Tuesday, 10 April 2012
Escape from New York
1981’s Escape from New York is one of those film that had huge impact on me. At the personal level, this is one of those films my uncle took this child to see (a matinee at then’s huge Tel Aviv cinema). As per the standards back then, it took many years till I got to watch the film again. While later I owned the laserdisc and enjoyed director’s John Carpenter’s commentary track, it wasn’t until the nineties that we were able to start watching the films we wanted to watch when we wanted to watch them. In the mean time, Escape from New York had acquired mythological status: as kids we used to hold our umbrellas backwards on our shoulder, mimicking Snake Plissken’s nonchalant hold of his silencer equipped Mini Uzi.
Let me introduce you to Snake's story.
The future world of 1997 endures open hostilities between the USA and the USSR. The American President (Donald Pleasence) is on his way to meet opposing heads of state carrying on him information that could help achieve peace (that info is stored on a cassette!). Alas, his plane is hijacked and crashed; the president himself escapes in a pod that crashed in the middle of Manhattan. The catch is that the Manhattan of the future is not what we would expect it to be. The effective capital of the world? Nope! Crime rates in the USA have reached such level it is now an enclosed jail. No one that enters it may come out ever again, which makes it into a prisoner ran anarchy. Can the president survive there, let alone come out?
The ever cool and resourceful prison warden Hauk (Lee Van Cleef, the bad from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) comes up with a plan. Instead of coming in with helicopters and guns blazing, a recipe for a dead president, he’s sending Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell): this ex war hero turned criminal should be able to both blend in and escape with the president. Even if, by today’s standards, he is dressed in exquisitely gay looking boots and fatigues. To give our Snake a push in the right direction, Hauk has him injected with poison that would kill him in 24 hours: our hero has to get in and out of New York within that time, president and cassette intact, to receive the antidote. Can he do it? Well, can paint dry?
The core of Escape from New York takes place at New York itself. The big idea behind the film is to show the dark side of the grand New York we are familiar with: a place where you don’t stand a chance of survival if you go along Broadway at night, where the Twin Towers are a dump and where the famous library acts as a makeshift oil field. In contrast to the white president, New York is even ruled by the black Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes). While this vision of New York may thus appear dark even in the literal sense, Escape from New York knows how to be funny, too. Not just funny in the sense of being outdated (tough man’s clothing now appearing gay, audio cassettes) but rather the dry sense of humor many of the characters have an abundance of, particularly Snake.
The casting works like a charm. Perhaps due to most characters being type cast they all fit their roles well. Russell himself, as our hero, has never looked better.
Best scene: The Duke of New York forces the president to say the Duke’s number 1. The scene demonstrates how well Escape from New York manages to create an alter ego world.
Escape from New York is a low budget film, no doubt about it, but it shows that a great idea can work even without a huge bank account. I recently spoke here how Arthur portrays the glamorous New York I have had the pleasure of visiting in my childhood. By the same token, Escape from New York depicts the dark side of that same New York. I suspect many would argue the years didn’t do too much good to this already often silly film, but I will always cherish it and save a warm place by the fire for it. 4.5 out of 5 stars from me.