Today at the Darklight festival in Dublin they screened TRON in its entirety, from a glorious print that came direct from the Walt Disney company. But then, later in the day, I saw another, rather different, showing of TRON.
A group of young artists here in Dublin have periodic screenings of films that have been “repurposed”. And today the repurposed film was TRON. My apologies in advance to those of you who have not seen TRON – what follows might not make much sense to you.
The basic thrust of the enterprise was to show only the part of the film that occurs when Flynn has been pulled inside the computer, and to replace the soundtrack with a live musical performance by an Irish instrumental group.
What I didn’t expect was how spectacularly successful this would be. To place this in context, when you watch TRON in its full version, you are acutely aware that you are watching a film from the early 1980’s – even if you don’t consciously register this knowledge. Myriad choices, from film stock to set design to hair style, cue you in to the era in which the film was made.
But if you focus only on the twenty odd minutes when Flynn is inside the computer, something completely different happens. The movie becomes a mystical journey, far more spiritual than the prosaically framed story of the original. Seeing the actors only in the carefully processed footage that visually matches them to the computer generated backgrounds, the subliminal effect is reminiscent of early German Expressionist films such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or F. Murnau’s Nosferatu.
Seen in this way, the mystical elements of the film – notably Flynn revealing himself to the programs as a user – become greatly heightened. And in the screening I saw, this impression was further enhanced by live musical accompaniment. The quartet of cello, bass and lead guitars and keyboard created a personal sound, with a sad Irish undercurrent of romantic fatalism. The net effect was to create an experience that had none of the high-tech gloss we associate with science fiction, but rather a kind of nostalgic reverie, as though we are seeing an old silent movie. I found the experience strangely moving.
Perhaps this is the right way to see science fiction: as a window into a time and a place long past. After all, doesn’t the very idea of perpetual progress, of a world that can be much different from our ours, create the seeds of tragedy? Like the work of Emanuel Vigeland, it reminds us that our particular time and place on this planet is transient, merely one chapter in a book that is still being written. There is a page in this book for our lives, for our moment in time. But once our page has been written, we must take our place along side previous generations, as an evocative but ever receding memory.