IAH Used Democracy and Zombies to Pick Films
I had the opportunity to ask IAH Director Michael Bérubé how and why the Institute for the Arts and Humanities chose the films for the upcoming “Bad Futures” Festival. The explanation involved voting, polite discourse, and zombie death matches.
I’ve included Bérubé’s explanation for each film’s inclusion. My own cynical comments are also listed, free of charge.
Bérubé: We simply have to open with this one– after all, we couldn’t have the future without Blade Runner. Seriously: this film set the standard for depictions of the near-future cityscape, a standard that lasted (by my count) well over two decades.
Me: Obvious but very, very good choice. You can’t have a science fiction festival without sticking some Dick in there. The film is based on a Philip K. Dick novel. Get your mind out of the gutter.
Bérubé: You may have seen La Jetée without quite realizing it: if you’ve seen Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, which was inspired by this film, then we can send you back into the past in which you will have remembered it.
Me: At 28 minutes long, La Jetée is the longest conflict in French history.
Bérubé: Ray Bradbury’s version of 1984, with Montag as Winston Smith and Captain Beatty as O’Brien, is ultimately more hopeful than Orwell’s: your friends are hypnotized by television, your wife has swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills, and your neighbors are informants. But the good news is that resistance is not futile.
Me: It’s about firemen that set fire to things. I can think of worse puns.
Bérubé: Alfonso Cuarón’s haunting film offers a new take on a very old theme, mother and child; a vivid sense that we need to imagine a future simply in order to have a present; and, for extra added poignancy, Michael Caine as the guy John Lennon would have looked like had he lived to a ripe old age.
Me: An infertility plague? More like an infertility miracle. Am I right, fellas?
Bérubé: Like Blade Runner, Gilliam’s slightly-surreal, corrosive satire of bureaucracy gradually found its way into the underground tubes where Cult Classics are incubated– and, thus, to this very festival.
Me: Yo dawg, I heard you like to trip balls, so we put Terry Gilliam in your sci-fi so you can weird while you weird.
Bérubé: I admit it, I was against putting this one on the program as a midnight show. So this is what happened: while I was muttering to myself about the days when I was young and popcorn was a nickel a bag and theater ushers wore pillbox hats and called you “sir” as they showed you to your seat in the Bijou, a bunch of my colleagues polled their students. Which film would you most like to see as a Friday midnight show? they asked. The verdict was clear: A Clockwork Orange by a landslide.
Me: Yes, yes, and oh hell yes.
Bérubé: Like A Clockwork Orange, Sleeper seems to have aged pretty well. As a far-future farce, it’s certainly much funnier than Mike Judge’s Idiocracy (2006), which isn’t here for exactly that reason.
Me: I agree with everything he just said.
Bérubé: Like Children of Men, Gattaca depicts–with considerable visual panache–the world we already live in. We have created a world in which the politics of procreation are as tangled as any base-pair sequence of deoxyribonucleic acid. That’s no doubt why, in 2008, Erik Sofge of Popular Mechanics named Gattaca the “most prophetic” science fiction film ever made.
Me: Why waste genetic manipulation on humans when we can have rhinosharks? Science can only produce so many miracles, I suppose.
Bérubé: It is a measure of this film’s audacity–and its success–that the narrative dynamic works, even with the vile, repellent giant insects. Only when you’ve seen the expressions of grief and hope in alien Christopher’s eyes, perhaps, will you realize what this film has done to you. And then you will thank us.
Me: This movie was chosen over Avatar. All is as it should be.
Bérubé: Chances are you’ve never heard of this one. Well, it’s sort of like Oedipus Rex crossed with The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind crossed with Gattaca, and the eerie Samantha Morton evokes Spielberg’s Minority Report.
Me: I have never heard of it. You win this round, sir.
Bérubé: The key to seeing The Matrix again, I think, is simply to forget that you ever subjected yourself to The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revenge: This Time It’s Personal. Now that you’re finally awake, you can see this film with fresh eyes– and appreciate the fact that it isn’t just one of those movies about how we’re living in a dreamworld while the machines enslave us all.
Me: Nothing like watching a Keanu Reeves movie over and over. You really get to see him evolve as an actor.
Bérubé: We figured that everybody already knows Dr. Strangelove. Whereas Fail-Safe, the other great post-Cuban-Missile-Crisis, when-will-I-be-blown-up thriller of 1964, has largely fallen out of the common cultural memory. We’ve decided to try to fix that, not least because this film is easily the more terrifying of the two.
Me: An allegory of the Cold War? Brilliant! So fresh and original.
Bérubé: As with The Matrix, pay no attention to the sequel; this film–making literal the nightmare of waking up into a world in which everyone has disappeared or gone feral–fares much better on its own.
Me: Apparently, this film won in the “zombie playoffs” to be picked for the festival. “Zombie playoffs” may be the most bad-ass thing I’ll ever get to write. Zombie playoffs.
Bérubé: Metropolis might well be called the Blade Runner of its day, displaying a visual style so compelling that it actually influenced the future of design. And the plot? Is there a plot? Oh yes, something about the heart mediating between the hands and the head. A kinder, gentler extraction of surplus value from the wretched of the earth, you know the drill.
Me: My guess is this film won the “How old a film can we get without calling an archeologist?” wager.
Bérubé: We close this film, and this film festival, with an enigmatic planet-sized fetus-like creature staring back atcha. Make of that what you will.
Me: Trent Dilfer won the Super Bowl in 2001. Sometimes, reality is stranger than fiction.
The Cutting Room Floor:
Many Charlton Heston films were passed over due to being “cheesy.” The dystopian theme prevented such gems as Mad Max, The Road, and I am Legend from being used. Shaun of the Dead was defeated in the ZOMBIE PLAYOFFS and WALL*E couldn’t be used due to rights issues. Personally, I would have tried to put Akira in there somewhere. Given the theme, is this the best lineup imaginable? Post your thoughts in the comments.