In 1999, a war between the Pan-American Confederacy and the Eurac Monarchy (comprising Europe, Africa, and Asia) resulted in a nuclear holocaust. 20 years later, radiation has rendered all remaining humans sterile, and the victorious Euracs have occupied Manhattan and hunt survivors for genetic experiments.
After winning a motorized deathmatch in Nevada, an ex-Confederate soldier named Parsifal is abducted and taken to the Confederacy’s secret base in Alaska. The President of the Confederacy tells him there is a fertile woman somewhere in New York City. He offers Parsifal a place on a Confederate rocketship bound for Alpha Centauri if he can infiltrate the city and retrieve her; otherwise, he will be killed. When Parsifal proposes sending in a cyborg instead, the President reveals the Confederacy eliminated all its cyborgs.
Parsifal is accompanied by two Confederate agents, Bronx and Ratchet. After entering Manhattan through the sewers, they are attacked by the Harlem Hunters, a street gang. They escape and come upon the Needle People, a group of scavengers led by the Rat Eater King, preparing to kill a dwarf named Shorty. Parsifal intervenes, and the three agents are captured. Eurac troops raid the scavengers’ hideout and bring Parsifal, Bronx, and Ratchet to their base along with a scavenger girl, Giara.
Parsifal escapes and rescues Bronx and Giara. Bronx stays behind and is killed, while Parsifal and Giara are saved by Ratchet. The three escape into the sewers and find refuge in a subterranean dwarf colony with Shorty, who claims to know the location of the fertile woman. The colony is attacked by Euracs using sonic weapons, and Parsifal, Giara, Ratchet, and Shorty flee. They are saved by a group of ape-like mutants, led by Big Ape. When Parsifal explains their mission, Big Ape reveals he is also fertile. That night, Parsifal protects Giara from one of Big Ape’s mutants, and they have sex.
Shorty leads them to an underground vault, where they find a deceased professor and a life support chamber containing Melissa, the professor’s daughter, who entered hibernation before the bombs fell and thus remained fertile. They also find a station wagon to escape through the Lincoln Tunnel. Big Ape and Giara stay with Melissa while Shorty, Parsifal, and Ratchet leave to find armor plating for the car. Big Ape then knocks Giara unconscious and impregnates Melissa.
At a junkyard, Shorty distracts the Euracs and sacrifices himself to buy Parsifal and Ratchet time to salvage. They return, collect Melissa, and drive through a cave wall into the tunnel. Parsifal manages to navigate the armored car past several minefields and barricades to freedom, but Big Ape is killed by a laser trap. While driving through the desert to their rendezvous, Parsifal deduces that Ratchet is actually a cyborg. Ratchet attacks him and stabs Giara before Parsifal kills him. Giara begs Parsifal ensure humanity’s survival as she dies in his arms.
Back at the Confederacy’s headquarters, the President reveals that he is terminally ill, and gives Parsifal his place on the rocketship, which is revealed to be the base itself. As the ship blasts off, Parsifal watches Melissa finally awaken.
Director Sergio Martino
You adopted an English pseudonym (Martin Dolman), and directed 2019: After the Fall of New York, an Escape from New York knockoff.
Sergio Martino: That’s a movie Quentin Tarantino likes a lot! I added some original ideas to that, like the romantic subplot about the survivors of a nuclear catastrophe seeking the last fertile woman on Earth. I showed a destroyed New York, and years later, when I watched the tragic events of September 11 on TV, my mind immediately went back to those images. It was another change of genre for me, and an enthusiastic one, and the budget we had was comparatively high: $1 million allowed us to build some great sets. Obviously the movie was deeply inspired by Escape from New York, but I also tried to recreate the atmosphere from Blade Runner.
At that time, distributors believed that science fiction movies could not take place in Italy, because it wasn’t a credible location! Therefore, Italian directors weren’t considered suitable for them, so some of my colleagues and I began to use pseudonyms. An American name also suggested that a picture could be a sequel made by the same people who did the original. In France, 2019 had great success, probably because the audience thought it was an American film. Producer Fulvio Lucisano saw it in Paris and wondered who the hell Martin Dolman was; when he realized it was me, he was very surprised and called me, and offered me some television projects to direct, which I did.
