Overdrawn at the Memory Bank (1983) (part 1 of 12)
Overdrawn at the Memory Bank is the second of two reviews posted as part of Casablanca Month, wherein I spotlight two awful movies that find various ways to rip-off the 1942 classic Casablanca. If you haven’t already, make sure to check out the first review in this series, Barb Wire. By comparison, Overdrawn doesn’t rip off a lot from Casablanca. In fact, it only carries the vaguest hint of similarities, almost as though it were written by someone who had only seen Casablanca once, and a long, long time ago at that.
Though the movie itself completely sucks, the worst part of Overdrawn at the Memory Bank comes at the very end of the credits. That’s when we learn it was made possible “with funds from Public Television Stations, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the National Endowment for the Arts.” This means that, out of all the movies featured here in the Agony Booth, this is the only one that you and your tax dollars helped pay for.
In recent years, the NEA has drawn fire for giving funds to the type of artists who hurl elephant dung on paintings of the Virgin Mary. I’m not sure where those same people were when this movie was made, because the only thing that’s missing from Overdrawn is the Virgin Mary.
It’s hard enough to believe this movie ever got made, let alone actually released on video for people to buy and rent. This is because the damn thing is not even shot on film. Yes, this is only the second “movie” on this site (after Mr. T’s Be Somebody… Or Be Somebody’s Fool) to be shot on video.
Supposedly, there’s a good reason the filmmakers decided to put it on video: It was the only way to take advantage of digital effects in those days. Unfortunately, the whole thing ends up looking like a daytime soap, or one of those cheapo PBS shows from the 80’s that they made you watch in junior high. In fact, the movie reminds me a lot of the educational series Read All About It, which is probably no coincidence, since that show was also made in the early 80’s and also filmed in Toronto.
That’s right, not only did the producers of Overdrawn at the Memory Bank use government money to fund their lousy movie, then even ran across the border to Canada to use it as a tax shelter. The studio in question was RSL Entertainment, which also produced the Flashdance rip-off Heavenly Bodies (starring Pumaman himself, Walter George Alton), which should give you some idea of their level of commitment to making quality PBS programming.
Overdrawn at the Memory Bank is based on a short story of the same name by John Varley, and it was originally part of a series of sci-fi originals that aired on PBS in the 80’s. The other stories adapted in this series were “The Lathe of Heaven” by Ursula K. Le Guin and “Between Time and Timbuktu” by Kurt Vonnegut. Incredibly, for many years, Overdrawn was the only one of these available on video, despite being much, much worse than the other two (Lathe of Heaven finally saw a DVD release in 2000).
I’ve read some of John Varley’s work, most notably his novel Millennium, which is still one of my favorites. (Coincidentally, that novel was also turned into a crappy movie, in this case starring Kris Kristofferson and Cheryl Ladd and, probably by no accident, a few of the bit players from Overdrawn.)
Varley’s short story “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank” is long out of print, but from what I hear, it only shares a few superficial similarities with the movie. (In fact, I think the screenwriters completely invented the Casablanca homage that dominates the film.) So while Varley’s writing career has sometimes been inconsistent (I couldn’t get through the first book of his Gaea Trilogy no matter how hard I tried), I doubt you can pin any of the failure of this movie on him.
The big problem with Overdrawn, other than the cheap production values and the horrible acting, is that it never comes close to making sense. It’s just about as confusing as Zardoz, and for about the same reason. That is, there are just too many different ideas and concepts crowded into too small a space. A handful of these ideas could have made for an interesting film, but as it is, there’s just no time to sufficiently explain everything that’s going on. And the movie’s brief 75 minute running time doesn’t help any. But thankfully, just like Zardoz, there’s still lots of time for insane imagery and mind-boggling dialogue.
The star of this movie is Raul Julia, and how they scored him for the main role I’ll never know. It’s not like he was an unknown at the time; He had already made his mark in Eyes of Laura Mars and One from the Heart, and had even been nominated for a Golden Globe for Paul Mazursky’s Tempest. It’s not the worst film Raul Julia ever made—obviously, Street Fighter has that honor—but you have to wonder what the heck he was thinking when he decided to slum it on public television.
At least Raul had an excuse for being in Street Fighter. At that point, he was seriously ill and he knew he didn’t have much time left, so basically he wanted a big fat paycheck to pass onto his family. Yeah, I know—as if watching Street Fighter weren’t depressing enough. But at least you can understand why Raul did it. With Overdrawn, however, he has no such excuse, and so he’s easily this movie’s Embarrassed Actor.
The movie begins with a cheap “interlaced” video effect that reveals an actress with a big brown perm in a horrid pink 80’s pantsuit. In the foreground, youngsters in post-apocalyptic wear are wheeled past on stretchers. Her voiceover says, “How was I supposed to know that Day 276 was going to be as wild as it turned out to be?” Oh come on lady, 276 is always the wildest day of the year.
From her VO, we learn the woman was a “Compu-Tech” whose life was “calm and simple”. “But that was before I met… Aram Fingal!” Well, the name alone is enough to sweep any girl off her feet. A confused, slumming Raul Julia appears on the opposite side of the stretcher convoy, and he stops when he sees the female Compu-Tech. Meanwhile, in the background, we hear what is perhaps the cheapest synthesizer ever made, probably about three generations more primitive than a Moog.
As the two stare at each other, she identifies herself in voiceover as “Apollonia James”. Apollonia “worked in Nirvana Village monitoring dopplers!” She reveals that “Fingal didn’t seem the doppling kind!” They never do, do they? Apollonia’s echo-y VO says that Fingal “had the most unusual eyes!” Unusual, that is, if you’re not a blowfish.
In slow motion, the long line of human bodies finally passes. Apollonia’s VO says, “As it turned out, everything went wrong with Fingal’s dopple!” Don’t worry, there’s medication you can take for that kind of thing now. “He lost his body,” Apollonia explains, “And I almost lost my mind!” Apollonia icily brushes past Raul Julia, but he continues to stare at her as she walks away, and a smile forms on his face.
Cue credit sequence, which is chock full of really cheap video animation. It’s something you really should see for yourselves. I mean, we’re talking barely a few steps above cable public access here, and I hope I’m not insulting cable public access too much by making the comparison. Something tells me I’m going to run out of synonyms for “cheap” by the time this recap is done.