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Currently in its sixth month, Videology’s Independent Women is a monthly screening series bringing you underrated, overlooked, “Why haven’t I seen this?!” films directed by women. This month, they’re bringing you the trippy sci-fi flick, Strange Days. 

When Kathryn Bigelow won the 2010 Academy Award for The Hurt Locker, she became the first woman to take home the Oscar for Best Director. Yet, the auteur had a string of notable action films under her belt. From the Patrick Swayze-Keanu Reeves surfer flick, Point Break, to the Harrison Ford-Liam Neeson thriller, K-19: The Widowmaker, Bigelow had a wealth of experience with big names and high-octane action. However, it’s the Ralph Fiennes-Angela Bassett tech noir, Strange Days, that sticks out. With a story penned by James Cameron, some pretty considerable tech innovations, and timely social themes, the film has achieved cult status, despite its initial commercial failure.

In the last days of 1999, former LAPD officer, Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) makes his living on the black market. Selling SQUID recordings—mini discs that allow viewers to experience the memories and sensations of their subjects—Lenny pushes these videos as if they were drugs, with buyers eager for mental stimulation. One fateful night; however, he comes across a recording of a prostitute’s rape and murder. With the help of his friend, Mace (Angela Bassett, above), Lenny tries to find the killer, bringing the two deeper into a web of corruption and violence.

As a tech noir, Strange Days’s use of technology was pretty revolutionary at the time. To simulate the sensation of looking through someone else’s perspective, special cameras were built (over the course of one year) to shoot the SQUID recordings (below). Customized cameras were also constructed to film the opening sequence during which a stuntman leaps between two buildings. With the help of producer/co-screenwriter, James Cameron, Bigelow spent years on story development and tech prep. This culminated in an 80 day shoot, with 77 of them filmed solely at night.

Twenty-two years later, Strange Days has managed to endure without feeling “cheesy” and outdated. Though Cameron developed the story during the 1980s, Bigelow’s interest was fueled by the social climate of the 1990s. With the occurrence of the Lorena Bobbit case and the L.A. riots, the film is infused with the chaos and strife that permeated the early stages of the decade. Touching on themes of race, gender, and socio-economic status, Strange Days’s setting at the cusp of the new millennium, stresses the urgency of these issues. In a sense, it’s a film of its time, while also being ahead of its time.

Though the feature only grossed $8 million on a $42 million budget and pretty much polarized critics, it still garnered accolades. At the 1996 Saturn Awards, Angela Bassett, took home the award for Best Actress, while Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the award for Best Director. And yet, the perceived “failure” of the feature, threatened to thwart Bigelow’s career. Luckily, the film has survived the naysayers and so has its director.

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