Polygamists, Cyborgs, and Gay Marriage, Oh My! Orson Welles and Future Shock

The cover to McGraw-Hill’s teaching companion to the film, available digitized at IUFLA’s Facebook page.

“Our modern technology has achieved a degree of sophistication beyond our wildest dreams. But this technology has exacted a pretty heavy price. We live in an age of anxiety, a time of stress. And with all our sophistication we are in fact, the victims of our own technological strength. We are the victims of shock … of future shock.”

No, this isn’t a quote from a Huffington Post column on the Facebookization of modern communication. Nor is it pulled from an academic treatise on the phenomenologies of post-industrial existence. This statement was made by Orson Welles in the 1972 futurist documentary Future Shock, and, unlike some of the more dated elements of 1970s educational films, Future Shock remains shockingly current in verbalizing the concerns and anxieties that come along with rapid societal and technological change.

Could this poly-faced scene in Future Shock be a precursor to the F For Fake film poster?

1970s Visions Of A Dystopic Future

The 1972 documentary Future Shock was created as a companion piece to the 1970 book of the same name by author and social theorist Alvin Toffler. Toffler’s Future Shock posited that the accelerated rate of technological change in the modern world was leading to a largely dystopic and alienated society.  The book is hugely iconic, having sold over 6 million copies worldwide.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVJrJk3q3MA

The educational film adaptation is useful in offering an audiovisual portrait of economic and social concerns of the 1970s, and from this, we can better understand the paradigms of consumerism and technology that we trade in today. Beyond that, it offers up intriguing archival scenes of 1970s artificial limb innovations, modular architecture, and transient free-lovin’ hippies, albeit offered as examples of precursors to a dystopic future of terrifying artificial intelligence and distance from the traditional morality of earlier decades. “The momentum is established, but the direction is up to us,” warns Welles. “Is there danger in the path we are taking?”

Orson Welles As Host And Narrator

A somewhat spooky example of genetic engineering and robotics.

Welles gamely engages with the hyperbole of the narration, sternly discussing how technological innovation has led to broken communities, morally apathetic individuals, and disposable objects. Director Alexander Grasshoff uses his host as a voice of authority and inciter of paranoia, imbuing the film with the same kind of gravity and solemnity as Welles’ early and iconic The War of the Worlds broadcasts.  But certainly, the visual element carries with it some elements of the kitsch – as current as Welles’ theoretical concerns sound, it’s hard to reconcile them with some of the now-irrelevant or dated issues (see again: 1970s artificial limb innovations, modular architecture, transient free-lovin’ hippies).

A Futuristic And Fusionist Musical Score

Future Shock’s score was created by Gil Mellé, a baritone saxophonist and film composer who spent the 1970s and 1980s experimenting on musical arrangements for film and television that fused jazz, electronic music, and avant garde classical minimalism. His work on the theme for the television program Night Gallery was notable for its use of an all-electronic score mimicking the conventions of an orchestra, and he specialized in science fiction and horror films such as The Andromeda Strain and The Sentinel.  In Future Shock, the combination of strings, horns, and electronics ebbs and flows, switching from the urban groove of funk to the industrial Moogisms of early modern electronic music to create moments of urgency and mystery.

Future Shock discusses “nontraditional” relationships such as homosexuality, evidenced in this scene documenting a 1970s wedding between two men.

Indiana University And Orson Welles

This 16mm film is part of the recently acquired Oregon Collection of 12,000 educational films.  In addition, it is significant to the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive and Indiana University in general because of its relation to the greater collection of Orson Welles materials that are housed here, from the papers and lacquer discs at the Lilly Library to the film elements at the IULFA. In watching this legendary actor and personality grapple via performance with the social concerns of the day, we are given a deeper understanding of both the Welles himself, as well as historical and current imaginings of change and innovation in society.

  • Read more on Preserving Orson Welles at Indiana University here.
  • Learn more about the Oregon Collection at IULFA here.

~Josephine McRobbie

David Bradley’s Dragstrip Riot

One of the prize collections at the IUL Film Archive is David Bradley’s personal collection of 16mm films. Judging from the range and variety of the films it is clear that Bradleywas an eclectic and impassioned cinephile. On the Indiana University campus

David Bradley: Writer, director, actor, and film collector.

Bradley is primarily known for the 16mm collection that bears his name. However, Bradley was also an intriguing filmmaker who navigated through some of the wildest cinematic terrain of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. The Bradley Collection runs the whole gamut: Short films, feature-length films, and home movies.

