Kurt Russell rides a new wave in ESCAPE film
By Richard Hogan
Picture New York infested with street gangsters who dress like new romantic musicians. Imagine a community of killers who move like Apaches but who look as if they belong in a late-night, downtown rock club. Put them on the screen and youve got the denizens of Kurt Russells new movie, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.
In ESCAPE (Avco Embassy), Russell stars as the patch-eyed Snake Plissken, a reprobate World War III soldier sent to this isle of iniquity in 1997 to rescue the U.S. President (Donald Pleasence) from the "Duke" of New York felons, played by Isaac Hayes. Beneath an electronic score written by filmmaker John Carpenter, Plisskenwho looks like a cross between Adam Ant and Clint Eastwoodstalks criminals on the deadly, blighted streets of lower Manhattan.
"We were just like pirates, out on the sea, having a good time," laughs Russell, whose change of image in ESCAPE may startle those who know him best from his upbeat TV roles. "They characters that Isaac and I play," says former child star Kurt, 30, "show the sort of disciplined irreverence THE WILD ONES had, mixed with some punk attitudes of today.
"Snake is a mercenary, and his style of fighting is a combination of Bruce Lee, the Exterminator and Darth Vader, with Eastwoods vocal-ness; but theres also a lot of new wave to him." Those Plissken is a convicted robber, Kurt explains, "his individuality makes him acceptable to the audience in a heroic way."
Russell, whod probably have remained a pro baseball player if a bad arm hadnt benched him, is no stranger to roles that draw upon the pop music culture. In ;79, he starred as ELVIS in the highest-rated TV movie ever made. ELVIS was also a John Carpenter film, and Carpenter, it turns out, is a musician and rock & roll fan as well as a director and composer.
Carpenter always assembles a crew thats tuned into youth culture as much as into the Hollywood past, and his production and clothing designers on ESCAPE are no exceptions. Steve Loomis, who devised the swashbuckling Bowery look for Snake and the duke, is a former costumer for Elton John and Stevie Wonder. Art director Joe Alves, who established the off-black, night-time look of the sets, was, with Carpenter, largely responsible for the new wave atmosphere that permeates ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.
"The initial impression I had of the visual mood was OLIVER TWISTthe down feeling of people in rags," Alves explains. "But if you go to the real SoHo in New York City, the people in rock clubs there look a lot like the convicts in ESCAPE." Alves scouted downtown Manhattan and re-created its bleak, wrought-iron-and-concrete appearance in ESCAPE by choosing look-alike locations in St. Louis and Atlanta. (the real city was too heavily peopled to be used for Carpenters film.)
Adam and the ants and Duran Duran may not make appearances in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, but rock fashion devotees can gloat at the scenes featuring Plissken with the gang-leaders, especially Duke and his Antlike right-hand man, Romero. Kurt Russell declares that the rock analogy stretches even further in ESCAPE: His real-life wife, Season Hubley, plays a groupie.
"Season was portraying what will be known as a crime groupie," Russell says with a sinister chuckle. There are, it seems, no rock bands in the penal colony, so "the crime groupie is the really hip thing to be in 1997." To Hubley, Plissken the bank-robber is "just like Mick Jagger. Our original concept was to have her wear a T-shirt covered with the names of criminals." Russell pauses, "The only one not crossed off was going to be Snake Plissken!"