In tune with the arrival of Nicolas Cage’s latest ‘I-can-see-the-future’ drama Knowing at our cinemas, this month’s PlayList offers to take you back to the future, or at least the retro-tinged visions of the future created to exploit the common anxieties ordinary people felt during the last great time of cultural crises, the 1970s.
Narrated and fronted by no-less-a-man than the late, great Orson Welles, Future Shock (tinyurl.com/3a2wsn) is a documentary made in 1972 from a popular work of speculation by author Alvin Toffler, who conjectures about the potentially negative effects of cultural change. Welles further speculates how such accelerating times might affect our personal health, although the way he’s chewing on a cigar the size of a guinea pig suggests that he’s not too seriously concerned. Future Shock’s hit-and-miss illustrations of what our 21st century life might be like includes same-sex marriages, the trend-setting fashion of having a bright blue-pigmented face and various concerns about eugenics which still make sense today.
Future Shock’s charm comes from its naivety; today’s hindsight makes high comedy of its attempts to second guess our future.
Welles was a skilled documentary filmmaker himself, who appeared in such doom-laden productions to raise funds for his own superior work, such as F For Fake (tinyurl.com/chrcg2). But in terms of crazy prophecies, Welles raised the bar even further in 1981 with The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (tinyurl.com/d4vmuz), in which the great showman attempts to re-interpret Nostradamus to make a few bucks. In this film, Welles confidently announces that Ted Kennedy will become president by 1984, and generally fails to nail down within the sphere of contemporary politics the famously vague quatrains of the ancient prophet. Yet oddly, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow’s director Robert Guenette does considerably better than his corpulent star in this respect; where Welles waffles on about ‘deluges and great winds’, Guenette and The Man Who Saw Tomorrow’s special effects guys pretty much hand Nostradamus his ass on a plate by accurately envisioning a turn of the century attack on New York’s skyscrapers masterminded by a turbaned leader (tinyurl.com/cf3b3a). Compared to the bleak imaginings created by Welles and his fellow filmmakers, the future we’re living in circa 2009 is so bright; we really ought to be wearing shades.