Friday, July 20, 2012

Morgan Paull [1944-2012]

"You know what a turtle is?" - Morgan Paull as Holden explaining the tortoise/ turtle quandary to Leon in an effort to elicit or provoke an emotional response in Blade Runner-

There are so many moments in director Ridley Scott's Blade Runner [1982] that left such indelible impressions on my/our lives that it's hard to point to just one. You really can't single out just one moment in this science fiction masterpiece. Perhaps it's the culmination of so many fantastic, wonderful moments in Blade Runner that make it such an enduring classic in film. The same holds true for other Scott films like Alien [1979], Black Hawk Down [2001] and Thelma & Louise [1991] just to name some of the true visual and cinematic triumphs. You can look at any of these films and simply gaze agape at the elaborate or rich visual moments that fill the screen. These images and these moments in cinema have so deeply affected us emotionally and touched out lives magnificently.

Actor Morgan Paull [1944-2012] was an actor who captured my attention and my imagination for one such burning moment. He populated one such unforgettably commanding scene. Honestly, I never took time to know who the actor was until learning of his unfortunate passing to stomach cancer on July 17 nearly the 30th anniversary of the release of Blade Runner. Yet his passing gave me pause at the significance of Blade Runner's impact on my life as a fan of science fiction. His small role in the making of that film event should not be discounted.

Surprisingly, based on his extraordinarily moving sequence in Blade Runner it's hard to believe Paull had such an anonymous career by contrast to the likes of Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah and even Rutger Hauer.

The American character actor appeared in Patton [1970] and other films, but unfortunately maintained a fairly low profile.

Remarkably though, according to Don Kaye at Blastr, Paull was never meant to play the fated role of interviewer/ Blade Runner Holden in Blade Runner. Paull was hired by Scott to read lines in screen tests for the film's actresses. Paull initially scoffed at the job but his agent convinced him to do it. According to Paull in The Hollywood Reporter, "Ridley fell in love with me," and he was offered the now legendary supporting part of Holden. Legend has it Paull suggested Daryl Hannah for the role of Pris, but advised Scott should pass on Sean Young for the part of Rachael. Scott apparently solicited Paull's opinions on a number of screen testing occasions concurring on Hannah, but deferring to better judgment on Young.

Ultimately, Paull made his minimal screen time famous and significant. As Holden, he administered a Voight-Kampff test to a replicant named Leon implemented to determine replicants from humans. Leon, the replicant subject, in a frighteningly jarring moment kills Holden at the start of Blade Runner.

As a boy moved by the film the scene was powerfully scarring in my fairly black and white psyche. It was a scene that left my mind reeling in my formative years as I attempted to make heads or tails of the meaning not only behind Blade Runner, but this one scene alone. It was like nothing I'd ever seen. And for this reason alone, I found myself compelled to honor Paull's moment on film and remember him here. The work is strong and left me profoundly moved beyond reason for years. There was something entirely mysterious, dark and unsettling about this glimpse at humanity and the desire for someone so inhuman to live. It was disturbing, but fascinating. Here is the Paull scene with Paull channeling his inner Harrison Ford.

This was simply one of those life affirming moments, ironically, that I felt compelled to muse on about. I remember sitting in a very unsophisticated theatre that year alongside a concerned mother. She, too, a much wiser version of me, was clearly new to this form of cerebral, cinematic narrative. She could hardly make sense of it herself and when it was over wondered why I had enjoyed it so much. Back then I wasn't certain. I knew I loved it but I was just as stunned by the experience and left with many questions that allowed me to appreciate moments like this within this film for decades. The film on the whole was spectacular, but there were moments like this one throughout Blade Runner that left me uneasy, thrilled and swallowing hard as my innocent mind attempted to decipher all that was in play. I'm certainly not trying to overstate Paull's contribution, but merely reflect on the influence of a special moment. Actors never know when the time will come to make their statement in cinema history. Nicely done Mr. Paull. You were very much a part of the magic.

No comments: