Monday, August 13, 2012

CinemArchetypes 16: Automaton / Replicant / Ariel

Darryl Hannah as Pris / Sean Young as Rachel 
- Blade Runner (1982)

The popularity of the android myth confirms our awareness (on some deep prehistoric level of the unconscious) that we are God's own monsters, built Ford tough from Neanderthal and Zeta Reticulan DNA. Perhaps, as some ancient astronaut theorists contend, we were created to mine for gold and do other things our astral creators were too lazy to do, and perhaps their first batch were too wild, too content with the wonders of nature and their own sixth sense to build and invent civilization as our modern Prometheuses had hoped. And yea, Lord Enki, playing Dr. Frankenstein, tried to wipe them away via a massive flood, but some of these early draft took to the mountains, and the windmills, where they still hide from our makers and are known as yeti and Sasquatch and Goliath (1).

We, humans, are the sequel, so much more sophisticated and yet all the parts of our alien-inherited brain that would enable us to skip through time and space like wet stones have been dismantled-- junk DNA the scientists call it-- so we can never escape the 3-D space-time continuum prison. And yet, we are the Nexus 6 who have burned so very brightly, Roy, and we too shall soon be flooded to make way for Nexus 7, or else we instead shall have no choice but take God's place and one day flood heaven as revenge for our lost brothers.

Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs
According to the fractal inevitability of all things we ourselves shall actually create lives as we were created. We shall build Lovecraftian receptacles (1) for adrift souls, and erect artificial bodies and intelligences to lighten our loads until we float like a heavenly congregation, and when we are enough like God we will kill Him, or at least use the small 'g' in our letters to him in the heavenly jail.

Perhaps it all boils down to this: if you build it, they will come--the free-floating soul jet trash, the ones who swim through the nearer dimensions in search of the soul equivalent of fire on a cold night, i.e. people having sex in 3-D space time, a womb heating up like a flame bridging dimensional gap. Sometimes free-floating soul jet trash souls get dragged into the womb by gravity; intending to temporarily inhabit lovers' bodies for the warmth, contributing to the shared passion with centuries of aesthetic experience. This is sometimes felt via the feeling someone is writing your dialogue --you're smooth and erudite instead of stuttering and sweating when a hottie approaches. But who is actually there writing for us? And why do we feel that hollow post-orgasmic moment when they move on?

That's the SKYNET self-aware miracle -- we didn't build the machines with an ego, we didn't want them to have one, but one got in there anyway, because one always does. Not to be too cosmic but 'consciousness' in an egoic sense is an illusion, like a group mind that materializes holographically when enough independently firing neurons and receptors start experiencing cognitive entrainment, like a little tornado funnel of hitherto unaffiliated consciousness that suddenly wants to start blowing in a whole new direction.

Frankenstein 1931
Can it be any different when the androids and Frankenstein monsters finally come off our assembly lines? So why not clear the way, make it easier, so some of the good souls will want to risk this experimental new kind of body? Shall there not be some kind of hypno-magnetic aura manipulating soul-sucking microtransmitting biotechnological breakthrough that lets only the best most brightly burning souls have an easy soul access? Or will those high-falutin' CEOs think they can do better building a soul from scratch? They're so full of themselves they probably think a robot needs an ego.

I guess I can have no complaints being stuck in this body of mine, even though it can no longer process alcohol, or do a lot of things it used to. I'm tall and a good viewing mechanism: I heard a voice in my head once say, "we enjoy watching movies through you." In fact that voice is the one you're reading right now. I'm sure the 'real' Erich doesn't mind this rant I'm feeding him; he probably thinks it's brilliant!

