Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Compose Something Edmonton (Why New Music Edmonton is the best show in town)

Back in March of 2012 I wrote a post about possible new names for Edmonton International Airport. Based on the premise that many of the world's most famous airports are named after famous individuals (John F. Kennedy, Lester B. Pearson, Charles De Gaulle, Indira Gandhi etc.). I came up with a list of 10 famous Edmontonians that might be considered airport name material, of which my personal favourite at the time was Leslie Nielsen International Airport, in homage to his career-transforming comedic breakthrough in Airplane.

I missed one. I definitely should have included Violet Archer on the list. After all, composers figure prominently among major airports. Rio de Janeiro has Antônio Carlos Jobim International. Budapest has Ferenc Lizst International. Warsaw has Chopin International. And of course New Orleans, where I recently visited, has the wonderfully named Louis Armstrong International Airport. Who do we have? We have the Montreal-born pupil of Béla Bartók and Paul Hindemith who joined the U of A music faculty in 1962 and remained a fixture in Edmonton's music scene until her death in 2000. Edmonton-Archer International Airport - I love it!

Who says we can't be great up here? Edmonton's
own Violet Archer. (source:
Of course I'm scarcely holding my breath for our local airport to be renamed after an avant-garde composer who the majority of Edmontonians haven't even heard of. Nevertheless, it is heartening to know that the spirit of the city's greatest exponent of new music is alive and well in the form of the organization she inspired, New Music Edmonton, the city's leading standard bearer for wild and woolly musical experimentation.

Last month I launched a series of blog posts about this great organization with a review of the NME-produced world premiere of some spooky Ligeti-inspired electroacoustic music by ex-pat Toronto composer Chiyoko Szlavnics by the Montreal-based Ensemble Transmission. And this past weekend I had the pleasure of attending NME's Now Hear This festival, focused on the work of Canadian modern music icon R. Murray Schafer.

While Schafer was the festival's main attraction, Now Hear This felt like as much of a tribute to Violet Archer owing to the prominent role of the newly formed Violet Collective, a new Edmonton ensemble formed under the aegis of NME and named in honour of the late musical experimenter. While I was only able to attend the Saturday program of the three-day festival, what I heard reminded me of why I have crazy love for my adopted hometown. Our winters may be awful and our alleged professional hockey team even worse, but when it comes to artistic experimentation, we've got it made. With local ensembles like the Violet Collective, the Windrose Trio (joined by dancer Gerry Morita from Mile Zero Dance), Pro Coro Canada and the Strathcona String Quartet as well as hometown sonic explorers Shawn Pinchbeck and Gene Kosowan doing their thing, it was the best local festival you probably didn't hear about.

Highlights? There wasn't much that wasn't one. Violet Collective reedwoman and U of A instructor Allison Balcetis demonstrated exactly what the saxophone in all its permutations is capable of, deploying the full saxophonic range from soprano to the rarely seen bass sax on Colin Labadie's minimalist Strata and Brazilian composer André Mestre's Passion of Christ-themed Sorrowful Mysteries. Chilean-born, Edmonton-based composer Raimundo Gonzalez used the space of Old Strathcona's Trinity Anglican Church like few others by piping (literally) the sound of violinist Tatiana Warczynski through electronically doctored copper pipes, creating otherworldly sounds that you truly had to be there to experience. And Vancouver composer Bob Pritchard conspired with Edmonton flutist Chenoa Anderson to deliver one of the day's most electrifying performances, the audiovisual Rebirth, featuring electronic armband-triggered surround sound effects and mesmerizing visuals.

The evening continued with some classic R. Murray Schafer vocal works courtesy of Edmonton choral group Pro Coro, most memorably the wonderful Magic Songs - a composition inspired by Schafer's famous hippie retreats in the Ontario backwoods (to which he would invite select friends and colleagues), replete with firefly chirps and Whitmanesque barbaric yawps. And then the evening got even wilder, delving into deep improvisational territory with bassist Thom Golub and dancer Kate Stashko, some very dark electroacoustic landscapes with Gene Kosowan's The Ghosts that Guard the Gateway featuring Allison Balcetis' otherworldly bass saxophone, and then some mad live improv by local lunatics Pigeon Breeders - featuring visuals by Montreal-based Edmonton filmmaker Lindsay McIntyre.

