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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: confrontation between art and technology

Rogers, Ivor A.
Notes and discussion: [extrapolative cinema],   pp. [286]-291 PDF (6.1 MB)

Page 289

much more effort in the area
and more recognition by critics of
the importance of the genre.
Several critics have commented that
the rash of monster-destruction movies of
the 1950's was a direct result of the
anxiety created by living in an
atomically armed society in which instant
nuclear devastation was a constant
threat. There is another pervasive anxiety
in our scientific-technological
civilization: the anxiety which results
from the speed at which our society
changes. Literary critics have noted that
the development of the concept
of the imaginary voyages to the moon and
the planets was largely an out-
growth of the astronomical discoveries
of the Seventeenth Century. In a
real sense these fictive works enabled
readers to allay growing fears
of the future by presenting them in an
imaginative form. By depicting
what the future may bring, the reader/viewer
can perhaps face the future and its
uncertainties with a degree of equanimity.
J. M. (apparently Joseph Morgenstern)
in the Newsweek review of Charly made the
following rather astounding statement:
"It is science fiction, or the art
of the impossible, with all of its coarse
ineptitude supposedly exonerated
by the possibility that today's fiction will be
tomorrow's science." Whether
J. M. means that science fiction is inept
or the film is inept, he is still missing
the point in implying that the
only value of SF is predictive. Science
fiction is also enjoyed because it can
provide a good adventure story
(Forbidden Planet), because it can suggest
a new sexual fillip (Barbarella), or because it
can create a sense of wonder
(Destination Moon). The history of
extrapolative fiction would indicate that an
author usually writes a wholly
predictive tale (from The Battle of Dorking
to 1984) in order to help thwart
the actual occurrence of the events he
describes. If we frankly accept the
idea that rocket ships and the other
paraphernalia of the space epic
are standard genre devices, as the butler
and the locked room are genre devices
of the mystery story, and if we recognize
the sociological implications of SF
upon an audience, we will be better
able to evaluate SF films on a rational
basis. To claim that a film is
worthless because it is SF is an
ad hominem argument at best; to downgrade
a film because it allegedly does poorly
what it never claimed to do is senseless.
Perhaps the most exciting type of
extrapolative film may not even be true SF
at all. It does not utilize the devices
and speculations of technology,
but has its point of origin in the philosophy
of science, mathematical
speculation, and basic (as opposed
to practical) science.
The concept of time has since Einstein
been a favorite subject of the mathematician
and scientific philosopher, and
some creative artists have found dramatic
elements in this very abstract field of
study. J. B. Priestley utilized the
theories of the 20th century mathematician
J. W. Dunne in a series of plays which
proved to be immensely popular successes.
It is just as well that the majority of
these plays were never filmed
since they would have created chaos in
the world of the film critic. It is a
peculiarity of the mathematician that he
may create a mathematical universe which
has no congruence to the real
world, and yet, because his construct
has internal validity, be highly esteemed
by his collegues. (If you can
understand minus numbers, this is apparent
to you; if you were unable to grasp
this concept, you probably had
bad grades in high school algebra.)
Most film critics, with both feet mired in the
bog of reality, can turn quite
hostile in their reviews when confronted
with a filmic universe that is
non-Euclidean or based on any order
of imaginative reality. This may explain the
mixed reaction given to Chris Marker's film,
La Jetehe. If the film is to be faulted,
it is because of oversimplification.
It is a minor recherche du temps perdu with
the added elements of catastrophic atomic
disaster, a form of time travel, and
a future civilization (attempting to avert
the final destruction of mankind).
It is also a love story of the
bitter-ending-in-futility school with a
wry ironic twist at the end. It has a fair
amount of honesty in treatment, and, at its
best, reminds one of the
early novels of Judith Merril.

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