Film Review: Overdrawn at the Memory Bank (1983)

Release Date: November 4th, 1985 (first airing)
Directed by: Douglas Williams
Written by: Corinne Jacker
Based on: a short story by John Varley
Music by: John Tucker
Cast: Raul Julia, Linda Griffiths, Wanda Cannon, Donald C. Moore, Louis Negin, Chapelle Jaffe, Jackie Burroughs, Maury Chaykin

RSL Productions, WNET, New Jersey Public Television (NJPTV), New World Video, 83 Minutes 


What a bizarre experience this was!

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank is horrendous but it is at least somewhat imaginative and unique. It also stars Raul Julia, who brings a lot to every role that he plays. Julia was the best thing about this picture but even he couldn’t make any of this work.

This film was actually made for public access television and really only got somewhat known due to Julia’s inclusion in it and the fact that it was featured in the eighth season of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

After the success that public television had in adapting Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven in 1979 and their adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Between Time and Timbuktu, they wanted to make more science fiction films. Unfortunately, the picture just did not work well and it was far from a critical success. It was, however, quite ambitious despite its flaws and its limitations.

Other than Julia, the film starred a Canadian cast, as it was produced by Toronto’s RSL Productions. Other than Linda Griffiths, who did the best she could with atrocious dialogue and nonsensical situations, the cast acted over the top. It was like the first table read for an inexperienced community theatre.

To give a quick rundown of the zany plot, a man in a dystopian future where art is prohibited, gets caught watching Casablanca at his workstation. He is sent to be rehabilitated by having his mind uploaded into a wild baboon. This leads to Julia basically narrating over a nature video until an elephant starts shaking the tree that he, the baboon, is in. He tries to escape back to his body but discovers that it is missing and he is trapped in a digital world. There was a mix-up and his body was sent for a sex change. While the corporation tries to locate his missing body, he creates his own digital reality based off of Casablanca. As time goes on, he gets more and more agitated and fights back from the inside.

The story itself is so wacky that it is almost hard to follow. In fact, from scene-to-scene I often times found myself lost but stayed with it in the hopes that it would make some sort of sense. It never did.

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank also looks like a bad 1980s novella with its visual style. It was shot on video because that made the inclusion of special effects easier. The problem is that the special effects were terrible. The film tries to do a lot with very little and I respect that but the digital effects in this film make old school Doctor Who look like Star Wars.

As painful as this movie is to get through, there is still something warm and cozy about it. A weird description, yes, but I can’t think of more appropriate words. Maybe it just reminds me of all the public television stuff I watched as a kid in elementary school in the 1980s.

There was passion behind this project and it is really apparent. It’s just unfortunate, for those involved, that it turned out so poorly.

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