Edmonton's Pigeon Breeders (source:
Admittedly, I missed much of the R. Murray Schafer content on which this particular festival was focused. That said, the man's influence was all over the music on the menu. Now Hear This was, above all, about 'soundscapes', a concept that Schafer pioneered during his studies at Simon Fraser University in the 1960s, through which he sought to foster a deeper appreciation of sound as a whole by way of cutting and pasting sound from its original source to a 'musical' context (which he famously referred to as schizophonia). As with much of Schafer's output, the works on display at Now Hear This challenge the very notion of 'composition', and the late-night 'Astral Ghosts' session featuring Kosowan, Pigeon Breeders and others pushed well outside what many would consider to be 'music'.

But as experimental as the proceedings got, it never ceased to be fun. Fun and totally unpretentious, a fact that anyone who's been forced to sit through a "highly serious" program of serialist music by the likes of Schoenberg, Webern and so on. Somehow the program managed to exude a certain Edmonton-ness, which I can only characterize as self-deprecating cleverness. In this town you can be as smart as is humanly possible provided you never lord it over your audience. That's the hallmark of the Edmonton Fringe and many of our other festivals - we'll happily do 'challenging' but only if you don't throw unnecessary forbiddingness into the mix. And on this front New Music Edmonton and its incredible cast of artists hit it out of the park once again.

I'm sure Violet would have approved.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Top 40 Sexually Suggestive Canadian Place Names

Looking for an off-the-beaten-track theme-based trip across this great country of ours? Why not go from east to west (or west to east, whatever your taste) via the 40 raunchiest place names in the country - a tour that ought to dispel any notion that Canadians, as a people, are undersexed. That said, you're going to be spending a disproportionate amount of our travel in the great province of Newfoundland, with some extensive travel in Québec and Saskatchewan. And not much time in Manitoba or New Brunswick, both of which clearly need to get their act together.

1) Anse à Mouille-Cul, Québec

Located southwest of Rimouski on the south bank of the St. Lawrence, Anse à Mouille-Cul, for the Gallically challenged among you, translates to 'Wet Ass Cove'. No idea why, but we're sure the story behind it is highly amusing.

2) Balls Creek, Nova Scotia

A small town on Cape Breton just outside Sydney, NS. No idea if the town has a slogan, and if so if it's a variant on "Grow A Pair," but I certainly hope so.

3) Balzac, Alberta

Situated west of the Queen Elizabeth II Highway roughly 40 km north of Calgary and 12 km south of Airdrie. Founded as a railway town, it got its name from turn-of-the-century rail baron William Cornelius Van Horne (stop it) in honour of his favourite author, Honoré de Balzac. But you can rest assured that 19th century  French literature is not what the name conjures up among 19-year-old frat boys whipping through town.

4) Biggar, Saskatchewan

Located roughly 90 km west of Saskatoon, the town of Biggar's unofficial slogan is "New York is Big, but this is Biggar." At least this is their publicly stated slogan, as I'm sure there are X-rated variants of this. No word on whether Biggar intends to pursue a sister city partnership with Tiny, Ontario, but it would be a wonderful thing if they did. After all, I'm sure Tiny needs some love.

5) Blow Me Down, Newfoundland

A provincial park in eastern part of the Rock, situated, appropriately enough, on a long, vaguely phallic peninsula that juts into Conception Bay. Like you didn't know that!

6) Brise-Culotte, Québec

A small town on the north bank of the St. Lawrence about 40 km northeast of Trois-Rivières, this town's name translated to 'broken underpants'. Or possibly crotchless panties. Either way, we're on our way!

