Sunday, October 31, 2010

Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House, novel and film

Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House is the best "haunted house" novel I have read. I realize there may be those who have their own favorites here, and I would appreciate learning of some titles.

Haunted house stories seem to come in two flavors. There are those in which the innocent victims move into a house, usually somewhat isolated. The rent or sale price is absurdly low, and they feel they have stumbled onto a bargain. And, they don't understand why the house has been empty for so long.

The second type involves those who are knowledgeable about the house's unsavory past and intend to stay only a short time. Some come there as the result of a dare or a bet, and their stay normally is for one night only. Psychic researchers comprise the other type of short term residents, and they usually plan to stay at most a week or so, if that long. They are there to prove or disprove the existence of spirits. This type consists usually of one lead psychic researcher, usually an academic, and two to four assistants, who frequently are the psychic researcher's graduate students and whose main role is to provide victims for the demons that occupy the premises.

Jackson's characters belong to the latter group. Dr Montague is determined to make a name for himself by proving the existence of the spiritual or non-material world. Hill House has a long and honorable history of being a true haunted house with ghostly appearances and tragic deaths. His assistants, though, are not typical graduate students. Over the years, Dr. Montague has collected newspaper reports of individuals who have been involved in events which involve some sort of spiritual or paranormal activity. Now that he has rented the house, he contacts these people and offers them a short term job as his assistant. He believes these people who have already been touched by the psychic activity would be more sensitive to the spiritual influences in the house.

Of the many he has contacted, only two appear. One is Eleanor Vance--the point of view character. She has come to escape her drab and restricted life. She has spent most of her life taking care of her invalid mother. The mother died several months ago, and Eleanor now lives with her sister and brother-in-law. She is bullied and abused by her sister. This is her first attempt at changing her life. She sees this as an adventure, one that will change her life. Her mantra throughout is "Journeys end in lovers meeting."

We never learn much about the other two assistants--Theodora, except for some hints that she has led a somewhat adventurous life, and Luke, who really isn't an assistant but the nephew of the woman who owns Hill House. Accepting Luke as part of his team was necessary if Dr. Montague was to rent the house.

In addition to the four researchers are the Dudleys. They are the caretakers, he mostly outdoors and she indoors. They don't stay the night, but leave as soon as it begins to get dark. They are a strange pair, well fit for Hill House.

Approximately a week after Dr. Montague and his team move in, they are joined by two unwelcome visitors--Dr Montague's wife and her friend Arthur. At best one might call them comic relief. She is the bossy, take-charge type who knows everything and knows how to do everything better than anybody else. She has come to take charge of the study. She is a complete believer in everything, from astrology to the use of the planchette, a type of Ouija board. She firmly believes that all spirits are benign as long as one treats them with "infinite compassion," something only she is best qualified to do. While I generally am on the side of the humans, I will gladly make an exception in her case and nominate her as First Victim.

If one is looking for buckets of gore and body parts scattered about, one will be disappointed here. The terror and fright are generated more by not knowing who or what occupies Hill House. The tension and suspense slowly build as we see Eleanor become increasingly influenced and changed as the days pass. Moreover, in spite of the terrifying manifestations that take place during the night, Eleanor finds herself more and more attracted to the house. At one point she thinks, "Odd, she thought sleepily, that the house should be so dreadful and yet in many respects so physically comfortable--the soft bed, the pleasant lawn, the good fire, the cooking of Mrs Dudley."

One of those manifestations that seems most chilling is the following: it is night and Eleanor and Theadora are in sharing a bedroom and "From the room next door, the room which until that morning had been Theadora's , came the steady low sound of a voice babbling, too low for words to be understood, too steady for disbelief. . .Eleanor and Theadora listened, and the low, steady sound went on and on, the voice lifting sometimes for an emphasis on a mumbled word, falling sometimes to a breath, going on and on. Then, without warning, there was a little laugh, the small gurgling laugh that broke through the babbling, and rose as it laughed, on up and up the scale, and then broke off suddenly in a little painful gasp, and the voice went on."

