The future is always already then, as then is the future, so it isn't written. Some tomorrows are maybe yesterdays' correct prediction and if you're still blind enough to believe man is the axis of his own spinning destiny, consider the wisdom of that hedonistic and empathic era known as the 70s --a scant 40 odd years ago, though it seems like it hasn't even happened yet--when we were much more collectively decadent and forward-thinking (about some things). Now it's a pipe dream wrest from our collective grasp at the first sign of trouble. We had the sexual, spiritual, and psychedelic revolution in the mainstream, but we let it slip through our fingers. Why? Movies. Home video. Cable. The proliferation of a low res saturation that Nigel Kneale predicted in his 1968 BBC mini-series YEAR OF THE SEX OLYMPICS (it predicts THE HUNGER GAMES as well).
In theaters there had been successful 'head trips' like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1969) showing us mankind--high on a big black rectangular slab of LSD sent to us by a highly advanced civilization--ready for his next stage of evolution, one with free love, Evelyn Wood and EST, ESP, and mood rings to go with the Valium and wife-swapping and all night drunken block parties. and DoodleArt for all. In short, a future we felt we were already reaching, aspiring to and achieving all at once.
Underneath all that was another element: how even the future will eventually look outmoded one day, that commercial space flight will be reduced to a few 'idle' commie intellectuals in the Howard Johnson spaceport lounge on ridiculously modular furniture. But we felt we could afford to admit our own tacky tendency to grow complacent and glazed-eyed without regular visits to the obsidian obelisk.
|(PS - there's a mild spoiler or two on |
PHASE IV within, so you should Netflix this shit up
first if you... well, you know)
Recent retrofuturist head trips like SPACE STATION 76 (2014) and BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010 -covered here), provide the full measure of timeless nostalgia for these times un-past, these nearly-fulfilled ambitions. Enhanced by a subgenre of electronic-analog music spearheaded by Boards of Canada and fans of 70s-80s horror film music (see below), and great macabre sites like The Scarfolk Council, it's a good time to be missing the 70s and its less oppressive, more tactile future.
I know that disqualifies me from a genuine review, so why did I mention it? The future, man. I'll see the rest one day, when I'm less picky about my retrofuturist serio-rom-coms. It does inevitably happen; there is a season, burn burn burn. I know because I've peeked/peaked. Meanwhile, to gratify the retrofuturist jones, I put back on a film I've already seen twice on Netflix Streaming and which just gets better every time, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)
RAINBOW is a mad druggie psychologist's 70s dream of a geodesic dome paradise for people who are ready to leave petty moral strife behind even if it means a cold clinical red geodome prison instead, and it improves with repeat viewing; in a flashback to 1966, the lead character, a drugged-out shrink, takes some powerful liquid LSD, is reborn, eats his mother or... something. Back to the mid-80s, and the rich scientist who set it all up is a shattered junky, his star child daughter kept under protective glass to contain her ability to project thoughts and melt people's brains and the drugged-out shrink delights in tormenting her and talking super slowly, each word savored as it spirals out in gorgeous liquid curvature. (more here).
|BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW|
But these things are immaterial to the features and the music, and the way futuristic synthesizers, so creepy and great especially in horror and science fiction films of the late 70s-early 80s, have galavanized a whole genre of music, so time specific that a certain generational swath remains hypnotized with a giddily ominous rapturous mix of sadness, dread, and delight --the future as imagined in the past-- literally out of time, ultra-dimensional, soaring backwards and winding up ahead of itself.
England made Scarfolk; Scotland made Boards of Canada; and Canada made RAINBOW. And what did we make? Goddamned half-baked overthought de-clawed SPACE STATION 76. Jeeziss. We got to get it together / now (in service of then).
Luckily, los Estados Unidos rules the past. We gave the world SOYLENT GREEN, SILENT RUNNING, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES and LOGAN'S RUN, and--now on Netflix streaming-- PHASE IV (1974), which used to come skittering through the usual after-school creature features on local TV, and had me thinking hyper-intelligent ants besieging a geophasic dome in the middle of the desert sounded pretty cool. But these ants aren't Bert I. Gordon-style, like EMPIRE OF THE ANTS or FOOD OF THE GODS. They're not giant (not then at least, on our 70s TVs), and for most of the time we barely see them interact with the humans at all except through basic shapes related via fax machine, until said humans are dead or 'right where the ants want 'em in a giant hole. In short, it was too intellectual for my sugar-addled attention span at the time. The up close shots of ants were okay, but I saw tons of insects as a kid, both in school on nature documentaries and living across the street from a thriving park where every upturned rock delivered unto us kids a vast eye full of struggling worms, pill bugs, centipedes, and spiders. I even had a bug collection, pinned on a cork board, slowly crumbling onto my desk. It was something we weren't impressed by as easily as stoned adults might later be. Besides, most kids, small and powerless in a strange world of giants, come to depend on tormenting, killing, or capturing, or just cuddling with smaller creatures to feel any sort of power, as the lead scientist played by Nigel Davenport (below) demonstrates. We could understand the big ones eating us, but not the little ones outsmarting us. That was just too much to bear.