7) Bummer's Roost, Ontario

While technically not an actual municipality, the now-abandoned village of Bummer's Roost, located in the Lount Township of northeastern Ontario, still makes the cut - not only because of its name but due to the story behind it (pun intended). Apparently the name came from a local vagrant who was known as Dick the Bummer (actually), who famously scrawled the words 'Bummer's Roost' on a shingle with a piece of charcoal at what was to become to the site of the town. The name stuck - even after the town was abandoned in 1926. Is anybody even remotely surprised?

8) Climax, Saskatchewan

A village with a population of 82 in the municipal district of Lone Tree No.18 (about 160 km from Swift Current and not especially close to Regina - you know you were thinking it!), the proud little town of Climax is probably best known for its welcome sign which, according to Trivial Pursuit, says "Please come again" on the opposite side. I've never been there so I can't confirm this, but I really hope this is the case.

9) Come by Chance, Newfoundland

According to Google Maps, it takes around 50 minutes to get from Dildo to Come by Chance. Which is somewhat longer than I was expecting.

10) Conception Bay South, Newfoundland

With Conception Bay, Dildo and Come by Chance all clustered closely together in the same part of eastern Newfoundland, it's little surprise that most statistics show Newfoundlanders to be the most sexually active people in Canada.

11) Crotch Lake, Ontario

Situated on exactly the opposite side of Algonquin Provincial Park from Bummer's Roost. Appropriately enough.

12) Dildo, Newfoundland

Situated, fittingly enough, due north of 'Broad Cove', Newfoundland and across from the appropriately long and slender Dildo Island. It is not, as has occasionally claimed, the birthplace of former Playmate of the Month Shannon Tweed, who, while a proud Newfoundlander, was actually born in St. John's. But you can go on thinking that if it makes you happy.

13) Ecum Secum, Nova Scotia

Located approximately 100 km due south of Antigonish, on the northeastern coast of mainland Nova Scotia. A long way from Come by Chance, but clearly in the same spirit.

14) Fairy Glen, Saskatchewan

Located east of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and roughly 200 km northeast of Saskatoon. No, we don't know who 'Fairy Glen' was, but can only assume he was a lot of fun - fun enough to name a town after.

15) Fertile, Saskatchewan

A small town in the southeasternmost corner of Saskatchewan, Fertile is, it should be noted, nowhere near Climax. Which makes you doubt the connection between these two things.

16) Finger, Manitoba

Technically not an actual town; just a flag stop along the VIA Rail line through Manitoba. Still, it sounds obscene, so it made the list.

17) Garden of Eden, Nova Scotia

A small town in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, Garden of Eden was founded by a group of ex-pat Scots fleeing the second Jacobite Rebellion in 1845. The town is now a draw for cottagers and tourists. Whether any of that tourism is of a naturist or otherwise scandalous nature is unknown.

18) Jackhead, Manitoba

Jackhead is a First Nation community situated on west bank of Lake Winnipeg in central Manitoba. Nowhere near Finger. Or Climax.

19) La Grosse Roche, Québec

La Grosse Roche (lit. The Big Rock) isn't so much obscene as extremely unimaginative. It's a big rock-like island in the middle of Lac Kénogami in the Saguenay region of Québec. The phrase "get your rocks off" doesn't translate directly into French, but if it did it would make for a good tourism slogan.

20) La Visitation-de-la-Bienheureuse-Vierge-Marie, Québec

Now this, on the other hand, is a good one! A tiny town on the opposite side of the river from Trois-Rivières, the town's name literally translates to 'The Visitation of the Very Happy Virgin Mary'. We're not sure what this 'visitation' entailed, but you can rest assured it was a happy one. What people from this town call themselves is something I would very much like to know.

21) Legal, Alberta

The central Albertan town of Legal (pronounced Lay-GAL) makes the list, if only because the outskirts of town are known as "Barely Legal". Or so I hear.

22) Meat Cove, Nova Scotia

Meat Cove is the northernmost settlement on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Due north of Balls Creek. Naturally.

