The Bradbury Building: Looking Backward from the Future

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The Bradbury Building, 304 South Broadway, Los Angeles.

This looks like an old photograph but it actually dates from 1989 and comprises part of the Changing Times: Los Angeles in Photographs, 1920-1990 archive that the UCLA Library has recently made public.

bellamy.jpgThe Bradbury Building (constructed in 1893) was one of the few places I insisted on searching out when I was visiting the city in 2005. That enthusiasm dates from first seeing the building’s interior in Blade Runner where Ridley Scott turned its carefully-preserved atrium into JF Sebastian’s run-down apartment building. All that wrought-iron and polished terracotta (and those elevators!) would be compelling enough on their own but their history as a setting for a several film and TV productions only adds to their enchantment. That a building from the 1890s should be known primarily for its role in a science fiction film perhaps isn’t so surprising when it transpires that the Bradbury’s architect, George Wyman, had been inspired by a passage in a contemporary novel of futurist fantasy, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward: From 2000 to 1887:

It was the first interior of a twentieth-century public building that I had ever beheld, and the spectacle naturally impressed me deeply. I was in a vast hall full of light, received not alone from the windows on all sides, but from the dome, the point of which was a hundred feet above. Beneath it, in the centre of the hall, a magnificent fountain played, cooling the atmosphere to a delicious freshness with its spray. The walls and ceiling were frescoed in mellow tints, calculated to soften without absorbing the light which flooded the interior.

Wyman’s exterior is fairly nondescript even beside the younger buildings which now surround it, a fairly ordinary office building of the period. It’s the Bellamy-inspired atrium which captures the imagination and one can only wonder what the result might have been had Bellamy been a bit more liberal with his descriptions of America in the year 2000.

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The building exterior and South Broadway entrance.

Blade Runner wasn’t the first film to make use of the Bradbury’s interior, Billy Wilder’s film noir Double Indemnity used the building’s offices as a location in 1944 and six years later Edmond O’Brien found his way there in the climax to another noir thriller D.O.A., directed by Rudolph Maté. This is the film that famously begins with O’Brien’s character staggering into a police station to report a murder—his own. He’s been dosed with a slow-acting poison, something possibly radioactive, as was the fashion of the time. He has a few hours in which to find his killer and his breathless chase leads him to an empty Bradbury building at night, all spider-webbed with shadows.

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D.O.A. (1950).

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The atrium roof, circa 1961.

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Robert Culp: ‘Demon With A Glass Hand’ (1964).

“I was born ten days ago. A full grown man…born ten days ago. I woke on the streets of this city. I don’t know who I am, where I’ve been, or where I’m going. Someone wiped my memories clean. And they tracked me down and they tried to kill me. Why? Who are you? I ran. I managed to escape them the first time. The hand…my hand…told me what to do….”

The splendid atrium was put to even better use in 1964 for what’s often regarded as the best episode of The Outer Limits, the award-winning ‘Demon With a Glass Hand‘ written by Harlan Ellison. In that TV play the mysterious, amnesiac Trent (a great performance by Robert Culp) finds himself trapped inside the Bradbury after the building is besieged by the Kyben, alien invaders who chased him from the future and who who want both him and the computer he has fitted into his artificial hand. The building proves to be the location of a “time mirror” which enables Trent to return to the future after he’s defeated the Kyben and saved the future human race.

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Blade Runner (1982).

We had been searching for locations for a building. We wanted to go on location to an old, decrepit building and take a suite of rooms and use that as Sebastian’s apartment. One day we were downtown Los Angeles looking at a possible location, and I took a stroll across the street with Ridley and a few other people and Ridley took a look inside the beautiful Bradbury building. What we did to that building you wouldn’t believe. On a superficial level we trashed it with high-tech, then filled it with smoke on the inside and shot at night. We also added a canopy with big columns to make it look like it was an old apartment building. All of a sudden we had a very gothic, eerie environment.

Lawrence G. Paull, Blade Runner production designer in Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner by Paul M. Sammon.

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One of my photographs from 2005.

It’s tempting to see Blade Runner‘s vision of Los Angeles as a movie mash-up of the Bradbury’s noir thriller heritage with Bellamy and Ellison’s science fiction scenarios. In Britain such an elegant interior would only ever be used for Victorian costume dramas. The Bradbury’s movie life has mostly been a result of expediency and its convenience as a cheap, ready-made set, but this hasn’t prevented talented filmmakers from showing what can be done with a decent storyline and some photogenic architecture.

D.O.A. is now available as a free download after its copyright lapsed. And you can read Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (if you must) here. ‘Demon With A Glass Hand’ is available on DVD along with the rest of the Outer Limits episodes. Blade Runner was finally released in a better DVD edition last year but we’re still awaiting the multi-disc edition of Ridley’s masterpiece.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Raw Deal
Film noir posters
Kiss Me Deadly
The future is now
Blade Runner DVD
Downtown LA by Ansel Adams

Jodorowsky on DVD

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I am an artist. Now the pictures are not made by artists. They are made by companies and produced by multinationals. The art in the picture is lost. Now when artists make pictures, they make them for museums. But museums, for me, are cemeteries.
Alejandro Jodorowsky.