Now though, on the widescreen HD TV, the close-ups look like alien monsters, and I've put away childish things, taken them back out again, and now left them at some party I lost the address and anyway am too embarrassed to retrace my steps and ask around. I revisited that Lansdale park a few years ago and the creek was dried up, the trees dying, the park was now just a stretch of grass with a softball diamond. Bugs got zero cachet for me, and reality is parched and empty while the screen explodes with HD color. And PHASE IV awaits rediscovery on Netflix.
Davenport plays an entomologist whose detected disturbing signs that all the different kinds of ants are working together, and that their natural enemies are all conveniently and mysteriously disappearing in a remote stretch of Arizona. With a big grant he sets off to build a geophasic research station and weapon lab to find out what's going on and (hopefully) destroy the ants before they wipe out mankind, recruiting a games-and-theory code breaker from MIT (Michael Murphy) to help him communicate with the collective hive ant intelligence.
The film actually moves very fast, even truncated, like a Reader's Digest abridged novel (popular at the time), moving through a cycle of ideas and not at all the molasses drip of meaningless I remembered. It helps to have taken some drugs, I guess, in the interim, and so be able to better understand the psychedelic journey of the end, where the couple come together as the messengers of a new insect alien intelligence-commandeered Earth, one no doubt infinitely better managed. In short, 2001: An Ant Farm Odyssey
Theory of film recollection:
The more in depth we remember a film scene, i.e. writing about it, analyzing it, getting a thrill from remembering it in great depth, the longer and more powerful the scene becomes, and so how we remember it stretches its meaning until it takes the form of myth. This lasts until we see the film again and are forced to either presume it's been edited, somehow changed with time, or else we were 'on' something at the time and aren't now. The film's presentation might be different - certainly the widescreen and HD makes a huge difference over the old square. But we're the ones who have changed, and memories have accrued around initial impressions until what's there isn't there anymore; it's covered up with little neuron ant eggs.
That doesn't mean the memories are false, merely that time is.
Directed by Saul Bass, PHASE IV was his only film, and though he's remembered for his ingenious credit sequences (for Hitchcock films particularly), he certainly acquits himself well. The script is veery intelligent, of course each ant in itself isn't brilliant, but the hive mind is, and the hive mind is a real thing, obviously, so it's tough to not consider the difficulty in combating a non-localized intelligence, and since we genuinely can't easily understand what they're up to, we're forced to consider them as an entire new form of intellect, genuinely superior to ours because they're so self-sacrificing, so devoted to the whole. After Davenport sprays the ants with a yellow poison, for example, they die en masse, but then we see ants dying as they drag a chunk of the toxin through a long ant tunnel and into the queen's chamber, where she eats some of it and immediately gives birth to an array of immune eggs. Humans simply can't evolve that fast, not sober, not after AIDS and the Reagan 80s brought us into crash mode.
The big thing people mention when they argue against evolution today is 'how come animals haven't learned to talk by now," and they miss the point - mankind's ability to talk is not a sign of evolution, any more than the plague is. Language is a soul-killing virus that slowly strangles our five sense in favor of some abstract symbology, while at the same time our natural evolution has slowed. Our dogs and cats look at us like we're crazy but they love us beyond what we're capable of grasping --they see when we're really troubled and comfort us without a word. Their senses are superior, they get cuter all the time; they have to, that's evolution. By which I mean, if we were animals we would have long ago adapted to our natural world rather than destroying it so it can conform to us. Animals see what language and abstract thinking have done to us and they say 'no thanks.' Maybe our evolution will involve curing ourselves of the curse of abstract thinking and language, and we'll merge once more into the cosmic egg, fuse our intelligence to that of our Sky Mother, Shakti Kali Durga, the one without a second. There she is, waiting for us to swim once more into her light tunnel womb towards full transfiguration. And animals will all be all waiting to welcome us when we return, saying "hey man, you finally evolved!"
The problem with us ever actually evolving, of course, is that survival of the fittest is no longer a human luxury, quite the contrary - people who by any stretch of the imagination could never feed themselves even for a day are allowed to continue to eat and crap and consume all the finest things in life, and to procreate in billions far more than the people too smart to procreate at all... this is actually the reverse of evolution, the 'idiocracy' of Mike Judge. And if someone doesn't spray our colony soon, we're going to devour this entire jungle, then turn on ourselves, 'til all that's left is one pissed off queen and a consort set, stowing away on the next star-powered INTERSTELLAR craft out of here. Count me in.
... to frickin' throw eggs at it!
Further 70s "learning" -