I find that small gurgling laugh, amidst that mumbling voice, most chilling, especially since it seems to accompany the horrendous blows struck at the intervening door, the blows that almost but not quite break down the door. Who or what is beyond the door?

Two films were made of The Haunting of Hill House, one in 1963 with Julie Harris as Eleanor and Claire Bloom as Theadora, and a remake in 1999, with digital special effects and gore, from what I have read. I have seen the 1963 version and found it a very good adaptation. The most significant difference was in the portrayal of Dr. Montague's wife. In the film she is portrayed as a complete skeptic and insists on sleeping in the nursery, the heart or source of the ghostly manifestations. I haven't seen the remake yet, but if I find it I will take a look at it.

Overall Reaction: a great novel and a very good film version--the 1963 version anyway. Highly recommended. It being Halloween, tonight would be a good night for either the novel or the film.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The parable of pilgrims

"Two monks on pilgrimage came to a river bank. There they saw a girl dressed in fine clothes and at a loss to know how to proceed, for the river was high and she did not want her clothes spoilt. Without further ado, one of the monks took her on his back, carried her across and put her down on dry ground. Then the monks continued on their way.

After a while the other monk suddenly burst out: 'Surely it is not right to touch a woman. It is against the commandments to have close contact with women. How can you go against the rules for monks?'. . . and so on in a steady stream. The monk who had carried the girl walked along silently, but finally he remarked: 'I set her down by the river. But you are still carrying her.'"

from 1001 Pearls of Buddhist Wisdom
Selected by the Buddhist Society

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What good are books?

Books delight us when prosperity smiles upon us; they comfort us inseparably when stormy fortune frowns on us. They lend validity to human compacts, and no serious judgments are propounded without their help. Arts and sciences, all the advantages of which no mind can enumerate, consist in books. How highly must we estimate the wondrous power of books, since through them we survey the utmost bounds of the world and time, and contemplate the things that are as well as those that are not, as it were in the mirror of eternity. In books we climb mountains and scan the deepest gulfs of the abyss; in books we behold the finny tribes that may not exist outside of their native waters, distinguish the properties of streams and springs and of various lands; from books we dig out gems and metals and the materials of every ,,kind of mineral, and learn the virtues of herbs and trees and plants, and survey at will the wholy progeny of Neptune, Ceres, and Pluto.

Books are masters who instruct us without words of anger, without bread or money. If you approach them they are not asleep. If you seek them, they do not hide, if you blunder they do not scold, if you are ignorant, they do not laugh at you.

-- Richard de Bury --


There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry --
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll --
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human soul.

-- Emily Dickinson --

I wonder if in 2050 AD, someone will sit down and write: "Kindles delight us when prosperity smiles upon us; they comfort us inseparably when stormy fortune frowns upon us . . ."


"There is no Frigate like a Kindle . . ."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Robert Frost: October

Since this is October, it seems apt to post this poem by Robert Frost.


O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow's wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes' sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost--
For the grapes' sake along the wall.

Frankly, I don't think that "October" is one of his best poems. But, it does have an interesting theme. We are used to hearing about summer as the slow, lazy time of the year. In this poem the poet asks that autumn also be slow, if only for the grapes' sake. I find that strange for it would seem that lowering the temperature would be important if the exposed grapes were to be saved. On the other hand, perhaps the heat is necessary, and the longer the grapes are bathed in the heat, the better they'll be. Knowing little of grapes, I can only guess.

Maybe there's another meaning to the last part of the poem, to the poet's plea for a long slow autumn. If it's autumn now, winter, the season of death, must be close behind. Possibly the poet wants time to slow in order to stave off winter, that there's no need to rush into winter.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mishima: A LIfe in Four Chapters, a film

Yukio Mishima has been a favorite writer of mine for some time now. I've read a number of his novels, including "The Sea of Fertility" quartet--an ironic title, for it refers to Mare Fecunditatis, a region of the moon, which, of course, is dry, barren, and lifeless, and not fertile at all. Therefore, when I heard about this film, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, I was curious about it. I knew little about his life, except for his rather dramatic death.

