Dark City (Director’s Cut)

Dark City

 

I recall Dark City being one of my favorite films of 1998, and I would have rated it quite highly had I been keeping score at the time. Dark City is a bold science fiction film noir most obviously indebted to Blade Runner, but also to Dork Report favorites Brazil (especially the sequences of buildings sprouting up out of the ground), Metropolis, M, and City of Lost Children (read The Dork Report review). In each of these films, a protagonist survives in a hostile, often nameless dystopian city, often with the suspicion that his depressing existence is somehow not real. Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, and David S. Goyer’s screenplay explores the same flavor of paranoid schizophrenia that also figures in the literature of Franz Kafka and Philip K. Dick.

Dark City was overshadowed at the box office by Titanic like all its contemporaries, but like its later oddball distant cousin Donnie Darko, its extended lifecycle included becoming a cult hit on DVD. In the meanwhile, director Alex Proyas further raised his bankability with later commercial success I, Robot. So for Dark City’s tenth anniversary, New Line Cinema financed Proyas’ completion of a Director’s Cut for a special edition DVD. Watching it for the first time since 1998, it all nevertheless seemed familiar to this Dork Reporter, who found it difficult to spot anything new from memory.

Dark CityThe worst loo in The City

DVD bonus features are dryly referred to by movie studio home entertainment executives as “value-added content.” Repurposed electronic press kits typically feature filmmakers congratulating themselves on how wonderful a film they’ve made and how brilliant all their colleagues were. In contrast, the Dark City DVD squeezes in an interesting and fairly candid feature-length documentary on the making of the film and its impact upon numerous philosophers and film critics. No less a marquee booster than St. Roger Ebert praises the film and contributes and entire commentary track. Ebert has long championed the film, even including it among his series of Great Movies. Among other excellent insights, he points out it predated the similarly-themed The Matrix by over a year.

Proyas describes his Director’s Cut as “more complete,” and blames the audience testing process for New Line Cinema pressuring him to add an explanatory voiceover. As he put it, the process undermined his confidence as a filmmaker and thus compromised the film. As was the case with the 2007 reissue of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Proyas has now removed the opening narration, spit-polished the special effects, and extended some scenes.

Dark CityHappy Birthday, Mr. Murdoch

The filmmakers relate their amusing struggles with the MPAA. Shown a relatively inoffensive cut of the film, they nevertheless wanted to give it an “R” rating, the best rationale they could give being its overall weirdness. So, faced with receiving an R no matter what, the filmmakers actually decided to add more nudity and violence. But there is still no profanity in this antiseptic universe. Dark City is a film noir of the sort where even hookers say things like “Aw, shoot.”

Of the cast, only Rufus Sewell participates in the documentary. He’s nothing like I would have expected; actually kind of goofy and animated, in direct contrast to his moody seriousness in the role. Kiefer Sutherland overeggs his performance with a limp, facial deformity, and speech defect. His character is a remorseful collaborator that turns on his masters, interesting enough without all the actorly accouterments. Jennifer Connelly is as luminously beautiful as ever in Dark City, but seemed a bit more… how do I put this politely… soft than usual. Was she pregnant at the time? A striking shot of Connelly standing on the end of a pier matches my memory of a similar shot in Requiem for a Dream.


Official movie site: www.darkcity.com

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Low live at Mercury Lounge, New York – September 22, 2008

 

I hope I’m totally wrong, but I picked up on a few hints that this latest tour by Low might mark the end of the band. My half-baked evidence:

  1. Alan Sparhawk seems to be having success with new side project, the Retribution Gospel Choir.
  2. This tour is not in support of a new album release.
  3. The shows were marketed as “An Evening With Low,” lingo for shows with no opening acts. Pitchfork reported that Low would be playing extra-long sets.
  4. Sparhawk himself told the Mercury Lounge audience to settle in for a long night, and ominously said a “retrospective” show is like the proverbial “nail in the coffin.”
  5. Bassist Matt Livingston has left the band after a relatively short tenure, replaced by Steve Garrington.
  6. David Kleijwgt’s 2008 documentary You May Need a Murderer (read The Dork Report review) had a notably more frank and final tone compared to the 2004 Low in Europe (read The Dork Report review). Could Low be preparing their legacy?
  7. I read later that on September 13, at the End of the Road Festival in Dorset, Sparhawk flung his guitar into the crowd. As seen in You May Need a Murderer, Sparkhawk has some issues with his mental health. Whether it was an act of rage or elation remains an object of debate online.

Like I said, I hope I’m wrong, and one of my favorite bands will continue on. Recent albums The Great Destroyer and Drums & Guns were both great leaps forward, and as a listener I see no reason why the band can’t keep evolving.

Low live at Mercury LoungeAlan Sparhawk & Steve Garrington live at Mercury Lounge, NY (I could barely see Mimi Parker from where I was standing)

Some little anecdotes of the evening:

  1. The first half of the set was acoustic (albeit using an array of electronic devices), and Sparhawk switched to an electric guitar for the second half. Garrington used an upright acoustic bass throughout.
  2. Mimi Parker stated that the evening’s rendition of “Dragonfly” could have been called “Dragging-fly” Sparhawk agreed, admitting it was a “Extra Dragging-fly.”
  3. Low debuted a sequel to their classic Low Christmas EP: “Santa’s Coming Over,” soon to be released on vinyl and digitally. Its the first example of self-parody by Low that I’m aware of. The Low Christmas EP is actually somberly beautiful, but in “Santa is Coming” Sparhawk sings patently silly lyrics in full doom-and-gloom melodramatic slowcore style. Perhaps I should have filed this note in my list of “half-baked evidence” above…

Low live at Mercury Lounge Alan Sparhawk & Steve Garrington live at Mercury Lounge, NY (I could barely see Mimi Parker from where I was standing)

Official Low site: www.chairkickers.com

The Swell Season live at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park, New York – September 17, 2008

 

Glen Hansard (of The Frames and The Commitments – read The Dork Report review) and Markéta Irglová recorded an album together called The Swell Season, and now tour under the name. They fell in love while filming the excellent Once (read The Dork Report review), and are now a couple.

Interestingly, they got their Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly” out of the way right away, perhaps to avoid having the audience call it out as a request over and over throughout the evening. Personally, I felt Hansard goofed off a bit too much, even during serious songs like a new one I believe was called “Broke Down.”

swell_season.jpgGlen Hansard live in Central Park

Official band site: www.theswellseason.com

Buy Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová’s album The Swell Season from Amazon and kick back a few pennies to The Dork Report.