He made films professionally between 1938 and 1968. Almost all of his films were financed and distributed outside of the studio. After a series of experimental screen adaptations of plays (one providing Charlton Heston with his first on screen appearance!), David Bradley carved out a niche in low-budget, sensational genre pictures. Bradley’s genre cycle began with 1958’s Dragstrip Riot and was followed by the 1960 sci-fi movie, 12 to the Moon, and 1963’s infamous late-night cult classic Madmen of Mandoras (it was later re-edited with an extra 27 minutes of material for TV under the title They Saved Hitler’s Brain). This post will take a closer look at the first film in his genre cycle – Dragstrip Riot – and place it into a larger historical context and relate it to Bradley’s tastes and interests as a collector.

Dragstrip Riot fits firmly within two longstanding traditions of exploitation cinema: it handles something contemporary or topical with tabloid sensationalism and it attempts to cash in on successful mainstream films. While there has always been a youth market for studios and independent production companies to tap, it was never more pronounced than the 1950s. Films such as Rebel Without a Cause and The Wild One led to an explosion of juvenile delinquent films. However, it would be a mistake to look at Dragstrip Riot and its cinematic siblings as a crude aping of popular studio pictures. A closer inspection shows that independent films and studio films had a mutual influence on one another. Though Hollywood would often try to distance itself from the hucksterism of b-movies and exploitation films, many of the generic innovations from films like Shake, Rattle, & Rock! found their way into more mainstream features. These films also shown a venue often associated with youth: the drive-in.

The popularity of rock n’ roll and the moral panic it caused became an integral element to so many juvenile delinquent films being released by independent companies (juvenile delinquency and rock n roll were often linked in the press). Dragstrip Riot bears some similarities to Rebel Without a Cause. Both protagonists are new arrivals in town, have a troubled past with the law, and come from a “dysfunctional” family by normal 1950s standards. That is where their similarities stop. Whereas Rebel sees itself as a serious character study on a group of alienated teenage misfits in a suffocating suburban milieu, Dragstrip Riot emphasizes drag races, malt-shops, and beach brawls with breaks in the narrative to stage rock n’ roll numbers (sung by a young and feisty Connie Stevens!).

Anyone with an interest in b-films, exploitation, and genre pictures would not be surprised to learn that Dragstrip Riot was distributed by American International Pictures. AIP saw itself as a youth-oriented production and distribution company. Indeed, they were a major force behind many juvenile delinquent and rock n’ roll films of the 1950s. Once a film cycle or sub-genre was exhausted they would latch on to the next big thing in youth culture. By the early 1960s they had created and perfected the beach party film, which proved to be their biggest success as a production company. By 1966 AIP began making films with counter-cultural themes and characters. It would be three years before a major studio had success with such themes and characters (the film is, of course, Easy Rider). AIP co-founder Sam Arkoff was known to use the ARKOFF formula to determine what kinds of projects to produce. It consisted of action, revolution (timely and sensational subject matter), killing (staged scenes of violence), oratory (at least one memorable speech), fantasy, and fornication. Dragstrip Riot fits this formula fairly well. The only thing it seems to lack is a notable oratory moment, though we as viewers are privy to a slew of 1950s teenage slang. Bradley’s film, like many AIP pictures, attempts to resolve the potential conflict between the timeliness of the subject matter and playing out youth fantasies.

Compared to glossy studio pictures which tend to dilute shocking subject matter, Dragstrip Riot feels like it achieves a greater verisimilitude because it does not hold back in the way studio pictures would (though it is still a long way from the wilder AIP juvenile delinquent films like Reform School Girl). James Dean‘s moody, existential tough guy persona in Rebel may have served as a model for young men to emulate and young women to swoon over, the iconic quality of Dean’s performance and the self-reflexivity of the characterization imbues Dean’s Jim Stark as a kind of mythical figure. Gary Clarke‘s Rick Martin is more of a banal everyman reflecting the world many teens may have felt they were growing up in. Like most teen pictures it also tries to fulfill teenage desire to see identifiable characters engaging in activities that disrupted the humdrum of daily life: car races, motorcycle chases, gang fights, or rock n roll performances in their favorite diner. And Dragstrip Riot gives us these in spades.

