Texas called Tom Huckabee. Nothing happened until Smith relinquished the rushes over to Huckabee in 1979. That’s when Huckabee started logging and assembling the ten hour’s worth of material together as he explained to Beatdom:

I started building scenes using the script they had which was loosely based on the J. Paul Getty kidnapping. There was no sci-fi element, no assassination, no prostitution, no feminism, or brainwashing. It was a dream film about a young American waking up on a train – with amnesia, maybe – who wanders into a Welsh town, meets a lot of people, has adventures, bad dreams, and then gets killed on the beach, or does he?

Once I had assembled all their footage into what seemed like a narrative flow, I started thinking about what the story could be. I didn’t like their story much, it was too languid for me,  disconnected, but mostly they had only shot half of it and I knew I couldn’t go back to Wales. I’d been reading Burroughs and a lot of other avant-garde, transgressive, and erotic literature. Story of the Eye was a big influence. I started reading The Job. I got the idea that he was an assassin… and maybe the idea to set it in the future.

Huckabee’s friends were all chucking in their two cents’ worth. A “mysterious guy named Ray Layton” had “the idea to make it about feminist terrorists brainwashing Billy…. and the prostitution camps.” Then Huckabee read William Burroughs’ novella Blade Runner (a movie) and the whole thing began to take shape in his mind.

I lucked into finding a backer who promised $30,000, and that’s when it got real. I remembered seeing another short film that Kent and Bill had made; a thinly veiled homoerotic portrait of Bill, called D’Artagnan. I thought it could be used to represent Billy’s brainwashing. By then I’d acquired the MKUltra transcripts and was heavily into The Job.

Huckabee approached Burroughs and obtained his permission to adapt Blade Runner into his movie. This was now the early 1980s, Ridley Scott was making a movie version of Philip K. Dick’s cult sci-fi book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Scott had also approached Burroughs to buy his title Blade Runner for his movie.

It took at least a year to write the script to conform to the footage, which by the way was 60 minutes. I knew I needed 75 min. minimum for it to be a feature. So I built five minutes of dream sequences out of outtakes, including one where I threw the film in the air and put it together as it came down – cheating a lot.

I should mention that I was fairly regularly during this time, maybe once every one or two months, on acid, mushrooms, and baby woodrose seeds… this, added with all the experimental film I was seeing, and avant-garde and erotic and left wing and feminist political literature I was reading, kept my mind open to outré thematic and formal tropes… so, say, if a scene wasn’t working I could always run it upside down and backwards… Also by then I was thoroughly versed in MKUltra brainwashing, psychic warfare, so in that respect I think I was getting a lot of that independently from Burroughs, maybe from the same source he was getting it.

Then I wrote the opening scene and shot it… and started dubbing in dialogue. I forgot to mention Woody Allen’s Tiger Lilly as an influence. First I hired a lip reader to tell me what the characters were saying and many of them were speaking Welsh.

Huckabee finished his film. Now called Taking Tiger Mountain—the title lifted from a Chinese opera—it was released in 1983. The film was described as a “unique sensory experience.” Set the near future Taking Tiger Mountain follows Paxton as:

Billy Hampton, a Texan who [has] fled from occupied America to British island in order to avoid compulsory military service. Once there, he [is] abducted by a group of sophisticated feminist terrorists, who have been opposing the oldest profession [prostitution] legalization, creating assassins by brainwashing and then setting them on the prostitution camps leaders. (They also specialize in redirecting sexual orientation and sex change operations.)

At the start of the film:

[A] quartet of middle-aged women analyze Billy and persuade him to believe that an aging major is actually a tiger sent by God to kill him. That prologue is a combination of sequences with Huckabee’s signature and those from a short film that Smith and Paxton had been working on prior to their arrival to Wales. What follows could be described as a sporadically wet psychotropic nightmare, with hypnotic soundtrack composed of gloomy drones, overdubbed dialogues, confusing monologues and omnipresent radio announcements about the war [and its] aftermath and the use of thermonuclear weapons on the United States…

More ‘Taking Tiger Mountain’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Behind-the-scenes photographs from the set of ‘Alien’ (1979)
08.12.2014
10:25 am

Topics:
Movies

Tags:
Alien
Ridley Scott
H R Giger

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The man who wore the creature suit in Ridley Scott’s classic film Alien in 1979 was 6’10″ Nigerian Bolaji Badejo.

As soon as Scott saw Bolaji, he knew he had found the right person to play the Alien. Badejo was allowed to rehearse and practice his movements on the set of the spacecraft “Nostromo” prior to filming. Wearing a mock-up of the Alien head, Badejo moved gracefully, slowly, slithering and creeping through the spaceship’s corridors, as he later told Cinefantastique:

“The idea,” says Bolaji, “was that the creature was supposed to be graceful as well as vicious, requiring slow, deliberate movements. But there was some action I had to do pretty quick. I remember having to kick Yaphet Kotto, throw him against the wall, and rush up to him. Veronica Cartwright was really terrified. After I fling Yaphet Kotto back with my tail, I turn to go after her, there’s blood in my mouth, and she was incredible. It wasn’t acting. She was scared.”

