KLAATU YOU (21)
May 20, 2020
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite pre-Star Wars science fiction movies.
IDAHO TRANSFER | d. PETER FONDA | 1973
In many science fictions, the machine, programmed with our hubris, must be stopped. In Idaho Transfer, it isn’t machines that have betrayed us, but we who fail the machines. The story happens in an eerie near-future that until the very last scene looks precisely like 1973. Using matter-transfer stations implanted in the lava lands of Idaho, a group of college students commute between the present, when an ecological disaster has been foretold, and the future, after most of humanity is gone. Their work of seeding the future with regenerative organisms is foiled when the stations are deactivated by the government, or destroyed by gone-crazy survivors.
Of the three films Peter Fonda directed — the others being the sad, honeyed, pot-infused western The Hired Hand (1971) and the two-ton whimsy Wanda Nevada (1979) — Idaho Transfer is by far the least known and most anomalous. Acted by a cast of nonprofessionals (except for lanky Keith Carradine, blending right in) and scripted by one Thomas Matthiesen, of whom the Internet tells us nothing, the movie seems to have left behind no carbon footprint, barely a hint of having existed.
Its text — human folly, bad future, final malicious twist — is The Twilight Zone. Its mise en scene — clinical, inexpressive — is every scientistic TV thriller of the seventies. Color is muted, emotions are deadpanned, there is no eccentricity or sense of fun. The movie is virtually toneless, unless that tone be the electrical hum of an abandoned, still functioning hospital. But it is warmed by the earnest, attractive faces of the young actors; by the prosaic vision of an egalitarian, non-sexist group structure, suggesting hope for the future; by a heart which beats steadily, fearfully, somewhere deep in the movie’s works; and by a directorial control so efficient, modest, and gentle that it embodies Richard Brautigan’s image of a world “all watched over by machines of loving grace.”
For here, the machines are our friends. They want to help. As long as the transfer stations function, linking a dwindling present to a tenuous future, there is hope. When the last one is wrecked, the sky turns a vast and sickening blue-gray, the image skews, and dialogue ceases. That very last scene happens not in a lost and lovely 1973, but on an ashen plain and strip of blacktop, with our race’s future incarnated in a bourgeois clan of desert scavengers.
KLAATU YOU: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Matthew De Abaitua on ZARDOZ | Miranda Mellis on METROPOLIS | Rob Wringham on THE INVISIBLE MAN | Michael Grasso on THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN | Gordon Dahlquist on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | Erik Davis on DARK STAR | Carlo Rotella on THE OMEGA MAN | Madeline Ashby on KISS ME DEADLY | Adam McGovern on SILENT RUNNING | Michael Lewy on THIS ISLAND EARTH | Josh Glenn on WILD IN THE STREETS | Mimi Lipson on BARBARELLA vs. SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | Vanessa Berry on THE FLY | Lynn Peril on ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN | Peggy Nelson on SOLARIS | Adrienne Crew on LOGAN’S RUN | Ramona Lyons on THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH | Kio Stark on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Dan Fox on FANTASTIC PLANET | Chris Lanier on IKARIE XB-1 | Devin McKinney on IDAHO TRANSFER | Mark Kingwell on THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO | Luc Sante on THE TENTH VICTIM | William Nericcio on DEATH RACE 2000 | Rob Walker on CAPRICORN ONE | Gary Panter on ANGRY RED PLANET | David Levine on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Karinne Keithley Syers on ALPHAVILLE | Carolyn Kellogg on IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE | Sara Ryan on ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN | Lisa Jane Persky on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE | Adam Harrison Levy on BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES | Gerald Peary on CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON | Susannah Breslin on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE | Seth on WAR OF THE WORLDS | James Hannaham on GOJIRA/GODZILLA | Lydia Millet on VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED | Matthew Daniel on FANTASTIC VOYAGE | Shawn Wolfe on ROLLERBALL | Erin M. Routson on WESTWORLD | Marc Weidenbaum on COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT | Neil LaBute on 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA | Vicente Lozano on DAY OF THE DOLPHIN | Tom Roston on SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE | Katya Apekina on A BOY AND HIS DOG | Chelsey Johnson on THE BLOB | Heather Kapplow on SPACE IS THE PLACE | Brian Berger on THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS | Anthony Miller on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.
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