03 August 2016

New Maps of Purgatory

Archival post: First published at ...And What 
Will Be Left of Them?, August 2011

A partial, off-the-cuff survey of middling 'Seventies science fiction films, in no particular order...

Logan's Run (1976)

We've seen the future and it's a shopping mall in Dallas, Texas. And yeah yeah -- it's better to burn up than to fade away. Effectively what we have here is the previous decade's generational war slogan of "Never trust anyone over thirty" extrapolated in to an extreme, resulting in the dystopic dénouement of the premise for Wild in the Streets.

Yet how humbling, how Romantically fatalistic -- in this, the year of the American bicentennial -- to see the nation's capitol as ruins, strewn with vines and all sorts of flora, patinaed by the elements to which they've returned. And Sir Peter Ustinov's wrinkles are a marvel to behold and to touch; the very embodiment of nature itself, if not of the authority and experience so thoughtlessly discarded by the cult of youth.

But nevermind the ageism angle, because Richard Pryor has the last word: "Looks like white people aren't counting on us being around."

Rollerball (1975)

The excesses of empire, sans vomitoriums. Key concept: Bread and blood circuses (by way of a popular bloodsport). Considered by some to be very thematically profound and excessively violent at the time, but funny how relative such things are rendered within a few years. What it gets wrong about the future: International corporation have abolished war, poverty, hunger, disease, and all other curses on humanity. And that the year 2018 will see that early '70s-style leisure-wear and manly chest hair will never go out of fashion. And that the cradle of futuristic architecture (via shooting locations) will look like Munich. What it kinda gets right about the future: The black-white ratio of cast members/Houston rollerball team kinda-sorta suggests what the future demographics of Houston, TX will be like.

As far as it's "social critique" angle in concerned: The thing as a whole is tedious, hazily simplistic,  often ludicrous, and a waste of time even as limited-options drunk-watch. Massively upstaged by Death Race 2000; which, as irony would have it, came out the same year.

Westworld (1973)

The excesses of empire, alternate take; but perhaps this with vomitoriums (since the robot-populated adult amusement park had an Ancient Rome division). One of the advantages of this empire being that -- artificially, and merely for the sake of leisure -- one can colonize the past. Key concept: Hostile objects.

Phase IV (1974)

Effectively this borrows a premise that was put forth some years earlier in 2001: A Space Odyssey, that the human race is overdue to make an developmental leap, and that it need help from an outside party -- of extraterrestrial origin -- in order to take that next step in its evolution. And as in 2001, it puts that thesis across in a confusingly oblique way.

Exactly what the nature of this impasse might be, who can tell? But noted that the mathematician believes that everything can be quantified in numbers, and the ants -- in their own way -- prove him correct by demonstrating the power of collectivity. But don't look to a movie that pilfers much of its "action" from a nature documentary for any sort of clarity or coherence.

Silent Running (1972)

In which Deep Ecology meets deep space. With all plant life on earth being choked off by (we're to assume) pollution, Freeman Lowell would sooner kill a man than a tree. This of course is bound to stretch the borders of pathos for most viewers, as much as the plot stretches those of scientific plausibility. For starters: The spaceship survives a passage through the rings of Saturn with all but the most minor of damage. Which is ridiculous enough to start with, exponentially moreso when you note that the spacecraft bears the American Airlines logo.

Day of the Dolphin (1973)

Directed by Mike Nichols, directly following the warm press he'd received for Catch 22 and Carnal Knowledge. The only interesting thing is about this film is that Nichols took the project after (reputedly) Roman Polanski was slated to helm the project. But Polanski, who was dealing with the aftermath of Sharon Tate and his unborn child's murder at the hands of the Manson clan, decided that making a violent screen adaptation of Macbeth was more suited to his state of mind at the time. Discuss.

The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

With which the director, having missed out on a pile by turning down the first film in order to make Zardoz, doubles back and tries to recoup his losses by agreeing to tackle the sequel. Should we be surprised to learn that the forces of the Prince of Darkness directly link back to the heathen hordes of the "Dark Continent"? Or should we be more surprised that, in a supposedly more enlightened age, such a plot twist was expected to go uncontested? No matter. The result was universally ranked as one of the decade's worst films. Still, between its gloriously unenlightened post-colonial confusion, its jumble of popular paranormal phenomena, and its bizarre efforts at glamorizing its pubescent female lead, it's also one of decade's most enjoyably incoherent movies.

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