About the budgets of your movies, Michael Sopkiw claims that with his stamp of main actor of 2019, After the Fall of New York , he could afford a motorcycle used, but not full of gas?
Sergio Martino: This is surely true. But Michael Sopkiw was an unknown actor that I took because he matched the character. If I had taken a better known actor, say Franco Nero, it would have cost me twenty times more. I preferred to give a chance to a beginner, which allowed me to reinvest in the film the money that would have cost me a confirmed actor. Actors beginning in the encore were able to make themselves known to the public and evolve to a status of stars: Giuliano Gemma, Franco Nero … To start in a film like mine was for an actor like that a springboard to do something else, even being poorly paid at the beginning.
Michael Sopkiw Profile/Interview
Connecticut-born Michael Sopkiw first went to Milan, Italy, to work on his modeling portfolio. Within a relatively short period of time, he landed a starring role in the futuristic action movie After the Fall of New York and secured a deal to make three more pictures, an experience that propelled him on a movie-making adventure that he now shares with other American actors like Steve Reeves and Clint Eastwood who also got their careers rolling in Italian action films.
For Sopkiw (pronounced “‘Sopkee”), acting was merely a fantasy at the back of his mind that, for many years, he never took seriously. When he was appearing in school plays, he says, “I never thought you could do this sort of thing seriously. I thought it was chosen people who became stars.” Once out of school, he worked for six years at sea as a captain delivering new yachts and as a merchant seaman. For a year he then went to school to study mechanical engineering, but he couldn’t convince himself that this should be his career. “So I did what I thought I should be doing,” he recalls. “I came to New York to study acting.”
He did some modeling to make ends meet and was then advised that he could establish himself more easily as a model by going to Italy where a new face has more chance of being discovered. While there, Sopkiw would take long weekends to go to Rome, Florence and Munich where he would pursue acting work. Sopkiw looks like a cross between a young Clint Eastwood and fellow Spaghetti Western star Terence Hill; it was perhaps inevitable that some Italian producer would snatch him up for an action picture. After the Fall of New York turned out to be that picture.
In the grand Spaghetti Western tradition, Sopkiw plays a tight-lipped, unshaven loner who has to wipe out enemies at every turn. The enemies in this case happen to be a wide assortment of mutants, rat-eating wackos and post-apocalypse stormtroopers in the year 2019 who stand in Sopkiw’s way as he infiltrates the jungles of devastated New York City to find the last fertile woman on earth.
Sopkiw says that the experience of taking the lead in this picture was “a little overwhelming at first. A kind of instant minor stardom. I can remember the first day I walked into the studio. You go through the gates set in these big concrete walls, and inside there’s one set after another, one town after another, each one is a different world. And then I went up to my dressing room and there it was-with my name on it. It really felt great. While I was getting dressed, I opened up my window and there were eight or 10 guys from the movie down below, dressed up like Darth Vader, all on white horses. And I said, ‘Jesus! I think I’m where I like to be.'”
The role of the hero in After the Fall of New York obviously required a great deal of stunt fighting, a task that the athletic Sopkiw handles very well. He likes to do his fighting and stunts, but finds that sometimes the production methods in Italian films can be a bit dismaying. As he puts it, “‘You’re allowed to do a lot of stuff in these Italian films that might not be conducive to a healthy life. You see on television that, in the States, they use these huge air bags to cushion long falls. Well, in this film I did over there called Blastfighter (1984), they had a jump for me to do, a good 12 to 15 foot leap, into what was supposed to be the river. The camera is shooting from below and I’m up on this mock-up of a bridge. But what am I jumping into? About a dozen, huge cardboard boxes with two bed cushions over them. That’s their air bag. And you say, ‘Well, do I really want to do this?’ But it turned out all right after all. I like to do that sort of stuff: your heart jumps up into your throat; it’s like the first time you jump off a high-diving board when you’re a kid.”
