‘Soylent Green’ Thru The Orange Light of 2019

Edward G. Robinson in "Soylent Green" (1973)

I experienced culture shock and an identity crisis when I moved out of the ancestral abode to Ann Arbor for my freshman year at Michigan in September of 1979. Ann Arbor was so different than Detroit or Sterling Heights. One of the first things that struck me was some graffiti that simply read in very large letters, “Question Authority!”

To me, it wasn’t just some thinly-veiled Communist garble that really meant, “Kill the Rich!”    It meant to question everything. All rules. All authorities, even the authority of Marx. I wasn’t a typical Ann Arbor pedant or dilettante. I was an artist in early bloom.

I have always vowed to be true to myself. So, here I am, almost 58, never married, except in a play marriage when I was 7 on Marne Street in Detroit; and she’s married now; so I’m off the hook there, lol. No kids, either – unless you count my cats.

So, almost 40 years later, I drove my single self to the Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak to see the midnight movie this past Memorial Day Weekend Saturday to see the now-campy 70’s sci fi dystopian dramatic flick Soylent Green, starring Charleton Heston and the great Edward G. Robinson in his last performance. And what a performance it was.

This is my review.

I know “the rule”   is if a movie comes out in 1973, you’re “supposed to”     review it in 1973, not 2019. Well, rules are for the intellectually-undeveloped, unenlightened school of pedants and their obsequious flocks of sheep.

I am not a sheep. According to the Chinese Zodiac, in fact, I am the very opposite of a Sheep. I am an Ox. A natural-born leader. So let me finish this review. I can hear the static in your mind, lol.

Mr. Robinson died of bladder cancer 12 days after the film was in the can. He also dies in the film; and his near-grave condition greatly aided his final scene. It is absolutely unfathomable that he wasn’t even nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1973. He should’ve won the damn Oscar, too. The fact that he was awarded an Academy Honorary Award that year merely adds insult to injury.

To understand why he wasn’t nominated requires a little research into the milieu at that time.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge once famously said one must “suspend disbelief”  when exposing oneself to the theatrical arts; and that, by common sensical extrapolation, extends to when going to the movies, even midnight movies in Royal Oak. However, the Wikipedia entry for Soylent Green mentions two movie reviewers in 1973 who seem utterly oblivious to Mr. Coleridge’s sagacity, thence making themselves seem catty, petty, and petulant. Gene Siskel impishly dwells on the garbage trucks that pick up dead bodies, hauling their carrionish cargo to the soylent green factory — moronically thinking that since the trucks don’t meet his pedantic standards for a 1973 sci fi thriller, any responsibility he might have to write a professional, reasoned review is relinquished. His cattiness makes me embarrassed to be of the same species as him.

Penelope Gilliatt, also steadfastly refusing to acknowledge the guidance of Coleridge, whines the movie doesn’t include her pet issues of the day, however noble they may be. Evidently, she was unaware of the concept of a story. Perhaps she also complained that Aesop’s story of the fox and the sour grapes didn’t mention cantaloupe. But in a story, the author creates a world, sets a scene, as it were. The author would be remiss were he, or she, to ask input of critics so as to make the fictitious world to the liking of every pedant on the planet. Ironically, Ms. Gilliatt was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1971. She did her best to see that Mr. Robinson would die without ever getting such an honor.

Now then, with that behind us, I wanted to make my own comments about the movie, if I may….

Back in 1966 & 1973, when Harry Harrison (the author of the book the film was based on), Stanley R. Greenberg (screenwriter), and Richard Fleischer (director) reimagined the NYC of 1973 into the NYC of 2022, they couldn’t possibly have foreseen every dystopian detail. When Mr. Robinson as Sol Roth lays dying, bathed in orange, watching a peaceful film of pastoral beauty, with colorful tropical fish swimming nonchalantly along the sandy seafloor, how could they imagine an ocean drowning in plastic waste – whales, dolphins, and turtles whose tummies are stuffed with plastic jugs, bottles, and wrap….

How could they know that it’s impossible to favorably portray a cop who steals food and screws murder witnesses?

Despite Charlton Heston’s rather brutish behavior as NYPD Detective Frank Thorn, he is a surprisingly astute homicide detective, and, with the invaluable assistence of Robinson’s Roth, who’s also a cop (and his apartment mate) in a city of 40 million desperate souls, he quickly solves the mystery of the death of a rich lawyer, including the motive behind the murder, screaming it out with the last line of the movie, “Soylent Green is people!”  See, Thorn has a heart, after all, desperate to alert the masses that their present fate is to become a few pounds of olive green graham crackers. AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes (circa 2005) lists that line as # 77. Not too shabby.

I first saw Soylent Green in 1973 with my late father, a Detroit police sergeant, who made Woodward Avenue safe for a few years in the 60’s and 70’s, earning the nickname “Ratman”  from the local prostitutes, who found “Wrathell”  too difficult to bother with. My big brother went, too. I think we went to the old Civic Theatre on Kelly at Houston Whittier on the eastside, baby.

I loved the movie. I was 11 or 12. It has aged well with time. Sure, it’s a bit campy now; but no one can deny the story has merit; and Heston, and especially Edward G. Robinson, had stellar performances. The Academy should award Mr. Robinson a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance. Better late than never. It’s never too late to try to correct the wrongs of History. Maybe if the Academy leads the way, and Jack Nicholson once said Hollywood is on “the cutting edge of Western Civilization, or Westerndom, if you will, the MLB will take the cue, as it should, and award Armando Galarraga the perfect game he threw for the Detroit Tigers back in 2010. The video still exists, showing he was clearly robbed of the accolade. The first base umpire even admitted he messed up. Why can’t the Academy?

Edward G. Robinson was electrifying as Sol Roth. He put his death 12 days after filming into his death scene. My guess is an antipathy for Charleton Heston’s politics colored the Academy’s digestion of the dystopian drama. It wouldn’t be a charity case gesture. Mr. Robinson nailed that performance; and, it’s as easily tracked as the Galarraga Game. John Houseman, who won it that year for his performance in The Paper Chase, should share his Award with the man from Bucharest, who easily earned at least a tie, for Pete’s sake. I doubt Mr. Houseman will turn in his grave; and, if he does, we can always throw him another bone, or a dime….

When Sol goes to Soylent Green Chapel to die peacefully for 20 minutes, bathed in wonderous orange light (his favorite color) watching that pastoral film of deer and tropical fish and mountain meadows, listening to Beethoven, Grieg, and Tchaikovsky — his performance foreshadowing eerily his actual immenent death 12 days later — time stands still.

Thank you, Main Art Theatre, for your midnight movies! If it wasn’t for you, there’d be no review!

And, lastly, in case you forgot, what with the legalization of marijuana in so many states, and in all of Canada and Uraguay…., “Soylent Green is people!!!!!!”

“Sol’s Euthanasia [Soylent Green]”

“Soylent Green Is People!!!”

10-Speed Guillotine, a Cyberpunk band from Ohio, performs in The End music festival at El Club in Detroit on May 26th, 2019,  bathing themselves and their fans with orange light.

“He’s out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

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  1. I forgot to mention the police call box that sort of resembled a payphone. I will give them total slack for that, for I am able to suspend disbelief as Coleridge sagely recommends to thoroughly appreciate for any work of art that might need one to do so.

  2. Geeze, every generation outdoes the prior one. I admit this guy is bathed more in orange light than Edward G. Robinson. Sad, though. RIP, Dude. I hope you find peace.

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