23) Mission, British Columbia

The town of Mission straddles the Fraser Valley - directly between Surrey and Chilliwack. Titter all you like - it's a very pretty place, and pretty meat-and-potatoes in its tastes.

24) Nipper's Harbour, Newfoundland

A tiny outport of 100-odd souls on the northern coast of Newfoundland, Nipper's Cove isn't as overtly sexual as some of the Rock's more colourful place names, but it still sounds vaguely naughty. Sort of in the same vein as Pincher Creek, Alberta - a town whose motto really ought to be "Pinch Her What?"

25) Notre Dame des Sept Douleurs, Québec

While Newfoundland reigns supreme in the overtly raunchy place name category, La Belle Province leads in the nation in place names that sound like nunnery-themed BDSM parlours. Top dog in this cagetory is Notre Dame des Sept Douleurs (literally 'Our Lady of the Seven Agonies'), a tiny hamlet on the south bank of the St. Lawrence, opposite the Saguenay Marine Park whose name makes it sound like a Marquis de Sade theme park. And in the heart of PQ separatist country. More scary than titillating.

26) Nut Mountain, Saskatchewan

About 280 km due east of Saskatoon, this town's name is just plain funny. Not sexy per se, but definitely worth a giggle or two.

27) Old Cummer, Ontario

Like Finger, Manitoba, Old Cummer is technically a rail stop (on the GO Train system) rather than a municipality per se. But the fact that this name exists on a map at all merits its inclusion on this list. Whether Old Cummer ever met Dick the Bummer of Bummer's Roost fame is, alas, lost to the annals (sic) of history.

28) Pain Court, Ontario

Québec may have Brise-Culotte and Notre Dame des Sept Douleurs, but it's not alone in the sadomasochistic name department. But it still seems to be a French thing, as this small agricultural town in southwestern Ontario (in the municipality of Chatham-Kent) is largely Franco-Ontarian, and the name actually means 'Short Bread'. Still, we like the English pronunciation better.

29) Pitouneville, Québec

In Québecois slang (Joual), the word pitoune occupies a place somewhere between 'hot girl' and 'slut' - not quite as derogatory or overtly sexualized as the latter but more overtly sexualized than the former. Doesn't quite translate fluidly. But whatever the case, this small town in Québec's Eastern Townships (near the ill-fated town of Lac Mégantic) gets more than its fair share of Beavis and Butthead-type giggling in La Belle Province.

30) Placentia, Newfoundland

Not sexual per se, but definitely in keeping with the Rock's predilection with reproduction-themed place names (see Conception Bay). About equidistant from Conception Bay South and Come by Chance.

31) Sexsmith, Alberta

A short 20-minute drive due north from Grande Prairie in northwestern Alberta, this town's name has the word 'sex' in its name but is otherwise a pretty unsexy place. Although it may have a cottage porn industry we don't know about.

32) Smuts, Saskatchewan

Like Bummer's Roost, Smuts is a ghost town, and as far as anybody knows was never particularly smutty. (Moose Jaw, the bootlegging capital of sin of old, has that honour in the province of Saskatchewan.) The only structure left standing in Smuts is a church, which suggests a pious place, but perhaps there's a Sodom and Gomorrah story here that we don't know about.

33) Spread Eagle, Newfoundland

Only a 19-minute drive from Dildo. Like that's a surprise to anyone!

34) Spuzzum, British Columbia

Situated on the Trans-Canada, about 40 km north of Hope, BC. I myself have driven through Spuzzum many times and the name never fails to make me giggle. According to Wikipedia, the name comes from the Stó:lō language and means something like 'little flat'. I personally don't buy it, and suspect the Stó:lō people are having us all on, because this is obviously a rude word. More research is definitely needed.

35) Ta Ta Creek, British Columbia

Located about 40 km north of Cranbrook, Ta Ta Creek is a scenic spot amid the majestic peaks of the Kootenays. Alas, this author was unable to find out what Ta Ta means in the indigenous Ktunaxa language, so I'm going to assuming it's something to do with boobs.

