So, finally, for this mini cyberpunk smorgasbord, along with my audio interview with Mr. William Gibson, here, and my in-depth review of Johnny Mnemonic, here, I thought I would present you with my piece on the almost-forgotten film New Rose Hotel which escaped into a few arthouse cinemas in 1998 and which I reviewed in the late, lamented magazine, Science Fiction World:
Gibson’s Sprawl books and stories are not noted for their cheer. Neither are Ferrara’s movies. So, a match made in Hell then!
The original short story concerns an unnamed man lying in a one of those stacked-coffin hotels so loved by Japanese businessmen. As he stares at the low ceiling, his mind runs over the events of the previous months which have led to him lying there, waiting for the soldiers of a global conglomerate to come and kill him.
In the film, he is X. His business partner is the charismatic Fox. Together they operate a very successful industrial espionage operation. Their latest target is the zaibatsu Maas Biolab’s resident geneticist genius, Hiroshi. (Remember, Gibson wrote this story some fifteen years before most of us had even heard the name ‘Monsanto’, let alone begun to understand the potential power of genetic engineering.) If they manage to persuade Hiroshi to defect to the rival multinational, Hosaka, they stand to make a cool $100 million.
To do this, they employ a honey trap, baited with X’s favourite hooker, Sandii. Unfortunately, X falls in lust with Sandii, and the idea of her sleeping with their prey maddens him. Dafoe is skilled at playing vulnerability and pain, so he is a perfect choice as X; whilst Ferrara regular Walken, more accustomed to playing icy-cool, enigmatic villains, brings a real Edge to Fox. You never know whether X should really trust him or not. Never.
Their relationships are played out in long, sedate scenes in colour-co-ordinated rooms. Rosa’s night-club is smoky and red, Dafoe’s apartment is a stark white, the scenes between he and Sandii are generally a chilly blue, whilst the hotel coffin in which he eventually finds himself, is an unsympathetic grey.
These scenes are then intercut with montages of televisual images, cut and pasted together from CCTVs and computer monitors. This is not a world for relaxation, this is a world of Edge.
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Living on The Edge, is very important to Fox, and likewise to Ferrara, who never indulges in the complacency of actually making his characters likeable. When he is dealing with a corrupted soul (in ‘Bad Lieutenant’) or the self-destruction of a violent family (‘The Funeral’), his cool, analytical eye is perfectly appropriate. Here, however, his tale is about a yearning love played out against a harsh and unforgiving background. If the characters are just as stark and hollow as the rooms in which they live, it is difficult for the viewer to care for them.
So, when the sting goes terribly wrong, and Dafoe is a hunted man, he spends the latter half of the film reliving the first half; analysing it and fretting over it. Unfortunately, since the film is so emotionally hollow, this simply feels like repetition, not exploration.
Still, it is a treat to see an SF movie (albeit one apparently only set about five years hence) made on a zero budget, with a concentrated effort to avoid the flash-bang-wallop of most near-future fare, which focuses, instead, on the people we will be, in the future.
Directed by Abel Ferrara.
Starring: Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe, Asia Argento, Annabella Sciorra, Ryuichi Sakamoto
Dur: 87 mins