Sunday, September 9, 2012

Logan's Run

Two years ago, this film was on my original "Movie A Day" project. It fit the criteria to a tee; a 1970s Summer film. So it is a little odd that I am writing about it for the first time today. The reason is that, "Logan's Run" was one of the films my guest blogger wrote about while I was in Alaska. My daughter Amanda did a nice write up but is actually somewhat critical of the film and it's 1970s trappings. My perspective is informed by two substantial differences; first of all, I actually saw the film the first time in theaters in 1976 and second, my current post is based on a viewing last night on a full sized screen rather than a video of the film. I really like the vast majority of the film. The story is a wonderful example of the Science Fiction concept films I was drawn to, and frankly, the cheesy costumes and set designs are like a ticket to my past (even though they are supposed to represent the future). Last night Amanda and I took in a screening of "The Sexist Movie Ever" , it was playing on the original big screen that I had seen it on thirty-six years ago.
If you have not been to the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, you do not really understand why this is such a great experience. The building itself is a geodesic dome based on the work of Buckminster Fuller. From the interior, you can see how the pieces are fitted together as you look up at the ceiling. When the Arclight Theater Chain proposed a new film complex at the location, there was a huge hue and cry from preservationists because the iconic structure was threatened. Most historical theaters were built in the 1920s and 30s. The Cinerama Dome is a relic of the 1960s, which is not usually seen as an architectural watershed period. Anyway, the preservationists won out and "The Dome" has remained as a single , separate screen at the Arclight complex. To me, the greatest element of this preservation is inside the dome. Originally designed to show true "Cinerama" films using a three projector process, the screen in the dome is extremely large (much bigger than the FauxMAX screen I saw "Raiders of the Lost Ark" on Friday). The screen is also slightly curved, so it has the effect of enveloping the audience in the movie experience. This has a very dramatic effect in a couple of scenes in "Logan's Run", and there are many films that I remember seeing here that were probably better simply because of the theater.

 The audience at last night's screening was amused at several pieces of dialogue and acting that are admittedly a little clunky. Some of the laughter was derisive but it seemed to me that at times it was also a bit warm for the more innocent film making period. "Logan's Run" was a big budget, Hollywood Science Fiction film that came out a year before the movie that would change the way Science Fiction would be visualized forever. All of the money was spent on set design rather than on special effects. The sets are garish renditions of the future that largely use shopping mall architecture to suggest a world of youthful hedonism. The characters frequently end up chasing each other in "the Arcade", which looks like a mall from the 1970s with some funky specialized stores. Neon lights and mirrors are the mainstays of the designers for this movie. Futurist travel between locations consists of sitting in a capsule that then moves thru a tube to a well lit station with some chrome fittings. The most well developed visuals in the film are the miniatures used to show the domed cities of the future and the layout of the structures in each of the domes. The serendipity of watching a movie based in a domed city, while in a domed movie theater, was not lost on me. Unfortunately, the static manner in which the miniatures are shot, emphasizes too often that they are just models. There is something about water that makes the model work in most pre-Star Wars movies look artificial. A second element that really dates the movie is the costuming. When the film is once referred to in a popular TV show as "The sexiest movie ever...", they must have been thinking of the way the characters barely dressed. Jenny Agutter, was a beautiful young actress, and basically she wore a sheer piece of fabric tied around her waist.
Most of the other women's costumes are also fairly revealing. Michael York is lounging in his apartment in a black and silver caftan which looks like it could have come straight out of a fashion magazine layout from 1973. Everyone has layered 1970s hair style, Farrah Fawcett Majors appears in the movie, and she has the hair style that would basically define the late seventies. The one thing about the costuming that works is the color scheme which is designed to identify the characters "life" status.

 So, far I have been talking about the things in the film that don't work all that well. It is time to get to the stuff that makes this worthy of your attention. Set in a future where wars have ravaged the planet, the ecological balance of the world is kept by strictly regulating the size of the population. Breeding is done in incubators and death comes a a predetermined moment. This allows the society to use the resources it has to maintain a hedonistic lifestyle for only the thirty years that are allowed. All of this seems to be largely a mechanical function, there is no political structure or power elite. The only aspect of a "government" that is detectable, are the "Sandmen" who isolate violent behavior and track down and destroy anyone who tries to avoid their deadline. Philosophical issues are answered by the ritual of "Carousel", the promise that by accepting death, the people have a chance at renewal, to come back for another life.
Inside the trappings of a splashy, comic book looking film, is a nice nugget of an idea. Would a tradeoff of unlimited pleasure and indulgence, justify a limitation on your life. We are supposed to empathize with the "runners", but aren't they really seeking to have their cake and eat it too? What would it do to the society if everybody was not required to play by the rules? Is the ritual of "renewal" through "Carousel" just a false promise, a metaphor for all religion? What is the purpose of life if it is to end so quickly? The futurist citizens in this world are not too removed from the "Eloi" of H.G. Wells Time Machine. They are provided for but what is their purpose?. Sometimes I look at the world we actually live in and I see some of the same kinds of questions. It might be a little hypocritical to write on a movie blog that we may be amusing ourselves to death, but many of today's indulgences are not too far away from the creepy Brave New World visions of the future found in movies like this. "Logan" and "Jessica" first contact each other on "the circuit", a device that transports you to a willing sex partner for a brief period of pleasure. There are a whole bunch of dating web sites out there that pretty much do the same thing. Why would our view of this behavior condemn it as vacuous when we see it in 1976, but be acceptable to us in 2012?

 OK, enough with the philosophizing, back to the movie. The opening set piece of "Carousel" is one of the most successful components of the film. The visual of a crowd cheering on the deaths of their fellow citizens bears a striking resemblance to the Roman Coliseum. The masks, turn their fellow citizens into faceless bodies that they can cheer for without the remorse of knowing which exploding body was their friend. The unitards and robes add to the sense of ritual as does the dramatic music, provided again by the great Jerry Goldsmith. The bodies rising off the ground, spinning uncontrollably and then exploding is a great visual for this ominous story. Sitting in the Cinerama Dome, with the screen looming over and nearly surrounding you, it almost feels like you are in the stands for ritual. There are some clever visuals to suggest the future which were not all that cheap looking and don't feel dated. Logan's apartment is pure 70's modern, that is true, but when his fellow Sandman, Francis 7, comes in the door with two giggling women ready for sex, and he throws a bulb filled with some sensuous enhancing gas against the ceiling, that feel futuristic. The laser surgery sequence is not far off from the way many modern surgeries are performed except the equipment is not as intimidating as the device used here in the film. The sequence in Prometheus earlier this summer is a grandchild of this sequence. (I also saw it in the James Bond film, "Die Another Day"). This movie was rated PG in 1976, it has themes of sexual perversity, there is an orgy shop with writhing naked bodies, and then the refrigerator is full of nude extras as well. We get two gratuitous nude sequences with our leading lady, and a lot of people also die. This movie came eight years before the PG-13 rating was created. At my wife's school, the general guideline is that they can show the kids a PG rated film without having a parent's permission. I think this movie might be an exception.
"The Sexiest Movie Ever", is probably not safe for the sixth grade. Just as an aside on the event, while waiting for Amanda after the film was over, I saw Ted Rami standing in the lobby. Maybe not a celebrity sighting that the rest of you would enjoy, but I liked that "cowardly Warrior" from Army of Darkness, just went to the same movie I did. Only in Hollywood.

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