Jules: If politics is theatre, and the public are the audience, and the affairs of the day are the script, who are the writers, and where do the actors come from? Can the actors perceive the truth they are playing a role in a work they have mistaken to be their own lives? What if they should?
David: Considered part of Alan J. Pakula’s “paranoia trilogy”, along with Klute (1971) and All the President’s Men (1976), The Parallax View is a reporter cum detective story surveying the creation of homegrown chaos agents and fall guys of obscure origin, or what we refer to today as terrorists. This birthplace seems to be a rabbit hole so deep and tortuous that exploring it, you might find yourself turning into the perp without even realising. Can the great conspiratocracy recruit even its enemies? Are we all in some way doomed to be recruited by a machine that no one is even driving?
David: We embark on a two part examination of the human condition, beginning with the movie of H.G. Wells’s 1933 novel of imagined future history. This modernist manifesto posits that humanity is distinguished from the animals by little more than ambition and the march of progress. There seems to be no alternative for us but onward, onward to the stars. Wells begins his fable with war, disaster and rebirth, perhaps meaning to describe the arc of civilsation from a fresh beginning, but also expressing pessimism about progress as the early 20th century defined it – sandwiched as it was between two world wars. Though inspired by the promises of science, Wells is perhaps poignantly aware that a shark-like need for forward motion down a one way street may harbour the seeds of its own doom.
Jules: What distinguishes a desire to change one’s local world in some aspect – access new sources of fresh water, say – and a desire to transform it entirely? Is crisis always a requirement for such transformations? If the management of crisis is an essential part of statecraft, what rules out crisis-creation as a moral method of change?
Jules: Is there such a thing as essential human nature, or can we turn ourselves into whatever we think we ought to be, whenever and wherever it suits us? And if we can, are we still human?
David: Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling must decide whether or not they are each literally to die for. Meanwhile a technical anomaly causes the Overlooked team to narrate the film with the second and third acts switched out of order. Hilarity doesn’t quite ensue but perhaps an enhanced perspective is enabled on the movie’s themes of crime, passion, pragmatics and lots of baggage.
Jules: Our commentary expands to include the small(er) screen in this episode, namely the stellar Æon Flux series of MTV short films from the 1990s. Are we all the self-deluding victims of deterministic circumstance, or can we freely choose between possible outcomes as truly moral agents? We examine the cases brought forward by arch-provocatrix Æon, dictator-for-life Trevor, and gonzo-comedian-psychopath Bambara.
David: We attempt to bring our rational thoughts to bear upon the mind-mangling dream logic of Æon Flux, and observe the absolute power of Trevor Goodchild corrupted by absolute existential quandry. The spidery form of his nemesis-love-idol weaves a web of irony around him and all the while sticky pleasure traps to snare them both abound.
David: Riefenstahl’s innovative stylings offer our sensibilities a distraction from this forbidding vision of springtime for Hitler, the blueprint for every insane megalomaniacal dictator movie made thereafter. Everyone (except Hitler and Hess) looks miserable, as if already aware they are swept up in something that will shortly eat them alive.
Jules: Leni Riefenstahl may possess the most problematic oeuvre in cinema history, famously combining technical and artistic skill with one of the most pernicious ideologies of the Twentieth century. Did she shape history as she shaped public opinion, via this outing? (Apologies for the sound issues: a time-travelling NAZI mosquito apparently infested the recording gear for this podcast.)
Jules: How late is too late for what might be the latest, late-to-market film sequel in the history of cinema? Problems of tone, story, and pacing pile up as the digital apocalypse approaches. But what are we to make of the mythic imagery and symbolic story elements accompanying this technical wonder-wagon?
David: Nonplussed by narrative nonsense. Nice neon.