Cityspeak (Blade Runner)

bladerunner“That gibberish he talked was Cityspeak, gutter talk, a mishmash of Japanese, Spanish, German, what have you. I didn’t really need a translator. I knew the lingo, every good cop did. But I wasn’t going to make it easier for him.” – Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), Voiceover

That’s how Ridley Scott explained it in his adaptation of Blade Runner. Well, technically Ford did the explaining through the character of Deckard, but that’s neither here nor there. Point is, Cityspeak was something that did not appear in the novel version of Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. It was instead an original creation, designed to give the future-noire city of LA some subtext and a more gritty, realistic feel.

I mean, let’s face it. Overcrowded cities have a way of spawning their own lingo, and in a mega-city that is congested with millions of people, hundreds of cultures and dozens of languages, something like this would be sure to emerge. It was simply a matter of predicting which major languages would be involved, and writing the script in the 80’s, it was only natural that the languages of the most populous and wealthiest nations would do.

English was and still is the trade language of the world, Japanese was quickly becoming another one, Spanish was already spoken by millions in California and all over the South-Western US, Germany was next to Japan as being the world’s strongest economies, and Chinese… well, there were over a billion speakers of Chinese even back then. So really, Cityspeak was a legitimate sci-fi concept.

But here’s an interesting fact: turns out Edward James Olmos – who played the character of Gaff, the only one who spoke Cityspeak – was the man chiefly responsible for its creation. Relying on his diverse ethnic background and some in-depth research, he managed to come up with all the lines his character spoke in the course of that opening scene where it makes it debut.

Not only did he rely on his own Hungarian background, he took some night courses and studied inner-city youth lingo, relying even on his own experiences of living in the Philippines. As he recalled, Filipino cab drivers had their own lingo, a combination Spanish, Tagalog and the occasional English words which they would insert into their speech. One can see this in the lines of dialogue he composed, which were diverse and had several words in English for which no translation would be found.

Here’s the conversation as it appeared in the movie in full:

Gaff: Monsieur, azonnal kövessen engem, bitte!
Sushi Master: He say you under arrest, Mister Deckard.
Deckard: Got the wrong guy, pal.
Gaff: Lófaszt! Nehogy már! Te vagy a Blade, Blade Runner!
Sushi Master: He say you blade runner.
Deckard: Tell him I’m eating.
Gaff: Captain Bryant toka. Meni-o mae-yo.
Deckard: Bryant, huh?

The first section breaks down as follows:
Monsieur (French): Sir
azonnal kövessen engem (Hungarian): follow me immediately
bitte (German): please

The second, however, was entirely in Hungarian:
Lòfàszt!: Bullshit! (Or horse dick, depending on how literal you want to get!)
Nehogy már!: Do it!
Te vagy a Blade, Blade Runner!: You are the Blade, Blade Runner!

The last sentence… Well, it stumped me! Yep, not even a few full-on Google searches or several rounds with Google Translate and Babel Fish could crack this code! And I tried everything they listed, Japanese, Chinese, German, even Hungarian. But luckily, the Blade Runner crew had already provided a translation, it’s just that there was no mention of which languages were used. It reads as follows:
“Captain Bryant toka. Meni-o mae-yo” (Captain Bryant ordered me to escort you to him).

And that’s Cityspeak for you, something Ridley Scott and his Blade Runner adaptation was famous for, but which was mainly the creation of Edward James Olmos. I guess he’s not just a pretty face, or the man that played Adama and won the love of countless Battlestar Galactic nerds…

Blade Runner… Best Lines!

bladerunnerHello and welcome to another installment of best movie lines, part of my ongoing bit on movie reviews. Yes, there’s no shortage of great movie lines out there. And after going over the best ones from the Dune miniseries, I came to realize just how many other bits of classic movie dialogue there are that deserve recognition. I wasn’t sure where to begin, so I thought I’d backtrack a bit. First up, Blade Runner, since its smart, tight dialogue will probably yield the most nuggets. Here are the top ones I could remember, in rough, descending order:

Leon: I’ve never seen a turtle… But I understand what you mean.
Holden: You reach down and you flip the tortoise over on its back, Leon.
Leon: Do you make up these questions, Mr. Holden? Or do they write ’em down for you?
Holden: The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t. Not without your help. But you’re not helping.
Leon: What do you mean, I’m not helping?
Holden: I mean: you’re not helping! Why is that, Leon?

Holden: Describe in single words only the good things that come into your mind about… your mother.
Leon: My mother?
Holden: Yeah.
Leon: Let me tell you about my mother. (Shoots Holden)

Deckard: I was quit when I come in here, Bryant, I’m twice as quit now.
Bryant: Stop right where you are! You know the score, pal. You’re not cop, you’re little people!
Deckard: No choice, huh?
Bryant: No choice, pal

Rachael: May I ask you a personal question?
Deckard: Sure.
Rachael: Have you ever retired a human by mistake?
Deckard: No.
Rachael: But in your position, that is a risk.

Tyrell: Is this to be an empathy test? Capillary dilation of the so-called ‘blush response’, fluctuation of the pupil, involuntary dilation of the iris.
Deckard: We call it Voight-Kampff for short.
Tyrell: Demonstrate it. I want to see it work.
Deckard: Where’s the subject?
Tyrell: I want to see it work on a person. I want to see it work on a negative before I provide you with the positive.

Deckard: You’re reading a magazine. You come across a full-page nude photo of a girl.
Rachael: Is this testing whether I’m a Replicant or a lesbian, Mr. Deckard?

Deckard: Suspect? How can it not know what it is?
Tyrell: Commerce is our goal here at Tyrell. More human than human is our motto. Rachael is an experiment, nothing more. We began to recognize in them a strange obsession. After all they are emotionally inexperienced, with only a few years in which to store up the experiences which you and I take for granted. If we give them a past, we’d create a cushion, a pillow for their emotions and consequently we can control them better.
Deckard: Memories. You’re talking about memories.

Batty: Time… enough.

Batty: Did you get your precious photos?
Leon: … Someone was there.
Batty: Men?
Batty: POLICE men?

Leon: How old am I?
Deckard: I don’t know!
Leon: My birthday is April 10th, 2017. How long do I live?
Deckard: Four years.
Leon: More than you! Painful to live in fear, isn’t it? Wake up, time to die!

Tyrell: I’m surprised you didn’t come here sooner.
Batty: It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker.
Tyrell: What could he do for you?
Batty: Can the maker repair what he makes?

Tyrell: What, what seems to be the problem?
Batty: Death.
Tyrell: Death? Well, I’m afraid that’s a little out of my jurisdiction.
Batty: I want more life, Father!
Tyrell: The facts of life. To make an alteration in the evolvement of an organic life system is fatal. A coding sequence cannot be revised once it’s been established.

Tyrell: You were made as well as we could make you.
Batty: But not to last.
Tyrell: The life that burns twice as bright burns half as long. And you have burnt so very very brightly, Roy. Look at you! You’re the prodigal son. You’re quite a prize.
Batty: I’ve done questionable things.
Tyrell: And also extraordinary things. Revel in your time!
Batty: Nothing the God of biomechanics wouldn’t let you in heaven for.

Batty: Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.

Batty: I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in the rain. Time to die…

Gaff: It’s too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?

The list has to end with Batty’s death speech and Gaff’s final words, regardless of their order. Those lines were just too strong not to end this list on them!