Monday, 20 May 2013

Heartbeeps (1981)

'Combines the easygoing child-abandonment larks of Spielberg’s A.I. with the sleek, hard-sci rigour of Spaceballs...'

Heartbeeps (1981)

Director: Allan Arkush

Starring: Andy Kaufman, Bernadette Peters, Randy Quaid, Barry Manilow

Trailers: Wright, Wong or Eddie, The Ottawa Papers, Silent Susan, The Dalesman

Cherrypick: “Check out the floppy discs on her!”

When the history of the long-predicted, oft-postponed, but ultimately inevitable robot apocalypse is finally written, the chapters on late 20th and early 21st Century speculative fictions dealing with how mankind has portrayed androids, artificial intelligences and assorted sex-bots, love removal machines and orgazmatrons should make for interesting reading.

Will the Terminator, for instance, be eventually viewed as the pitiless kill-crazy hassle-bastard we know and begrudgingly love, or seen as a timegliding Metal Christ sacrificing himself upon the pudgy anvil of human weakness? Will history record that C-3PO was an invaluable lightning rod for the converging affairs of man and machine, or a copper-kettle Quisling, blindly indifferent to the fate of his own kind?

And what, indeed, will tomorrow’s historians see through the grimy sprocket-holes of 1981’s near-future robo-love-in Heartbeeps, a film that combines the easygoing child-abandonment larks of Spielberg’s A.I. with the sleek, hard-sci rigour of Spaceballs to produce a cinematic experience akin to getting your wedding tackle caught in a sentient – and for some reason vengeful – film projector.
Struggling under prosthetics that make them look like survivors of a darkroom fire in a toytown S&M club, Andy Kaufman and Bernadette Peters feature as two recalled mechanoids shunted into storage to run down their remaining (battery-)lives. Said storage facility is not, as might be expected, in the dank, padlocked basements of a bankrupt Des Moines retail park, but - because the script will soon require that the golden pastures of Arcadian romance blossom for our faulty Adam and his spent Eve - an airy, architect-designed atrium overlooking the Rocky Mountains. Despite both looking like they’ve been assembled from Airfix kits comprised entirely of inexpertlylacquered gammon, the sweet mountain air, piped-in Laurel Canyon muzak and the rhythmic throb of a nearby generator soon have their hearts a-beeping…

Deciding that a powered-up, temperature controlled love-nest affording breathtaking views of outstanding natural beauty is not a fit setting against which to play out their budding romance, they hook up with a wisecracking Borscht Belt comedian-bot named ‘Catskill’ – think an automated Rodney Dangerfield suspended in marmalade-hued Carbonite – and trade the stifling confines of their gilded cage for an unforgiving hardscrabble life stumbling across deserted Colorado mountainsides. 

It surely goes without saying that genial repairman Randy Quaid is in mildly-hot pursuit.
'Take my wife...'
The rest of the films hypnotically dull 79 minutes alternate between the wretchedly predictable and spine-bendingly bizarre. Sub-Jim Kirk ‘What is this human emotion you call love?’ script-filler shores up such scenes as the one in which Peters is set upon and violated by a rogue Frogger machine. Quasi-religioso vignettes of our sexless cyborgs constructing a child from spare parts culled from each other’s nether regions is set against a major set-piece that witnesses them decimate a frou-frou drinks party in upscale Aspen, leaving the dead or dying bodies of sundry vacationing Hollywood types and log-cabin liberals – plus, curiously, Barry Manilow – in their beatific wake.

And speaking of musicians, special mention must at some point be made to the score by – and you’ll like this – John Williams. One can’t quite picture the great man – nor his frequent collaborator Steven Spielberg – being much for the booze, but his work here sounds exactly like the unexpurgated lo-fi demos he and the Beard might have laid down after rocking up to Williams’ home studio after a night on the tiles discussing ideas for Close Encounters. At least they didn’t go to waste.
Perhaps the only true distinction one can allot Heartbeeps is that it’s blank reception and dismal performance totally derailed Kaufman’s plans to develop a movie vehicle for his spectacularly unloved and certifiably noxious creation, Tony Clifton. A foul, powder-blue lounge singer/Dadaist performance artist, Clifton’s toxic schtick was pitched somewhere between Andrew Dice Clay, a Weimar Miss Piggy and a tire fire on a garbage barge, and predicated on the idea that everyone but him was a slathering, uncouth imbecile. Happily the project eventually saw the light of day, serving as the basis for Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix’s 2010 fuck you-mentary I’m Still Here.

But that’s another story.


  1. Brilliant. Sounds even better than I had hoped.

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