Electric Dreams (1984) Retrospective

Miles Harding is an architect who envisions a brick shaped like a jigsaw puzzle piece that could enable buildings to withstand earthquakes. Seeking a way to get organized, he buys a personal computer to help him develop his ideas. Although he is initially unsure that he will even be able to correctly operate the computer, he later buys numerous extra gadgets that were not necessary for his work, such as switches to control household appliances like the blender, a speech synthesizer, and a microphone.

The computer addresses Miles as “Moles”, because Miles had incorrectly typed his name during the initial set-up. When Miles attempts to download the entire database from a mainframe computer at work, his computer begins to overheat. In a state of panic, Miles uses a nearby bottle of champagne to douse the overheating machine, which then becomes sentient. Miles initially is unaware of the computer’s newfound sentience, but discovers it one night when he is awakened by the computer in the middle of the night when it mimics Miles talking in his sleep.


A love triangle soon develops among Miles, his computer (who later identifies himself as Edgar), and Miles’s neighbor, an attractive cellist named Madeline Robistat. Upon hearing her practicing a piece from Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach on her cello through an air vent connecting both apartments, Edgar promptly elaborates a parallel variation of the piece, leading to an improvised duet. Believing it was Miles who had engaged her in the duet, Madeline begins to fall in love with him in spite of her ongoing relationship with fellow musician Bill.

At Miles’s request, Edgar composes a piece of music for Madeline. When their mutual love becomes evident, however, Edgar responds with jealousy, canceling Miles’s credit cards and registering him as an “armed and dangerous” criminal. Upon discovering this humiliation, Miles and Edgar have a confrontation, leading to Miles shoving the computer and trying to unplug it, getting an electric shock. Then the computer retaliates in a Pac-Man like game by harassing him with household electronics.


Eventually, Edgar accepts Madeline and Miles’s love for each other, and appears to commit suicide by sending a large electric current through his acoustic coupler, around the world, and back to himself just after he and Miles make amends.

Later as Madeline and Miles go on vacation together, Edgar’s voice is heard on the radio dedicating a song to “the ones I love” – “Together in Electric Dreams”. The credits are interspersed with scenes of the song being heard all over California, including a radio station trying to shut it off, declaring that they do not know where the signal is coming from.

Steve Barron had made over 100 music videos and routinely sent them to his mother for comment. She particularly liked one he did for Haysi Fantayzee; she was doing continuity on Yentl, co-produced by Rusty Lemorande and showed it to him. Lemorande had finished his own script for Electric Dreams and was looking for a director; he offered Barron the job. Barron took the script to Virgin Films, and it agreed to finance within four days. The film was presold to MGM/UA who brought rights for the U.S., Canada, Japan and South East Asia. Two months after Virgin agreed to make the movie, filming began in San Francisco. There was also studio work done in London at Twickenham Studios.



Was Electric Dreams the first feature you were offered?
Steve Barron: No, I was offered a few other features, and quite a few of them were music orientated-like Flashdance II. Then Electric Dreams came along which was a much classier script. Did you have a burning ambition to direct a feature before you had your chance with Electric Dreams? I didn’t have any ambition to direct a feature. I only started directing promos when nobody was around to direct a rock video which had come along for Limelight, which my sister and I had just started. That’s how I started directing promos, and when Electric Dreams came along, I thought it was obviously time I should do a feature, especially as was getting all these offers to direct. But it never came to a point when I said I’m tired of rock videos. So when Electric Dreams came along, I realised it was something I wanted to do just to prove l could do it. If I hadn’t accepted it, I would never have known if I could have worked for that concentrated period of time. But I do want to continue making videos, for I find I’ve learned a lot from the feature and the video scripts I’m now writing are probably going to have more story-line.

What’s MGM/UA’s campaign in America for Electric Dreams? I hear they’re shoving it out on the bottom half of a double bill.
Steve Barron: They put it out as a trial release without the album which was a bit silly, they should have waited for the album! MGM should have waited for a number of things – the singles to start, the album to be out. No-one had heard one single track on any radio station when the film came out. It was always scheduled for that date, there was a problem with the album so the album was going to be put back, and it was going to go out four weeks after the film’s release, but instead of delaying the film, there was a decision taken of the availability of cinemas because a lot of cinemas wanted it, and they dangled the carrot of 920 cinemas – “here’s an opening’, and you don’t get many openings like that! And there are so many tracks on the album that are good single tracks.

