Posts Tagged ‘popular culture’

Do Androids Scream of Electric SheepThis final part of my essay on Blade Runner and Asperger’s syndrome moves into more speculative areas and draws on linguistics and literary theory to examine how Blade Runner and postmodern texts in general present as autistic.

In “Part 1: Autistic Noir” I described the traits associated with Asperger’s Syndrome (e.g. linguistic and social deficits, a marked lack of affect, and difficulties with cognitive empathy) and showed how each of these traits is presented by the characters in Blade Runner. In “Part 2: The Neurodivergent Worlds of Philip K Dick” I looked at Dick’s original novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) in the context of his other work of that period, his deepening interest in the dramatic and philosophical possibilities presented by different neurotypes, and how his work prefigured the more modern work of autism specialists like Simon Baron-Cohen and Uta Frith.

In this chapter I hope to take the affinity between Blade Runner and Asperger’s further still by exploring the deeper waters of postmodern theory and neuroscience.

The following argument is complex so I’d like to layout the stages in advance.

  • Firstly, I want to argue that Aspies have a preference for metonymy over metaphor, and that the reasons for this can be understood in terms of current research into neuroscience.
  • Secondly, I will argue in favour of Damien Broderick‘s contention in Reading by Starlight: Postmodern Science Fiction (1995) that science fiction is a genre – or mode – which privileges metonymy over metaphor.
  • Thirdly, I will look at the analysis of postmodernism proposed by literary theorist Frederic Jameson in Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991) to propose correspondences between postmodern texts and what I’ll call the Autistic Mode of expression.

(more…)

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RachaelAspies

This is the first in a series of essays on popular culture and neuroscience. I’m starting with my favourite movie, Blade Runner (1982), and the novel  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) on which it is based, partly because I have been obsessed with both since I was a teenager, but mostly because I can write about both from inside the condition these texts illustrate: autism, and in particular the autistic spectrum disorder still referred to as Asperger’s syndrome” or “Asperger’s disorder.”

It may sound a surprising claim Blade Runner as an autistic film to anyone used to more literal representations of autistism in films like Rain Man (Barry Levinson, 1988) or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Stephen Daldry, 2011) but in many ways Blade Runner is the Aspie” [1] film par excellence.

Most films about autism are targeted at non-autistics, reflect the non-autistic values and assumptions, and are ultimately and ultimately designed to meet their emotional needs. Many revolve around finding a cure: in Change of Habit (1969), for instance, Elvis Presley, in his last film role, cures an abandoned autistic girl by hugging het close and telling her she has to learn how to love people.  Sometimes the direction of cure is reversed:  caring for his autistic brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) redeems the selfishness of yuppie Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise). Either way the autistic experience is framed within the point of view of the non-autistic. But Blade Runner is different; Blade Runner largely dispenses with the non-autistic point of view.

Blade Runner features no characters explicitly identified as having Asperger’s Syndrome; in fact few of them are even human. When Blade Runner was made Asperger’s was barely recognised in the English speaking world (Lorna Wing translated Hans Asperger‘s work in 1981 when the film was already in production). Yet every character, human or otherwise, displays recognizably autistic spectrum (AS) traits – as I will hopefully demonstrate!

The film also reflects the experience of alienation, social exclusion and prejudice common to aspies; what’s more, the film’s intense auditory and visual style and obsessive attention to surface detail mimics the local precedence bias of autistic perceptual processing and induces an effect of sensory overload aspies are familiar with. It features a diagnostic test that bears an uncanny resemblance to tests used in the assessment of autistic spectrum disorders. But most importantly of all, the major theme is one which is of particularly salience to Aspies; the notion that empathy is constitutive of being human, and that a deficit in this often vaguely defined quality is used the marginalise and discriminate against certain groups by denying them humanity (hence the title of this first part).

And to top it all the film features an actress who was herself diagnosed with Asperger’s. (more…)

Roy Batty

Science fiction fans mark some odd birthdays: that of The Terminator‘s Skynet on August 4th 1997; or 2001: A Space Odyssey computer HAL 9000 on 12th January 1999.

Today, 8th January 2016, is the birthday – or incept date – of iconic Blade Runner replicant Roy Batty.

This seems an appropriate day to reboot my site after a long absence from blogging. I have a series of posts inspired by Blade Runner and I’ll be posting them soon.

Please check them out!

