March 2019

What matters is that somebody cares about the tomato sauce

I've misplaced my DVD of Dark City, so I can't get the wording right for this, but I don't think the wording is that important anyway. The important thing is that on the DVD there's a commentary - remember those? - not with the director Alex Proyas, but with the critic and writer Roger Ebert, who loves the movie and has an awful lot of natty things to say about it.

The thing I remember most - okay half remember - is about details. Dark City is a stylish and frightening science fiction film concerned with the world and our perceptions of it. It's moody stuff. And it's filled with fantastic details that bring the movie and its skewed metropolis to life. It's the kind of film where you know someone has really fussed over the advertising hoardings in the background, over the props, over the materials used in the actors' coats and whatnot. Everything is just so. Ebert's talking about some of these details and he says, I think, that they make the movie sing because they remind you that the director really, really cares. He says something along the lines of Proyas being the guy in the kitchen up to his elbows in tomato sauce.

Maybe that's not exactly the quote, but over the decades since I first heard Ebert talking about this stuff I have always had a thing for movies and games and books and art where somebody really cares about the tomato sauce - where somebody is up to their elbows in it. There's an old Tori Amos track where they've clearly banged pins and thumbtacks and what-have-you into the hammers of a piano to make the strings sound a bit different. That's caring about the tomato sauce. There are slipshod spelling mistakes very unslipshodly inserted into the emails you read on terminals in Deus Ex games. That's tomato sauce thinking too. In Dark City itself, when the hero is watching a bunch of family photos projected via a slide machine at a crucial moment, one of the slides is in upside down. Tomato sauce, need I tell you, all over the place.

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