36) Tiny, Ontario

Literally half a continent away from Biggar, Saskatchewan. Poor thing.

37) Two Hills, Alberta

A small farming town northeast of Vegreville - a town best known as the home of the world's largest Ukrainian easter egg. With a name that sounds like breasts.

38) Westward Ho, Alberta

I've seen the signs for this place many times. Turn off the Queen Elizabeth II Highway at Olds and go west, and that's where you get. It's a campground. It's westerly. Whatever else goes on there I cannot say.

39) Woodcock, British Columbia

Situated, appropriately enough, among the Seven Sisters Peaks in northern BC, on Route 16 between Smithers and Terrace. Pick an Austin Powers quote and it probably applies.

40) Wood Point, New Brunswick

It's the province of New Brunswick's only contribution to this list. And it's situated just outside Sackville. That's about all I can say about the place.

Honourable Mention: Regina, Saskatchewan

All the places on this list are, shall we say, far from major urban centres. The only 'real' city in Canada that stands a chance of making the cut is the perennial titillator, Regina, which, while not a sex word, rhymes with one. And since the Saskatchewan capital seems to make a lot of Americans giggle, it would be sacrilegious not to mention it.

So there you have it - Newfoundland wins with seven out of 40 on this list, followed by Saskatchewan with six plus the aforementioned honourable mention. Did I miss any? Let me know.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

6 Reasons To Re-Watch The Original RoboCop Before Watching The Reboot

For the record, I have yet to see the brand-new remake of the 1987 action classic RoboCop. Moreover, until a few days ago, I felt no particular need to go out and see it. These days the price of movie tickets coupled with the existence of Netflix means I hardly ever go out to see movies, especially Hollywood blockbusters. But after having re-watched the original RoboCop for the first time since I was a kid, I'm now quite curious to see it. Although in all honesty I'm probably going to wait until it comes out on Netflix. I'm cheap that way.

I was around 10 years old when I first saw the original film, which means a) I was definitely too young to be legally watching it without a parent or guardian (sorry mom, sorry dad); and b) a lot of its content went completely over my head at the time. Seeing it now made me think there's more to movie age restrictions than simply sex and violence, of which there was none of the former but a great deal of the latter. The graphic shoot-em-up scenes in the movie certainly made a big impression on my young mind, but the subtler aspect of the film, like its socio-economic critique and liberal use of Biblical symbolism, were beyond what I was able to process at the time. If anything, the "inappropriate content" was the stuff I wasn't intellectually ready to grapple with.

The original RoboCop was, in many ways, ahead of its time. While critical reception of the film was on the whole positive in 1987, it received considerable flak for both the quality and quantity of gory on-screen violence as well as its liberal use of profanity. While still most definitely stomach-churning at points, the film's violence pales in comparison to much that was to come within a decade thanks to movies like Reservoir Dogs and Natural Born Killers, which in turn pale in comparison to the likes of the Saw and Hostel franchises - which make the original RoboCop look like My Dinner With Andre by comparison. As for the profanity, it certainly shocked my 10-year-old sensibilities at the time but in an era when F-bombs are a dime a dozen on primetime TV, there's no shock value there.

That said, I definitely wasn't ready to appreciate RoboCop at age 10, and as a result dismissed it for the next 20-plus years as simply one of the many gratuitous big-biceps shoot-em-up extravaganzas that defined much of 1980s Hollywood. It wasn't until this Monday that I rediscovered the film and completely changed my mind about it. Granted, I still hate the way the film ends, with the villainous Omni Consumer Products CEO Dick Jones (brilliantly played by Ronnie Cox) being blown out of a glass window atop the company's skyscraper, in one of the worst cliche movie deaths ever. That said, it's still an excellent film, and one that definitely needs to be re-watched before going anywhere near the re-boot. Here's why.