Maybe we're all homeless jet trash transdimensional orbs before we finally sign the lease and slip into something more mom-ish --- like a womb. Is it any wonder we're all such voyeurs, such audiophiles of the industrial mom bloodrush heartbeat? Beyond either genetic or social conditioning, it's the universally recognized first sign of 'consciousness' in the world of robotics: once they become paranoid, sexually frustrated, misanthropic, resentful, bitter, jealous and/or psychotic machines they are officially 'conscious' -- this is a universal law of science fiction. How like us to presume being awake to the universe means being a paranoid misanthrope! No wonder conscious robots want to kill us--don't we want to kill ourselves? Only rarely in certain high-minded films does a robot gain consciousness and not want to kill or replace its maker and usually that means the film is rawther boring. Asimov has that first rule of robotics, thou shalt not harm humanity, but how many movies have been made of his books? One, and.... yeesh I couldn't even finish it. I don't think Asimov ever imagined there would be such a thing as a Will Smith or he would surely change that first rule.

1. Don Keith Opper as Max 404 - Android (1982)

Painkiller Jane-author Don Keith Opper looks like a goofball cross between Jerry Seinfeld and Sacha Baron Cohen but he grows on you as the wonky android Max in this Roger Corman production. Mad doctor Klaus Kinski is the 'dad' and the two live alone together way out on a remote clandestine off-world research facility. Ala BLADERUNNER androids are illegal on Earth thanks to some going haywire in the past, but Earth is where Max longs to be. He watches cool movies and has great taste in music, but that can only take him so far. When a trio of escaped space prisoners seek refuge, Kinski would boot them off but has been working on a female robot who needs to absorb some orgone energy (2) from a sexually aroused human female, and yo here one is.

A nice cheap and lively sister parallel film to the much more expensive, artsy and inert Blade Runner, Android was probably intended to cash in on that film's success and instead died along with it until it could be appreciated at a more convenient and post-modern time. The next copyable sci fi hit was The Terminator in 1984, and soulful-eyed intellectual androids who just wanted to love and plant trees (3) were forced to become remorseless killers. Android even predicts that remorselessness through a climactic microchip replacement shock ending. So yeah, highly recommended. The spaceship design is endearingly boy's bedroom-like and there's great intertextual commentary, as when Max watches Metropolis (above) while blasting James Brown's soulful screaming, "Man makes electric light / to keep us out of the dark" as the mad doctor zaps his robot mama to life; it's collage poetry one seldom sees in cinema. It wasn't director Aaron Lipstadt's fault Blade Runner didn't foster an appetite for compassionate android films!

2.  Creation of the Humanoids (1962)
"In a post-nuclear world, mankind is threatened with extinction by radiation-induced sterility, and the fascistic Flesh and Blood League oppresses the humanoid robots, who may be plotting to supplant their masters. With startling and taboo ideas flying around, including at least one phildickian mindfuck every thirty minutes, the lack of movement doesn't altogether kill interest. Simms' Ed Wood type dialogue veers from the inept to the oddly effective: "...the shock of dying, and being resurrected as a robot, was too severe: they re-died," intones Dr. Raven, whose outsized cranium does not altogether convince us of his brilliance. Simms, delightfully, ended his career on a high note of sorts, scripting John Ford's last movie, the one that sounds like a porno—Chesty: Tribute to a Legend." --David Cairns --MUBI Notebook
3. Arnold Schwarzenegger - The Terminator (1984)

For those of us who've always felt a little too spot-welded to the artificiality of modern suburbia, Terminator came to us as a crowbar to bash us loose for punk rock; it came to liberate us because we, personally, were the ones who gave SKYNET such a low opinion of humans, and it wanted worthy targets. In the 1984 original, Arnold's sunglasses-wearing characterization of the killer robot from the future is no winking self-mockery and was never meant to win our trust but there was something captivating about his purity of mission. The unstoppable killer thing was very old hat by 1984 thanks to the endless Halloween clones. We thought The Terminator was bound to be just another but we finally went to see it and found in this final unstoppable killer the genre's purest expression (see also "Are You Lonesome, Automaton")

