We’re quickly approaching the 38th anniversary of the US release of Nicolas Roeg’s haunting tale of alienation, The Man Who Fell to Earth. Leading up to May 28, website Dangerous Minds shared a set of photos that show star David Bowie, who plays the humanoid alien that lands on Earth in search of water for his barren planet, filming the dreamlike picture.
The movie was created during the New Wave era of science fiction in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The period was marked by an experimental approach (in story and style) that looked beyond the traditional pulp tales of the past and balked at the notion that “hard” science and rational explanations were necessary to craft otherworldly scenes. Altering perceptions with an art house style, the New Wave science fiction canon is an inspiring set of stunning and unusual films.
We revisited several of those movies — the ones that you might have missed (beyond Solaris and La Jetée) — and a few that are evocative of the movement.
Based on a Harlan Ellison novella of the same name, A Boy and His Dog follows an 18-year-old wanderer named Vic (Don Jonson) who scavenges a post-apocalyptic wasteland in search of food and sex with his telepathic dog (named Blood). The duo encounters an underground society, which plans on using Vic to repopulate its people and then dispose of him. Created during the height of exploitation cinema, the cult film puts a smart twist on those elements, and is praised for its sardonic view of the future.
Rock Hudson and studio Paramount are not names associated with the art house genre, but John Frankenheimer’s 1966 story about a miserable, middle-aged banker who attempts to fake his own death has the markings of one. Technically innovative and a parable ahead of its time, Seconds looks at the suffocating confines of the American middle class, using striking, disorienting cinematography to evoke extreme paranoia (courtesy of James Wong Howe who was master of the deep-focus). Saul Bass provides a stylish introduction to the trippy tale, which features brash sounds by Jerry Goldsmith.
Following a failed suicide attempt, a man is selected to join a time travel experiment that launches him back to his past for a single minute — except he becomes trapped in an endless loop. Director Alain Resnais shows us what the man’s former romantic relationship was like, recreating memories through the rhythms and stillness of his editing and camerawork. Je t’aime je t’aime favors emotional fragility and interiority over the dramatics of a traditional time travel tale.
Underground filmmaking icon Mike Kuchar blends cultural criticism, pop art, old-school science fiction, and camp for a satirical look at a future where androids and humans live uncomfortably side by side.
A Hard Day’s Night director Richard Lester practically invented Monty Python nearly a decade before the comedy troupe appeared on the scene with his absurdist look at post-apocalyptic England. A group of oddball characters wallow in the ruins of the landscape, which is ripe with surreal visuals.
Originally intended for German television when it aired in 1973, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s World on a Wire explores the mysteries and resulting internal crises linked to a simulated reality program. Fassbinder’s sleek and stylish vision of the future has no room for action-oriented drama, instead relying on questions about the nature of reality and identity. Basically, it was The Matrix, before The Matrix — without the cheesy slow-mo.
A 2010 film that starts in the 1960s and takes us into the 1980s, Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow finds teenaged Elena, who demonstrates psychic abilities, trapped in a a New Age research facility by an enigmatic, dangerous scientist. The film is a throwback to the daring, experimental style of the New Wave science fiction era and is an ambitious pastiche of the period.
A woman is left to fend for herself in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where she dreams of venturing to the sea. To get there, she must cross through a ghost city, where computers still toil away and film reels are still spinning in cinemas, but the streets are abandoned. She encounters a guard from the Morning Patrol — a small network of individuals who now watch over the city and kill the survivors of the disaster. Nikos Nikolaidis’ laconic, atmospheric take on the end of the world is a grim, but unforgettable vision.