Proto-Cyberpunk: John Carpenter’s “Escape from New York” #cyberpunk

Let’s talk a bit about the novels, movies, and ideas that played a significant part in the formulation of the cyberpunk mode. We’ll start today with John Carpenter’s Escape from New York.

Escape premiered in 1981, a full year before Blade Runner. It contained many of the tropes that would become common in c-punk: An authoritarian corporatized government, gross social stratification, a lone morally ambiguous protagonist, high-tech low-life, and gangs of tribalized punks.

Escape from New York would inspire the films to follow with its crude but effective faux computer f/x (the computer images of NYC were simply reflective tape on models — a trick that would also be used in Tron), its electronic soundtrack (composed by John Carpenter himself), the punky fashions of The Duke and his gang (which expanded on the look of 1980’s Mad Max), and the badass character of Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken (who was himself similar to Mel Gibson’s Max Rockatansky). Also taking a cue from Mad Max, the film would also display a degree of ultra-violence, shocking at the time, that would be found in many films to follow.

Here’s is the original opening scene of Escape from New York that was later removed when test audiences claimed it was confusing. Throughout the film, characters make reference to thinking Snake was dead. This scene would have made that make more sense.


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