FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (20)
June 7, 2021
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite TV shows of the Sixties (in our periodization: 1964–1973).
STAR TREK | 1966–1969
As a visual artist whose video work often evokes and pays homage to the midcentury sci-fi practical effects I enjoyed so much as a kid, I have a special connection to Star Trek. For this series, I want to draw your attention to a particular prop, one that represents everything I love about the show.
The episode “The Ultimate Computer” (March 8, 1968) is a classic story of man versus machine; it does not end well. However, although all the plot is all too relevant today, I am primarily interested in the show’s main prop: the M-5 super-intelligent computer. The M-5 Multitronic System has been designed to operate the starship Enterprise in a more efficient way than a human crew could.
The M-5 is a large grey box with a panel of vertical and horizontal lights; to one side of the panel, a large circular screen is illuminated from within by a swirly, trippy pattern. It’s an abstract representation of a thinking machine, one that looks more like a stroboscopic flicker device or lava lamp than a computer. Unlike the ship’s own computer, which is voiced by the same actress who plays Nurse Chapel, the M-5’s voice is a steely male one.
I wanted to create a sculpture that alluded to the M-5; specifically, I wanted to recreate the effect used to make the light projections. My research led me to TOS Graphics, a fansite dedicated to the graphics and props — every blinking light panel and the patterns these lights produced — from the original Star Trek series. Here I confirmed my suspicion that the guts of the M-5 may have involved a hollow metal cylinder with slits cut in it and gels taped over them. Put a lightbulb inside, mount to a post, and rotate. Folks at site specifically for TOS-inspired makers, The Fleet Workshop, suggested that the M-5 might be a version of an Earl Reiback light; Reibak was a nuclear physicist and artist devoted to “luminal art.”
Although my own version of the M-5 ultimately wasn’t influenced much by these websites, I did find a TOS fan community that — like me — is obsessed with special effects and props from the show. However, I don’t have the same relationship to the show that they do. Whereas they want to participate in the world of TOS, by recreating its totemic items, for me Star Trek is a fond memory and an ongoing inspiration. Speaking of which, here’s the sculpture I ended up making.
FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Lynn Peril on DARK SHADOWS (1966–1971) | Mark Kingwell on THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (1964–1968) | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on I DREAM OF JEANNIE (1965–1970) | Luc Sante on SECRET AGENT/DANGER MAN (1964–1968 seasons) | Erin M. Routson on THE PATTY DUKE SHOW (1963–1966 run) | Gordon Dahlquist on HAWAII FIVE-O (1968–1973 seasons) | Annie Nocenti on GET SMART (1965–1970) | Sara Driver on THE ADDAMS FAMILY (1964–1966) | Carlo Rotella on MANNIX (1967–1973 seasons) | Adam McGovern on JULIA (1968–1971) | Mimi Lipson on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (1970–1973 seasons) | Josh Glenn on BATMAN (1966–1968) | Tom Nealon on HOGAN’S HEROES (1965–1971) | Miranda Mellis on THE ODD COUPLE (1970–1973 seasons) | Peggy Nelson on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND (1964–1967) | Susan Roe on THE BRADY BUNCH (1969–1973 seasons) | Michael Grasso on UFO (1970–1973) | Richard McKenna on DOOMWATCH (1970–1972) | Adrienne Crew on BEWITCHED (1964–1972) | Michael Lewy on STAR TREK (1966–1969) | Greg Rowland on THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY (1970–1973 seasons) | David Smay on THE MONKEES (1966–1968) | Vijay Parthasarathy on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (1964–1966 seasons) | Carl Wilson on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW (1967–1973 seasons) | Jessamyn West on EMERGENCY! (1972–1973 seasons).
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