Saturday, 15 April 2017
Jean-Claude Van Damme in the 1980s - Cyborg: Director's Cut / Slinger
Although not in the same league as a full-on control freak like Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme was nevertheless given plenty of opportunity to put his own authorial stamp on his 1980s releases. Following a disastrous test screening for Bloodsport The Cannon Group allowed the star to supervise the film's re-edit - how much worse could it get? Healthy box office returns ensured that this benefit was soon extended to the rest of the company's collaborations with the actor, including 1989's Cyborg. To give him his due, Van Damme had a clear and consistent methodology when assembling all of these features - they are vehicles for his body to be pored over and admired. Plot concerns ranked a distant second.
Slinger is Albert Pyun's attempt to reconstruct his vision of Cyborg, freed from studio notes and a film star who jealously guarded his brand. Thanks to a diligent collaborator, Pyun had an 88 minute VHS workprint to excavate anything absent from the theatrical release. Newly recorded voice overs and dialogue loops were used to paper over missing or unfilmed scenes, framing a story that diverges on several key details. Objectives are more clearly delineated in this alternative cut, characters act with specific, stated purpose. The analog video assembly also predates any MPAA censorship, giving Pyun one or two more instances of violence to grab attention with.
This Director's Cut doesn't simply rescue a preexisting piece, it goes further with Pyun adding and subtracting from his film, eagerly working towards an impressionistic draft that simulates what could have been, had he been allowed full creative control. In terms of form, it's clear from the new edit that Pyun wanted to hold on his images longer, to let them sink into his audience and expand in their minds. Lacking the coverage to actually amplify these moments, Pyun switches back and forth between the blotchy, deteriorating analog signal and a pristine theatrical source, effectively replaying the beat. In truly dire editorial predicaments he simply turns what little footage he has into self-contained loops.
These primitive techniques, coupled with an excretable epilogue sequence, threaten to shake the viewer out of the film but, thankfully, Slinger has one more ace up its sleeve, Tony Riparetti and Jim Saad's brand new soundtrack. Indeed, this Director's Cut is an object lesson in how much of an impact music can have on a film. As released, Cyborg was saddled with a reedy, synthetic score by Kevin Bassinson. Despite the striking apocalyptic imagery, the audio accompaniment was painfully low rent, a supermarket keyboard's approximation of an orchestra, piped out to tinnily underscore the futuristic action. By comparison, Riparetti and Saad's suite is a blazing catalyst, full of wailing, heroic guitars and the kind of pounding, electronic beats Chu Ishikawa wove into the Tetsuo films.