On November 25, 1970, Mishima and four members of the Shield Society, his private army, dressed in full uniform and drove to the Ichigaya Camp, the Tokyo headquarters for the Japanese Self-Defense Force. Once there, he and the others took the Camp Commander hostage. He addressed the soldiers gathered below and tried to inspire them to rise up, overthrow the government, and restore the powers of the emperor. He was mocked and jeered at by the soldiers. He then went back into the Commander's office and committed seppuku.

I was even more intrigued when I read that Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas were the producers and that Philip Glass wrote the original music for the film, parts of which were played by The Kronos Quartet.

The film has one of the most unusual disclaimers I've ever seen. It agrees that Yukio Mishima was a real person, but it goes on to state that nothing in the film is based on real people or real events. This being said, while the dialogue and actions on the day of his death are obviously the work of a screenwriter(s), the overall course of events are accurate.

The film consists of four chapters-Beauty, Art, Action, and Harmony of Pen and Sword. It has three rather episodic narratives, each interrupted by the sequence of chapters.

The first tells of the events of November 25, 1970, the day of the failed coup and his suicide. It is in color and naturalistic. It begins with Mishima dressing and getting ready for the day.

The second is in black-and-white. It consists of flashbacks of Mishima's life, which appear to be films taken of him while he was growing up.

The third narrative is in color and relates dramatized scenes from three of his novels: The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoko's House, and Runaway Horses. However, the scenes are stylized, perhaps in the manner of Japanese theatre. The dialogue is declaimed, rooms are indicated by panels, and forests suggested by a line of obviously artificial trees.

I had read The Temple of the Golden Pavilion and Runaway Horses, the second book in the Sea of Fertility quartet, so I was able to relate the dramatized scenes to Mishima's life. In both books, the main characters commit suicide, a clear relationship to Mishima's own life. I haven't read Kyoto's House yet, so the relationship is not as clear as it is with the other two.

Overall Reaction: I found it very interesting. Philip Glass' music is the perfect choice, and it adds a persistent driving tension to the film. While it is in no way a comprehensive account of Mishima's life, it does suggest parallels between his life and his work. I have it on my list of films to be seen again.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XXXIII

This is one quatrain that FitzGerald apparently was not too happy about, for he made several extensive changes over the five editions--and not just changes in wording but changes in meaning.

First Edition: Quatrain XXXIII

Then to the rolling Heav'n itself I cried,
Asking, "What Lamp had Destiny to guide
Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?"
And--"A blind Understanding!" Heav'n replied.

Second Edition: Quatrain XXXVII

Then of the THEE in ME who works behind
The Veil of Universe I cried to find
A Lamp to guide me through the Darkness; and
Something then said--"An Understanding blind."

Fifth Edition: Quatrain XXXIV

Then of the THEE in ME who works behind
The Veil, Lifted up my hands to find
A Lamp amid the Darkness, and I heard,
As from Without--"The ME within THEE blind!"

- - - - - - - - - -

First Edition:

"Then to the rolling Heav'n itself I cried,
Asking, "What Lamp had Destiny to guide
Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?"
And--"A blind Understanding!" Heav'n replied.

In the previous quatrain (Q XXXII), the poet was stopped by the Door and the Veil, from behind which he could hear only some talk of ME and THEE and then no more of THEE and ME. In this quatrain, in the first edition anyway, he then turns to Heav'n and asks what help--the Lamp--Destiny has for its children stumbling in the Dark and is told "A blind Understanding!" Would a blind Understanding" be one in which one knows what one is doing but doesn't understand why? --that the results of these actions are unknown? Is it the goal or end that which one is blind about? -- or about which one is in the Dark? That would certainly fit in with previous quatrains in which this same idea was presented--that we don't know where we came from and we don't know where we are going.

Second Edition: Quatrain XXXVII

Then of the THEE in ME who works behind
The Veil of Universe I cried to find
A Lamp to guide me through the Darkness; and
Something then said--"An Understanding blind."

