Sunday, 20 June 2021

The Last Man on Earth (1964)


A thoughtful and absorbing post apocalyptic movie that has soul


Directed by Sidney Salkow, Ubaldo B. Ragona
Produced by Robert L. Lippert
Screenplay by Logan Swanson, William F. Leicester
Italian version: Furio M. Monetti, Ubaldo B. Ragona
Based on “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson
Music by Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter
Cinematography: Franco Delli Colli
Edited by Gene Ruggiero
Italian version: Franca Silvi
Production companies: Associated Producers Inc.; Produzioni La Regina
Distributed by American International Pictures (US), 20th Century Fox (International)
Running time: 86 minutes


Cast


Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan
Franca Bettoia as Ruth Collins
Carolyn De Fonseca dubbed for Franca Bettoia's voice in the English release of the film.
Emma Danieli as Virginia Morgan
Giacomo Rossi Stuart as Ben Cortman
Umberto Raho (billed as Umberto Rau) as Dr. Mercer



“By night they leave their graves, crawling, shambling, through empty streets, whimpering, pleading, begging for his blood!

Do you dare to imagine what it would be like to be... the last man on earth... or the last woman?

Alive among the lifeless... alone among the crawling creatures of evil that make the night hideous with their inhuman craving!”

“HOW MUCH HORROR CAN YOU FACE?

...where lifeless hands reach out for the warmth of human flesh

...where terror walks on tiptoe begging for the blood of...

The Last Man on Earth!”


A plague devastates life on Earth and turns all of humanity into the living dead!

Dr. Robert Morgan is the sole unscathed human survivor on the planet.

For three years his daily routine consists of killing the zombie-like creatures by night and fortifying his house for his own safety by day.

With his wife and daughter having been taken by the outbreak, Morgan faces a constant battle against loneliness while trying to preserve his sanity.

But is there any point to all this?

It seems that the odds are against this last remnant of humanity……

Trailer


Read on for more........

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Countdown (1968)

A rather dry, less than exciting but well-acted snapshot of the space race during the Cold war period of the late 1960s. The film deals with complex emotions and human behavior instead of technology but suffers from a lack of tension and suspense.

The Soviets are about to launch a manned mission to the moon.

A desperate bid by the US to land a man on the moon before the Soviets do.

An Apollo moon program that isn’t ready to launch yet. 

A rushed preparation to send a single astronaut in a modified Gemini capsule to land on the moon.

He is to remain alone on the moon in a lunar shelter for a year until an Apollo mission can rescue him.

BUT.....

Who will be selected for this hastily prepared and perilous mission and can it succeed?




Directed by Robert Altman
Produced by William Conrad
Screenplay by Loring Mandel
Based on “The Pilgrim Project” by Hank Searls
Music by Leonard Rosenman
Cinematography: William W. Spencer
Edited by Gene Milford
Production company: A William Conrad Production
Distributed by Warner Bros.-Seven Arts
Running time: 101 minutes


Cast

James Caan as Lee Stegler
Joanna Moore as Mickey Stegler
Robert Duvall as Chiz Stewart
Barbara Baxley as Jean
Charles Aidman as Gus
Steve Ihnat as Ross Duellan
Michael Murphy as Rick
Ted Knight as Walter Larson
Stephen Coit as Ehrman
John Rayner as Dunc
Charles Irving as Seidel
Bobby Riha as Stevie Stegler


Trailer


(Spoilers follow below....)

We are transported back to the late 1960s, a time we recall being one of change, the rise of counter-culture and impending social and political turmoil. Shielded from all of the ructions of the times within the bubble of the Gemini and Apollo moon programs, we find three astronauts training in an Apollo 3 simulator with their main concern consisting of having their session being aborted abruptly with the “third orbit coming up.”

The astronauts inhabit a world of buzz and crew-cutted, skinny-tied, narrow-trousered and short shirt-sleeved mission focused dedication to the achievement of a history-making goal: sending a man to the moon.  


