Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Soylent Green (1973)

I'll be honest here for a moment. I've never had much of an appreciation for Charlton Heston. Oh sure, the original Planet of the Apes remains one of my most treasured films, but it's certainly not due to Heston's hammy portrayal of stranded astronaut George Taylor (although, it was some pretty good ham, I must admit). It has much more to do with the "apes"; Cornelius, Dr. Zaius, and most especially Zira (played by Kim Hunter, who provides the films heart). Oh, and Linda Harrison had some fucking great legs too. Anyway, up until this point, I had only seen Heston as a Jew (Ben-Hur & The Ten Commandments), a Mexican (Touch of Evil), a gas station attendant (Wayne's World II), and a sympathetic victim (Bowling for Columbine). Speaking of Bowling for Columbine, let me just say to Michael Moore: Shove it up your ass you fat fucking twat.

So, anyway, I was actually excited to watch a little 70s picture called Soylent Green. In the year 2022, the earth is dying. Each day, it's getting warmer and warmer. The popluation of New York City has just passed 40 million. The infrastructure is crumbling. You're either rich or living on the street. Food is rationed off and served in the form of little bland squares, a service provided by the Soylent corporation (as far as I can tell, the only corporation left). There's soylent red, soylent yellow, soylent crumbs, and, just introduced soylent green! Yummy.

Unfortunately, there was no fucking way I was going into this thing fresh. The ending has been spoiled countless times. I already knew Heston's big line ("they blew it up, didn't they!? Oh wait, wrong movie), although I find it hard to believe the ending was even that shocking back in it's time. This thing is telegraphed a mile a way. Where the fuck did you think those bucket loaders were taking all those people? Anyway, I still enjoyed it despite knowing the ending. Richard Fleischer and his crew did a tremendous job in portraying an over crowded, smog ridden, destitute New York City. While the ending didn't shock me one thing that did was Heston's performance as Detective Robert Thorn. He's damned good, in fact. He doesn't even ham it up until the very last frame, and even then, he's done better ham. He's sullen and brow beaten, for the most part. All he knows of life is living in his crummy one room apartment with his roommate Sol (the great Edward G. Robinson), eating tasteless Soylent food bars, and climbing over thousands of slumbering poor folk just to get home. There are moments in this picture where he finally hears music, sees an actual animal, or tastes real food and all he can do is laugh as if he's a child experiencing them for the first time.

Actually, all the performances here are quite good. Robinson is terrific, in his final performance, as the elder Sol, Thorn's best friend. He's a tragic character whose old enough to have lived in a time where people ate real food and enjoyed real freedom. All he wants to do is die. His choice towards the end is both heartbreaking and strangely uplifting. Joseph Cotton has a brief appearence as murder victim William Simonson, who knows a little too much about the new soylent green. I especially liked Chuck "the rifleman" Connors as soylent soldier/Simonson bodyguard/badass Tab Fielding. Why the fuck didn't my parents name me Tab?? Leigh Taylor-Young played Shirl, the whore with a heart of gold. Speaking of whores, the future is not a good place for women apparently. The women in this thing get beat up or whored out. Those are their options. As soon as society begins to crumble women's lib gets tossed in the gutter and we revert back to the days of clubbing them on the head and pulling them by the hair. Heston has a great line when he refers to Shirl as "a piece of furniture". He even slaps himself a couple broads. Oh well, when in Rome as they say.

The movie begins in a bit of noir-ish fashion with a murder (of Simonson) that seems to be, on the surface, a simple burglarly. Except as Heston notes, before robbing the luxury apartment of it's scotch and steak, "they didn't take anything." Of course, further investigation only leads him closer to the truth, a truth his own police department doesn't even want him to learn. This is future-noir almost a decade before Blade Runner.

For early 1970s dystopian science fiction, this is a brutal little film. Nothing like Logan's Run. I lost count of the amount of times people were shot in the head (including a priest in confession, and several women!). Luckily, there are guys called garbagemen who storm in to collect the bodies, place them in their garbage trucks and bring them to god knows where (here's a hint: "It's people!"). The police control riots by bucketloading people into trucks and then driving them off to, again, god knows where ("people!"). The sets in this picture are pretty well done. Some might say the film has dated itself by being set in the future, but a future that clearly uses 70s appliances. I'd disagree by telling them to stick it where the sun don't shine (i.e. anywhere on earth 2022)....and also, that this is a retro-future where a society in shambles has forced people to use whatever they can get their hands on. That's why there's a broken down 1970 pinto in the street and also why Heston watches television on an old black & white. Douches.

So, what we have here is a sweet little science fiction gem, featuring, quite possibly the best performance Heston has ever given. I'll close with Heston's final line, a poignant moment, when he quietly says,

It's People!!!!!


brian said...

I hope this is a fitting tribute to Charlton Heston. I may not have appreciated him before, but I certainly do now. RIP.

elmo said...

I really need to try this again. Watching one night on Netflix, I fell asleep and never gave it another thought.

Beepy said...

What's in Soylent Red and Soylent Yellow? Do we ever learn?

Besides, in such a decayed future, wouldn't we just be eating human flesh without having to have it presented to us as some mysterious food?

elmo said...

I'm down with that.

brian said...

They're basically veggie bars. I think red is like radish, green is celery or something. Soylent green is actually supposed to be plankton, from the oceans depths. So, if they lied about the soylent green, my best guess is that Soylent red is puppies and soylent yellow is babies.