This is a much stronger connection in this version to the previous quatrain in the very first line. In the previously discussed quatrain there was mention of THEE and ME which now becomes THEE in ME. This suggests some Buddhist ideas that the creator actually is in all of us, looking out of our eyes at itself in the eyes of another--the creator is in the eye of the tiger looking at itself in the eye of the tiger's prey. The poet calls out to that THEE inside who works mysteriously behind the Veil, another reference to the previous quatrain, for a guiding Lamp in the Darkness. In this version, it isn't Heav'n that responds, but "Something" that replies "An Understanding blind."

While "Heav'n" is vague and not very specific, at least it suggests some sort of Divine intervention as most religious traditions place their deities in the heavens. Now, the poet gets an answer to his plea for help from "Something"--it may be a deity but it may not. The poet can't even be sure who or what is replying in this version. And, the response is similar to the first edition's "A blind Understanding." It is "An understanding blind." I suspect FitzGerald reversed them to maintain the rhyming pattern of the first, second, and fourth lines.

Fifth Edition: Quatrain XXXIV

Then of the THEE in ME who works behind
The Veil, Lifted up my hands to find
A Lamp amid the Darkness, and I heard,
As from Without--"The ME within THEE blind!"

The fifth edition is closer to the second than the first edition. However, instead of crying out, he lifts his hands to find that Lamp. The most significant differences are in the fourth lines. It is no longer Heav'n or Something that responds, but the response comes "As from Without." Is it coming from Without or does it just seem to come from Without? The poet doesn't even seem to know now if there is something outside of him.

The second major difference concerns the blindness. In the previous versions, the poet is told by something outside of him that the best he could get would be a blind understanding. In this version, he again plays with THEE and ME by reversing the sequence just as he did in the previous quatrain. "ME and THEE" becomes "THEE and ME" while in this version we read "THEE in ME" and "ME in THEE." The meaning shifts here; initially the poet is in darkness and calls out for light. Now, that which is inside him, that to which he calls out, is blind. It seems as though there is no help for the poet. He is in the Dark and must remain so since his only chance for light is also blind. The poet is not in the Dark, but the Dark is within him.

In the first version, the poet cries out for help from Heav'n, from that which is outside of him. At best he can get a blind understanding. In the fifth version, the poet now learns that the Darkness is within him; it is not something imposed upon him from outside. The poet now is not even certain that there is something outside of him. It may be that he and the Heav'n or something or the universe are one, and all are blind as to the future.

I read somewhere that to know where we are, we must know where we came from, and to know where we are going, we must know where we came from and where we are now. This quatrain seems to suggest that we don't really know anything but that we must just blindly go forward.

First Edition: Quatrain XXXIII

Then to the rolling Heav'n itself I cried,
Asking, "What Lamp had Destiny to guide
Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?"
And--"A blind Understanding!" Heav'n replied.

Second Edition: Quatrain XXXVII

Then of the THEE in ME who works behind
The Veil of Universe I cried to find
A Lamp to guide me through the Darkness; and
Something then said--"An Understanding blind."

Fifth Edition: Quatrain XXXIV

Then of the THEE in ME who works behind
The Veil, Lifted up my hands to find
A Lamp amid the Darkness, and I heard,
As from Without--"The ME within THEE blind!"

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lin Yutang: October 10, 1895--March 3, 1976

I can no longer remember how I was first introduced to Lin Yutang, but it just might have been simply seeing one of his books and getting intrigued by the cover. How can one not even stop and glance inside a book whose cover reads as follows:

The Importance of Living

The Classic Bestseller
That Introduced Millions
to the Noble Art of Leaving
Things Undone

Lin Yutang

I found it irresistible and purchased the book. I read it and have been dipping into it at random since then.

One of his skills is the way he presents his ideas. Unlike many other writers, he can write something that I disagree with and, yet, does not irritate me in the least. I simply read it, realize I disagree with him at this point, and then continue reading. I wish I could do the same. I am not sure as to how he does this. I've wondered though if it might be the context. This book is very mellow and relaxed; perhaps this is his secret. Relaxed and mellow readers might be more likely to remain so even when encountering ideas they disagree with. Just a thought. . .