♪♪ Johnny we gotta make a moon shot
Or the Russians will leave us behind
So get ready soon and we'll drop you on the moon.. ♪♪

Read on for more

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Francois Truffaut’s, Fahrenheit 451 (1966) - Part 2

 


Commentary


(Some spoilers below...)


Background & Production

Truffaut’s film is based on Ray Bradbury's famous novel, Fahrenheit 451. It was Truffaut's first color film and his only non French-language film. At the 1966 Venice Film Festival, Fahrenheit 451 was nominated for the Golden Lion.


In a detailed diary Truffaut kept during the production, he referred to Fahrenheit 451 as being his "saddest and most difficult" film-making experience, mainly because of intense conflicts between Werner and himself, about which much has been made by others. For instance, Oskar Werner supposedly cut his hair for the final scene to create a continuity error, being motivated by his hatred for the director. For the last two weeks, both men reportedly didn't speak to one another. Still, what work place doesn’t have conflict and difficult interpersonal relationships? Not all films that have cast and crew holding hands and singing Kumbaya turn out to be masterpieces. It’s the end result that counts and in the case of Truffaut’s film, it’s a pretty good result.


Julie Christie was originally cast as just Linda Montag, with the part of Clarisse being offered to Jean Seberg and Jane Fonda, with even Tippi Hedren being considered. Truffaut ultimately decided that Christie be cast in both roles as two sides of the same coin so to speak. Julie Christie agreed to star in this film for $200,000, while her asking price at the time was $400,000.

The film was shot at Pinewood Studios in England. The monorail exterior scene was taken at the French SAFEGE test track in Châteauneuf-sur-Loire near Orléans, France. It was dismantled shortly after filming. The film featured the Alton housing estate in Roehampton, south London, and Edgcumbe Park in Crowthorne, Berkshire. The final "Book People" book reciting scene was filmed at Black Park near Pinewood. It was hoped the weather would improve for the final days of shooting. Instead, it had begun snowing during the night. The presence of snow in the final shots was unexpected and unplanned but proved to be effective.

The production work was done in French, as Truffaut spoke virtually no English but co-wrote the screenplay with Jean-Louis Richard.

The movie's opening credits are spoken rather than displayed in type, which suggests what life would be like in a society in which the printed word is banned.



Truffaut’s “Fahrenheit 451” doesn’t offer us a sleek whiz-bang typical sci-fi 'futuristic' view of the future. Unlike Bradbury’s book, there is no deadly mechanical hound. Bradbury wasn’t focused on anticipating the possible great technological advancements of the future. Instead of such details, he would focus on presenting “what if?” scenarios and considering implications and consequences for humanity. What we do have though in the film version are commuters traveling via monorail and living rooms with wall screens uncannily resembling our own 21st century HDTV sets. The houses are uniform ‘60s style modernist functional but soulless structures that seem to contain retro gadgets like the wall phones. Even the red fire engines look like dinky Tonka toys rather than massive high-tech futuristic beasts. Such elements seem to suggest to the viewer that we are dealing with a world that is not too far removed from our own experience.


Read on for more....

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Francois Truffaut’s, "Fahrenheit 451" (1966) - Part 1



An excellent adaptation of a great novel and in keeping with the spirit of Bradbury’s classic story.

Trailer



“Fahrenheit 451” is a 1966 British dystopian sci-fi film directed by François Truffaut, starring Julie Christie, Oskar Werner, and Cyril Cusack. The film is based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Ray Bradbury. The story is set in a future tightly controlled society in which the government deploys firemen to incinerate all literature in order to prevent any independent thinking that might upset the established order of things.



This post concentrates on Truffaut’s film version of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” Any mention or consideration of Bradbury’s excellent novel is confined to “The Points Of Interest” section in the next post (part 2).