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What did YOU think of the final version of Electric Dreams?
Steve Barron: I’m pleased with it but it’s a bit difficult to know. You get so close to working with something after working on it for a year. You’re not sure in the end. Your emotions run to different things in the film to what your public probably does on first time seeing, because you’re eventually seeing the film 150/200 times, and no member of the public would ever see it that many times!

How did you work with Rusty Lemorande in his producer capacity? Was he on the set all the time?
Steve Barron: Yes, he was, he was around! He’s a producer/writer so he’s very involved in his own script. He doesn’t just hand it over and let you get on with it. He very much wants to be part of it.

Why did you shoot separate videos to help promote Electric Dreams rather than using actual footage from the film?
Steve Barron: One can do it – release actual excerpts from the film – but I don’t like that when they do that from a film, when you see cut together footage from the film. You want to see a new concept and we’re able to do all the videos from the film as little satellite storylines.

Was it a coincidence that you and your mother (Zelda Barron) were making your feature directorial debuts at the same time? (Zelda directed Secret Places, part financed by Virgin).
Steve Barron: It was really. After Virgin had agreed to “go” with her project, my sister and I went to a meeting with Richard Branson. Two days earlier I’d read Electric Dreams and told Richard what a fabulous idea it was.

Rusty Lemorande must be very grateful to you.
Steve Barron: A lot of things then followed. Richard agreed to do it but Rusty got together the whole deal with MGM which helped, because it got most of its money back. (Electric Dreams’ budget was $7 million.)

What response have you had since Electric Dreams’ release?
Steve Barron: Dino de Laurentiis wanted me to do a picture for him starting immediately. It wasn’t my sort of thing, a Stephen King script.

Why isn’t it your sort of film?
Steve Barron: It was a lot of blood and gore, and it’s not the sort of film I wanted to spend a year on. I don’t think I could do a horror film, not for a while anyway. I don’t get any enjoyment out of going to the cinema and jumping out of my seat so I can’t then translate that to other people.

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I always thought “Madeline Robistat” was the weirdest last name. I don’t know why she had such a weird name. Was it German? I don’t know! Well, that was the beginning of everything… or, at least, it was my first leading role. And I was very spoiled on that movie, because it was such a lovefest that I now believe that every movie should be like that. And I’ve tried to maintain that, and I’ve tried to make every movie I work on the most fun. I want every movie to be like a big family, and I want every movie to be a great adventure. And for the most part, I’ve succeeded at that. We started out in San Francisco, and I had a mad, crazy crush on Lenny Von Dohlen. God, we were so… we were head-over-heels for each other. Nothing happened, and at this point, I admit it: I wanted it to happen. But we both had other people in our lives. We were very young, so our pining for each other was great for the movie. And I’m still friends with Lenny to this day. I just had dinner with him about a month ago. He’s still one of my best friends. We never left each other’s lives. That’s how important the beginning of that relationship was. – Virginia Madsen

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Electric Dreams (1984) Soundtrack/Score
Music by Giorgio Moroder Jeff Lynne

01.Electric Dreams P.P. Arnold
02.Karma Chameleon Culture Club
03.Now You’re Mine Helen Terry
04.Johnny Too Bad UB40
05.The Duel Giorgio Moroder
06.You Can’t Hurry Love Phil Collins
07.Love Is Love Culture Club
08.The Dream Culture Club
09.Let It Run Jeff Lynne
10.Do You Really Want To Hurt Me Culture Club
11.Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry Heaven 17
12.Chase Runner Heaven 17
13.Madeline’s Theme Giorgio Moroder
14.Together In Electric Dreams Giorgio Moroder with Phil Oakey

Steve Barron

Larry DeWaay
Rusty Lemorande
Richard Branson

Rusty Lemorande

Lenny Von Dohlen as Miles (Moles) Harding
Virginia Madsen as Madeline Robistat
Maxwell Caulfield as Bill
Bud Cort as Voice of Edgar
Don Fellows as Mr. Ryley
Miriam Margolyes as Ticket girl
Giorgio Moroder as Record producer
Koo Stark as Girl in Soap Opera

Starburst Magazine 077

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