Tag yourself: “He lives on anxiety, coffee, and chocolate.” It me; can relate.
Tony Maylam’s Split Second is probably forever doomed to be a cult favorite, but it’s a pity it’s not better known. It has a wild, sometimes even manic electricity that covers up most deficiencies. I happened to watch it back-to-back with another forgotten 90s sci-fi, Screamers, which is as much a drag as Split Second is a good time. A boring bad movie is the pits, but a bad movie with verve can be a blast. Good thing Split Second is the latter.
It hails from that very specific trenchcoat / combat boots / spiky hair / round tinted glasses moment in the early ’90s, with all the look and feel of cyberpunk without the cyber. It’s almost kind of a relief to see a sci-fi movie that isn’t packed with PDAs, virtual reality goggles, floppy discs, or other gizmos. The sets, costumes, and art direction are all nice, but would have probably looked better had the studio lights not been cranked all the way up. Also of note: the goopy monster suit looks so much like 2018’s computer-generated Venom that it seems beyond coincidence.
Rutger Hauer is entertainingly eccentric and committed throughout, and has an unexpected chemistry (a baseline requirement for the buddy cop genre) with Alastair Duncan — if a little less chemistry with Kim Cattrall. She’s super-cute here, sporting what looks like Juliette Binoche’s haircut from The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but (check calendar) it’s probably her Vulcan hairdo from Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country.
As over the top and ridiculous it is about everything else, Split Second is unexpectedly clear-eyed about climate change. This near-future dystopia is a waterlogged London beset by extreme weather, poverty, crime, vermin, and pestilence. It makes the roughly contemporaneous Waterworld look like the cartoon it is.
Any playlist of sad songs I might compile must include No-Man, but it was no easy task to select only one piece from a songbook positively chock full of them. To make my job a bit easier, I went back to the band’s beginnings.
Similar in style to their first breakout single “Colours” (a dramatic reimagining of Donovan’s mid-60s folk-pop hit), “Days in the Trees” is very much an artifact of early 90s minimalist art-pop. Despite its superficially dated production, the song is quintessential No-Man: Tim Bowness’ melancholy vocals hovering over Steven Wilson’s looped breakbeat, accompanied by Ben Coleman’s dramatic violin and very little else.
I found myself drawn to a relatively obscure alternate version subtitled “Reich”, first released in 1992 on the virtually impossible to find original EP and the subsequent mini-album Lovesighs – An Entertainment, and now available on the retrospective anthology All the Blue Changes. In a personal reassessment, Bowness expresses reservations about the mix and performances in the released version, but concedes that “Reich is a piece I still love”.
Utterly unlike a prototypically unimaginative remix in which rigid disco beats are bolted onto scraps of a song, this version has only the most tenuous of connections to its source material. It omits Bowness’ vocals entirely, in favor of a gently repeating keyboard arpeggio. The title alludes to composer Steve Reich’s brand of systems music, which reached its hypnotic apotheosis in Music for 18 Musicians. A generation of electronic musicians expanded upon Reich’s interlocking patterns, and Reich himself later completed the circle by experimenting with electronica and remixing on his 1999 album Reich Remixed.
The stark ambient soundscape of “Days in the Trees (Reich)” provides an atmosphere for an astonishing soliloquy extracted from David Lynch’s seminal TV series Twin Peaks. Donna (Laura Flynn Boyle) is a teenager disillusioned by unsavory revelations regarding her best friend Laura’s drug abuse and sexual misadventures. Over the course of the series, she is exposed to even greater depths of corruption and depravity in her seemingly idyllic small American town.
While pursuing information on her own, Donna finds it necessary to ingratiate herself to a lonely male stranger. The mode of seduction she chooses is to recount the story of her first kiss. Her ploy quickly becomes a real confession, even an uncomfortably intimate flirtation. It’s an ostensibly happy memory, but her state of bliss over an event in the distant past is shot through with melancholy over a sublime moment long gone. Forced to confront the profound darkness festering in her community, this young woman prematurely mourns simpler times forever out of reach. Her tale portrays herself as a girl just beginning to sense that sexuality was a dangerous force her friend had already embraced but she couldn’t yet harness.
Boyle may not be one of the world’s most celebrated actors, but her performance in this scene is nothing less than stunning. Bowness and Wilson edited and condensed her monologue, but opted to leave in the sound effects of a cigarette lighter and her exhalation, effectively providing an audio vérité percussion track. Here is a full transcript of the truncated version that appears in “Days in the Trees (Reich)”:
“This is from a long time ago, is that ok? I was about thirteen years old, fourteen maybe. We were going to the Roadhouse to meet boys. They’re about twenty years old. And they’re nice to us. And they make us feel like we’re older. Rick asks if we wanna go party and Laura says ‘yes’, and all of a sudden I feel this knot building up in my stomach. But when Laura gets in the truck with Rick, I go anyway. A stream in the woods, and when I think, it’s pale and light out. Laura starts to dance around the boys. She begins to move her hips back and forth. And we take off our clothes. I know the boys are watching. Laura starts to kiss Josh and Rick. I don’t know what to do, so I swim away. I feel like I want to run, but I don’t. He kisses my hand and then me. I can still feel that kiss. His lips are warm and sweet. My heart jumps. He’s talking but I can’t hear him. It was the first time I ever fell in love.”
You’re reading an entry in our ongoing mixtape The Songs That Broke My Heart. Get started with the introduction or dive right in. Know a sad song you’d like to see added to the playlist? Please let me know in the comments below.