Note: In the world of “Fahrenheit 451” books and print have been banned and upon discovery are put to the flame and burned to ashes. Therefore, the story’s synopsis will be in the form of a mp3 file which you can download here:

Sunday, 14 March 2021

SCI-FI & THE FUTURE OF LANGUAGE & THOUGHT

Sometimes we marvel at some of the things we see and read in science fiction films and books that appear to have been accurately predicted or foreseen. More often than not such flashes of prescience are merely extrapolations of current ideas and developments. In fact, human beings are really quite hopeless when it comes to predicting the future – no more so than with the development and future course that the language we use will take. In fact, linguistic predictions in sci-fi is almost absent when compared with possible technological and sociopolitical future developments.

George Orwell probably took one of the best stabs at what could happen to language (and consequently, thought) should those in power attempt to actively take control of its development and shape it in such as a way as to use language as an instrument of maintaining their power over the wider population.

How we think and view the world around us is largely determined by our use of language. In Orwell’s “1984” The Party knows that if it can control how language is used, it will then be better able to control how people think. In other words, people will only be able to think in the way that the Party wants them to think.

In the 1954 BBC filmed adaptation of Orwell’s novel, there is a canteen scene in which this idea is taken up by Syme in discussion about his work on the Eleventh Edition dictionary and “Newspeak.”

“We're not only inventing words, we're destroying them - scores of them, thousands every day. It's beautiful………. The simplicity of it, of course. For one example, just take the word 'good.' If you have that, what need is there for the word 'bad'? 'Ungood' does just as well. Then, instead of a string of vague extra words like 'excellent' and 'splendid', you have 'plusgood', or stronger still 'doubleplusgood'. In Newspeak, the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by six words. In reality, by only one word. Don't you see the beauty of that, Winston?........By the year 2050, the whole literature of the past will have gone. Milton, Byron, Chaucer - they'll exist only in Newspeak forms……….The whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought. In the end, we make Thought Crime literally impossible because there'll be no words to express it………….. Have you even thought, in seventy years or so, there'll be nobody alive who could possibly understand this conversation we're having?”

Very chilling! There are some people who believe in the existence of powerful cabals secretly plotting away and conspiring to dominate the rest of us in such a ‘Big Brother’ manner. Others point to China’s or North Korea’s government as prime examples of an already existing Orwellian nightmare. More often than not, I feel that it is the case that incompetence and stupidity tends to reign supreme and that processes often take on a life of their own and evolve in an opportunistic way because most of us are too ignorant, too distracted, too busy, too apathetic or too gullible to imagine what if? What if I install this new app on my phone? What if I hand over this bit of information about myself? What if I allow every aspect of my life to be captured, monitored and stored? What if I jump on every woke bandwagon and cause?

What if?: The foundation of all good science fiction!

There’s consequences for all of our actions, in-actions and decisions. Unfortunately convenience, time-poor lifestyles and social pressure often takes over, while actively taking time out to consider future implications of our decisions on us as individuals and for our society and to act on such considerations is deemed to be just too hard.

With the future course of say, the English language, we can assume that it will continue to evolve by borrowing from other languages, by its vocabulary being supplemented by developments in technology and by the occurrence of crises, disasters and global upheavals. New generations also add their own forms of language use and world views reflected by such new words and concepts. Thus far, this has been a major part of the source of strength of the English language, apart from what has arisen from the wielding of power and the history of colonialism, of course.

What is also certain about the development of language is just how quickly we jump at the chance of working a new term we’ve read or heard used into a conversation without even thinking. There’s no thought given to what if I use this word, how will it affect the way I view whatever it is I’m referring to? Am I being specific enough? Is there another more accurate way of referring to the subject of my words? Do my words convey not only accuracy but also originality of thought? Am I just becoming another inarticulate lemming about to tumble off a mindless verbal cliff into a swirling sea of newspeak?

