Archives in the Movies: Blade
It was brought to my attention that the Marvel/Sony partnership that refuses to die put out a movie about a man bitten by vampire bats who then becomes some kind of Bat-Man or Man-Bat, if you will? Wait, no, I'm being told he's called Morbius, the Living Vampire and he's played by that dude that played the Edgiest™ Joker ever. Huh. I also heard the movie didn't do very well so...
Let's talk about that other Living Vampire from Marvel, the Daywalker himself, Blade! Well, we're actually going to talk about Pearl, the vampire records keeper from the 1998 movie, but here's some background on Blade anyway!
Blade first appeared in Marvel comics in 1973's The Tomb of Dracula #10, written by Marv Wolfman and pencils by Gene Colan, though he was part of an ensemble cast. Coincidentally, Blade was an adversary of the aforementioned Morbius a year later. The character didn't get a solo story until Vampire Tales #8 in 1974 with subsequent tales added in other books by Wolfman with the help of Chris Claremont and penciler-inkers Tony DeZuniga and Rico Rival. It wasn't until the early 1990s that Blade finally got a solo title and has been a staple of the Marvel canon since.
The 1998 movie "adaptation" was directed by Stephen Norrington from a script by David S. Goyer starring Wesley Snipes as the titular character. The story shows some of Blade's backstory, specifically his pregnant mother attacked and bitten by a vampire that triggered her labor prematurely and created the human-vampire hybrid named Eric Cross Brooks - Blade for short. Cut to 30 years later and Blade is a badass vampire hunter who occasionally does the right thing, but is mostly content to grunt his way through human interactions so he can get to killing vampires with a combination gun-katana maneuver. Blade finds himself smack dab in the middle of a vampiric terf war that doubles for a world ending apocalypse as Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) attempts to awaken the blood god La Magra.
Point of Order: La Magra translates to "lean" in English, which is used as a descriptor for meat. So, I can see this as a way for a vampiric god to refer to their food source, but why would they take on the moniker? And while there was an unnamed blood god in the comics, I assume whoever named La Magra (probably Goyer) didn't care about the actual translation and thought it sounded cool. But c'mon, Sangre is right there and it actually means blood! My Spanish isn't even that good and I know that!
Anywho, for the purposes of this article, you also need to know that in the film Blade saves a hematologist, Dr. Karen Jenson (N'Bushe Wright) who's bitten by a vampire and is considered "marked." Later, Blade rescues Karen again from a vampire familiar and obtains information about an archive that contains pages from the vampire bible. Because sure, why not! The archive happens to be underneath one of Frost's club venues and is overseen by Pearl (Eric Edwards), a fat bedridden records keeper.
Below you'll find a video for the scene but a CW and TW for fatphobia and torture.
So, yeah, this scene is a bit rough, but not all archivists and records managers can be the good guys. The thing about Pearl is he's just a means to an end where the story is concerned, which is fine. Not every character is a protagonist. Sometimes you're just background fodder and scene dressing. Pearl, in that sense, exists to be visually disgusting to Blade, Karen, and the audience, and to be tortured for information. None of that has anything to do with their work as a records keeper, however, but it does speak to the extent of their value to Frost that he's fine with Pearl's inevitable demise. He even encourages him to die with some dignity.
As someone who was recently discarded by their place of employment, that hits a lot harder now. Pearl was just doing their job, maintaining the vast vampire archive of servers in the basement of Frost's club, an archive that contains a lot of valuable information, I assume, and what does Frost do when a loyal follower is in danger? Nothing. He bounces without even a "thank you for your service" and lets Pearl suffer for his loyalty. Okay, sure, according to the director, Pearl became fat because he eats the hearts of infants and children, but...no, there's really no coming back from that. Survival or not, that's just messed up. But my point about worker loyalty and apathetic institutions still stands!
This is also one of a handful of standout scenes in the movie primarily because of Pearl's presence. In an interview celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the film's release, Eric Edwards remarked that, while he had a good time making the film, his perception of himself as Pearl made him feel disgusting and prompted him to lose weight.
The Big Bad Wolf: Did everyone share a laugh the first time they saw you as "Pearl"?
Eric Edwards: People were grossed out! I have such a love hate with that kind of character. I was such an overweight guy, that was my perception of myself. After seeing that I lost so much weight. I love the movie. It is such a great movie that had a huge impact. The actual process of it I felt like "Man, I'm fat. Waah, waah!" (laughs)
It was really a blast though.
It's also worth noting that the prosthetic outfit (that took five hours to put on) covered not just Edwards but also two puppeteers manning Pearl's arms.
There is something sinister in the way Pearl is depicted within the capacity of their role of a records keeper. Their weight and the fact that they're immobile, surrounded by monitors and servers while wearing a headset implies how Norrington and more specifically Goyer viewed the image of IT specialists and information management. This is still the mid-to-late 90s, so the rise of nerd culture had yet to occur and the imagery of geeks and nerds lived in this stereotype, which Goyer seemingly codified as an example of monstrosity. Ironically, it would be the loyalty of said geeks and nerds to a movie franchise like Blade that would later lead to the nerd culture uprising and, eventually, a new Blade movie starring Mahershala Ali.
Obviously I don't know David S. Goyer and Stephen Norrington, but the visual language of the film, prompted by the writing, says a lot in Pearl's one and only scene. And while it may not have been intentional, Pearl embodies some very familiar stereotypes.
But then he gets burnt to a crisp so we no longer have to think about the moral quandaries of Pearl's existence and the movie can resume! Who says Hollywood doesn't offer any concrete answers to real world problems?
And for the record, this is my Morbius!