More from the About-Bleeding-Time Dept. (emphasis on “bleeding” in this case). Some of the most extraordinary films ever made finally receive an authorised DVD release in May.

Anchor Bay will release a special limited edition collector’s box set, The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, on DVD on 5/1/2007 (SRP $49.98). The set will contain El Topo, The Holy Mountain and Fando Y Lis on DVD, fully restored and remastered from new HD transfers in anamorphic widescreen video, with Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio (El Topo is 125 minutes in Spanish, The Holy Mountain is 114 minutes in English, Fando Y Lis is 93 minutes in Spanish). The box set will also include 2 music CDs containing the soundtracks for El Topo and The Holy Mountain, as well as a DVD of Jodorowsky’s never-before-released first film, La Cravate. El Topo and The Holy Mountain will also be available separately (SRP $24.98 each). The El Topo DVD will contain audio commentary by the director, the original theatrical trailer (with English voice-over), a 2006 on-camera interview with the director as well as an exclusive new interview, a photo gallery and original script excerpts. The Holy Mountain DVD will include audio commentary with the director, deleted scenes with commentary, the original theatrical trailer (with English voice-over), the Tarot short with commentary, a restoration process short, restoration credits, a photo gallery and original script excerpts. Fando Y Lis will include audio commentary with the director and the La Constellation Jodorowsky documentary. Subtitles on the discs will be available in English, French, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.

Jodorowsky’s official site (in Spanish)
Jodorowsky discusses the new releases with Premiere Magazine
• Jay interviews Jodo: Mean Magazine | LA Weekly

Previously on { feuilleton }
Jordan Belson on DVD
Further back and faster
Kenneth Anger on DVD…finally
The Brothers Quay on DVD
El Topo
Gangsters on DVD
Blade Runner DVD
The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda

Salvador Dalí’s apocalyptic happening

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The oft-despised concept album of the 1970s doesn’t come more demented than 666, a double disc set by Greek group Aphrodite’s Child released in 1972. The group featured Vangelis and Demis Roussos among their number (Roussos later turned up on Vangelis’s score for Blade Runner) and this is about the only thing they’re now remembered for, a post-psychedelic fantasy based on the Book of Revelations. So far, so heavy. Searching for information about the album turned up a proposal by Salvador Dalí for a celebratory “happening” to be staged in Barcelona for the album’s world premiere (lyricist Costas Ferris having met Dalí in Paris shortly after the recording):

The main concept:

1. Martial Law shall be ordered on a Sunday, in Barcelona. No one shall be allowed to walk in the streets, or watch the event. No cameras, no TV. Only a young couple of shepherds will have the privilege to witness the event. So, they can later describe it to the people, by oral speech.

2. Giant loudspeakers shall be put in the streets, playing all day the work 666, by Vangelis, Ferris and the Aphrodite’s Child. No live performance.

3. Soldiers dressed in Nazi uniforms, will walk in military march in the streets of Barcelona, arresting who-ever wants to break the law.

4. Hundreds of swans will be left to move in front of the Sagrada Famiglia, with pieces of dynamite in their bellies, which will explode in slow motion by special effects. (real living swans, that should be operated for putting the dynamite inside their belly).

5. Giant Navy planes, will fly all day in the sky of Barcelona, provoking big noise.

6. At 12:00 sharp, in the mid-day, those planes will start the bombardment of the great church, throwing all of their munitions.

7. Instead of bombs, they shall throw Elephants, Hippopotami, Whales and Archbishops carrying umbrellas.

No, it didn’t happen, but if you do hear the album try and think of swans exploding in slow motion while elephants and archbishops rain down from the sky.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The apocalyptic art of Francis Danby
The music of Igor Wakhévitch
Dalí Atomicus

Blade Runner DVD

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Blade Runner concept painting by the great Syd Mead.

Several reliable news sources are reporting that Blade Runner is to finally receive a decent DVD release.

In September of 2006, Warner Home Video will release a restored and remastered version of the Blade Runner 1992 Director’s Cut for a special four month limited release, in anticipation of a series of exciting and unprecedented releases of the film in theaters and on DVD.

Following a four month run of the remastered Blade Runner DVD, this disc will be placed on moratorium, by WHV. In 2007, Warner will follow with a limited theatrical run of Blade Runner: The Final Cut, which is being touted as Ridley Scott’s definitive version. Subsequently, there will be a multi-disc Special Edition DVD release which will contain three alternate versions of the film: the original U.S. theatrical cut, the expanded international theatrical cut and the 1992 director’s cut. “Ample, groundbreaking bonus features will also be included,” according to the WHV press release.

Blade Runner has been on DVD already in a very shoddy edition that’s now happily deleted, a rush release from the early days of DVD. Most news reports don’t seem to mention that the re-issue of the film was held up by various legal wrangles; the Blade Runner fan site, BRmovie.com, details the whole sorry tale. Here’s hoping Ridley’s masterpiece will be given the same treatment as the excellent (if unfortunately named) Alien Quadrilogy which had great transfers of the films and an insane amount of extras.