Blade Runner 2049 is almost upon us and I can barely conceal my excitement. Blade Runner is one of my favourite films. They better not fuck it up; but going by the trailers and previews it looks like they’ve managed to get it right. We’ll know for sure on Friday. When I’m not working on my novel, or marketing my collection, I’ve got a sideline in movie memoir. I’m collecting together pieces about films I’ve seen with family. Here’s a shortened version of the one about Blade Runner.
Tears In Rain – The First Time I Saw Blade Runner
We made and odd couple, my Dad and I, walking into the dilapidated late night cinema. I was fifteen and he was in his mid-fifties. I had Sun-in hair and too much black eye-liner, waif-like in the way that only teenagers can be, while he was tall and solid, his bulk made bigger by his sheepskin coat. It was winter 1982 and we’d gone to a midnight screening, both of us wanting to see different films on the double bill. In 1980s northern England there no instant movie streaming like there is now; if you wanted to see an obscure American movie you had a window of about a fortnight and even then only at selected cinemas. If you missed this opportunity you sometimes had the chance to mop it up at a repertory screening. And so it was that Dad and I braved the Yorkshire winter to go and see a double feature of Blade Runner and Firefox. You’ve probably only heard of one of those films, and with good reason, but in December 1982 I first had to sit through Clint Eastwood’s mediocre cold war offering in order to experience one of the greatest films ever made.
I was a film mad teenager. I consumed movies the way other people ate food – they were necessary for my survival. Severe hip-dysplasia had meant a childhood of surgeries and immobility. I spent a lot of time watching television, lying in bed or, when I was feeling up to it, on the sofa in the lounge, from which I’d watch mid-morning reruns of classic Hollywood movies. I was born late to my parents, my mum was 46 and my Dad 40, we were not just one but two generations apart. A love of cinema helped Dad and I bond. He introduced me to all the greats, John Ford westerns, Busby Berkley musicals, screwball comedies. He liked both Marylin Monroe and Ingrid Bergman, James Stewart and Robert Mitchum. His all-time favourite was Humphrey Bogart. I suspect that as a young man he’d been told he looked like the morose movie star because he often emulated his idol; in any given film Dad knew many of Bogart’s lines by heart and often wore a Philip Marlow mackintosh and chewed a match. There was indeed a striking resemblance. Dad had the same pleading eyes and thin upper lip, a square jaw and a slightly dissatisfied expression. We’d watch the movies together over and over; Key Largo, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, To Have and Have Not, The Caine Mutiny and, of course, Casablanca.
Most of the films we watched were on TV, trips to the cinema were rare, especially as I moved towards adulthood and away from a love of Disney. I began to go with friends to see modern horror movies and comedies. I’d read about Blade Runner in my beloved film magazines and was intrigued – a sci-fi movie in film noir style! I watched for the listings at my local cinema but it never appeared. I’d just about given up hope of seeing it when I saw the ad for the double bill in Leeds. I showed it to Dad knowing he liked Clint Eastwood and to my surprise he said we could go.
‘It was strange thing to do,’ said my sister, home from college a week later, when I told her about it. It had been an experience. As you can imagine, those attending a Saturday midnight screening were not the usual cinema audience. It had been freezing outside, a few scant snowflakes making an appearance as we walked up the stone steps to the old-fashioned picture palace, slightly out of town. The doors were art deco, their brass handles worn from the many hands that had held them open. Inside we were hit with a blast of acrid heat and the odour of stale popcorn mixed with cigarette smoke hung in the foyer. The bored looking woman at the box office eyed us suspiciously as she sold us our tickets. We opted for the balcony because they were the best seats in the house. There were a few single men dotted around the aisles, some obvious junkies in from the cold and a row of drunk students at the back. Firefox was on first. It had a ridiculous cold war plot about Clint Eastwood stealing a spy plane from a Russian airbase. My Dad loved it, I watched his face more than the film, saw the delight on it, the joy when the hero saved the day.
‘That was fantastic!’ He declared and nipped out for a cigar in the interval, leaving me to sip my cola and stare at the patched velvet curtain closed in front of the screen, even at that age aware that it would not be a good idea to catch anyone’s eye. He arrived back in his seat just as the camera panned across Los Angeles 2019, accompanied by the first notes of the Vangelis score, and I decided that I was going to be a film director. I sat open-mouthed throughout. Here was a movie that had managed to incorporate all my beloved classic films into something shiny and new. It felt like it had been created specifically for me. I must be the only person who likes the original voice over version the best because it’s the most like those old Bogart movies my Dad loved so much. Dad wasn’t so keen. He snored softly at one point. Afterwards as I enthused he said it thought it was ‘a bit boring and so damn dark you couldn’t see anything’. Within a week I’d dyed my hair auburn, started smoking and wearing vintage clothes and put the poster on my wall. I still have an antique VHS version of the film somewhere, though nothing to play it on.
I never became a film director. But I did study film at University and managed to get a research job at The British Film Institute in London where I stayed for fifteen years. During that time I went to West End premieres, special preview screenings and Q&As with famous directors but still nothing beats that screening of Blade Runner in terms of raw cinematic experience.
Now I’m a writer I use cinema a lot in my work. I often write about people going to the cinema, using the way they respond to certain films as a way of developing character. In my current collection (15 Minutes) I have two stories in which films feature heavily. The first is Lost In Translation which sparks an unhealthy Scarlett Johansson obsession in my protagonist and the second features a teenage boy obsessed with Blade Runner. He listens to the soundtrack, talks like Deckard’s voice over and smokes unfashionable Marlboros.
As we walked from the cinema in the pre-dawn, the snow had turned to rain. It pattered on the car windows on the silent drive home, windscreen wipers creaking. Dad concentrated wearily on the road ahead while I watched the city lights flick past and imagined that I was riding into the unknown with Deckard, searching for immortality. My Dad is no longer with us. I often think of the night we went to that midnight screening. I sometimes imagine the times he went to the cinema as a young man, on dates, to shelter from the rain or just because he wanted to catch the latest Bogart before anyone else. Only he knew about those times and now they are gone – moments lost in time, like tears in rain.