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? AIDS, and home video. 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) showed us all in the safety of our homes the sleaze and violence we'd been too scared to go to the inner city to see on lurid grindhouse marquees. We saw the dead end of vice, and the sheer number of grisly misogynist titles made us turn away... but not from the screen.
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, EST, ESP, and mood rings to go with the Valium, whiskey sours, wife-swapping at all night drunken block parties, and DoodleArt for all. In short, the 70s offered a future we felt we were already reaching, aspiring to and achieving all at once.
Underneath all that was another element: we sensed 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.
Yeah, and part of our evolution, according to Timothy Leary, is that our collective intelligence will meet and merge with collective intelligences from other kingdoms, like the kingdom of the ants. Today we can't imagine giving up the reins on Mother Earth without a lot CGI overkill and Space Marines "going in hot" ala STARSHIP TROOPERS (with or without fascist irony) and that's because we've yet to let go of the individual mind. We succumb to the lure of fascism (or cults) to reach glimpses of the power in letting our will be subsumed in collective oneness, but if we go too far in that direction someone at the top always turns megalomaniacal, greedy, delusional. The PHASE IV (1974) ants would be six moves ahead of that 'leader,' their collective hive intelligence seeing through our paltry mammalian herd cross-purpose milling. They'd dominate us, total victory, but we wouldn't even be anything as coarse as wiped out. Wiping out itself is a primitive notion that involves a fixed identity, and what is unfixed cannot be threatened. The unfixed never needs to worry about new kingdoms slithering over to visit and mate; they can dilate to encompass galaxies, or shrink in aperture to infinitesimal abstraction.
|Groovy geodesic designs by ants for ants (PHASE IV)|
Liv Tyler looks good though, even with a paralyzed upper lip and a mousy reticence utterly at odds with her character's supposed accomplishments as a pilot (but not at odds in the mind of a bad screenwriter using those trite cliches we mentioned). Compared to mighty feminist vanguards like Christina Applegate in ANCHORMAN or Denise Richards in STARSHIP TROOPERS, she asserts no sense of competence or strength. Her polyester uniform is sexy in an offhand way I was glad wasn't overly obvious... it looks genuinely worn, lived-in, rather than, say, a sexy space girl outfit of the sort never worn outside slutty Halloween parties. Even so, a good costume designer can only do so much, it's too little too late to care. I clicked it and ejected the silver disc like a Phillip K. Dick character in a novel might, a novel written ten years before the arrival of the last Betamax.
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 my frustrated retrofuturist jones, I put back on a film I've already seen twice, 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 behind petty moral strife, behind even if it means working or being worked on in a cold clinical red Cronenbergian psychiatric ward. In a flashback to 1966 the 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 a telekinetic Scanner-type kept under protective glass to contain her ability to project thoughts and melt people's brains. The drugged-out shrink delights in tormenting her and talking super slowly in their sessions, each word savored in his speedy mouth for its gorgeous liquid curvature. (more here).
|BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW|
But these memories are all now merely ephemeral visually, barely recognizable in the films themselves if found and revisited, but they're activated full bore by the right kind of analog synth notes. Those hazy but persona-shaping memories of elementary school 70s films have spawned a whole genre of music, beyond what trail-blazers like Tangerine Dream, Eno, or the BBC Radio Orchestra could have ever imagined. It's a music so time-specific that a certain generational swath (which includes me) 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.
So if England made Scarfolk, Scotland made Boards of Canada, and Canada made RAINBOW, what did we make? Goddamned half-baked overthought de-clawed SPACE STATION 76. Jeeziss. We got to get it to / gether / then.
Luckily, los Estados Unidos rules the actual retro-future. We gave the world SOYLENT GREEN, SILENT RUNNING, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES and LOGAN'S RUN, and--now on Netflix streaming (PS - not anymore 6/16) -- 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 EMPIRE OF THE ANTS or THEM size. They're not giant (not then at least, on our 70s TVs), and for most of the film's running time we barely see them interact with the humans at all except through basic shapes related via fax machine. They wait until said humans are dead or 'right where the ants want 'em (in a giant hole) before they make their designs known.