BFI Dual Format Edition

DirectorTony Scott (as Anthony Scott). Writer: Tony Scott. Producers: Stephen Bayly and Albert Finney (uncredited). StarringRosamund Greenwood (Woman), Roy Evans (Man), David Pugh (Young Boy). Cinematography: Chris Menges. 52 mins, 1971.

The suicide of film director Tony Scott makes the title of his early experimental film Loving Memory (1971) bitterly ironic. This splending BFI Dual Format release contains the title film and two other shorts, One of the Missing (1968) and Boy and Bicycle (1965).

Tony Scott was, of course, the younger brother of Ridley Scott, and though both were successful mainstream Hollywood directors Tony is generally regarded as the more commercial of the two: his first Hollywood movie was the stylish arthouse vampire film The Hunger (1983), a box-office failure, after which he returned to advertising, but a successful campaign for SAAB featuring a Saab 900 turbo racing a Saab 37 Viggen fighter jet lead to him being offered the director’s seat on the gung-ho action flick Top Gun (1986); this was followed by a string of commercially successful blockbusters including Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), Revenge (1990), Days of Thunder (1990), The Last Boy Scout (1991), True Romance (1993), Crimson Tide (the first of a series of  successful collaborations with Denzel Washington, 1995), The Fan (1996), Enemy of the State (1998), Spy Game (2001), Man on Fire (2004), the time travel movie Déjà Vu (2006), The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009), and Unstoppable (2010).

The accident

Loving Memory is about as far away from these star studied, blockbusting action movies as it is possible to imagine. Despite being British neither of the Scott brothers have set much of their work in Britain: Loving Memory is Tony Scott’s only purely ”British” film (although Spy Game features some London scenes); it is a macabre character study which has been justifiably compared to Harold Pinter.

David Pugh as the Young Boy

The film concerns an elderly couple played by Rosamund Greenwood and Roy Evans, who we later discover to be brother and sister, who accidentally run over and kill a young cyclist played by David Pugh on a lonely northern moor – but instead of reporting the incident to the police the woman decides to take the corpse home with them. There she dresses him in the clothes of a second brother, killed in the Second World War, shows him her photo-albums, and tries to engage him in conversation. Her brother, meanwhile, gathers wood to build a coffin.

Rosamund Greenwood as the Woman

Greenwood has the only speaking part in the movie and largely carries it; she gives a subtle, heart-rending performance as a sister clinging to her past. Memories of the War hang heavily over the house – quite literally in the form of an aircraft propeller suspended from the ceiling that the woman boobytraps in order to prevent her brother burying the corpse. Greenwood had appeared in Jacques Tourneur‘s classic horror film Night of the Demon (1957) and Wolf Rilla‘s Village of the Damned (1960), and would appear as a witch in Nicolas Roeg‘s The Witches (1990), an adaptation of the children’s book by Roald Dahl; her distinctive features are beautifully captures in Chris Menges photography and reproduced in detail in the crisp Blu-ray transfer.

Roy Evans as the Man

Roy Evans, the brother, was a character actor who had previously appeared in Doctor Who as Trantis in ”The Daleks’ Master Plan” (1965-66), and would later appear in ”The Green Death” (1973) as Bert, a Welsh miner, and as another miner in ”The Monster of Peladon”  (1974). Here too he wears a miner’s helmet.

David Pugh would be a regular in the ITV children’s show Roberts Robots (1974)

Cinematographer Chris Menges had previously shot Peter WatkinsThe War Game (1965), Ken Loach‘s Kes (1968) and Lindsay Anderson‘s If…. (1968); he would later photograph Bill Forsyth‘s Local Hero (1983), Roland Joffe‘s The Killing Fields (1984) and The Mission (1986), which won him an Academy Award each; Neil Jordan‘s Michael Collins (1996) earned him another Oscar nomination. As you would expect the landscapes look incredible on Blu-ray, and the cluttered rooms of the elderly couple’s house are rich in detail.

Loving Memory  was selected for the Cannes Film Festival’s Critics Week.

One of the Missing (1968)

Director: Anthony Scott. Writer: Anthony Scott. Photography: Anthony Scott. Starring: Stephen Edwards (James Clavering), Ridley Scott (Unionist Officer, uncredited), Dave Edwards (Voices). BFI Production Board, 26 mins, 1968

One of the Missing (1968) was Tony Scott’s first film, an experimental short based on a short story by Ambrose Bierce about an American Civil War soldier trapped beneath the rubble of a collapsed building.

