Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Fishing in the Discount bin - Nineteen Eighty Four

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  You know the routine by now, I watch a movie and blog about it.  Today, I do the legendary adaptation of Nineteen Eighty Four.  This is in my notes at September 7, 2019.

George Orwell's 1984.  One of those books I was forced to read in high school English, and always stuck with me.  Makes perfect sense that 1984 would appeal to a high schooler.  I mean, who hasn't felt like high school is a totalitarian regime design to strike down all individuality and free thought?  Probably why some of the most popular YA franchises of the past few years (e.g. The Hunger Games) have taken place in totalitarian regimes. 

It's been a while since I read the book.  1984 is frequently cited by pseudo-intellectuals as one of their favourites.  We all seem to reach our peak pseudo-intellectual phase in the years after college, and that's when I last read it.  I went on a bit of a totalitarian regime kick, and in addition to 1984, I read the other dystopian nightmare novels that my high school English teacher frequently name-dropped when were studying 1984Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, and for my CanCon, The Handmaid's Tale.  It took me a few years, but I also got around to watching the film that my English teacher frequently brought up, Terry Gillliam's Brazil

I've had the 1984 film version of 1984 on DVD for a while, but I don't watch it very often.  I mean, I have to be in a certain mood to kick back and watch a very bleak movie about the dark side of human nature.  1984 is not the kind of film where you put on the popcorn and are looking for a good time.  Despite that, I figured I'd make the upgrade to Blu-Ray when I saw that Criterion put out a new edition of the film.  As I've remarked before, the Criterion editions really class up the Blu-Ray shelf.  So over the Labour Day weekend, I finally decided to suck it up and buy it.  It was only $40 when it was first released, so of course I had to wait for the price to jump to $50.  Stupid stupid stupid.  (Sorry, money's been tight lately.)

I also had to pick up the Criterion edition because of one of the bonus features on it.  See, 1984 was one of the first films where I started learning about things like director's cuts and alternate edits.  One of the producers on the film is everyone's favourite British billionaire, Richard Branson.  In order to make the film more commercial (and to provide him with a record album he could release on his label and sell in his record stores), Branson wanted to bring in a big name artist to score the film.  As they mention in the bonus materials for the Blu-Ray, they originally approached David Bowie, but talks fell apart because Bowie wanted the score to feature "organic music," and no one knew what the hell that was. 

Anyway, while the director, Michael Radford, got busy making the film, Branson finally managed to get the Eurythmics.  Radford didn't know anything about this until he got a call from Annie Lennox where she said, "So, yeah, we've been making the score based on a rough cut that Branson gave it, and...it's done, so who do we give it to?"  Radford was livid that Branson went behind his back like this, and publicly condemned the Eurythmics score when the film was released.  On all home media version, there was Radford's preferred orchestral score, composed by Dominic Muldowney.  The Criterion version has both scores for you to choose from, and in the bonus features, Radford says he's mellowed with age, has come to appreciate the Eurythmics score, and has apologized to Lennox. 

So when I watched it tonight, it was the first time I ever watched it with the Eurythmics score.  And, as you'd expect, it's one of the synthesizer-heavy scores that makes us nostalgic for the 1980s, but as good as it is, it robs the film of a certain timelessness. 

That being said, I still maintain that this is as flawless an adaptation of 1984 that you're ever going to get.  John Hurt just nails it as Winston Smith.  Smith is a bureaucrat in this totalitarian state, working in the Ministry of Truth.  When someone is eventually declared an enemy of the state, it's Smith's job to go through the history books and erase them from history.  And it's no doubt that being in a position like this is what eventually makes him start to question his faith in the Party and their ever-watching dictator, known simply as Big Brother. 

A similarly disillusioned young woman named Julia soon reaches out to him, and they begin an illegal love affair.  But all good things must end, and soon they are captured, and the final third of the film (and novel) has to do with Smith's torture at the hands of his one time confidant O'Brien, as they try to break Smith's will and turn him into a devoted servant of Big Brother. 

The film remains beautiful in its bleakness.  This really is the film brought to life.  That being said, a lot of how the totalitarian state of Ociana operates is left out of the film.  You're just kind of dropped into this society, and you know what?  You don't need to know that stuff to understand Winston's struggle. 

The film is as timely as ever.  I know, they tend to say that whenever there's a right wing government in power.  No wonder that's why the price of the Blu-Ray shot up, because it's being screened in high school classrooms all across the country again.  But, as the Orwell historian on the bonus features points out, Orwell always stuck it to left wing as much as he did the right wing.  Doesn't matter what you're political stripes are, a regime like this could always rise. 

Anyway, I'm about out of things to say about the film.  Read the film.  Watch the movie.  You just might learn somethin'.  Now, to get the bleakness out of my mind and cheer myself up, I think I'll go watch Avengers: Endgame again.

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