Other idiosyncrasies of being an American in an Italian production have to do with the matter of language. Italian films of this kind are geared not for the home audience but for the English-speaking markets of the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia. Regardless of nationality, all actors are expected to speak English while shooting. The one exception in After the Fall of New York was the Italian actor playing the midget who assists the hero. “He didn’t speak any English,” says Sopkiw. “All he knew how to say in English was ‘Gimme money.’ So when I’d be doing a dialogue scene with him, he’d be giving me lines in Italian and I’d be hitting him back with lines in English. Fortunately, I could understand the Italian pretty well at that point. But that wasn’t even so bad. What was much more disconcerting,” he adds with a laugh, “was when someone was speaking in broken English, with an accent that you couldn’t believe. You know, things would strike you funny, but you couldn’t smile. I wasn’t exactly playing a guy who was cracking smiles all the time.”
You did your first movie in 1983, After the fall of New York, and your last one in 1985. Just four movies in a brief 3-year period. How did you start acting in these movies?
Michael Sopkiw: Well, back in the ’70’s, I took up sailing yachts and later ships for about 7 years after a year of college in Miami. To make a long story shorter, I ended up in our Federal Correctional Institutes (seems my cargo of marijuana was frowned upon by the Drug Enforcement Agency) for 1 year of a 2 1/2 year sentence. When I got out in late ’78 or ’79 I wanted to go back to sea but my parole terms didn’t allow for that kind or freedom. So I had to choose a new career and always fantasized (like most people I’m sure) about being an actor. I knew someone who was connected in New York somewhat so I moved to the city to start studying acting. To make ends meet, modeling was suggested to me since I’d never been a waiter or had any city experience of any kind, so I had some photos taken, went to the Ford Modeling Agency, and they signed me up.
The tricky part was I was sent to Europe to put a portfolio together but my parole officer wouldn’t let me go overseas for very long. So I went back and forth a lot studying with a guy named Warren Robertson in NY while I was home. Through an agent in Firenze, I was introduced in Rome to Sergio Martino and the Nuova Dania crew and screen tested for After the Fall.
I´ve heard rumors you´ve been an model before these movie, maybe also after, is that true? And if so, what kind of modeling was it?
Michael Sopkiw: Nothing too exciting, unless standing around or walking down a runway in nice clothes gets you going. The travel was great though and I got to go to places like Mauritius and Tunisia with some very beautiful and mostly very nice young ladies. That’s how I met Eva Anderson from Uddavalla and ended up in Sweden on a couple of vacations with her family. I also fell in love with her grandfather’s wooden fishing boat which was named Inga. Anyway, once I got going with these films, I didn’t model much anymore. I did make several commercials in NY but I don’t remember exactly where they fell chronologically.
The best of your films is undoubtedly 2019: After the fall of New York, your first one. It’s been said to be practically a rip off on Escape from New York. How did you get that role?
Michael Sopkiw: I’m glad you liked it. I’m not sure it was supposed to be a comedy but at least that turns out to be a redeeming feature. I think I’ve covered how I got the role in my longwinded answer to the previous question.
You played in that movie, against George Eastman (the character Big Ape). How was it working with him?
Michael Sopkiw: I have a hard time calling Big Ape George Eastman, but I guess there’s humor to be found in that as well. His real name is Gigi Montefiori. Working with him was great although a bit straining on the neck muscles. It’s no trick of the camera that makes him appear tall. Gigi is “multo multo simpatico”; an Italian expression I’ve always loved and completely appropriate in this case. He was the most hospitable member of any cast I worked with and I consider him still a good friend. Just off of Piazza Navonna, in Rome, he had a great restaurant which was frequented by all of his Italian film and TV cohorts. I was his guest there several times and will never forget the fabulous food. I always rode a bicycle when in Rome and it really came in handy when trying to park around his restaurant. He drove me out to his beach club on days off and stands tall in my memory yet. A joy to both work and play with. I remember he really liked listening to Hank Williams Jr. cassettes when we filmed Blastfighter down in Georgia though I don’t think he got much into the moonshine that was available.
