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Laramie Movie Scope: Escapes

Hampton Fancher's strange Blade Runner odyssey

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 17, 2018 – Hampton Fancher, best known for his Blade Runner (1982) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017) screenplays, here is seen in a documentary about the fascinating journey of his life, from obscurity to fame, peppered with numerous film clips from his days as a TV and movie actor.

Fancher's road to fame and fortune is not the kind that school counselors talk about. He drops out of school at age 11, studied ballet, is arrested for grand theft auto at age 14. At age 15, in 1954, he hops a freighter to Barcelona, Spain, intent on becoming a flamenco dancer. That doesn't work out, so he heads back to the U.S. with the aid of his parents. At age 16, he gets a job dancing at the Million Dollar Theatre in Los Angeles (this theater's marquee also appears in a scene in Blade Runner).

He tries starting a dance company in New York. That doesn't work out, so he hitchhikes back to Torrance, California to live with his parents. He drinks and takes all kinds of drugs, but luckily has an extreme aversion to injections. He gets married, moves to Los Angeles, then moves out when his first child is only six months old. Tall, dark, thin and handsome, he is spotted on the street by director Bruno VeSota, who offers him a role in the movie “The Brain Eaters” (1958) on the spot. He gets a number of acting jobs, but what he really wants to do is write and direct.

Fancher made a number of friends in Hollywood, including actor Brian Kelly (star of the “Flipper” TV series) and actress Teri Garr (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) actress Barbara Hershey (“Insidious”) and others. He had a short marriage (1963-65) to actress Sue Lyon (“Lolita”). This documentary uses a large number of film clips, showing Fancher and his friends in a number of what appear to be “B Movies” and TV shows like Bonanza, Have Gun Will Travel, Maverick and many others.

Fancher, in the film tells a long, rambling story about a promotional tour he did for a film in which he appeared. At first, there appears to be no real point to the story, other than illuminating the pitfalls of a really cheap promotional tour around the U.S. Eventually, there is a point to the story, which perhaps has something to do with the title of this documentary film.

Fancher wrote a screenplay, but it is rejected. He also wants to write a screenplay based on the Philip K. Dick novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” He is unable to obtain the rights to the novel. He gets the impression that Philip K. Dick does not like him. He also gets the impression that Dick may have be crazy. Later, when his old friend, Brian Kelly, calls, looking for a project, he suggests that Kelly try to get the film rights to the same novel, and Kelly, a very persuasive fellow, succeeds.

Kelley wants to produce the film based on Dick's novel, but is unable to get any studios interested in it. Kelley asks Fancher to write a screenplay to help him shop the novel around Hollywood. Fancher refuses, perhaps because of fear of rejection, but Barbara Hershey, who knows he really wants to write this screenplay, talks him into doing it. “She beat me down, just through intelligence,” Fancher says in the film. From then on, Hershey reads every page of the “Blade Runner” screenplay, encouraging him to continue, and paying for his rent while he works on it.

Fancher completes the first draft of the script in 1978. Producer Michael Deeley read the screenplay and agree to work on the project as an equal partner with Fancher, who continues to write script revisions for the next several years. He finishes the third draft in 1979. Director Ridley Scott came on board in 1980. Working with Scott he eventually writes 10 drafts of the script. The screenplay ends up very different from the book.

After seven months of re-writes with Scott, Fancher seems burned out. David Webb Peoples (“Unforgiven” and “Twelve Monkeys”) is hired to revise the script. Neither Scott nor Peoples read “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” before making the movie. Philip K. Dick suddenly dies before ever seeing “Blade Runner,” which is the first film ever based on any of his 44 novels.

Fancher got screen writing credit on “Blade Runner” and is also listed as an executive producer of the film, along with Brian Kelly and Michael Deeley. Fancher's book, “The Shape of the Final Dog and Other Stories” contains an idea for a Blade Runner sequel. Fancher is later hired by Ridley Scott in 2013 to write the Blade Runner sequel, “Blade Runner 2049,” which is released in 2017 to critical acclaim.

Luckily, Fancher's life is a fascinating series of ups and downs, because the structure of this documentary with its multitude of film clips is a bit of a mess. It also features extensive use of intertitles, cartoons, comic strip art, stills, accompanied by music and dance sounds. It is kind of like a film version of a multimedia art project, a shotgun approach, throwing lots of images and ideas at the screen.

It is almost as if Fancher is narrating this film, but it is actually more like Fancher's interview audio is being illustrated by numerous film clips, stills, artwork and cartoons. This film is mainly for film buffs, such as the many devoted fans of the “Blade Runner” movies. This film rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2018 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]