The following quotation comes from "The Awakening," the first chapter of The Importance of Living--to be precise, the opening paragraphs. It is here that he writes about his philosophy of living.

"In what follows I am presenting the Chinese point of view, because I cannot help myself. I am interested only in presenting a view of life and of things as the best and wisest Chinese minds have seen it and expressed it in their folk wisdom and their literature. It is an idle philosophy born of an idle life, evolved in a different age, I am quite aware. But I cannot help feeling that this view of life is essentially true, and since we are alike under the skin, what touches the human heart in one country touches all. I shall have to present a view of life as Chinese poets and scholars evaluated it with their common sense, their realism and their sense of poetry. I shall attempt to reveal some of the beauty of the pagan world, a sense of the pathos and beauty and terror and comedy of life, viewed by a people who have a strong feeling of the limitations of our existence, and yet somehow retain sense of the dignity of human life.

The Chinese philosopher is one who dreams with one eye open, who views life with love and sweet irony, who mixes his cynicism with a kindly tolerance, and who alternately wakes up from life's dream and then nods again, feeling more alive when he is dreaming than when he is awake, thereby investing his waking life with a dream-world quality. He sees with one eye closed and with one eye opened the futility of much that goes on around him and of his own endeavors , but barely retains enough sense of reality to determine to go through with it. He is seldom disillusioned because he has no illusions, and seldom disappointed because he never had extravagant hopes. In this way his spirit is emancipated.

For, after surveying the field of Chinese literature and philosophy, I come to the conclusion that the highest ideal of Chinese culture has always been a man with a sense of detachment (takuan) toward life based on a sense of wise disenchantment. From this detachment comes high-mindedness (k'uanghuai), a high-mindedness which enables one to go through life with tolerant irony and escape the temptations of fame and wealth and achievement, and eventually makes him take what comes. And from this detachment arise also his sense of freedom, his love of vagabondage and his pride and nonchalance. It is only with this sense of freedom and nonchalance that one eventually arrives at the keen and intense joy of living."

In the second paragraph, Lin suggests the Chinese philosopher lives a dreamlike existence. An early 4th century BC Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu once said that he had dreamt one night that he was a butterfly, completely happy and satisfied. Then he awoke and found himself to be Chuang Tzu, but he didn't know whether he was a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Tzu or Chuang Tzu who dreamt he was a butterfly. (taken from the Wikipedia entry on Chuang Tzu or Zuangzi, alternate spelling)

A Poem by Li Po

"Chuang Tzu in dream became a butterfly,
And the butterfly became Chuang Tzu at waking.
Which was the real--the butterfly or the man?
Who can tell the end of the endless changes of things?
The water that flows into the depth of the distant sea
Returns in time to the shallows of a transparent stream.
The man, raising melons outside the green gate of the city,
Was once the Prince of the East Hill.
So must rank and riches vanish.
You know it, still you toil and toil--what for?"

In the second paragraph, Lin wrote "we are alike under the skin, what touches the human heart in one country touches all." Perhaps the East and the West are not that far apart once we get beneath the surface:

"Vanity of vanity, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth for ever."

"All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again."

King James Version: Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1, v. 1-4 , 7

Who knows? Perhaps some day we will see our similarities as being as important as, or perhaps even more important than the differences. And the differences will become fascinating and intriguing--and not hateful.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Something to think about

No. 8

"A man without passion, the pledge of great loftiness of spirit which by its very superiority redeems a man from the yoke of vagrant and vulgar externals. There is no greater mastery than the mastery of self, and its passions, for it amounts to the triumph of free will, but even where passion overcomes the individual, it must not dare to touch his office, especially if it be a high one; this is the best way to spare yourself grief, and yet the shortest way to a good reputation."

from The Art of Worldly Wisdom
Baltasar Gracian (1601--1658)
trans. Martin Fischer

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Passion: any power emotion, such as love, hatred, joy, greed, anger; also boundless enthusiasm.