As written above, After the Fall was allegedly a rip off on Escape from New York. How do you feel about that? Nowadays After the Fall remains a more affluent cult-movie than Escape?
Michael Sopkiw: I think everyone should do his best work or not bother working. We call this genre of “rip offs” exploitation films. Not sexually of course, in this case, but exploiting concepts and ideas that have already been shown to attract interest and therefore money. Generally speaking, I don’t find this a very attractive or noble motivation. If this is the best work these people can do then I thank them for their efforts, thank them for allowing me to be a part of it, and hope they are not just into it for the money. I also hope for them that they can do better in the future.
You seem to be somewhat of an athlete. Did you do your own stunts and fighting-scenes?
Michael Sopkiw: I did many of my own stunts & fight scenes which I enjoy doing very much.How often do you get to be pulled out of the water by a helicopter when you’re not really in trouble or cut another Scuba divers air hose while wrestling underwater with a knife!! This was a dream from my hours of watching Sea Hunt on television as a child. It was great fulfilling some of these fantasies. They never would let me smash any cars though. Oh well!
These films were often made on a very low budget, do you remember how much you got paid for each of them?
Michael Sopkiw: I don’t remember precisely but consider that too personal anyways. I can tell you that I took the entire amount I made at the end of After the Fall and bought a Harley Davidson (used) from some bikers I met at a swap meet in Arizona where we finished the filming. So it was enough for that, but not to buy gas!
Almi Pictures Release and Ratings Issue
For Almi Pictures’s current release, After the fall of New York, Frank Moreno found that the company’s plans to reach an audience had to be changed dramatically due to a combination of two factors: the MPAA ratings board and a premature good review. After the Fall of New York is an action-packed, cartoonish, often nonsensical, and consistently entertaining Italian film about the search for the single fertile woman left in a post-holocaust world. The movie was set to open in Los Angeles this past January, with splashy exploitation poster art, under the assumption that the film would receive an R rating without the need for any cuts. The MPAA then gave the film an X, and the Los Angeles engagements had to be cancelled. While Almi haggled with the ratings board over what cuts had to be made to secure the R, Los Angeles Times reviewer Kevin Thomas went ahead and ran his review, unaware that the film was no longer scheduled to open at that time. Thomas praised the movie as an enjoyable “cartoon apocalypse,” and Almi reevaluated its campaign.
“At the same time,” says Moreno, “I had gotten a lot of negative feedback from the film community on the advertising approach that we had been taking. So we looked at it again and decided that they were right and that our approach was wrong. No one here feels like they wrote the book. We feel we can learn from other people. I personally take responsibility for the mistake that was made in the original approach to the marketing of After the Fall of New York. I made a mistake. I don’t think it’s wrong to make mistakes. I think it’s wrong not to try to improve upon things. I think that the new approach that makes use of an excerpt from the Thomas review is much better for the film, which is a Mad Max sort of picture with some form of comedic appeal to it. That sort of look, we feel, will attract a larger audience.”
As for the cuts that had to be made to warrant an R rating for After the Fall of New York, Moreno has some cogent comments: “You can be sure that After the Fall of New York would have been an R without a cut if it had been distributed by a major. The MPAA objected to a scene in the picture in which a man has a spike going through the back and coming out his front. Now, I was watching television the other day and saw a Clint Eastwood film (Sudden Impact) in which a man falls from a great height and lands on a wooden unicorn and the horn goes right through him and the camera just sits there looking, lingering on it. That was an R film. Ours was a one-second cutaway. Can you imagine, in order to satisfy them, we had to take six seconds out of the picture.
“The gentleman who represented the MPAA at the appeal talked about the fact that he was a parent, and that the other members of the MPAA reviewed the film and gave it an X rating because, he said, ‘We’re parents.’ Where were these parents at the MPAA when they gave Gremlins a PG? Where were these concerned citizens when Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom got its rating? This only happens with independents. I didn’t allow my children to see Gremlins. They would have had nightmares. I wouldn’t mind them seeing After the Fall of New York. It’s a comic strip. No one can look at it and say that it isn’t.”
Guido & Maurizio De Angelis