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 | J.C. Gabel on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS | Alison Fensterstock on ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW | Wayne Chambliss on THEM! and PHASE IV | Neil LaBute on 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA | Kevin Obsatz on DEATHSPORT | Erin M. Routson on WESTWORLD | Shawn Wolfe on ROLLERBALL | Chelsey Johnson on THE BLOB | Heather Kapplow on SPACE IS THE PLACE | Marc Weidenbaum on COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT | Katya Apekina on A BOY AND HIS DOG | Tom Roston on SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE | Vicente Lozano on DAY OF THE DOLPHIN | Seth Mnookin on NUDE ON THE MOON | Anthony Miller on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.
CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.