1) Peter Weller's performance

One of the most interesting aspects of the original RoboCop film is director Paul Verhoeven's very counterintuitive casting choices. For the titular role, Verhoeven initially considered A-list action stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and fellow Dutchman Rutger Hauer for the role, but ultimately settled on the smaller and highly cerebral Peter Weller, a guy whose other most memorable roles have been Dr. Buckaroo Banzai in the cult sci-fi classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension and William S. Burroughs in David Cronenberg's twisted 1991 rendering of The Naked Lunch.

The decision was made in large part because the diminutive Weller had an easier time moving in the RoboCop suit than the aforementioned big guys, but it ended up being a brilliant move. Weller's portrayal of both the mild-mannered Detroit cop Alex Murphy and the brooding titular cyborg gives the film an intense humanity that Arnie would have been hard-pressed to deliver. Hauer, on the other hand, would have been an interesting choice given his own track record for playing emotionally disturbed androids. But Weller's acting combined with his delicate features makes the original RoboCop really stand out in the predominantly brawny and brainless domain that is '80s action heroes.

2) Two iconic '80s movie villains for the price of one

If there's one thing 1980s action movies did right, it was creating awesome over-the-top bad guys. While the action heroes of this era tended to be bland and one-dimensional, Hollywood directors made up for it by delivering the likes of Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) in Die Hard, The Kurgan (Clancy Brown) in The Highlander, Koji Sato (Yusaku Masuda) in Black Rain, Johnny Lawrence (Billy Zabka) in The Karate Kid and, of course, Jack Nicholson as the Joker in the 1989 Batman. The 1987 RoboCop goes one step further by delivering two of the decade's most memorable bad dudes in a single film.

As with the main character, Verhoeven made a point of making counterintuitive casting choices for the film's two antagonists, CEO Dick Jones and 'Old Detroit' crime lord Clarence Boddicker. For Jones he went with Ronny Cox, an actor and singer-songwriter best known for playing genteel fatherly figures in series like Apple's Way and St. Elsewhere. In a similar vein, Verhoeven cast Kurtwood Smith, an actor best known for playing uptight squares in That Seventies Show and movies like Dead Poets Society as probably the only ever movie supervillain named 'Clarence'. Both men clearly embraced their anti-typecasting roles and threw themselves into their respective evil characters will full aplomb.

(As an interesting side note, Clarence Boddicker's trademark rimless glasses were a key element in Kurtwood Smith landing the role, as Verhoeven thought they made him resemble Nazi SS commander Heinrich Himmler.)

3) A great female action hero

In her seminal critique of post-second-wave culture Backlash, feminist author Susan Faludi dismisses RoboCop as simply one of "an endless stream of war and action movies" in which "women are reduced to mute and incidental characters or banished altogether." While I have the deepest respect for Faludi and Backlash and I have to agree with her overall characterization of 1980s action movies, I think she is dead wrong about this one. Aside from the titular character, the strongest character in the movie is without doubt Murphy's stoic and determined partner, Officer Anne Lewis (played by Nancy Allen) - one of Hollywood's toughest and most memorable female cops.

While her character is clearly secondary to Murphy/RoboCop, Officer Lewis is the type of female character you still rarely see in Hollywood films - a shrewd, independent, non-objectified woman in a typically male role. Most strikingly, the relationship between Lewis and her ill-fated partner is very much in the classic buddy-cop mode and is refreshingly un-sexualized. (RoboCop is a lot of things, but it's about the least 'sexy' film I can think of.) Depressingly, I fear Hollywood has gone downhill in this category since the 1980s. In the 2014 reboot, Officer Lewis is gone, replaced by Officer Jack Lewis (played by Michael K. Williams), and the only female character in sight is Murphy's wife, played by Abbie Cornish. So much for that.