Now, as grade school scamp, I saw, up-close, tons of insects, both 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 for a time, pinned on a cork board, each one labeled, their exoskeletons slowly crumbling onto my desk. 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 kids we relished the chance to feel bigger than something, for a change.
Now though, on the widescreen HD TV, the close-ups look like alien monsters. Now I've put away childish things, taken them back out again, and now left them at some party I lost the address to... and anyway am too embarrassed to retrace my steps and to admit I can't remember which bars I was in where I might have left them. 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 crabgrass with a softball diamond. Bugs got zero cachet for me now anyway, and reality is parched and empty while the screen explodes with HD color. Reality is certainly the wasteland the 70s predicted it would be, and PHASE IV awaits rediscovery on Netflix.
The film actually moves very fast, even truncated, like a Reader's Digest abridged novel, moving through a cycle of ideas quickly. It's not at all the molasses drip of meaningless I remembered as a kid (though I understand now why I didn't understand it then- it's very mature, adult, advanced). It helps to have taken some drugs, grasped some rudimentary structural precepts, I guess, in the decades between viewings, and so be able to better understand the psychedelic journey of the end, where the couple come together as the ambassadors 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 analog 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 been replaced by cuckoo eggs.
PHASE IV is the only film by legendary credit sequence designer Saul Bass. The script is veery intelligent, of course each ant in itself isn't brilliant, but the hive mind is, so it's tough to not consider the difficulty in combating a non-localized intelligence, and since even our brightest human minds 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. Davenport sprays the ants with a yellow poison, for example, they die en masse, but then we see ants dying as they relay a chunk of the yellow 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 (with the same yellow glow). Humans simply can't evolve that fast, not sober, not after AIDS, not after the Reagan 80s brought us into crash-and-carry modality, for perma.
LANGUAGE arm uakdfgrgdgum84deij-VIRUS:
'How come giraffes haven't learned to talk by now," I used to ask myself, "if Darwin's so great?" But now I know: Darwin is great, the theory of evolution is just a bitter pill we're afraid to swallow, so we misunderstand on purpose. This is not because we're weak, but because it means language doesn't necessarily make us stronger, so language resists our attempts to expose its limitations. Language, as the ants well know, is a soul-killing virus that slowly strangles our five human senses in favor of abstract symbology. Our dogs and cats look at us with concern, like we're crazy, as we stare at the TV in a state of zombie hypnosis, but they see more than we do of the world; when we're really troubled and ill, they know it before we do and comfort us without a word. Their senses are superior, they smell our souls, and so they get cuter all the time, that's evolution. If we were animals we would have long ago adapted to our natural world rather than destroying it so it can conform to the limitations of language. Animals see what language and abstract thinking have done to us and they say 'no thanks, man' or would if they could talk. The giraffe's evolution involves reaching higher and higher to access more leaves, it has no need of talk. Humans, in our vanity, presume whichever dead end we hobble down is the way of the world, but it's not -- it's just the way of human language.
Maybe one day our evolution will involve curing ourselves of the curse of 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 the two of every animals will all be waiting to welcome us when we return, saying "hey man, you finally evolved!" And we'll be like yeah, but what's wrong with you, you got the virus? And then we'll all look at each other and try not to say another goddamned word.
The problem with us ever actually evolving, in real time, 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 are allowed to continue to eat and crap the world into oblivion (myself included). 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 pair of consorts, the three of them stowing away on the next star-powered INTERSTELLAR craft out of here. Count me in.
... to frickin' throw eggs at it! Bonggggg!
Further 70s "learning" -
See also from Acidemic:
"You rolled, you really rolled" - ROLLERBALL and a 70s Blood Sport Overview.