If the name Hampton Fancher rings a bell, you probably have strong opinions on the best version of Blade Runner. The screenwriter of that sci-fi classic, Fancher sports one of the damndest backstories in Hollywood, including acting appearances on Bonanza, literal ditch digging, and occasional bouts of flamenco dancing. The documentary Escapes tells the thoroughly odd, strangely endearing saga of a genial bullshitter who somehow keeps stumbling, if not always upwards, at least sideways through show business. Think Robert Evans with a smidge of self-consciousness, and prepare for a wild ride.
Beginning with a long, shaggy story involving Teri Garr, director Michael Almereyda (Experimenter) gives his subject ample room to spin his yarn, wittily utilizing a slew of media clips as Fancher wanders hither and yon between topics such as his relationship with Lolita’s Sue Lyon, Philip K. Dick’s hilariously unsmooth attempt to hit on Fancher’s then-girlfriend, and the sexual exploits of the (human) star of Flipper. As for Blade Runner, that seemingly career-defining experience receives the same breezy pass-through as the rest of his stories, further painting the picture of a man who’s proud of his achievements, but doesn’t always seem entirely certain of how all the dots came to connect.
For all of the famous names and salacious celebrity dirt, the best reason to see Escapes, really, is the recounting of Fancher’s in-between times, with the most outrageous details of his life relayed via a series of flamenco-scored text blocks that quickly come to seem like a particularly ridiculous game of Mad Libs. (Sample term: Schizophrenic lingerie model.) Taken as a whole, this winningly off-kilter film tells the tale of an undeniable Character, who not only lives but occasionally thrives in an uniquely toxic environment. If his story didn’t involve Hollywood, you’d never believe it.