Is it really so good to be without passion? Does a passionless person possess that "great loftiness of spirit"? Is being passionless or without "boundless enthusiasm" a good state to be in on one's job or at any time? Does it really "spare" one from grief or ensure a "good reputation"?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Arthur Guiterman: a poem

While browsing through a collection of poetry, I came across this old familiar favorite by Arthur Guiterman. I think I first read it when it was used as an epigraph many moons ago for a short story. As it happens, I no longer remember either the author or the title of the story, but this has remained with me, probably because I was so amused by it that I memorized it.

The title gives the theme, and while it's a familiar theme that has been expressed in many stories and poems and religious works (Vanity of vanities, all is vanity . . ) much more seriously and artistically, there have been times when this version perfectly fit the mood I was in, especially the last couplet, which I have quoted quietly to myself on numerous occasions.

On the Vanity of Earthly Greatness

The tusks that clashed in mighty brawls
Of mastodons, are billiard balls.

The sword of Charlemagne the Just
Is ferric oxide, known as rust.

The grizzly bear whose potent hug
Was feared by all, is now a rug.

Great Caesar's bust is on the shelf,
And I don't feel so well myself.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Blade Runner: Five film versions

Blade Runner is one of my favorite SF films, but it has taken multiple viewings to get me to the point where I begin to understand why. The story is a classic SF/Police procedural mix with a film noir atmosphere. Only recently have I been able to spend time away from the central action and concentrate on the background. It is this, the imaginative and painstaking attention to the setting, that makes Blade Runner the outstanding film that it is: the various people on the streets, the clothing, the introduction of animals in an urban environment, the stores, the various small and unique businesses (snakes and owls and llamas? made to order), and the dark and brooding atmosphere so reminiscent of films of the 40s and 50s.

Of course, when I heard of the Director's Cut, I had to see what Riddley Scott, the director, now thought should be in the film, and then when the Final Cut came out, I decided to run my own Blade Runner film festival. I started by renting them or getting them from the public library, which had the theatrical version. I then learned there was a collector's edition out and decided that this was something I should have in my own private collection of DVDs, of which I now have six. I investigated and found the 5 Disc Collectors' Edition at a reasonable price.

What really sold me on it was that it claimed to have five versions of Blade Runner. Now this I had to see. It arrived with five DVDs: three with the various versions of the film, but also two DVDs with extras-- Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner and The Enhancement Archive. This was in addition to the Special and Bonus Features found with the various film versions. To be honest, I haven't watched the two DVDs yet. I keep getting distracted by the films, but one of these days . . .

I will not be writing about Philip K. Dick's novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which was published in 1958. The changes are so significant that it would take a book to adequately discuss them.

I shall discuss significant events and the endings of the film versions.

The Five Faces of Blade Runner

THE WORKPRINT: this version has never been released for viewing in the theaters. It is, as the label suggests, a working version of the film, made prior to the release of the theatrical versions. Aside from a few minor technical problems with color and the sound track, it is a version that is very acceptable. When I saw it, I thought that if I had seen this in a theatre, I would have guessed that it was an older version that had become a bit tired over the three decades since its release.

THE THEATRICAL RELEASE: US Version, 1982. This is the first release of the film, and frankly, it is still my favorite. It bombed when it came out. Film-goers weren't ready for it; I wonder if there's an audience for it today, some three decades later.

THE THEATRICAL RELEASE: International Version, 1982. This version was for theaters outside of the US. The only differences I can see are minimal: in the International version, some of the fight scenes are a few seconds longer and the violence more explicit, and some brief nudity in the dressing room of Zhora, the snake dancer. These differences are included in the Director's Cut and the Final Cut.

THE DIRECTOR'S CUT: 1992. This appeared a decade after the theatrical release. Generally a re-release such as this would include some scenes that weren't in the first release and possibly the editing or even the outright deletion of scenes that the director now felt didn't work. The major differences, that I can see, are the loss of the voice-overs (a serious error by Riddley Scott, as far as I'm concerned), the bewildering introduction of the unicorn scene, and the truncated ending. My opinion is that Scott's changes weakened the film.

