‘The Future Is Now’ at Astoria museum

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Countless movies of the 20th century have provided us with visions of life in the next millennium.

"As a society, we have a collective set of ideas and images about what life will be like in the following century," said Jeb Brody, curator of "The Future Is Now" film series at the Museum of the Moving Image, Dec. 11-Jan. 2. "This collective consciousness has been greatly influenced by futurist literature and film.

"Crossing the threshold into the next century, we will now be encountering the future we before could only imagine. We therefore thought it would be great to look back at films about the future to see how accurate our predictions have been," Brody continued.

"The Future Is Now" fittingly starts with one of motion picture history's first notable films about the future, Fritz Lang's "Metropolis." Released in 1927, this silent classic features a chilling look at a future where progress is made very much at the expense of an army of mindless slave laborers.

"What we found in putting the series together was that most of the films about the future adopted a bleak view of things to come sharing certain similar themes," commented Brody. "Particularly, there is the concern regarding a loss of humanity, the loss of individuality in the face of progress."

"Ironically, many of the earliest silents dedicated to a vision of the future showed it to be a world of possibilities, only to be followed by 'Metropolis' a few years later," said Brody, adding that, "by the same token, though many of the films in this series take a harsh view of things they also contain messages of hope, that it is somehow not too late. Many of them contain a sort of wake-up call for society."

"Another interesting thing about these films is that many of them contain visions of the future that are not at all that far off from the world of today," said Brody, specifically citing the cult camp classic "Death Race 2000" about a car race to the death in which the contestants rack up points for killing pedestrians.

"The media portrayed in 'Death Race' is similar to more sensationalist forms of media coverage today, in which events are covered with the aim of providing viewers with vicarious thrills. So although "Death Race' is a caricature of television violence, today, years later is not too great an exaggeration."

For the selection process, the AMMI staff compiled a list of top suggestions for the series, starting out with about 50 films. From there, they pared it down further.

"We decided against all post-nuclear war themes. We also avoided the classic zombie film," he said with a laugh. "It was tough. There were a number of great films that didn't make the cut.

Here are the ones which did:

Saturday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m.

"Metropolis" (1927) featuring live score accompaniment by Donald Sosin, Lang's

"Metropolis" holds up well, especially for a silent. Lang is the director who later gave us "M" (1933), one of the most chilling thrillers ever made. One director who studied directly under Lang: Sir Alfred Hitchcock.

Sat., Dec. 11, 4:30 p.m. (and Sun., Dec. 12, 2 p.m.

"Brazil" (1987) is a darkly comic tale that people either love or hate. For one thing, it is full of quotable lines crafted by none other than playwright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard (most recently, "Shakespeare in Love"), and it is directed with unforgettable flair by Terry Gilliam ( "12 Monkeys," "The Fisher King") still perhaps best known as the lone American of the famed British comedy troupe, Monty Python's Flying Circus. At the very least, you'll know enough to never lose sight of your "B-stroke-six."

Sun., Dec. 12, 4:30 p.m. (and Sat., Dec. 18, 2p.m.)

"Blade Runner: The Director's Cut" (1991) Based on a story by Philip K. Dick, "Blade Runner" is set in Los Angeles in 2019 and stars Harrison Ford as a hired gun. His mission: to track down replicants, a species of unruly robots gone AWOL. The director's cut is about as different from the original version as can be. Both are well worthwhile.

Sat.,Dec. 18, 4:30 p.m. (and Sun., Dec. 19, 4:30 p.m.)

"Alphaville" (1965) and "La Jetee" (1962) Set aside a rainy afternoon for this moody number by director Jean Luc Godard ("Breathless," "Masculine, Feminine") in which the future is revealed to us through the eyes of a world-weary spy.       "It is remarkably slow and it took me awhile to like it," quipped Brody. "But I like its look of high modernism."

Sun., Dec. 19, 2 p.m.

"Fahrenheit 451" (1966) Sci-fi marked a rare switch for director Francois Truffaut ("The 400 Blows," "The Last Metro") who adapted the Ray Bradbury novel to film with interesting results. It stars Oskar Werner (who also starred in the director's "Jules and Jim") as Montag, the conflicted fireman whose job it is to burn books, as well as Julie Christie. The cinematography is courtesy of Nicholas Roeg (later to direct "Don't Look Now," among others.)

Sun., Dec. 26, 2 p.m.

"Sleeper" (1973) was co-written and directed by Woody Allen in fine, earlier form as Miles Monroe, the co-owner of the Happy Carrot health food store on Bleecker Street who, hospitalized for a peptic ulcer in 1973, is resuscitated two centuries later. ("My doctor said I'd be off my feet for five days. He was off by 199 years!") Allen's hapless protagonist complains about a perplexing society in which one of the best things for your health is a cigarette and one of the most popular forms of entertainment is virtual sex via the 'orgasmatron.'

Sun., Dec. 26, 4 p.m.

"Planet of the Apes" (1968) "Take your filthy paws off me, you damn dirty ape!," cries Charlton Heston as the unwilling guest of a future society run by apes. Co-written by Rod Serling and co-starring Roddy McDowell, "Planet" was a one-of-a-kind movie for today and forever.

Sat., Jan. 1, 2 p.m.

"Death Race 2000" (1975) directed by Paul Bartel, the cult film director who later gave us "Eating Raoul," "Death Race 2000" is an often-comic look at a future in which a literal race to the finish is America's idea of a great time. The "Transcontinental Road Race" is played out at the New York Memorial Roadway in which the contestants rack up points for pedestrian kills (particularly on "Euthanasia Day" at Mercy Hospital.) It co-stars David Carradine and a young Sylvester Stallone.

4 p.m. "Mad Max" (1979) Influenced by "Death Race 2000," "Mad Max" is an all-round much better sci-fi splatter tale. Introducing Mel Gibson as "Max" in a starmaking role, this tale of revenge pits a cop against a team of motorcycle maniacs. Note: The last few minutes are particularly hair-raising.

"Things to Come" (1936) Early sci-fi adapted from H.G. Welles, "The Shape of Things to Come" this hard-to-find film stars Raymond Massey.

4 p.m. "Demolition Man" (1993) stars Sly Stallone years later as Sgt. John Spartan who, after botching an arrest, is cryogenically frozen and left for dead. He is thawed out in the year 2046 because, after all these years, you still need "an old fashioned cop to catch an old-fashioned criminal." Though it is fairly routine fare, there are also nice touches of humor to propel its formulaic plot forward.

The American Museum of the Moving Image is located at 35th Avenue at 36th Street in Astoria. Daytime film and video screenings are free with admission unless otherwise noted. In addition, the museum also screens newly-released art films. For more information, call 784-0077. Web site: www.ammi.org.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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