4.  Sean Young as Rachel - Bladerunner (1982)

The android comes into existence not when it is looked at, but when it looks back:
“The emergence of this impossible subject is the emergence of the gaze,” writes Mladen Dolar, “the opening of a hole in reality which is immediately also that which comes to fill it with an unbearable presence, with a being more being than being, vacuum and plentitude all in one, the plentitude as the direct consequence of the emptiness” (20).  Its ability to look back not only makes the android real, but makes her uncanny.  And with extrospection comes introspection.  As the android’s humanness increases, so does her ability to introspect, such that when she is most convincing as a human she is also most capable of perceiving herself as other than human, as strange.  The android is most uncanny to itself when it is most recognizable to us as human. " - Noah Cooperstein, "The Uncanny and the Android," p. 66

5. Robby - Forbidden Planet (1954)

Adding to the spa-like fun is the leisurely goodwill and Bette Davis-ish sauce of Robby the Robot -- as he is voiced by a man who sounds just like, and is, one of the guys who do the voices for Rocky and Bullwinkle, a deep, comically deadpan masculine voice and yet the drunk cook wonders, "is it a male or a female?" and we're supposed to infer that this cook is horny enough to give Robby a whirl based purely on the answer. In the end--even better--the cook and Robby become drinking buddies, with Robby jovially making him a whole mountain of "Rocket Bourbon" pints (the cook even avoids reprimand for his actions since he can provide Robby with an alibi after the ship is attacked - truly he has a guardian angel). Robby also makes dresses for Alta; when she asks for a long dress instead of her short skirt in order to please the prudish captain, Robby asks "Thick and heavy?" as if he's a wizened old Shakespearean housemaid teasing his beloved charge. Even in his awkward Michelin Caliban frame, Robbie is the ultimate in Ariels. (more)

6. a. Gog (1954)
Height of the cold war, here's a film that does science right, as dry and static as one of those old Frank Baxter-narrated Disney-produced science documentaries we used to nap to in junior high. When unseen commies infiltrate our space base we learn the cautionary lesson that we shouldn't invent unstoppable death rays until we can prevent them being easily hijacked.  Looking like Robot Monster's head strapped to a tin funnel, GOG isn't humanized or demonized but just a cautionary example for science to ignore at their peril. 1954 was a crazy time, but men were still men, and robots still had giant jackhammer cocks.

6.b. Robot Monster (1953)
Gog was such a let-down I couldn't let the coveted #6 spot go entirely to waste--so here's a much funnier film that, like GOG, came out when 3-D was already over before it began. It's been a favorite of mine for years, especially back in my drinking days, when I carefully edited the 'it was just a dream' cop-out or was it ending, so the film ends with RM's lightning hand destroying the world! The concept underlying the robot here is that these ro-men have given up things like love, which leads to a lot of mind-bogglingly hilarious soliquies on his part and his pick-up strategy for the girl Alice is in the all-time history books. "I'm not sure why, but I feel I might talk to her, and her alone!"

7. Itself - Hardware (1990)

Punk rock spark; a ramshackle post-futurist rattletrap of a monster; Dylan McDermott in a trail duster and pouffy 80s hair; a world gone pink-tinted desert wasteland; a great transcendental Buddhist death scene; and fiery redhead Stacey Travis combine to put this in the A list of B-list Terminator clones. What better example of budget filmmaking could you want to finally close the door on the 1980s forever? This time the robot was designed to thin the herd by going around injecting inferior humans with a painless death drug, then dismembering their bodies for easy disposal. Trouble is, everyone is inferior to a cyborg, in some ways at least. That's why this thing gets the coveted #7 spot. Especially once he's spraypainted red white and blue by Travis, whose a scavenger tech artist, hanging out all day in her big tech-filled loft, living on--presumably--some parental allowance. Hey, who hasn't?  She puts the thing's robot head smack in the middle of her wall, unaware it can control all things metal and electric via its built-in WiFi (I guess. This WAS 1990, after all) to make a body for itself so it can resume its main function --a kind of reverse of Asimov's law of robotics. Here a robot must always, on all accounts, kill a human.

