Last year, Ridley Scott teamed up with Youtube for an extremely special event. A calling was put out to the global Youtube community to record a day in their life, on the 24th July. The uptake was huge. From 91 countries across the world, there were 80,000 submissions which totalled 4,500 hours of footage (or 187.5 continuous days). Other footage was sourced from cameramen sent out to the developing and third world countries. Scott, along with director Kevin McDonald and editor Joe Walker, then spent over 7 weeks sorting and editing the best footage into a 90 minute film (I think those are all the statistics done with). That film became Life in a Day.
The film itself has already had an impressive amount of screening. Debuting at the Sundance Film Festival in January, it had limited cinema release, before being uploaded to Youtube at the end of October, free to watch. It has also been transmitted on BBC2 in early November, so it should already have a decent viewership for many people reading this. For those of you who haven’t seen it, I heartily recommend it to be worth a watch, whether you end up enjoying it or not.
Let me just say, this is a film unlike anything else I have ever watched. Many critics claim the film has no focus, that it is rather scattered and has no real linear narrative. Most documentaries, you see, always have a particular focus. For example, you watch a documentary on the life of a penguin, and expect it to fairly penguin-centric. But how do you deal with a documentary covering all aspects of human culture, over 24 hours? Be prepared to wait a little longer, I will make my point.
I live near Oxford, a very academic city with lots of interesting museums. None of these more so, in my opinion, than the Pitt Rivers Collection. This is the largest and most fascinating anthropological collection of items of its kind, covering all of the cultures across the world. How it groups them however, is not into their own separate cultures, but into sections of life. Currency, for example, is all grouped together, so you can best cross examine how different cultures from different ages have used it. This is the way it should be done, and so it is for Life in a Day. Enough preamble, we now come to the film.
We start at in the very early hours of a day. Note that for the purposes of the film, all time zones become aligned as one. We flit from two night-vision green elephants frolicking in an African watering hole, to an early morning Muslim prayer session, to an American taking you on a tour of his favourite elevator. And so it endures, a continuous back and forth across the globe throughout the rest of the morning, these small Youtube clips giving an insight into each life. Do not think that there are not themes however, for the editing is beautifully subtle. We see how a fairly ordinary man collecting his milk bottle from outside cuts to Eastern European farmers herding and milking their goats by hand.
I’m afraid that I might be making this all seem incredibly plain.
The fascination comes from seeing an everyday activity that we all recognise, like reading the morning paper, then being shifted hundreds of miles in less than a second, to an incredibly moving monologue of an Australian man in hospital reading his. The varying shifts in cultures are echoed in a quality of camera work. The handheld efforts of mundane life in America are a world away from the professional crews, let loose in lands of comparatively exotic chaos and wonder in the East.
This is definitely a piece that gathers momentum, in case you are 13 minutes in, wondering what makes me so excitable about a 15 year old American’s first shave. Frankly, the rather less exciting stuff makes this movie more than you initially realise, but it becomes a real emotional journey through cultures you had never thought to seek in your mind. A tour through Afghanistan by a teenage photographer contrasts excellently with the shenanigans of troops in the Army bases over there. Scenes based around relationships follow proposals, failed courtships, a young man coming out to his grandmother, and various wedding ceremonies. All of these contrast with a young woman’s weekly date with her Afghanistan based boyfriend, a truly heartbreaking piece.
There are criticisms, and I do have to say it is our culture that lets the side down. Give an American or Brit a camera, and a potential audience, and we do seem to enjoy it. Only a few were letting the side down, but hearing someone talk of their love for Walt Whitman and trying desperately to correctly quote it for their infant children, one wonders whether that is truly a daily activity, or a chance to play up for their own camera. That said, I was amazed by the sincerity of the rest of the… (cast? I suppose they are). It is perhaps the greatest strength of Life in a Day that you can see real stories, real lives and real emotions by real people, under their own direction, without any often straying into theatrics.
