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.
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: What becomes of the book in the age of the moving image? Peter Greenaway considers this question, among others, in this sumptuous 1991 production featuring John Gielgud in (apparently) his dream role as Prospero from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
David: Frames within frames, and naked dames. And who to blame? It may have as much to do with what becomes of art history in the age of the moving image, as what becomes of the book.
Jules: Problems (and beauty) abound in this characteristically Gilliamesque romp through the Enlightenment, and its cultural upheavals. Marvels to delight the eye accompany the misadventures of our titular hero as he attempts to establish how the war began.