Thursday, 13 April 2017

Jean-Claude Van Damme in the 1980s - Cyborg

One of the more intriguing ideas in Harlan Ellison's A Boy and His Dog (adapted for the screen in 1975 by LQ Jones) is that cinema has survived into the wasteland, taking the form of mouldy old pornography, projected to placate roaming gangs of shell-shocked rapists. In that scenario film explicitly functions as escapism, providing a glimpse of the soft female bodies denied to that world's gibbering, starving men. Albert Pyun's Cyborg goes one better, imagining the kind of art that a society coping with an extinction event might actually produce. Cyborg is monosyllabic and cruel; its characters defeated.

Despite being named for Dayle Haddon's automaton and starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Cyborg's most important character is Vincent Klyn's Fender. The film opens with his narration, filling the audience in on the catastrophes that have facilitated Fantasy II's meticulously detailed establishing shots. Fender enjoys this new milieu, the rampant lawlessness allowing him to grow into his psychosis and actually thrive. While the weak hole up in the rubble, Fender and his gang of bodybuilders crash over the ruins, gobbling up anything or anyone that takes their fancy. Pyun can't help but betray his allegiance in these moments. Klyn's face is framed in a series of extreme close-ups, the actor's eyes blazing while he preaches his apocalyptic nihilism directly to the audience. Cyborg belongs to Fender.

Cyborg is subsistence filmmaking. Sets and costumes inherited from a cancelled Masters of the Universe sequel, the shoot itself costing a quarter of the pre-production outlay for that failed He-Man project. Van Damme plays Gibson, a post-apocalyptic mercenary who takes his payment in canned goods. This destitution is reflected in the stark, basic plotting. There's a listless quality to the film, a pervading sense that everything is being made up on the spot. Probably because it was. Cyborg motors on a baggy, improvised game of chase, complete with a viciousness that reflects a population who have grown up insular and surrounded by extreme violence.

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