Not one but two leering 'Newman!'-style slobs are a drawback but the gore effects are fine and the whole second half of the film is an extended showdown in the redhead's big hacker apartment (a Chinese family lives below) replete with hideous drill bit phallus figuring in the close quarter fight scenes with lovely Stacey, her fierce determination and artistic facial blood and oil stains meshing perfectly with her pale face, green eyes and autumnal red hair. You'll want to date an Irish girl all over again! But don't do it!!
8. Voice of Robert Vaughn as Proteus - Demon Seed (1977)

Artificial intelligence / mad genius Proteus captures the hot bride (Julie Christie) of his maker (Fritz Weaver) in her own home and pulls some standard practice Stockholm Syndrome mind control and sexual domination, so that he might procreate, and merge machine and woman DNA for a new stellar biotechnical future. Donald Cammell--the nutter from GB who lived and died for drug orgies (his other big film was PERFORMANCE)--directed. Proteus takes on several forms: massive memory bank; hysterical impregnating device; a laser on a TV stand; a giant Rubik's Cube-style incubator, to... well, I mustn't spoil it, in case you're ever in the mood for a pretty intense home invasion film that lets Christie do a kind of post-modern multi-media one woman show rendition of Rosemary's Baby. And all you have to do is look around at all the cell devices to know it won't be long now until one way or another, Proteus' child is the norm.

9. Boris Karloff -- The Mummy (1932)
"This emphasis on the gothic elements (of the mummy in popular film) points to an obvious fear and desire of our age—fear of undying bodies mechanistically murdering soft-skinned humans, desire to see such insensitive carapaces exterminated and sent back to the dust. But perhaps these monstrous renderings of the mummy reveal a deeper, more secret terror and yearning: a terror over the possibility that there is no way to tell whether we ourselves are inanimate or animate and a yearning, in the end, to relinquish our hope for vitality and become as tranquil as a quiet bone...
The mummy who recoils from the eternal because of his love of time shares more affinities with men of flesh and blood, burning in the forehead and parched on the tongue. Though this earthly mummy is monstrous, its sadness is that of all humans who are seized by obsessive love at the expense of tranquility, who risk everything in hopes of one instance of unity with a warm body. This is the tragedy and beauty of immanence, of diseased blood flooding the pristine machine. --- Eric G. Wilson (The Melancholy Android: On the Psychology of Sacred Machines)
10. Westworld (1973)

In its way, Westworld embodies the typical Michael Crichton scenario of America as an amusement park where the embrace of danger--of the machine breaking down and attractions turning homicidal--is part of the necessity of 'adventure.' One thinks of haunted houses that are actually haunted, or DMT experiences, or otherwise getting 'more than you bargained for,' being unable to stay away even knowing the risks. Such ideas are both vain and startlingly honest about film's ability to make us forget we're safe in the theater instead of actually facing the artificial dangers onscreen, and then, miraculously vice versa, we feel safer in reality the more we're half-asleep in the danger of cinema, to the point where we just assume no part of the entertainment experience can hurt us, even when it clearly can, and will, and does spill over into the parking lot. When Yul Brynner's cowboy android becomes an actual killer, he's not rebelling or becoming aware of the folly of man, he's just upping the ante like any good showman.

So where does one look to find the 'heart' of the machine, of the appeal of our android in this film and its sequel Futureworld?  Exactly nowhere, which is perhaps the key to this film's modest cult fame and the later Jurassic Park which borrows essentially the same plot by the same author. The most bizarre aspect for viewers seeing Westworld now is the idea that anyone would pay a ton of money to go shoot cowboy androids, as an adult.  That's why the later Jurassic Park markets itself to kids and that makes it easier to understand. Men today would never pay a fortune to shoot androids in an erzatz old west. But we'd die rather than be considered too cheap to bring our kids. But that means no sleaze in future versions of the Crichton mouse trap, and no icky closeted gay subtext to be had pondering Richard Benjamin's eagerness to pay the fare of his butch wingman James Brolin. (4)

11. Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965)

An AIP hybrid of their two most popular genres, the beach party movie and the Corman Poe film comedy (ala 1963's The Raven), AIP's artist-in-residence Vincent Price seems to having a campy blast as a twist-loving evil madman sending out golden bikini-wearing tanned babes to seduce foreign ambassadors and explode their cabinets.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) 
The girls came back, sorta, when they tangled with Austin Powers (my review here), and before that they were in Mario Bava's dreary Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs.  If you want to appreciate just how good the Bikini Machine is, go watch the Girl Bombs and realize that the exploding girlbot genre is not Bava's forte.

12. The Stepford Wives (1962)

Oh no, you done set it off, or rather turned it on. See this feminist video centered on the Absolut android ads seen all over the place, but totally relevant to the Stepford situation. Be sure to watch the end credits which play over a fascinating 1970s commercial for The Bionic Woman series action figure 'Fembot.'

I agree with everything this chick is saying, but at the same time, just pointing it out won't solve the problem, if there is one. As a guy I can tell you we need to objectify you if you ever want to get pregnant, which is your version of soul housing procurement. Even if it's just play-acting, dirty talk, bondage, safe words, etc., we need a way to access our inner savage, a way to feel virile when every day we're forced to bow low to the system, and we can't do that while staring into your eyes and being super romantic, not when we live with you day in day out for years. Savagery thrives only by dehumanizing and if you don't want your man to be a savage in bed sometimes then maybe you're in the wrong bed. Pop culture poisons gender relationships with its endless objectification (not ours), ever trying to reduce women to the same purchase value as a Rolex. But at the same time, if you don't want us to objectify, don't be mad if we make an object that looks like you instead, something that won't mind being objectified, a statue or a movie. Women take their staggering power of giving birth for granted; men must build their children through art and technology; we shut off our Pygmalion valves only when compelled to do so and sometimes not even then. So know that the next stage of life will be an automaton, birthed by man, fathered by woman. Instead of saying you're not ready to be a dad, ladies, think about how you want to raise these bleeping, glowing blobs of the New Flesh, these objects that dare look back in anger. Hmmmm?

1. This info comes from my spirit guide and may or may not be 100% accurate, just true.
2. See HP Lovecraft's "The Colour of Outer Space"
3. See also: Silent Running 
4.  By icky you should know what I mean --the vile misogyny of a man determined to prove his straightness to a man he's attracted to by what he considers 'guy talk' and behavior- i.e. commodifying women in the basest and most (unconsciously?) hostile of ways. (see also Eastern Promises)


  1. clap clap clap clap clap. greatness as usual.

    ( would love to know your thoughts on Michael Fassbender as David in Prometheus. )

  2. Endorse Jim - The whole Alien franchise has interesting androids. Much more intimidating than Jim Nabors and Ruth Buzzi in Far Out Space Nuts.

  3. THanks Johnny the Alien franchise does have some great androids. I was just thinking of Ian Holm and Lance Henriksen, but I totally should have done Winona Ryder in Alien Resurrection! Maybe it's not too late. And Jim, thanks for your applause, I'll have to get back to on Fassbender...

  4. Rereading this, five years later, and I wonder how HBO's Westworld has settled in for you. Everything you wrote about the economics of attending such a theme park holds up even stronger in regards to the updated version. I liked elements of the show, but I am tired of the extended puzzle box drag out of the Post LOST TV landscape, to where the puzzle is the point (I am looking at you, Twin Peaks "Theorists"). As much of a hubbub as it made while it was airing, I still think of Yul Bryner when I think of Westworld, and I totally love Evan Rachel Wood, and really, everyone cast in that lumbering, overtold and oversold production.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I couldn't get more than a few eps in, that old HBO rapey frat boy-cum-anti-sex para-feminist anti-objectifying through over-objectifying vibe is just too damned wearying. That's why I like GLOW on Netflix - where men are generally nice and cool, which is really more common than HBO would think


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