The film is a tense, claustrophobic film with virtually no dialogue other than an opening narration, and contains no synchronously recorded sound – presumably for budgeting reasons. Scott appears to have been inspired by Robert Enrico‘s Au Coeur de la Vie (In the Midst of Life, 1963), which also drew on Ambrose Bierce’s work.

Although Tony Scott would not return to the historical genre himself the visual style anticipates that of Ridley Scott’s 1977 film The Duellists.

One of the Missing is presented in it’s original full-frame format and shows a little sign of wear but that’s not surprising given the age of the source material.

Boy and Bicycle (1965)

Starring: Anthony Scott (The Schoolboy). DirectorRidley Scott. Producer: Ridley Scott. WriterRidley Scott. BFI Experimental Film, 25 mins, 1965.

The third feature in this set stars Tony Scott (again credited as Anthony Scott) as the title character in the charming experimental short Boy and Bicycle (1965) written and directed by Ridley Scott. This tells the freewheeling adventures of a 16 year old cyclist in a Northern industrial seaside town.

As with One of the Missing there is no synchronous sound and the only speech is Tony Scott’s internal monologue. The script is funny, with Tony filling in the absence of dialogue with his own parodies of adult speech.

It’s not hard to see this short as the inspiration of Ridley Scott’s classic Hovis advert, “Bike Round” (1974).

The theme music was by John Barry and the incidental music by John Baker of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop; sound was by Brian Hodgson, also of the Radiophonic Workshop, and Murray Marshall.

Boy and Bicycle is also presented in its original full-frame format.

Read more
  • Bierce, Ambrose ”One of the missing”
  • Morrison, David (undated) Boy and Bicycle at BFI Screenonline
  • —– (undated) One of the Missing at BFI Screenonline
  • Newman, Kim (undated) ”Ridley Scott” at BFI Screenonline
  • —– () ”The Films of Tony and Ridley Scott” (published in the booklet accompanying the BFI Dual Format release)

Very sad to hear of the death of science fiction writer Harry Harrison at the age of 87.

Harrison is probably best known for his novel Make Room! Make Room! (1966), a powerful dystopia about overpopulation filmed – rather successfully – as Soylent Green (1973).

His anti-hero, James Bolivar DiGriz, alias “Slippery Jim” DiGriz, first appeared in the short story ”The Stainless Steel Rat” in Astounding magazine in 1957;  The Stainless Steel Rat (1961) was the first in a series of hilarious novels featuring the adventures of the interplanetary crook and his expanding family.

Bill the Galactic Hero (1965) was an equally amusing novel but with a darker subtext, a satire on the militaristic science fiction of Robert A Heinlein, especially Starship Troopers (1960). Harrison drew on his own experiences as a machine gun instructor

His other work includes A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! (1973), an early example of what would later be termed ‘Steampunk‘, and the elaborate Alternative World Eden Trilogy (West of Eden1984, Winter in Eden1986, and Return to Eden1988), an exercise in World Building comparable in scope and ambition to Frank Herbert‘s Dune (1965) and Brian Aldiss‘s Helliconia Trilogy (1982-1985).

Harrison was a good friend and collaborator with Brian Aldiss, and they were co-presidents of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group. They edited numerous anthologies together.

He was a proselytizer for the auxiliary language Esperanto, which is spoken in the future of his Deathworld series (1960-2001) and The Stainless Steel Rat; Harrison was honorary president of the Esperanto Association of Ireland, as well as a member of Esperanto-USA, and also the Universala Esperanto-Asocio (World Esperanto Association).

He was also a notable atheist, and often used his fiction to criticise religion. His most widely anthologised short story was ”The Streets of Ashkelon” (1962), first published in Brian Aldiss’s anthology New Worlds (1962), a taboo-busting story about an interplanetary missionary; and Make Room! Make Room! was an attack on the Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception, not a gothic nightmare about cannibalism – Soylent Green is made from soy beans and lentils, not people!

References
  • Aldiss, Brian (ed, 1962) New Worlds
    • (1982) Helliconia Spring
    • (1983) Helliconia Summer
    • (1985) Helliconia Winter
  • Harrison, Harry (1957) ”The Stainless Steel Rat” in Astounding
    • (1960) Deathworld
    • (1961) The Stainless Steel Rat
    • (1962)  ”The Streets of Ashkelon” in Aldiss, Brian (1962)
    • (1965) Bill, the Galactic Hero
    • (1973) A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!
    • (1984) West of Eden
    • (1986) Winter in Eden
    • (1988) Return to Eden
  • Heinlein, Robert A (1960) Starship Troopers
  • Herbert, Frank (1965) Dune