Monday, September 19, 2005

SOYLENT GREEN (1973) - Richard Fleisher

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: “Soylent Green…it’s made from people!”

There, I spoiled it. Not that this should come as news to anyone who’s been deluged by American pop culture for the last thirty odd years. Soylent Green has been the butt of many jokes, primarily because of its SHOCKING! end-of-movie revelation. Much like the last tiny tab of butter Charlton Heston’s Detective Thorn finds in his otherwise-barren refrigerator, the movie has already “turned” freshness-wise, pre-spoiled by age and repeated reference.
Yet, there are still a gazillion other unintentionally funny and dated things to enjoy. Let’s start with Heston’s wardrobe. The best way to describe his style would be…I don’t know…“gay train conductor.” Mind you, he’s supposed to be playing a “tough futuristic cop.” I know the “greenhouse effect” plaguing the future-world in this movie has got everyone a little sweaty, but still…that neck-kerchief and the train engineer’s hat? Very Christopher Street. Did the Village People ever have a Subway Conductor?
Anyway, to watch the first half hour of this movie without any explanation of the future-world’s rules, one could easily assume that Heston is gay. Apart from the wardrobe, he lives in a tiny, cramped apartment with an older man who wears a beret (Edward G. Robinson in his last role). They obsess over what they are going to have for dinner, and when they finally eat a meal of real food Heston stole on the job, they both bristle with disturbing orgasmic delight.
Oh yeah, and there’s the fact that all the women in the movie are referred to as “furniture.” And there’s Heston’s really tiny choice of gun (the type you would find in a woman’s purse). I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. This could be Heston’s coming out film except for the perfunctory bedding of the girl midway through, seemingly to assure the straight audience that, yes, he is in fact heterosexual.
Now that we got Heston’s preference out of the way, what about the plot? Pretty simple. He’s a cop in the future New York City where real food has become extremely scarce and people overly abundant. Hmmm…human recycling anyone? Apparently, the Soylent Corporation has gotten to this idea first with the development of their new food supplement “Soylent Green,” only available on Tuesdays (hint: Monday’s trash day) and supposedly made from a combination of plankton, seaweed, kelp, etc. (i.e., human remains). When a wealthy industrialist involved with Soylent is found murdered, Heston is called in to investigate and discovers that “he knew something…a secret.”

There’s a lot of fun to be had with Heston’s investigative technique – let’s call it Bad Lieutenant Light. He pokes around the dead rich guy’s pad, snacking on his “exotic” foods, bagging up a silk pillowcase full of steak and vegetables, and soon beds the dead man’s “furniture” (Leigh Taylor-Young) with just a nod towards the bedroom. He’s completely corrupt but in the most humorously casual way, especially in a movie where simply snacking on someone else’s peanut bowl should be grounds for a city-wide police scandal.
Edward G. Robinson also has some great moments as he conducts his own paperwork investigation into Soylent’s corporate history and pines away for the “good old days” when food was real and a tomato only cost a nickel. However, on discovering Soylent’s Big Secret, he just can’t take living anymore and decides to “go home." In this movie, "home" refers to a very pleasant gas chamber where you go to watch pleasing images of the once abundant Earth as you slowly fade away to the smoothing sounds of some 70’s Yanni-esque music. Apart from the music selection, what makes this scene even more eerie is knowing that this was Robinson’s last movie before he died. Is it a great movie? No. Is it even a good movie? Not really. But it sure is damn funny, intentional or not.

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