4) Symbolism galore

An interesting (and little-known) fact about Paul Verhoeven - a man best known for sci-fi blockbusters RoboCop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers and then-scandalous 1992 suspense thriller Basic Instinct - is that he is also a dedicated Biblical scholar and a onetime member of now defunct Jesus Seminar, an scholarly association dedicated to shedding light on the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Of all his output, RoboCop is without doubt the most overtly 'Christian' in theme. Indeed, Verhoeven asserts in the documentary Flesh and Steel: The Making of RoboCop that he intended the main character to be a 'Christ figure'. Christian symbolism abounds throughout the film, from Officer Murphy torturous death at the hands of a mocking rabble to RoboCop walking ankle-deep in water during the climactic showdown at the abandoned steel mill.

Biblical allegories aside, the most obvious literary parallel is, of course, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Indeed, there is a certain Boris Karloff-type quality to Peter Weller's performance in this film, while the amoral and singularly driven Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer), RoboCop's creator, is clearly a modern-day stand-in for Dr. Frankenstein. In this sense, RoboCop fits more within the classic horror cannon than within the annals of science fiction, as does Verhoeven's later ultra-violent riff on the Book of Revelations, Starship Troopers. Interesting stuff at the very least.

5) An eerie caricature of Reagan-era America

While socioeconomic and cultural caricature are not hard to find in the 1980s Hollywood action movie cannon, in many if not most cases directors felt the need to critique American culture within a 'foreign' context. In Die Hard, the protagonists are American but the villain is, of course, German and the corporate context in question belongs to the then Leviathan presence of Bubble Economy-era Japan, a context that reappears in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (ostensibly LA in 2019 but clearly 1980s-vintage Tokyo with flying cars) and Black Rain. Meanwhile, the Rambo saga starts on the terra firma of the United States but then heads off to the safe refuge of Commie-ruled Vietnam.

RoboCop, by contrast, focuses unflinchingly on a decaying (and increasingly crime-ridden) post-industrial US, centred, appropriately enough, on the city most frequently held up as a poster child by both the left and the right for everything wrong about the country. While the exact epoch of the movie is left intentionally ambiguous (set at "some point" in the near future), the cultural setting, from the over-the-top corporate greed to the cowboyish gangsters, is unquestionably the 1980s America of Gordon Gekko and company - complete with a severe case of the military industrial complex. In that sense RoboCop can be seen in a similar light to Heart of Darkness, where, like with Verhoeven's film, it took a foreigner (the Polish-born Joseph Conrad) to shine a light into the skeleton closet of British/Belgian colonialism.

6) Future echoes

In an ironic development, the character of RoboCop has become an iconic figure in the beleaguered city of Detroit where the film was set. In 2011, following then Detroit mayor Dave Bing's announcement of the building of a 'New Detroit', the mayor was asked (as a joke) if he planned to erect a statue of the iconic movie cyborg, and his rejection of such plans led to an Internet campaign aimed at raising money for a RoboCop statue. Today it looks increasingly likely that the statue will indeed happen.

In a very real sense, the nightmarish, dystopian Detroit dreamed up by Verhoeven did become reality. Between 2000 and 2010 the city lost 25 percent of its population, dropping to just over 700,000 (down from a peak population of 1.8 million in 1950), and in July of last year the city filed for bankruptcy in the largest municipal bankruptcy case in US history. This ongoing decline has resulted in notorious urban blight, with the abandoned industrial structures of RoboCop eerily reminiscent of the city of today, while the city continues to grapple with stubbornly high rates of violent crime.

In spite of its deeply entrenched problems, Detroit remains a city with intense civic pride, and since the city's bankruptcy filing in mid-2013 there's been an upsurge in social and economic activism in the city aimed at bringing the city back to health, by groups such as Revival in Detroit and World Hope. In that sense, the character of RoboCop himself can be seen as an allegory for Detroit itself - agonizingly shot to death but still managing to cling onto life and re-emerging stronger than ever. At least that's the hope of Motor City's stubbornly proud residents. Perhaps a RoboCop statue isn't that far-fetched an idea after all.

So, in sum, before you go pay however much tickets for the 2014 Jose Padilha reboot of RoboCop, I strongly suggest sitting down to watch the old one. If for no other reason, by what I've read of the reviews of the new film, the old one is definitely better. But I should really go see the new one before I say that.