THE FINAL CUT: 2007. This version came out some fifteen years after the Director's Cut. The changes in this version had to do with several technical flaws and didn't introduce anything new to or take anything out of the Director's Cut.

1. In the scene when Deckard talks to the creator of the snake for Zhora, the sound track didn't match up exactly with the visual scene. Since Ford was busy, they got his son to come in and reshoot the scene. They filmed Ford's son as he lipsync'd (is there such a word?) to the audio track and then inserted that into the film.

2. The second reshooting took place in the scene where Deckard shoots Zhora as she goes crashing through the plate glass in the store. Apparently, Scott? felt that the face of the double for Zhora was too noticeable. To solve this problem, Joanna Cassidy came in and they filmed her face as she twisted and turned to match the positions of the double's face in the film. This was then inserted into the film, so that it is now Joanna Cassidy's face one sees crashing through all that plate glass.

3. At the end of the film, at the point when Roy dies, he releases the white bird which then flies up into the sky. As the camera follows it up into the clear blue sky, I wondered what had happened to the rain. Had it suddenly stopped? Well, that doesn't happen in the Final Cut. That bird now flies upward into the rain falling from a dark sky (it was a dark and stormy night--sorry, couldn't resist that).

The white bird: Scott said that it originally was just a sign that Roy had died and had let go of the bird, but everybody else took the bird as symbolic of the freedom that Roy finally achieved. For many viewers, the white bird is Roy's soul ascending to heaven. He had developed a soul and was now human.

This has been just a brief overview of the five films. Following is a discussion of some of the major differences that appear among the five versions, or at least I see them as major. There may be other differences equally important, but they've escaped me so far. Perhaps I'll finally see them in subsequent viewings.

The Voice-overs: these appear only in the initial theatrical releases. They are not found in the Workprint (with one interesting exception which I will bring up later), and were removed from the Director's Cut and were not restored in the Final Cut. This is a major error in judgment on Scott's part, for, in my opinion, it weakens the film. One of the film's strengths is its dark, gloomy atmosphere, for many scenes take place at night and in the rain. Harrison Ford's first scene is outside on the street on a drizzly night. Take a close look at Rachel's clothing, hairstyle, and makeup, and then look at photos of women taken during the 1940's and 1950's. Rachel's appearance puts her much closer to that period then to the 1980's or the early 21st century when the story takes place. The voice-over is a powerful reminder of the noir films that appeared after WWII, many of which were crime films in which one man was depicted on the trail of criminals or on a mission of revenge. Blade Runner clearly fits in with these films.

Reaction: removing the voice-over was a mistake. I think it weakens the film It is the single most important reason why I rate the theatrical version higher than the Director's Cut and the Final Cut.

The Unicorn: the unicorn appears only in the Director's Cut and the Final Cut. Rachel has just left Deckard's apartment (her first visit in which she argues that she isn't a replicant). After she leaves, Deckard is shown sitting at the piano, picking out a few notes when he suddenly and inexplicably thinks of a unicorn running through the woods. He then gets up and begins to use his computer to work on one of Leon's photos.

In one of the bonus features, I learned that the brief appearance was actually shot especially for the film and wasn't borrowed from another film. I also learned that it supposedly supports Scott's idea that Deckard is a replicant. It's intended to tie in with the unicorn origami (I think that's what it is) that Gaff leaves by Deckard's apartment at the end of the film. How else would Gaff know about Deckard's unicorn daydream if a unicorn hadn't been placed in Deckard's memory? Huh!

I gather that this was an afterthought on Scott's part because people weren't getting Scott's idea that Deckard is human. Frankly, I don't get it either. There are too many other ways for a unicorn to appear in Deckard's memory without the need for a memory implant. A unicorn traditionally is a symbol of virginity, for only a virgin could capture one. Rachel certainly comes across as innocent and naive and perhaps virginal? OK, it's a stretch, but no more so than the "official" interpretation.