Often we’ll hear people say when asked their thoughts about some matter, “I have no words to describe….” Of course, if the matter in question is highly emotional in its impact, that is perfectly understandable. However, I suspect that more often than not, such a sentiment is quite accurate: the speaker in fact literally does not have the words with which to express his or her (oops, can’t use those gender specific words any more!) thoughts and feelings. It is the existence of those very thoughts and feelings that will often depend on the availability of, access to and use of those very words. So, what has happened to the words? Did someone steal them from us or did we just turn our backs on them?

Firstly, we have the modern-day phenomenon of the Cancel-Culture who when its disciples are not running around trying to topple statues, re-write history and consign Dr Seuss to Farenheit 451 flames, they try to dictate what terms and words people are to use and those which they deem to be unacceptable. Of course, businesses, bureaucracies, educational institutions and the media and entertainment industries happily jump in and swim with the new current, taking the rest of us with them. As we sink below the raging waters of political correctness, we may discover to our astonishment that we no longer have a gender, but at least we can all drown together feeling positively included!

Secondly, there’s the political hip wokeful brigade who giveth us such words as “pivot,” “agile” and “nimble,” but who taketh away such words as “adaptable,” “flexible,” “vary.” And so we find ourselves, “going forward” rather than “progressing,” or “advancing.” With “going forward” you can be sure it’s a euphemism for a major cock-up that needs to be quickly forgotten about.

The point being, is that the English language has a rich source of vocabulary which seems to be more and more under-utilized as time goes by. As the range of vocabulary being used in written and spoken communication is restricted, so does our capacity to express ourselves accurately and meaningfully. Thinking becomes more superficial and perhaps less critical. Who does that benefit?

Thirdly, technology offers so many possibilities in terms of improving people’s communication skills from simple word processing through to a plethora of apps and programs, not to mention the provision of and access to an all-important audience. And yet the finger has more than once been pointed at technology as being one of the root causes of the decline in literacy standards.

The wide use of acronyms, emojis, tweets, social media comments and the like seems to have encouraged a decline in people’s ability to communicate thoughts in more complex, analytical, abstract and reflective ways. For many people, the necessary words are just not there for them to make effective use of those forms of communication. In its place, we tend to have more abbreviated, emotive, transactional, personal and superficial forms of communication devoid of the accepted conventions of spelling, syntax, grammar and punctuation.

Worryingly, we’ve stood idly by and watched the slow extinction of the adverb. It has been replaced by an introduced species called the “Super!” With the disappearance of adverbs, comes the demise of precision, accuracy and viewing things in varying degrees and expressing different shades of meaning. Once, we might have felt “very excited” or “extremely elated,” whereas now we simply feel “super happy.” It may not be long before we wind up feeling just “doubleplusgood.”




Additional Note:


Over the last few years I have noticed a couple of developments in the manner in which many people speak. This might serve as a useful basis of speculation for sci-fi authors as to the direction our language might take in the future.

The first development concerns the way people’s voices sound when they’re speaking. I’ve noticed that many people have adopted or acquired an almost rasping quality to their voices which I have referred to as “crackle-voice.” It is as if the vocal chords have relocated themselves to the nasal passages and the voice sounds as if it is emanating from the nose and the front of the mouth, as well as taking on a crackling quality. For example: “eeeerrrrrr” creaking sound throughout speech.

"PLUS!"
("In addition?")

The overall effect of this is that it conveys the impression that the speaker is unsure of what they are saying and that they are even reluctant to be vocalizing at all. Both genders display this but it is more noticeable among females for reasons unknown to me. This trend appears to be present in the US, Australia and the UK as far as I can judge. There is an absence of modulation in the voice and is devoid of a sense of richness of quality. In short – bloody annoying!

The second development concerns the way in which words are strung together in rapid succession in any spoken utterance. It sounds like a form of stream of consciousness devoid of any pause for reflection, deliberation or consideration of what is to be said. It is as if some thought has popped into the speaker’s head and a valve has opened to allow the contents to gush forth unfiltered in a torrent of babble.

Any thought given to enunciation is chucked out the window along with any consideration for one’s audience. Trying to decipher a character’s dialogue in a film these days or a call centre voice over the phone is next to impossible in many cases.

