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Miracle Mile

Entry updated 6 September 2019. Tagged: Film.

Film (1988). Hemdale Film, Miracle Mile Productions. Written and directed by Steve De Jarnatt. Cast includes John Agar, Denise Crosby, Anthony Edwards, Lou Hancock, Mykelti Williamson and Mare Winningham. 87 minutes. Colour.

Miracle Mile was shot on location in the 1980s Miracle Mile district of Los Angeles (see California), and covers a period of twenty-four hours in the lives of visitor Harry Warshello (Edwards) and resident Julie Peters (Winningham), who meet at the La Brea Tar Pits museum, are immediately attracted to one another, and arrange to meet again at midnight, after her stint as waitress at a local coffee shop. Back in his hotel, a lit cigarette he tosses off a balcony eventually causes a short circuit, and his alarm fails to awaken him. Chagrined, he returns to the coffee shop, occupied by a small but varied group of customers, but Peters has left; using a public phone he attempts to reach her, but is forced to leave a message; minutes later the phone rings and he answers it. Having misdialed in a panicked attempt to reach his father, a young man at a missile base in North Dakota tells Warshello that a first-strike nuclear missile strike on the USSR is due for launch in fifty minutes, initiating World War Three, and that in seventy minutes a retaliatory strike will nuke Los Angeles. Voices are heard in the background, and shots. The phone goes dead. At this point Miracle Mile becomes a real-time film, ending exactly seventy minutes later.

Warshello's attempts to persuade his fellow customers to take this message seriously initially founders on their assumption that it was a hoax, until a businesswoman named Landa (Crosby) attempts to call some Washington politicians she knows, only to discover they have all fled the country. She immediately calls LAX (the Los Angeles airport) and charters a private jet. Most of her panicked fellow customers accompany her in a delivery van towards LAX, along with Warshello who, when he finds out that its driver has no intention of stopping to pick up Peters, leaps into the road, stopping young Wilson (Williamson), who has stolen goods in the trunk of his car, and forces him to drive him towards her apartment building. Though we are still not ourselves entirely convinced that the threat is real, and though the cartoonish exaggerations of the acting impel some suspicion that Miracle Mile is about to turn into farce, two events make it seem much less likely that we have are being taken for a ride: needing to refuel, the two stop at a gas station reserved for taxis, and in the resulting brouhaha cause, suddenly and unfarcically, the death of two police officers; a little while later, Warshello manages to telephone the father of the shot soldier, who confirms his name and that he is stationed in North Dakota, though his exact location is restricted. In other words, it is all true: the End of the World is nigh.

The remainder of the action is complicated to view but easy to describe. Through a series of incidents, and in cityscapes now chaotic through mounting general panic, Warshello and Peters reunite and get to the helipad at the top of the Mutual Life Benefit Building, where a helicopter, its presence previously arranged, takes off with them, only for the first strike to cause it to crash into the La Brea Tar Pits. Warshello and Peters, plighting their eternal love as the waters rise in the cab where they are trapped, prepare to be incinerated in the next strike, though perhaps they will survive in the form of diamond fossils, in some future museum. The screen flares into terminal incandescence.

The first seventeen minutes of Miracle Mile could be the start of almost any nostalgia-ridden low-budget 1980s film, shot in colours so concentratedly supersaturated, and with exteriors so lacking in congestion, that human beings radiate a detached, cartoonish, uncanny-valley clarity, allowing them to fit neatly into the magic-realist shopping and eating emporia they occupy with such doll-like fixity. When the call comes, and the film turns to real time, and a remarkably sustained incremental increase in general panic begins to focus our attention, we enter another kind of cinematic reality. Supersaturated shots no longer seem intended to make the mise en scene resemble a gameboard but to render the Miracle Mile as a slate about to be wiped clean; the mise en scene of Ridley Scott's more subtly supersaturated Blade Runner (1982) seems comparatively fixed in place. Miracle Mile's simplistic visuals, once they are seen as sigils of fragility, increase a sense that writer/director De Jarnatt, whose script was completed several years before filming, had his own 1950s childhood in view: a time of relatively simple Cold War terror, when civilization could be knocked apart in instants. Unlike most sf films of the twenty-first century, the bright garish terror of Miracle Mile focuses on anticipation, not aftermath. [JC]


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