Reaction: I see no reason for this scene. It doesn't convince me that Deckard is a replicant, which is why it was inserted in the last two releases. It doesn't work. To be honest, when a friend mentioned the unicorn in the film, I didn't remember it, even though I had just seen the film a few weeks earlier. I either wasn't watching the film those few seconds it was on or I considered it irrelevant and simply forgot about it.

Roy's Death: the scene of Roy's death is the same for the four releases. It differs only in the workprint version. It is also the only example of a voice-over other than in the initial theatrical releases. In the workprint, Roy doesn't die when he says "Time to die," ironically using the same words Leon used when he was about to kill Deckard, and when the white bird flies upward, but he struggles against death for several hours afterwards. Deckard in the voice-over comments that Roy's death took hours. He also thinks about why Roy saved his life. Perhaps Roy, his own death so imminent, realizes how important life is, even a blade runner's life.

The Escape at the End: The theatrical versions are the only ones that have the final scene out in the countryside. The others end with the closing of the elevator doors. I guess that the prejudice against a possibly happy ending is responsible here. If so, then somebody has forgotten a short but significant conversation between Deckard and Rachel. They are back in his apartment, now for the second time. Deckard is cleaning up when Rachel mentions leaving the city and heading north. She asks him if he would come after her, would hunt her down. Deckard replies that he wouldn't for he owes her one. . . but that somebody would.

Have they really escaped? I doubt it, for all they have done by leaving the city is to delay being tracked down. If Deckard also is a replicant, then surely the authorities would go after them, especially since Rachel, an experimental model, has no termination date. She could live for decades. They are too dangerous to allow to live free. Other blade runners will soon be on their trail, if they weren't already on their way.

Is Deckard a replicant? This is probably the point that is most controversial. I've seen numerous commentaries that argue both sides. I've come to the conclusion that there is no concrete evidence clearly and unambiguously supporting either position. Riddley Scott, the director, says that Deckard is a replicant. While he says Deckard is a replicant, his film suggest something quite other than that.

If Deckard is a replicant, then he must be the most incompetent replicant in existence. He can't be a Nexus, the same type as Roy and his friends are, for there is no comparison between them. He is slower than them, clearly weaker than them, and is always caught by surprise by them.

Zhora: in the dressing room, she catches him by surprise, even though he knows she's a replicant, and is about to kill him when others walk into the dressing room. She flees, and Deckard then shoots her in the back as she flees through the store. He fires and misses several times before he finally hits her.

Leon: Deckard has just killed Zhora and is leaving the scene when Leon catches him offguard. Deckard pulls his gun, but Leon merely flicks it away, says "Time to Die," and is just about to kill him when Rachel appears, picks up Deckard's gun and shoots Leon in the head from a distance of twenty or thirty yards, hitting him with one shot. Of course, she's a Nexus model and functions competently in this situation. It's Rachel who kills Leon, not Deckard, who is the best blade runner in the city, according to Bryan, his boss.

Pris: Deckard is wandering around Stevenson's apartment looking for replicants, his gun still in its holster. He gets suspicious of one of the large dolls and goes over there without pulling his gun. Pris jumps him and is about to kill him when she decides to have some fun. This gives Deckard a chance to finally get his gun out and kill her as she tries to stomp him to death.

Roy: Deckard has the gun and Roy has no weapon. Deckard becomes the prey, even if he is armed, and at the end, Roy has to save Deckard's life. Roy dies because he has reached his termination date and not because Deckard kills him.

All four Nexus replicants are superior to Deckard. All four could have killed him, but three were prevented by chance, and the fourth chooses to save Deckard's life instead. What kind of replicant is Deckard? Surely not a Nexus.

Deckard is told that the Tyrell Corporation is determined to build replicants that become more and more human. Perhaps Deckard is a Nexus 7, next year's model that is so human that it is as incompetent as the average human.

Riddley Scott says Deckard is a replicant; his film says no, Deckard is human.

Overall Reaction: the theatrical versions get a 5 on a five point scale; the others a 4.