seeing out loud

Seeing Out Loud: Saltz on an Animated Watercolor Blade Runner

I love Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. I listen to the Vangelis soundtrack on Spotify; I have a “Blade Runner Blues” Pandora station. I once had the end-credit music on my answering machine. I’ve read and reread Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the novel on which the movie is based. I’ve quoted the film in reviews and surmise that ours is the plight of the film’s renegade Nexus-6 replicants — the film’s genetically engineered organic robots, visually indistinguishable from human-beings and made by the so-called Tyrell Corporation of the future, turning on their makers as they seek to extend their life spans past the four years they are allocated. When the full-combat-model replicant Roy Beatty, played to perfection by Rutger Hauer, finally does confront his maker, Tyrell asks him, “What seems to be the problem?” Roy dryly replies, “Death does …. I want more life. Fucker!” Wait! That’s what we might say! After Tyrell blithely tells him that this isn’t possible and urges him to appreciate what life he has, Roy kisses Tyrell on the mouth in gratitude, then kills him.

All this means I may not be trustworthy when it comes to anything to do with Blade Runner. Still, I urge you to take a look at Anders Ramsell’s nifty 35-minute animation of the film, made from 12,597 hand-painted watercolors paired with the actual movie’s soundtrack. Like the film itself, this Blade Runner drags, and the watercolors aren’t anything special. Sometimes they’re so blurry you won’t really know what you’re seeing, and for whole minutes at a time you’re essentially “watching” the film with your ears and just filling in the scenes in your imagination — which is nifty, too, if a little annoying. But this is a fan thing, and I relish the signature scenes Ramsell has illustrated: The waste-disposal replicant Leon and his memorable reaction to his polygraphlike “Voight-Kampff” empathy test to determine if he is a human being or an android, and especially Roy’s incredible last words and death (“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those … moments … will be lost in time, like tears … in … rain. Time … to die …”).

The animation is slow, dark, and obscure, like the film. The watercolor only makes the whole thing that much more surreal and abstract. This remake isn’t great art, but it did make me see a few things I hadn’t noticed before and underscores how extraordinarily rich, textured, and subtle the film’s soundscape is. Whatever this thing is, it is another sign that as technology changes, visual culture is continually rupturing, changing along with it, too. This remake isn’t a new form, but does put an odd, interesting spin on an old one. One day it could be an art form unto itself. Even if that never happens, these technologies are allowing a person alone to make things that usually take giant teams of animators, producers, and money men to create. This means that whatever is made is that much closer to the core of one person’s obsession, which is always enticing.

One other thing about this 35-minute snippet makes me think it might be good: It was recommended by one of my favorite experimental poets, Christian Bok, whom I once heard give an incredible ten-minute reading of one of Hugo Ball’s insane sound poems consisting only of strung-together clucks, clicks, consonant-sounds, pops, yelps, and what have you. He also has a super-interesting Twitter feed, wherein he recommends everything from maps of Pangaea with the borders of current nation states, to the ornithology of drones, to four-minute electronic songs with more than 4 million notes, to lists of all the objects left by man on the moon, to this Blade Runner tribute. Follow him now; I do. And then head to the Ramsell video; even if you’re not a Blade Runner fan, skip to the last minutes and at least watch the end. And do try that Pandora station. It’s weird.

Saltz: A Watercolor Blade Runner