Snake Plissken Lives!
Orginally published in the HMS column: Blood Is Not Enough
If people kept coming up to you and saying your name out loud because they had indeed recognized you, but then abruptly added that they thought you were dead – how would that make you feel? Annoyed? Pissed? Angry? I'm sure all would apply here; especially if you were Snake Plissken.
Of course Snake would just sneer at you, maybe even scowl back in return. He knows the score and he doesn't really care what you think or feel. He has a job to do and that's move in and get the President the fuck out! It's plain and simple.
His objective was laid out perfectly for director John Carpenter, and I suppose this titillated genres fans back in 1981. Hell even now, thirty-four years later, I am still finding myself watching this flick – jaw dropping in awe at Snake's take-no-prisoners attitude while he moves through the hellish nightmare that is New York City turned into a maximum security penitentiary.
You might laugh a bit at the premise, given how the beginning of the movie states some ridiculous stat about the crime rate rising to 400%! But we all know what happens next: Crime goes up into insurmountable numbers in 1988, forcing the country to turn NYC into a full scale prison. By 1997, the whole of NY is sectioned off and surrounded by walls and well-guarded by the police. The sentiment is that you once you go in – you never come out! Try doing so and you will be shot down by helicopter, as we witness in the early stages of the film whereby two prisoners are seen floating on a raft in New York harbour. The police chopper flies in and opens fire on them. Now how's them apples for a tactical approach from the strong arm of the law?
I understand that to some this may be too silly of a concept to grasp. But for rabid genre fans this was the perfect situation to create a character like Snake Plissken. He's listed as American, and was a Lieutenant in the Special Forces (Black Blight). He was involved in two successful missions in Leningrad and Siberia and received two purple hearts for his heroic actions. He's also the youngest man to be decorated by the President; a war hero for all intents and purposes, but jaded at the same time. Something obviously went wrong, but that part in the film is left opened for ambiguity's sake.
Snake Plissken is really the first true anti-hero for this type of film. I know some might argue that Indiana Jones from Raiders of the Lost Ark fame (also released in 1981) is the true Cinematic anti-hero, but I beg to differ. Indiana was cynical up to a certain point, but he didn't rob the Federal Reserve Depository to ultimately get himself caught by the American Police force. All he did was steal a few historical artifacts and ran afoul of the Nazis. Hardly a comparison as far as I am concerned.
What makes the character so unique is the mystique behind his actions. From his rough and dirty appearance to his stoic facials and low-growly voice. I am sure Christian Bale took note as he prepared for his role as Batman for the Christopher Nolan films. Even his attire was eclectic – straight from the eye patch and on down to the camouflaged pants, metallic shin guards and motorcycle boots (complete with golf cleats coming out of the end of the toes). What's not to like about that?
I am sure director John Carpenter had as much input into the look and nihilistic attitude of Snake Plissken as the actor who played him did. Kurt Russell was ready for the challenge, fresh from his stints as Rudy Russo in Used Cars and as Elvis Presley in the TV movie directed by John Carpenter. In fact Escape from New York was the blueprint in which Russell utilized to have a stellar career as an action/adventure/horror film star. We all know what role he took a year later to battle a shape-shifting alien in the Antarctica – another best loved film that all genre fans adored many years later.
"Snake Plissken is really the first true anti-hero for this type of film."
But I digress. Going back to Snake Plissken – Kurt Russell revisited the film when he came out on stage for a rare appearance at Entertainment Weekly's Cape Town Film Festival in 2013. To the delight of the fans in attendance, Kurt went on to discuss the legacy of the character, and in his mind plainly stated how iconic the character truly is. Some might even believe his performance here was better than playing R.J. MacReady in The Thing (1982). Personally they are one in the same in many ways, perhaps maybe just trading one extreme locale for the next, but arguably still rough around the edges and spitting out that tough as nails attitude. Again this just alludes to the blueprint that would gauge a large part of Russell's career moving forward.
And what a career it was. Well, still is really, given his next big role in Quentin Tarantino's Hateful Eight. He might be older, more grizzled, but surely a wily old veteran still. Remember his role as Stuntman Mike in Death Proof? That one still resonates with me and with most genre fans. It also did with the Neca toy company because they produced an action figure in honor of the film. Plus they have decided to create a Snake Plissken figure for their retro (mego style) eight inch figure line. Proving that the iconic Snake Plissken continues to dominate the minds of genre fans many years later.
Perhaps even greater news comes from Hollywood whereby a remake of Escape from New York is in the cards, much to the chagrin of long-time fans of Russell's performance as the much loved character. Word is that producers are considering actress Emily Blunt in the role of Snake Plissken and that is pure blasphemy as far as I am concerned. I can't fathom anyone else in the role, let alone a woman playing the character. It just wouldn't be right as far as I am concerned, but you can't beat Hollywood when they decide to remake something, so we fans might just have to grin and bear it.
I certainly won't be plopping down my hard earned money to see the remake and I suspect most devoted fans of the film won't either. Just ignore it, whoever they end up getting to play Snake, and keep watching the original or the sequel Escape from LA. Either film is the best representative of the true essence of Snake Plissken and of the enduring legacy that still exists to this very day. I say live on Snake Plissken and may we never forget that you are not dead or even heard that you were.
Kenneth Gallant, HMS
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