Will Mowass
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Dec 12, 2022

Welcome to the eighth Filmpunk, where I take an old movie and view it to see if I think it leans into one or more punk fiction subgenres (steampunk, cyberpunk, dieselpunk, and so on). The latest flick is Dark City, a late 90s adventure in bleakness and memory from director Alex Proyas, who directed The Crow. It stars Rufus Sewell as John Murdoch, Jennifer Connelly as his estranged wife (Emma), Kiefer Sutherland as Dr. Shreber, and William Hurt as Inspector Frank Bumstead.

"First there was darkness, and then came the Strangers"

This is a grim, shadowy tale of a man who awakens with no memory in a room with a murdered woman. On the run, he seems to find the killer, and himself. But lo! This city is governed by the powerful, goth as f@$& Strangers who are toying with John and the populace.

Now, in punk circles this film is considered dieselpunk or decopunk. Hands down, the aesthetics are there. The 40s-50s attire, tech, even the dialogue. That's dieselpunk. But since it's easily that, there's no point in me going on. Unless this rates as another punk.

Question: is Dark City gothpunk?

Now there's an obscure punk, and one I'm working out on two separate projects. Gothpunk came about with a TTRPG that recently got popular again, and you can read about it in this 2018 post from Ben Jackson-Ellery. But with darkness as a must, man as monster, the horrible villain and the inevitable shadows, does this film fit the coffin? Keep in mind this isn't really a serious film critique. I'm no old school Siskel & Ebert. I'm trying to verify the possibility of punkage. Cool? Let's go!

PLOT: 1, this flick wastes no time getting into it. The mood is dark, stays dark, moody, macabre vintage early 1950s. John's journey takes him into the works of the reality bending Strangers. There are very close comparisons to The Crow and early Tim Burton works. I feel Rufus Sewell carries the movie decently. Not great, but he does okay. This flick def serves story over acting and any concern for deeper characterization.

ENGAGEMENT:1, scenes move fast. Dialogue is old-fashioned but all of it serves the plot. John is one-track minded. SFX are well done. Some may not like the dialogue, but it isn't too bad. The city is as much a character as any person, literally shifting to the whims of it's nightmare masters.

TECH: 0, things look very diesel era for the most part. Art Deco. Vehicles. Buildings. To be expected. Keep in mind gothpunk is a punk not based on technology, but aesthetic and dark mentality. So I need not consider it for my thesis. As dieselpunk though, spot on.

PUNK: 1, the movie ends up being all about confronting the Strangers, taking back power, agency, sense of self. Perfect.

TOTAL: 3 (GREAT!) An overall good popcorn movie with snazzy effects.

I love this quirky 90s film. It encapsulates the dark mood many of us had then, and presaged The Matrix, its cyberpunk descendant. This is dieselpunk. No argument there. But I feel now it is definitive gothpunk, darkness versus worse darkness in neverending shadowfall. If you're looking for it to just be goth, it doesn't work. No goth or goth adjacent music or any of the goth attire looks really (except the Strangers). But this is gothpunk.

I watched this on DVD. Didn't see it on the streaming sites I use, but if you do, let me know. The 'whole film's on YouTube (USA) is the preview on loop.

This is a fine gothpunk flick. Not a perfect gothpunk film. That's The Crow, maybe The Crow: City Of Angels even more. But nice to add a new one to a short list. If you saw it or plan to, tell me what you think.

That's it for Filmpunk #8. See you next time!

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