Compare spoken dialogue in vintage films with what passes as spoken dialogue in many modern films and you’ll see what I mean.

"PLUS!"
("Furthermore?")

Any predictions about the future course of our language will of course have to take into account the influence of diverse ethnic groups in our communities. These have been and will continue to shape the evolution of the English language in very interesting ways. 

If we had a time machine and travelled forward 70 years – What would we hear being spoken? What could we say that would be understood? What would we comprehend of what we heard?

"PLUS!"
("In conclusion?")

Not having such a time-machine, we'll just have to settle with "moving forward" according to our "road map" to the future despite the fact that most of us no longer know how to read road maps thanks to GPS. If only we could effectively "advance" and "progress" according to a "plan" or "strategy." Then, we might actually get somewhere!

"Drill down into" or examine, analyse, investigate?
"Optics" or perception?
"Big mad" or incensed, extremely angry, incandescent with rage?
"At the end of the day" or ultimately?
"Uptick" or increase, surge, elevation?
"Em (bloody) power" or invest, enable?

There are many more uninspiring words and phrases used by the mentally indolent that are constantly edging out other far more interesting and accurate words, so be on the look-out for them and studiously avoid them before they breed and take over! 




©Chris Christopoulos 2021



Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Marooned (1969)

This tightly structured, well-acted and workmanlike film is beautifully directed and neatly combines aspects of human behavior and technological dilemma.


Directed by John Sturges
Produced by M. J. Frankovich
Screenplay by Mayo Simon
Based on “Marooned” by Martin Caidin
Cinematography: Daniel L. Fapp
Edited by Walter Thompson
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Running time: 134 minutes
Budget: $8–10 million


Cast


Gregory Peck as Charles Keith
Richard Crenna as Jim Pruett
David Janssen as Ted Dougherty
James Franciscus as Clayton Stone
Gene Hackman as Buzz Lloyd
Lee Grant as Celia Pruett
Nancy Kovack as Teresa Stone
Mariette Hartley as Betty Lloyd
Scott Brady as Public Affairs Officer
Frank Marth as Air Force Systems Director
Craig Huebing as Flight Director
John Carter as Flight Surgeon
Walter Brooke as Network Commentator
Vincent Van Lynn as Aerospace Journalist
George Gaynes as Mission Director
John Forsythe as The President (voice only)
Tom Stewart as Houston Capcom
Bill Couch as Cosmonaut



1969 Trailer

Spoilers follow below....

“Spacecraft systems are go”



The early morning serene stillness slowly heralds the dawning of a new day. At the same time an acronymed and abbreviated staccato countdown proceeds toward another dawning of a new day in which the fabric of Nature’s tranquil curtain is about to be rent by the rude sharp thrust of humanity’s spear of technological optimism.




Three U.S. astronauts (commander Jim Pruett, "Buzz" Lloyd, and Clayton "Stoney" Stone) are to be the first crew of an experimental space station on an extended duration mission.

Their Apollo spacecraft is named, “Ironman One,” conjuring up impressions of Marvelled invincibility and superhuman powers. The mission seems to exude supreme confidence and after a successful launch which appears to be quite routine and within the capsule (despite the bone-jarring lift-off) surprisingly serene and sedate, it is observed by one of the astronauts, “Hey, it looks like a fine day down there! I can see all the way from Gibraltar to Greece. Coming up on the terminator, should be in our first sunset in a few minutes.”



The only thought given to any problem or difficulty seems to lie with obtaining a clearer picture for the cameras.

After 22 minutes into the flight, the crew will set about “the business of the flight plan” involving a rendezvous on docking with the Saturn 4B orbital laboratory. The lab is very much like the Skylab of the 1970s we’re familiar with.


Routine, predictability, training and technology combine to achieve the successful completion of the docking procedure with the orbital laboratory into which the crew of Ironman One will transfer and where they will live and work for the next seven months.

