A great film helps us escape reality. But some films go further. Some films are lucky enough to see their artificial worlds come to fruition. That jump from artifice to prophetic art is rarer than you might think (and all the better for it). The day survival of the fittest comes down to lightsaber duels and escaping alien ghouls is the day lazy Americans like me go extinct. Thankfully, Hollywood’s Sci-Fi still seems as crazy as travelling back to the future.
Still, travelling back to the future turns out to be entirely possible. In revisiting the eight films below, you can see the past mesh with the present. You can see a director’s predictions come to life. And most importantly, you can see some truly great movies.
The most prophetic film ever made, David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” is a fantasy of fantastical images. Moreover, it’s a fantasy that has become a reality. “What’s Videodrome?” Deborah Harry asks. James Woods in his famously monotone voice replies “Torture, murder…it ain’t exactly sex.” Her response is oddly sexy: “Says who?” That’s the radical notion behind this 1983 cult classic– torture, murder and sex as seen on TV is far more climactic than our everyday experiences. That’s what a mysterious prophet tells us through these pornographic tapes, and it’s what Cronenberg is telling us in his own playfully reflexive way. “Videodrome” is a radical look at the deep-web, YouTube, screen addiction and the increasingly violent state of movies at a time when such subjects weren’t up for cultural debate. But Cronenberg is a master debater. His plot centers porno videotapes that literally become part of our flesh. In 2019 we are all trapped in our phones the same way Woods is literally trapped inside a television. Fittingly, you will find yourself trapped in this perverse, mysterious and profound movie.
Before Will Ferrell was humorously narrating car chases for news ratings in “Anchorman,” and before our own news was narrating balderdash headlines, Peter Finch was miraculously screaming the truth. Well, when he wasn’t literally shouting “bullshit!” The pleasures of these rants spring from the purity of their relevance. Bullshit is in fact the majority of the news today–the product of big business agendas. That’s what Sidney Lumet’s colorfully comedic masterpiece about the black and white medium predicted. The rise of Tabloid TV and the fall of honest journalism. Ironically, the populace found the concept of news-as-entertainment to be as mad as Finch’s award winning character. Which goes to show that truth is in fact stranger than fiction. And what a strange film! Working with Paddy Chayefsky’s all time script, along with an ensemble that rounded up more usual suspects than “The Usual Suspects” (Duvall, Dunaway, Holden and Beatty to name a few), this movie regularly finds itself at the pinnacle of “Best Movie” ratings. In a world where ratings are everything, that’s a mighty fine accomplishment.
Within the first minute of Jacques Tati’s “Playtime” you know you’re watching something special. It adheres to its own insane rules–a cinematic language where stylized images and verbose sound effects speak louder than words. It fills the screen with blinding colors, slapstick humor, and tells the touching tale of a man navigating an ultra-modern Paris. He looks as lost as your grandma visiting the city, and he’s probably just as clumsy. Running into glass walls, getting lost amidst the office buildings and traffic; he’s a symbol for our misplacement in an increasingly democratic and modern world. Never lost is Tati. Who has constructed the most detailed set I have ever seen. His unparalleled mise-en-scene stuffing the frame with enough energy to save a Paris power outage. Still, dejection is permitted too. Under the piercing blue skies is a piercing forecast predicting the end of the old ways. Gone is personality. In is an image obsessed world of cubicles and confinement. That said, this is as free and fun as anything you may ever see. It’s 2 and a half hours of joyous playtime.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
What didn’t “2001: A Space Odyssey predict?” Stanley Kubrick’s whirligig vision of past and present, inner and outer space, is an overwhelming space opera of visual dance and prophetic trance. Accompanied by a time travel sequence that could rival any Pink Floyd acid trip. The whole film is a trip. A road map detailing nothing less than the beginning and end of time. In between are strangely accurate foresight’s regarding space travel, International Space Stations, independent technology, the Cold War and Siri. Siri may not always be accurate–Kubrick’s masterpiece isn’t the answer to “Siri, what’s the best Sci-Fi film ever?” But the movie itself is about as accurate as you’re going to get (even if the year 2001 is a couple decades off). Scientific predictions aside, when Richard Strauss’ famous theme plays over the otherworldly imagery, you know the cinema-stars have aligned.
Antonioni’s Alienation Trilogy (1960-62)
In Antonioni’s quasi-science fiction trilogy, he deals with alienation instead of aliens. “L’Avventura,” “La Notte” and L’Eclisse are romantic adventures dealing with disconnect instead of connection. Imagine if the worlds Wifi went down. How would we communicate? How would we find love? Antonioni argues that as our technology increases our ability to correspond decreases. That’s an understatement. The characters in these films are strategically distanced from one another. Floating through the alluringly frigid Italian landscapes and empty modern architecture like a feather in a soft breeze. They are at the mercy of their environment, just as they are at the mercy of their remarkable director. Whose bleak, poetic and intellectual adventures created a new cinematic language. An assault on modernity that transformed modern cinema. When the beautiful Monica Vitti and her partners can’t find the words to express their love, you might chuckle at their misfortune. In 2019, a mere text can solve all our problems.
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni Rated: NR
“Your kind will soon be extinct” a scientist tells our protagonist, a hard boiled detective. The scientist wasn’t referring to hard boiled detectives, instead, he was referring to freethinkers. Godard is one of cinemas greatest freethinkers. While many directors have an allergy to originality and a phobia for risk taking, Godard is never afraid to try something new. The same can be said for his love life, and especially toward his films regarding the subject of love itself. Alphaville is a futuristic world where love and emotions are banned. (It’s a sexier and sleeker version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”). It’s a world rendered in luminous black and whites, a reflection of the communities black and white way of thinking. And in many ways, it’s a warning of things to come. Technology hindering human contact, Orwellian communities that force us all to think the same, people “acting illogically” (okay, that last one will always be a problem). But in the end love trumps all. And it’s that love that brings a smile to such a haunting experience.
La Dolce Vita (1960)
“La Dolce Vita” translates to “The Sweet Life,” but around my house it translates to “The Best Movie Ever.” It’s a near perfect film. It’s only imperfection being it’s christening of the paparazzi. Thanks to Paparazzo and his legion of tabloid reporters, we now have TMZ reporting where celebrities get their gas. Who knew that this portrait of 1960 Rome, with its celebrity gossip and nagging cameramen, could have become a reality? Fellini’s films may have been a circus, but he always found a way to juggle realism with magical realism. And nothing more magical and real has ever graced the silver screen. Like its fountain of youth, it never ages. The stars have never looked better, the streets of Italy never more breathtaking. It’s a dream you never want to wake up from. But it’s also a dream you can never forget.
The Truman Show (1998)
Ever heard the saying “The whole world doesn’t revolve around you.” It’s probably accurate. Unless your name happened to Truman Burbank. In which case, the whole world does revolve around you. On initial release, audiences found this to be nervy and provocative; a singular depiction of an outlandish scenario. Now, the concept of filming someones reality for the public’s entertainment hardly seems novel. Reality TV has taken over the airwaves. “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and “The Real Housewives of Somewhere Slutty” are the stuff the term “binge” was made for. In “The Truman Show,” audiences could binge Truman for as long as 7/11 was open. He lives in a manufactured dome, lives a manufactured life and is being broadcasted to the world without him even knowing. Indeed, the movie, and the show within the movie, are incredibly entertaining. You can’t take your eyes off Jim Carry. He’s the most likable clown since Charlie Chaplin, and his sunny smile lightens the serious subject matter. He’s the perfect subject to make Reality TV a reality.