George Lucas’ debut feature about a dystopian future society forms the third part of my 30-day film program.
For newcomers, the deal is that I must watch a film every day and make notes about it, with the following rules:
I’ve already seen it
I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
It can’t be a cinema release.
The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.
Here are my notes onTHX 1138 (1971) which I watched on a Blu-ray on Saturday 24th March.
[Warning! Spoilers ahead]
Begins with an old episode of Buck Rogers (!)
Titles going from top to bottom reflects the underground nature of the society in film – I can’t think of another film outside Gaspar Noe’s IRREVERSIBLE (2002) that uses this device and that film used it for the end credits
Widescreen lensing is impressive – it was shot using Techniscope, a cheaper alternative to 35mm anamorphic which Leone used on his Spaghetti Westerns
Sound design immediately apparent as a key part of the film
Phrase “consumption is being standardised” repeated over and over
Appropriate because the shopping mall
Walter Murch co-wrote the screenplay and was obviously closely involved in the sound design
What the hell is going with the lizard in the wires?!
Sense of despair reflective of the cultural malaise of the late 60s and early 70s
The idea of a controlling futuristic society was possibly a big influence on THE MATRIX (1999)
Did the hologram sex channel influence MINORITY REPORT (2002)?
When Duvall confesses about his room mate, it is almost like a Catholic confession or a session with a psychiatrist
The slogan “buy more” has a certain irony when it comes to the issue of Star Wars merchandising
Imaginative use of low budget sets
Futuristic officers seem to be influenced by the police who cracked skulls on campuses during the Vietnam
There is even a TV channel which shows officers beating someone – predicting the Rodney King incident by 20 years! That case also played a key role in TERMINATOR 2 (1991).
Issue of sedation prefigures the issue of antidepressants
The idea of workers trapped inside white anti-septic clothing is an effective idea
Widescreen compositions must have made this a nightmare to pan and scan
Pre-digital era effects are deeply impressive
The robot that Duvall is working on just before the mind block looks C-3PO from STAR WARS (1977)
A computerised industrial society where people are drones has chilling resonances with today’s inter generational struggle, which is also a theme of THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)
Ironic that Donald Pleasance is in a film where everyone is bald.
Lucas was frustrated at how Duvall would get a scene in take one and Pleasance would take several. In a pre-digital world this was probably a nightmare for the chemistry of a particular scene and maybe led Lucas to pursue digital solutions
Nice touch that Duvall’s character is actually building the robotic officers who oppress him
The evils of bureaucracy is a persistent theme and the questioning of authority is essentially the whole point of the film.
Ironic that the McCarthy era America was paranoid about Communism and it became an oppressive state itself.
The ‘white prison’ is a very striking idea, later explored in Lecter’s jail cell in Michael Mann’s MANHUNTER (1986) and then reversed in Jonathan Demme’s THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991).
It is also a highly effective ‘visual effect’ as it creates an illusion of depth – an optical trick that predates the use of green screen by 25 years
The voices possible influenced by 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
Couple’s love making being interrupted is symbolic of the sexual Puritanism and hypocrisy of the 1950s era which Lucas grew up in.
Approach to the issue of drugs is interesting. It goes for an Brave New World approach where drug taking is an oppressive and enforced act rather than a rebellious act. Philip K Dick also explored similar territory in A SCANNER DARKLY (2006).
Excellent use of locations and sets, augmented by Murch’s great sound design.
Lalo Schifrin’s score is very effective and moodier than his ones for DIRTY HARRY (1971) and the Mission Impossible.
In particular the car chase at the end is a masterful use of sound which makes the sequence feel bigger and more realistic
Cars are also important in AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973) albeit in a wildly different context
The voices throughout are ‘comfortingly sinister’ which makes it an effective metaphor for communist regimes.
But it could also be seen as an indictment of 1950/60s capitalism which encouraged conformity
It could also be seen as obliquely referencing the Holocaust e.g. people as numbers and the enforced shaven heads
The closing sequence is actually very similar to THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998).
Final shot is hopeful for what some interpret as a bleak film.