These photos come various sources, and show Bolaji in his Alien outfit, along with Ridley Scott setting up shots and artist H. R. Giger preparing the sets.
 
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More behind the scenes pics plus making of documentary, after the jump…

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Tony Scott as a young man starring in his brother Ridley’s first film

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A young Tony Scott stars in his brother Ridley’s first film Boy and Bicycle.

This was the film that inspired Tony to make movies, and it’s a long way from the loud, brash, stadium rock ‘n’ roll films he became famous for in later life.

Tony Scott had considerable skill as film-maker. He was great at large scale, set-piece action scenes, which he manipulated with the ease of a master conjuror. He was more than capable at getting strong performances from his cast, even when characterization was flimsy. And interestingly, his films brought together the most unlikely groups of fans - the Goths of The Hunger, the jocks of Top Gun, the Hip of True Romance, and the Geeks of Enemy of the State. I always thought he should have made a Batman or a Spiderman, or teamed-up again with Tarantino.

The news of his death was shocking, but the manner in which he chose to die had something terribly dramatic about it - his fall from the Vincent Thomas Bridge was witnessed by on-lookers and even filmed.

Tony Scott will be remembered for those populist, large scale movies that captured the audience’s imagination, while at the same time reflecting the cultural ambition, fantasies and fashions of their decade.

Tony Scott R.I.P. 1944-2012
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Nothing matches Blade Runner: Philip K. Dick gets excited about Ridley Scott’s film

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Philip K. Dick wrote an excited letter to Jeff Walker, at the Ladd Company, after watching a television preview of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, the film version of his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

October 11, 1981

Mr. Jeff Walker,
The Ladd Company,
4000 Warner Boulevard,
Burbank,
Calif. 91522.

Dear Jeff,

I happened to see the Channel 7 TV program “Hooray For Hollywood” tonight with the segment on BLADE RUNNER. (Well, to be honest, I didn’t happen to see it; someone tipped me off that BLADE RUNNER was going to be a part of the show, and to be sure to watch.) Jeff, after looking—and especially after listening to Harrison Ford discuss the film—I came to the conclusion that this indeed is not science fiction; it is not fantasy; it is exactly what Harrison said: futurism. The impact of BLADE RUNNER is simply going to be overwhelming, both on the public and on creative people—and, I believe, on science fiction as a field. Since I have been writing and selling science fiction works for thirty years, this is a matter of some importance to me. In all candor I must say that our field has gradually and steadily been deteriorating for the last few years. Nothing that we have done, individually or collectively, matches BLADE RUNNER. This is not escapism; it is super realism, so gritty and detailed and authentic and goddam convincing that, well, after the segment I found my normal present-day “reality” pallid by comparison. What I am saying is that all of you collectively may have created a unique new form of graphic, artistic expression, never before seen. And, I think, BLADE RUNNER is going to revolutionize our conceptions of what science fiction is and, more, can be.

Let me sum it up this way. Science fiction has slowly and ineluctably settled into a monotonous death: it has become inbred, derivative, stale. Suddenly you people have come in, some of the greatest talents currently in existence, and now we have a new life, a new start. As for my own role in the BLADE RUNNER project, I can only say that I did not know that a work of mine or a set of ideas of mine could be escalated into such stunning dimensions. My life and creative work are justified and completed by BLADE RUNNER. Thank you..and it is going to be one hell of a commercial success. It will prove invincible.

Cordially,

Philip K. Dick

The tragedy is PKD never saw the finished version of the classic science fiction film, as he died 5 months later, on March 2, 1982, just months before Blade Runner was given its cinematic release.
 
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With thanks to Jai Bia
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Extended trailer for Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’
03.18.2012
01:17 am

Topics:
Movies
Pop Culture

Tags:
Ridley Scott
Prometheus

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Here’s the extended trailer for Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s highly-anticipated prequel (of sorts) to his masterpiece Alien. It looks like Scott’s playing to his strengths on this one: epic, beautifully designed by Arthur Max and with stunning cinematography by Dariusz Wolski.

The film will focus on a mythology within the Alien universe. Set in the late-21st century, Prometheus will explore the advanced civilization of an extraterrestrial race responsible for the origins of modern humans on Earth, as well as the background of the Alien creature which made its first appearance in the 1979 film.

Starring Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender. Released date June 2012.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
‘Blade Runner’ Convention Reel, 1982


 
From Vimeo user Future Noir:

One of the Blade Runner Convention Reels featuring interviews with Ridley Scott, Syd Mead and Douglas Trumbull about making Blade Runner universe. This 16 mm featurette, made by M. K. Productions in 1982, is specifically designed to circulate through the country’s various horror, fantasy and science fiction conventions.

 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Blade Runner’ Polaroids
Blade Runner revisited

(via Super Punch)

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment