Hampton Fancher has lived such an incredible life that his involvement in bringing Blade Runner to the screen comes off like an afterthought in Michael Almereyda’s documentary Escapes. The title might come from Fancher’s inability to be tied down to any one situation for too long. Before he was 18, Fancher had been a choreographer for his stripper sister, ran away to Spain, and changed his name to become a flamenco dancer. Throughout his life, Fancher would become a bit player in several TV shows, steal Barbara Hershey from David Carradine, and begrudgingly adapt Philip K. Dick to the screen. Without a doubt, Fancher has lived a life worth documenting, but Almereyda’s attempt at doing so is far too pedestrian, by-the-numbers and scattershot to do Fancher justice.
Almereyda’s directing is mishandled in his three various approaches. The first – and most common – comes by Almereyda presenting images from Fancher’s films and TV appearances while Fancher tells a story offscreen. In doing this, Almereyda finds the most obvious and literal scenes from Fancher’s career to highlight Fancher’s tales. For example, Fancher might mention a sign in a story, which Almereyda then shows a sign presented in one of Fancher’s films. In one particularly egregious section, Fancher says of Dick, “I don’t think he liked me,” to which Almereyda feels the need to show a clip from one of Fancher’s TV appearances where he once said, “I don’t think you like me.” It’s an exhausting approach that distracts more than just a general talking head documentary would have.
But when Almereyda does let Fancher go on and on with his tales of Hollywood life, he doesn’t know how to edit his subject. Sometimes these stories lead to a point, but they often take too long to get there. One such story seems to be about Fancher using a woman in order to make his flight on time, then takes a sharp dark turn near the end. But the journey to that conclusion is filled with details of Fancher’s various flights and engagements that are boring tangents that could easily be edited out.
In fact, Escapes actually starts with one of Fancher’s diatribes – about how he beat up Teri Garr’s ex-boyfriend that owed her money – before we even know who Fancher is. Almereyda apparently wants his audience to know Fancher as a storyteller first before introducing him. When Fancher stays on point, these stories are worth listening to. Other times, Fancher will realize halfway through his story that it’s going nowhere and will just stop his story right in the middle.
This is preferable to Almereyda’s final approach, which is to just inundate the viewer with a checklist of Fancher’s life experiences. Almereyda basically goes point-by-point, writing the events of Fancher’s life on the screen, once again presenting an applicable image, and moving on to the next event. It’s the same effect as reading a Wikipedia timeline, but with unnecessary visual aides.
Escapes never has much of a grasp on its purpose or its subject, either unleashing Fancher to do what he pleases without any editing, or hitting a bunch of bullet points within his life. Almereyda never finds a point, despite Almereyda rightfully finding him an interesting character. Instead of creating a captivating documentary that takes a deep dive into who Fancher is, Almereyda instead make a conventional documentary for a man who defies convention.