Sunday, March 10, 2019

From Dreaming to Running: Putting the Android on Screen

Last week I got to attend a very nice panel from DePaul and One Book One Chicago: three scholars discussing aspects of adaptation, with Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Scott's Blade Runner as the focus.

Paul Booth (who runs the wonderful DePaul Pop Culture Conference, among other virtues) chaired the panel. These were really engaging, fast-moving talks, with lots of visual aids, so notes below are just sketches and highlights.

Rob Steel started us with a talk on the actual adaptation/production history of Blade Runner. A composer & sound designer, and teacher of same, he also had some insights into how the sonic aspects of the film affect our perception of the world.
  • Teaches a very cool-sounding class on creativity and Blade Runner, looking at the films that inspired it, the film itself, and then the films it has inspired, in turn.
  • Blade Runner as an aesthetic shift--like nothing anyone had seen before in 1982--and as a corollary was a box-office bomb.
  • Huge differences between novel and film--Deckard being very not cool/not good at this job in the novel, for instance.
  • PKD places readers in a way that's not well defined.
  • Scott is a visual stylist, not an actor's director. Butted heads with Harrison Ford during filming because Scott was more interested in the camerawork than giving direction to actors.
  • Looking at Scott's work, the production design is everything, and the semiotics are everything. Examples from Alien. Same emphasis in Prometheus much later.
  • PKD got see a special effects reel from Blade Runner (he died before film was completed). Said "how did you ever get into my mind?".
  • Production of Blade Runner was torturous. Difficult shootings, rewrites, firings & rehirings.
  • Great talk about different approaches to adapting from a novel, depends a lot on how the screenwriter and director interact. With a director like Scott, very much a game of telephone--Dick's novel says one thing, screenwriter Hampton Fancher starts from there, Scott does something pretty different with the screenplay, focusing on how it will look on screen.
  • What a film does that nothing else does is combine visual elements and sonic elements. Those two things together are something new.
  • Vangelis soundtrack--all synthesizer--makes the visuals bleed outside the frame. Makes the space seem bigger than it is.
  • Shows another clip from the film, Pris & Sebastian. A lot of these elements aren't needed but they look good. Common approach for Scott. It's not about the meaning: it's about the image and how arresting it is.
  • Shows Rachel & Deckard's meeting, again showing how the visual direction is exacting, but didn't even block the actors.
  • Roy's famous death scene speech was not in the original script--final scene wasn't working, so Rutger Hauer created the speech for his character.
Next talk by Blair Davis on comics adaptations, specifically on Marvel's film-to-comics work pre-home-video, and some cool comments on how adaptation works across different media.
  • Adaptation as a way to extend your enjoyment of a product.
  • Criticism of adaptations, unlike any other criticism, always has the lens of comparison to the original.
  • "Fidelity" and "Faithfulness" is the albatross around the neck of adaption criticism, and it's a battle against the idea "it's not as good as the book".
  • Different media do different things.
  • Edmund Carpenter--each medium contains its own metaphysics, its own essence of meaning.
  • What does the new media force you to do? What do you add, what do you take away?
  • The film is already not that faithful an adaption of the novel, so what happens when the film is then adapted to comics?
  • The Marvel "Super Special" line, trying recreate a cinematic experience.
  • Shows great examples of these, from the successful Star Wars comics, the far-out Jack Kirby 2001 adaptation, to the really strange comics based on Kiss and The Beatles.
  • Drills into some of the medium specificity: films are time-based, comics are space-based.
  • Talking about adaptation is always loaded with wish-washy words: spirit, essence, flavor, etc. Not well-defined, but usually central to how the critiques work.
  • Looks at the 2009 Boom Comics Do Android Dreams adaptation--not referencing the film, is a word-by-word adaptation of the novel.
Final talk is by Samantha Close on fan work as another level of adaptation.
I think this is the same one
from Close's talk;
check out Allegro Arts
  • Brigid Cherry on theory of fancrafting.
  • Introduces really cool 3-level distinction of fan apations:
    • Mimetic seeks to copy aspects of the original very closely. Most cosplay falls into this.
    • Emblematic doesn't try to replicate anything exactly, but plays with recognizable imagery. Most similar to the kind of official merchandizing we're familiar with.
    • Interpretive takes the original work as a starting point and goes in new directions. Because interpretive fan work lacks the gatekeepers of official versions, can be much more far-ranging and creative.
  • Talks about the way that elements of adaptation can kind of enter the lineage of the source material. Uses the example of how the pipe smoked by Sherlock Holmes is clearly identified in Doyle as a clay pipe, which doesn't work well for film adaptation--so the calabash-style pipe has become the iconic and in many ways official consulting detective pipe. (Searching for "Sherlock pipes", btw, will rapidly deliver. Positron does not endorse tobacco use.)
  • Talks about the "whole small economy" of the fan community. There's murky copyright territory and lots of legal battles about when fan crafts encroach on intellectual property rights.
  • Owning corporations want to reach into fan communities to further monetize their properties, but they're not very good at it due to the depth of knowledge/skill/passion in those fan communities. So the "shadow economies" of fan crafters is going strong.
  • The "-punk" subcultures, steampunk etc., have been particularly rich in physically making things inspired by traditional media.
  • Etsy & Ravelry as marketplaces for these communities, but there have also been class action lawsuits around licensing fees for IPs. A lot of fan economy also happens through gallery sites like DeviantArt.
  • Gives a shout-out to Firefly Fiber Arts Studio here in Chicago.
Wonderful talks! Great Q & A also, getting into thematic preservation & evolution across adaptations, processing of different takes on "is Deckard a replicant", relations between economic and artistic impacts of work, and more. Be sure to check out the other upcoming One Book events, and I definitely recommend the DePaul Pop Culture Conference: A Celebration of Disney, May 4.

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