Some scenes are disturbing, shocking and difficult to watch for some. I suggest that they be watched nevertheless, because the film is better for their inclusion. It is possibly my favourite film of the year so far, and being available for free here, should be worth an attempt to watch by anyone who stumbles across this article, and has made it this far into an extensively thorough article. I heartily apologise, but it was well worth it.
So, the results are in for the classic movie poll! And as you can clearly see, you suck.
Seriously, 6 votes? Spread thinner than chocolate sauce on Keira Knightley’s midriff (try not to judge me for that thought). So it seems no-one has seen the classic movies so lauded by cinematic hot-heads everywhere. In the lead, with 15.8% of the vote (see how stupid that sounds?), is Apocalypse Now. Four movies (Casablanca, The Godfather, The Good The Bad and The Ugly and Blade Runner) came second with 13.16%. Out of those, I picked The Godfather and Blade Runner to critique. So over the next month, you should receive reviews of all three.
Starting with Blade Runner, mainly as it is the one out of the above my dad has been bugging me to see. And for good reason, having been named as the best ever sci-fi movie by IGN and The Guardian, and 20th in Empire’s Top 500 Films of All Time. So last night, we all sat in anticipation of one of the best science fiction films ever made. Yet, I am under obligation to tell purists just which version I saw. Because it is a movie that has been endlessly tinkered with, to the tune of 7 seperate versions. The one we settled down to was the ‘Final Cut’, also known as The One Version Ridley Scott Was In Control Of. I don’t know how much it differs from the others, and I don’t feel I need to. If it’s the version the director wants, it should be the best version, period.
Anyway, the plot is as follows… The year is 2019. Bio-engineered clones of human life were once commonplace as slave labour on Earth colonies. Yet after sentience-inspired uprisings they have been declared illegal, and to be destroyed upon sight. In light of this, the newest batch of ‘replicants’, Nexus 6, were engineered with a life span of four years, so as to not have time to develop any particular emotional substance. Four of the said newest batch have commandeered a vessel back to Earth in order to meet their maker and gain an extended lifespan. Harrison Ford is the titular ‘Blade Runner’ assigned to track these replicants down and ‘retire’ them. Following so far? I hope so.
First off, the premise doesn’t need much more going into than that. The plot is fairly simple, a cat and mouse game of hunting down the ‘bad guys’. On a deeper level, if you wish to explore them, belongs a discussion on what it is to be human and, more importantly, what it is to live. And the acting all around is superb. Harrison Ford is rarely sub par in any movie, Darryl Hannah juxtaposes humanoid vibrancy and mechanic efficiency to great effect, and Sean Young is possibly the most human character, as a replicant whose implanted memory feels too real for her to come to terms with the realisation that she is an android. However for me, the show is stolen by head replicant Rutger Hauer. He is an exhilarating source of power and suspense throughout, dominating every scene he occupies. It’s a wonder I haven’t seen him in more films.
And yet, if I was to pick anything that was particularly scene stealing, it would be the scenery itself. In this film, Ridley Scott creates a spectacular visual landscape for Earth in 2019. In films I see now, the CGI has made cityscapes look very good. I mean it; very clean, accurate and crisp. But I wouldn’t consider them breathtaking, even in the way that a film from 1982 could do with the creativity of a futuristic landscape.
It’s not about being vast, or accurate, or even pretty. It’s about having a sense of place, something defining and awe inspiring. That is the kind of thing Blade Runner possesses.
If I were to find a fault with this film, it might be that the lack of a particularly complex plot left certain acts dragging on longer than they needed to, and gave the film a sense of plodding along at a pace of its own. But that is only a criticism because you made me think of one, you bloodthirsty hounds.
Ultimately, the question with all these films, ones that are deemed ‘classics’, is this: Do I need to watch this film, before I expire from an untimely, Kentuck Fried Chicken related death? In the case of Blade Runner, no. You don’t need to see it. But you really, really should.