Nitehawk, one of Brooklyn’s foremost purveyors of niche indies and cult revivals, took September 15 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the teen cyberpunk thriller “Hackers.” The director, Iain Softley, and members of the cast, including Jonny Lee Miller, Renoly Santiago, Laurence Mason and Fisher Stevens, were all in attendance to celebrate the film and its thumping tribute to youth and technology.
The movie skids through the streets of New York City to follow a group of young hackers as they attempt to thwart the unleashing of a dangerous computer virus as they are tailed by the secret service and the evil tech genius who developed it. Featuring hacker names like Phantom Phreak, Acid Burn and Crash Override, as well as a young Angelina Jolie, “Hackers” has developed a cult following in the years following its release. Since 1995, the technological references in the film have become charmingly dated, but the screening boasted a sold out room filled with early tech enthusiasts and devotees, and the movie still played to much applause all these years later.
Here are some of the highlights from the Q&A with the cast and crew following the film.
On the look of the film
“I had just made a film about a change in the popular culture in the ’60s (‘Backbeat’) and I thought it would be interesting to see what was just ‘round the corner, what was the next rock and roll,” said Iain Softley. “I didn’t come from a technical background, and so we all stuck our necks out and said, ‘Let’s make this.'”
“If the drug of Hamburg was speed, then the analogous drug of the new cyber culture was a cyberdelic equivalent of LSD,” he continued. “And that helped inform the visuality of it. You can’t film the transfer of data. I wanted it to be a psychedelic thing, with references to ‘2001.’ I was very cavalier about representing computers, I wanted it to be a metaphor and not take itself too seriously. I see it almost as a cyber fairytale.”
On the eye-catching costuming of the film
“I remember the day I was introduced to the costume designer (Roger Burton) and I was like, ‘What the fuck is this guy on?’ because Iain had gotten us to meet some real-life hackers, ones that were based on Jonny’s character, and none of them were dressed like I was,” said Fisher Stevens. “So I was kind of first taken aback, but then I realized this was going to be a kind of rock and roll movie and I got into it more than I even expected.”
Laurence Mason revealed he “hated the fittings” and was “scared everyday” he had to go in for shooting, but Renoly Santiago had a much more positive experience. “I felt great, I loved the costuming. I thought it was really, really original,” the actor said. “I love British fashion. I was super excited to work with English costume designers and was so happy to see what they had. I remember they talked about trying to project into the future — what people would wear down the line and I think they did a good job with that, too. I’m glad that they broke the stereotype for the computer, at that point it was really important. It made computers cool.”
“I just couldn’t believe I had to wear those clothes and ride a skateboard,” ended Stevens. “But in the end, it looked great, it looked cool.”
On working with a young Angelina Jolie
“The character’s look was something that Angie really embraced, I had to reign her back a couple of times,” said the director. “I remember when she came to the audition she had long hair and glasses and I thought she was this shy girl and she was kind of shy, but it turns out she was just trying to project what she thought the techy, bookish person should be. I thought I was going to have a problem telling her, ‘You’ve gotta read William Gibson. I want to give you a cyberpunk haircut, chopped, and I want to give you fake piercings and tattoos.’ But she was reading ‘The Naked Lunch’ the next day, and when I spoke to her she said, ‘Well, I’m having all my hair shaved off tomorrow, and then I’m going to the tattoo parlor.’
On the music of the film
One of the biggest highlight’s of “Hackers” is its great soundtrack, which includes tracks from Massive Attack, Underworld, Radiohead, Portishead, Prodigy, Orbital and more. “We had a record label back in New York and I had recently worked on grunge stuff for my previous film, so I came to them with this and they were like, ‘What is this techno shit?’ said Softley. “So we didn’t get the benefit of a record deal when the film was released. But after the film came out we got a release and went platinum. And there have been three ‘Hackers’ soundtracks that have come out subsequently.”
On the topic of a “Hackers” sequel
“The problem is, it has to be something you’re not expecting,” said Johnny Lee Miller. “Those kinds of things are difficult. Everyone wants more of what they enjoy. One of the reasons we’re here today is it kind of clicks more nowadays, or at least it’s gained momentum over the years with what’s happened in the world. I love that Fisher’s line, ‘Set your computer to receive a file,’ gets a laugh because of what we know, and that’s magical.”
On shooting in scope and the power of cinema
“I think it’s cinema. I think the richness of the color, the way that lens is working in scope, I love the framing of it,” said the director. “There are arguments for shooting 1:85, but I think you can look at the frame and see the lovely deep focus and I think the lenses work differently. There’s a seductiveness about it. For me, people watching an illuminated screen in a dark room, even when you’re making films that are fantastic and unrealistic, there’s still a magic of cinema which keeps people coming to the theater.”
On looking at the city in 1995
‘I’m a New Yorker now, and it’s a very fond trip down memory lane watching this,” reflected Miller. “This city is incredible to me. Being able to experience it as an Englishman back in 1994, and being back now it’s just wonderful. I have so many different kinds of relationships with New York.”
Added Stevens, “I remember telling Iain back then, ‘Man, you should have seen this city 15 years ago, it was so much cooler,’ but I’ve been here since 1976. I can’t believe it now — that we were taking skating and rollerblading lessons in Battery Park: it was our playground and no one else was there.”
“I wanted it to be the most comprehensive study of the city that I had just arrived in,” concluded Softley. “I didn’t realize it at the time but it reflects the very thorough scouting that we did. We went places at night and places on the weekend: we wanted to map things out. I was really pleased to see that you really get a picture of New York at that time which is a nice thing to have on record.”