According to the Public Affairs Officer, “this will be a test of the spacecraft, the systems and most of all the men in preparation for interplanetary deep-space missions which are now being planned.”


Apparently with the moon landings under its belt and with rendezvous and docking procedures along with extra vehicular activities having become something of a walk in the park, humanity is now optimistically setting its sights further afield, perhaps in this case to Mars.

About five months into the mission problems begin to emerge in which it is observed there is a serious decline in the ability to perform simple manual tasks, along with lack of sleep, fatigue and weight loss. Lloyd in particular has begun to exhibit erratic behavior and substandard performance. His physical appearance and demeanor speaks volumes. Equipment is beginning to fail, mistakes are being made and the wrong kind of problems and priorities are being fixated on.

In the face of these developments, NASA management decides to end the mission early.

After closing down the S-4B lab, the Apollo spacecraft prepares for separation followed by automatic sequence of retrofire. Routine, predictability, training and technology should combine to enable them to start their “descent across Australia towards the splash point in the Pacific some 400 miles south of Midway Island.” All they now need to do is wait for confirmation of retrofire….



“Ironman One, Ironman One, this is Houston CapCom, do you read?”

Space is no place for hubris and over-confidence. If care is not taken and respect is not given, space will kill you. Humans are not evolved to live and work in space for very extended periods of time. The only way that can be achieved is to terraform the new environment or bio-engineer humans to cope with the hostile conditions.

There is only in reality the thin skin of a spacesuit, a spacecraft or habitat that separates one from being alive or being sucked into oblivion. Technology does fail and humans do make mistakes and space is unforgiving of both.

If the recent process of extended lockdowns and social distancing has taught us anything, it is that being social and gregarious creatures, humans can experience difficulties when cut off from normal social activities and interactions. No selection process can possibly anticipate and eliminate all the possible psychological and other group dynamic factors and problems that are likely to occur on extreme long duration space flights and planetary colonization.

Nor will public affairs spin be able to completely and effectively white wash this supposed “successful prelude to the long-term space voyages that some day will be normal and routine…” as after a tense period of attempting to communicate with Ironman One, the message is received, “We have negative retrofire. Negative, no burn.”


Read on for more.....

Monday, 8 February 2021

Panic in Year Zero! (1962)

 (a.k.a. End of the World)

Oscar-winner actor Ray Milland’s sole directorial effort stands as a simple but brutal sci-fi film that exposes the ugly aspects of human nature during the struggle for survival in a post-apocalyptic nuclear nightmare.


Directed by Ray Milland
Produced by Arnold Houghland, Lou Rusoff
Screenplay by John Morton, Jay Simms
Story by Jay Simms
Music by Les Baxter
Cinematography: Gilbert Warrenton
Edited by William Austin
Distributed by American International Pictures
Running time: 93 minutes
Budget: $225,000


Cast


Ray Milland as Harry Baldwin
Jean Hagen as Ann Baldwin
Frankie Avalon as Rick Baldwin, son
Mary Mitchel as Karen Baldwin, daughter
Joan Freeman as Marilyn Hayes
Richard Bakalyan as Carl
Rex Holman as Mickey
Richard Garland as Ed Johnson, hardware store owner
Willis Bouchey as Dr. Powell Strong
Neil Nephew as Andy
O.Z. Whitehead as Hogan, grocery store owner
Russ Bender as Harkness
Shary Marshall as Bobbie Johnson
Byron Morrow as Evacuee from Newhall
Hugh Sanders as Evacuee from Chatsworth


Trailer

Standby for an important address to the nation by the President of the United States:



What if it all went horribly wrong on that fateful day in 1962!


Los Angeles 1962….
A family leaves for a camping trip...
A nuclear attack destroys the city...
Chaos begins to reign supreme...
Old values and ideals crumble...
A father fights to keep his family alive….

“This is civilization’s jungle after the jackals of society have ruthlessly ravaged it, ending the world of decency!”

Read on for more.....