Director Michael Almereyda had it easy regarding one aspect of creating his Hampton Fancher documentary, Escapes: Just strap a mic onto his star and let him go. The voice of the unlikely Blade Runner scripter—eventually, involuntary co-scripter—is the only one you’ll hear throughout the film’s 89-minute runtime, save for occasional dialogue from the entertaining, expertly curated film and TV clips that often populate the screen as Fancher details his mid-to-late 20th century Hollywood adventures.
And though they may not be as well-known as the adventures of, say, Jack Nicholson or Warren Beatty, Fancher’s escapades rivaled those of Tinseltown’s top lotharios. If you’re not familiar with the man, however, Almereyda’s opening may leave you a little lost. He drops you in with an offscreen Fancher talking about the art-related concept of “duende,” loosely defined as authenticity or a heightened emotional state. Soon after comes the first of the film’s chapters, “Bonanza,” in which Fancher—decidedly out of chronological order—speaks at length about his relationship with the successful Teri Garr while he was broke and no longer getting acting gigs. To a somewhat rambling story about how Fancher came to blows with an ex of Garr’s, Almereyda matches footage of both actors that charmingly expresses the actions and emotions Fancher is talking about. But if you’ve never seen the guy before, it will obviously take you a minute to get clued in to the game.
The director takes a different and arguably more delightful approach to Fancher’s background in the second chapter, “The Brain Eaters.” Describing Fancher’s youth-to early adulthood, Almereyda employs swift-moving and often cheeky title cards with notations such as “Fancher hates school, fails third grade twice, can’t add or subtract, repeatedly runs away from home.” A photo of him as a child in swim trunks, feet planted widely apart as he holds two toy pistols , follows an update in which Fancher, at age 11, tells his parents he’s finished with formal education. Trivia about a more mature Fancher includes, “Lives briefly with a schizophrenic lingerie model.”
This chapter also details his short-lived marriages to Sue Lyon, aka Lolita, and to a nurse five years his senior. Other relationships included a young Barbara Hershey and, described by Fancher in painstaking detail that culminates in a rather anti-climactic payoff, a one-night stand with a Wilkes-Barre secretary whom he pursued solely because she seemed responsible enough to get him to an early morning flight on time. (He describes the layovers he had to suffer for a promotional event as “gruesome.”) At the end of the rambling story, he says, “That was it,” stands up, and removes his mic.
Fancher, whom Almereyda increasingly shows on camera—albeit still with the accompaniment of TV clips—even aborts some anecdotes. But though he may come across as a bit too weird to serve as the consummate raconteur to whom people flock at parties, Fancher is nonetheless amusing—so much so that Blade Runner becomes an afterthought, both to the viewer and the documentary. Naturally, the path to producing and writing the 1982 sci-fi classic is a colorful one, involving Philip K. Dick (on whose novel the film is based), Fancher’s 20-year-old girlfriend, and later Hershey, who persuaded the reluctant Fancher to tackle the screenplay by “beat[ing] me down, just through intelligence.” Not much of his original script survived, but recounting his visit to the set for the final scene, he was nonetheless ecstatic to see his vision and hear the one line that made it. And you can’t help but feel happy for him, too—particularly when it’s revealed that Ridley Scott called on the goofball to pen the film’s upcoming sequel.
Escapes opens Friday at Landmark E Street Cinema.