Sean and Cody prepare to party like it’s 1999 and relive the whole Y2K thing as they head back to Los Angeles to dip into this somewhat obscure but very complicated 1995 science fiction thriller. In Strange Days, pusher of high tech virtual reality porn Lenny (Ralph Fiennes) gets caught up in a noir-ish L.A. caper involving the girl he used to date (Juliette Lewis), the girl who wants to date him (Angela Bassett) and a snuff clip that could turn the City of Angels into a raging inferno of racial violence. It all happens on the last night of the century, supposedly. But will it be the racist cops or our intrepid heroes who will be guzzling champagne at midnight? The environmental issues posed by this film all arise out of its setting in time and place: the Rodney King incident of 1991 and the riots that followed, O.J. Simpson and the specter of apocalyptic disaster, the “six L.A.s” we see in film and how their environments differ, and why geography is the key to understanding Los Angeles’s tangled environmental history.
What was Hurricane Opal and what does it have to do with the O.J. Simpson trial? What’s the story behind the Los Angeles riots of 1992 and why they overshadowed the entire modern history of the city? Why are the Asian-owned businesses shown in movies like this almost always restaurants? Why was December 31, 1999 not really the last day of the 20th century? Was there anything of substance behind the “Y2K” computer thing or was it just media hype? Is this film actually an uncredited sequel to an even more obscure 1983 film that no one remembers except for tabloid reporters who are unnaturally obsessed with Natalie Wood’s death? How come people don’t push each other into swimming pools as party gags anymore? What happened to those 1990s cyberpunk movies and why don’t they make them like they used to? How does this film get Los Angeles geography wrong? Can a knotted necktie support the weight of a 250-pound man hanging off the tower of a luxury hotel? All of these questions and more are wired up and ready to record in this surprisingly complex episode of Green Screen.
WARNING: This episode contains discussions of sexual assault and racial violence.
The original 1995 trailer for Strange Days.
Additional Materials About This Episode
Some of the considerable chemistry between Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett is on display in this intense scene from Strange Days.
Lenny (Ralph Fiennes) sells one of his customers his digital product in Strange Days. Sorry for the poor video quality. The more obscure a film is (and this is definitely obscure), the fewer choices of clips there are publicly available.
The Environmental History
Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (Metropolitan Books, 1998). Here is a link where you can borrow the book with a (free) Archive.org account:
Trailer for the 2017 documentary LA 92, one of the most gripping and comprehensive films made about the 1992 riots.
The L.A. 1992 Riots: The Geography
Site of the police attack on Rodney King, near Hansen Dam facility. The Monte Vista Apartments, from which the infamous video was taken, are visible at left. Riots occurred on this site in April 1992, demonstrating the centrality of place to what happened. (Google Maps link)
Now a vacant lot, this site on Figueroa Street was in 1991 the site of the Korean-owned convenience store where Latasha Harlins was murdered. The killer, Soon Da Ju, largely escaped official justice. (Google Maps link)
71st & Normandie Avenue, right near Inglewood. This is where the most serious incidents of violence occurred on the evening of April 29. Much of the most famous video of the riots, including the attack on truck driver Reginald Denny, occurred near here. (Google Maps link)
Koreatown, where the worst rioting occurred, has been substantially rebuilt since the 1992 riots. This is what it looks like today. (Google Maps link)
A retrospective on Hurricane Opal, from 20 years after the disaster (2015).
The O.J. Simpson verdict is read, October 3, 1995. At the same moment this was happening, Hurricane Opal was bearing down on New Orleans and the Florida panhandle. Strange Days was released three days later.
Other History & Movie Stuff
David Buck, “The New Millennium Blues,” Tedium.co, Dec. 27, 2017. The pop-culture panic leading up to the year 2000: did all the Y2K movies, musical parodies and animated homages make the problem worse?
Trailer for the 1999 TV movie Y2K. Apparently it was as terrible as it looks.
(Review of the Above)
Mitch Ratcliffe, “Y2K: The Movie, Reviewed and Debunked,” ZDNet, November 22, 1999:
Leonard Nimoy wants you and your family to be prepared for the year 2000. Some kind of disaster guide made before the millennium.
A New York Times retrospective on the Y2K thing, from the standpoint of 2013.
Trailer for the 1983 film Brainstorm, to which Strange Days can be considered an uncredited sequel.
In this scene from Brainstorm, Karen (Natalie Wood) receives a “gift” of her husband (Christopher Walken’s) favorite experiences. This is the same concept used in Strange Days but to much different effect.
The legend of Natalie Wood has kept tabloids busy for 40 years. Brainstorm, filmed in 1981 but not released until 1983, was her last picture.
Next Movie Up: War & Peace (2016)