Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Wall

(Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, "Retiring Zhora"scene, 1982)

There is a particular scene from Ridley Scott's cyberpunk classic, Blade Runner, where the background actor isn't a passive object of the environment but the thing that creates the tension of the scene as well as the frustration of the character of the narrative.  As the character, Dreckard is chasing after his target, Zhora, they leave the privacy of a club into heavily populated area in a futuristic Los Angeles.  The compression of space is apparent as Dreckard tries to penetrate the crowd in order to "retire" Zhora.  The function of the crowd is less individualistic as they form a volume which creates a wall, or even a maze for Dreckard and Zhora to traverse –which ultimately leds the viewer through the scene.  The mass is able to move, but their shear volume obscures Dreckard from being able to see Zhora, or even use his gun.  All throughout this scene, Dreckard struggles with the crowd and pushes and sometimes knocks over a total of 19 people.  Zhora uses the crowd to camouflage herself from being seen.  And in the context of this film, Zhora being a "replicant", an artificial life-form that replicates human nature and is questionably separated from humans, creates a motif that questions what it is to be human, but in this case study of background actors, her character and its attention to the viewer is obscured into the thickness of the kinetic background.  She disappears in the invisibility plane.
(Citizens of the night scene from Blade Runner, 1982)

The aesthetics of the background actors is representative of both the futuristic vision of the film as well as the multiculturalism of the location depicted.  There are signifiers of slums, with street people, along with monks of mixed race, punks, masked individuals, fur-coat bearing bourgeoisie, and other characters that defy category and the trolley which seems to unite them all as they move throughout this fictional landscape.  Even with this heighten-sense of multiculturalism and the individuals it can make, they all seem to blend in as exactly what they are as a mass and conform to the term, "multiculturalism".  They reach their broadest of terms of identification as being the sum of its parts, the whole or without, the mass of the many as this word comes into repetition.  The scene seems to create a gathering of all stereotypes of cyberpunk culture and its characterization, with mixtures of streampunk, bright colors, street punks, slum dwellers, the freaks and mutates, ridiculous and impractical clothing of futuristic fashion (which often "dates" a film in retrospect).  It is an overwhelming sight, with one group or individual replaced by another, after another in this high production and peak of Hollywood's studio system.  And in the spectacle this vision of the future creates the background character is heighten in the process.  There is a symbiotic relationship that the scene/environment has with its inhabitants as if they were once introduced to the environment and had gone through the process of adaptation and through radical transformation and mutation they become the forms in which the viewer sees.  The notion of being a product of the environment is brought into question and as human being one of the most influential creatures of this planet on its environment, is it fact the humans which occupy the space which dictate the environment or is it the environment that creates the conditions of the creature?  The urban environment is at the forefront of this discussion as it is the furthest removed from the natural environment and represents the epicenter of human influence on the landscape.  This model of the urban landscape creates the herd mentality, the diffusion of individuality when placed within volume.  The job entitlement of the background actor in an urban landscape is to be a member of the crowd, to blend into the background and to operate as a whole.  Where does roleplaying and their job mix and differ when they are arranged in volume as background actors being a crowd and taking on the role of being a crowd?

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