If you’re from Southern Ontario and you didn’t go to the better parties of the 90s, you rang in the new year with rain and androids. You watched Blade Runner at 12:05, after the countdown at Nathan Phillips Square (went in person one year, needed to pee all the time, was body checked by a police horse) blared its last, because CityTV always played it as the first flick of the year. Sometimes The Voice, Mark Dailey (RIP) announced it, but I remember times when the screen just went dark, and then: Vangelis, and the Hades landscape erupted. We expected it.
I don’t remember how far back the tradition goes. I first discovered it in 1991. I was 18, at a house party south of Queen East, in what you’d call the chill room now, if “chill rooms” are living rooms where unromanced, half-drunk sad sacks went to stow their bodies. Perhaps I’m projecting. I sat, the TV glowed, Blade Runner was on. Nobody was in the mood to talk, so it was the first good look I got at the movie. Before that I caught enough parts on TV to assemble a full mental cut. (Much of it came from a childhood viewing where my mother told me to throw a blanket over my eyes when Roy kills Eldon Tyrell but Mom: I peeked.)
This is the Year of Leon – his incept date is April 10, 2017 – but not a year for his actor, Brion James, who died in 1999, at 54. Sad, for a man who looked like he could push 400 lb atomic loads all day long. Of course, we didn’t have that bit of dialogue back then, before the Final Cut. We watched rippling VHS images and heard Deckard’s low nasal voiceover. We saw Deckard and Rachel go north in the end, and the unicorn didn’t mean much; maybe it was an abstract symbol of hope.
I don’t remember when they ended the tradition. At one point, they moved it over to Space, and one year they played Strange Days instead – not a bad successor. Znaimer sold off his empire in chunks. Muchmusic went to Bell, became “Much” and stopped playing music videos. CityTV became “City,” and though we’d already lost the midnight kingdom of the Voice, Great Movies and eccentric programming like New Year’s Blade Runner, this rebranded Rogers-owned content machine destroyed any hope of the old weirdness returning.
Yeah, this is barely about Blade Runner. I don’t have anything to say about the movie, its innovation and beauty, or its hard to watch sexism and gendered violence, that hasn’t been said before. But some movies are histories of oneself, based on the times and places you saw them. This is triply true for Blade Runner, because we lived through the theatrical release (voiceover, happy ending), the 1992 Director’s Cut (no voiceover, no happy ending, unicorn) and the Final Cut (like the Director’s Cut, but Roy doesn’t swear! Other changes too). The first two aired on CityTV in turn, and I think the last was part of the short-lived Space airings. Blade Runner’s aged exceptionally well, but it’s changed like a rarely-seen, eccentric friend. It stopped talking to itself, it entertains odd questions now about unicorns and dreams now, but maybe, sensing a certain mortal chill, conducts itself with a bit too much efficiency, valuing legacy over experience. That Final Cut tightens things a bit too much, sometimes. My favourite bit has always been Roy Batty in the elevator, stars racing above while he shifts through a sequence of expressions, a too-intelligent child wondering if he should revel or mourn. The Final Cut lets it fade too fast.
So just after midnight I put it on because you don’t catch the tradition anymore. You choose it. I put on the Workprint: the unfinished version used for test screenings, which I’d never watched in full. The cuts are abrupt and the music’s awful. Deckard has a single voiceover at the end, and it’s a mistake. I thought the novelty would grab me, in case the movie was too familiar and put me to sleep. Instead, I felt a sort of hyper-nostalgia. This is the older-than-old version: the rough teenage cut that feels like the movie I pieced together from partial viewings before I was 18. But I’m a father now, and I look at it and think: You’ve got so much potential, kid. I often rewrite or edit movies in my head while I watch them, and I feel myself urging the Workprint to do some things better, stick to its points of brilliance, and even add things that never made it into any official version. I’d love to see Olmos’ Gaff spit on metaphysics in that movie of my dreams (that bit exists; it was cut), where Roy always quotes Blake.
They say there’s a sequel coming, but I don’t believe it. It’ll never play at 12:05 on New Year’s Day.