How are we to understand Bradley’s collecting habits in light of his film-making career? Are the two necessarily related?  A look through the Bradley collection would suggest that they are related. There is a strong representation of the established canon of American and European cinema – works that a student in film history would expect to see on their syllabus. Yet the Bradley collection also exhibits some idiosyncratic takes on film history. Brian De Palma has also occupied a marginal space in the histories of New Hollywood (when he is mentioned at all). If we were to read Bradley’s collection as his personalized take on American film history, then Brian De Palma would be the most important figure to emerge during New Hollywood. In fact, there are more De Palma films in Bradley’s collection than the number of films by Martin ScorseseFrancis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin, and Steven Spielberg combined. Whether Bradley’s collecting habits are calculated measures of his own reading of film history or iterations of a quirky taste (possibly both), it is undeniable that his eccentric taste had an impact on the kind of films he would make throughout his 30 year directing career. Bradley’s ability to move effortlessly through various cinematic registers (the avantgarde, Hollywood, exploitation films) as a director is reflected in his unique collection.

The films in the David Bradley collection can be searched by going to IUCAT, clicking “Advanced Keyword Search” and pasting Bradley, David, 1920-1997, former owner into the “keywords anywhere” box. Additional information such as film titles or directors can be searched to narrow results. The Lilly Library also holds the collected papers of David Bradley.

~ Sean Smalley

Shirley Thomas, Traveling Stars, and the world in Your Living Room

“Today’s travel has assumed a fourth dimension. We think not distance, but time” says Shirley Thomas, host of TV’s short-lived but fascinating series Traveling Stars, at the start of the show’s first episode in 1956. “By this equation, any place on Earth is only hours away” (you can watch this introduction below, but apologies for the quality; the video was shot with an iPhone pointed directly at the screen of a Steenbeck in the IU Libraries Film Archive). Thomas is speaking about plane travel, but the subtext transcends the literal here. For Thomas’s show brought many places on Earth to the home of the viewer, requiring them to not count the hours of a plane flight to an exotic location, but rather to assume the position in their living room at the appointed time tune their television sets.

Traveling at Home

The IU Libraries Film Archive (IULFA) holds the first — and perhaps only — episodes of Traveling Stars, including film elements. In fact, it is likely that IULFA is the only entity in the world that holds copies of this long-forgotten television show at all. An interesting fact, because Traveling Stars featured some very prominent Hollywood personalities over the course of its short run.

Shirley Thomas and Cecil B. DeMille
Shirley Thomas with Cecil B. Demille, discussing his then soon-to-be-released epic The Ten Commandments

The format is not unfamiliar to twenty-first century television viewers. Thomas, our host, introduces the subject of the show which, in every episode, is a city in a foreign country or a foreign country itself (save for Hawaii, a then fairly recent addition to the United States). Shirley then introduces her guests — the stars — who are familiar with the location and wish to share their stories about it. Generally the stars are promoting a film that was shot in the country in question. In each episode Thomas discusses architecture, the ways of the people, the food, and, often, the shopping associated with the location with the stars. She interviews them about their experiences in those places which are often illustrated by home movies or photographs shot by the stars themselves.

Hollywood Globetrotters

Television was still a very young and seemingly very exciting medium for some of these stars, and they were more than happy to share their personal experiences. In episode #2, “The French Alps”, makeup artist Frank Westmore, fresh off of the set of The Mountainprovides home

Yvonne De Carlo poses in front of the sphinx during a fashion shoot while filming The Ten Commandments

movies that go behind the scenes to show the crew’s hotel, some of the location shots, and even star Robert Wagner goofing off a bit. Westmore, Claire Trevor, and blacklisted director Edward Dmytryk eat fondue, discuss the villagers, and show what gifts they brought back from France. In episode #3, “Egypt,” we see home footage of Yvonne De Carlo on a fashion shoot in front of the pyramids and the sphinx while enjoying some time away from the set of The Ten Commandments.

Some guests do not seem as excited. In one of the more tense episodes, a seemingly very intoxicated Dean Martin, just “divorced” from Jerry Lewis, and his co-star from the then-recently finished film Ten Thousand Bedrooms, Anna Marie Alberghetti, go on a trip to Rome with Thomas. Martin is consistently inappropriate and somewhat embarrassing, complaining

Anna Marie Alberghetti shows off a beautiful 1956 Vespa while Dean Martin and Shirley Thomas do their best to make it through an episode of Traveling Stars

about “terrible” European coffee, expressing his disinterest in going anywhere but one restaurant in Italy, sweating, smoking, and seeming very distracted. Alberghetti looks worried about Martin’s behavior and their mutual concerned glances seem to indicate something deeper — a bad on-set relationship? A torrid affair? Mutual dislike? Inappropriate like? And all the while Thomas handles it with the grace of a Hollywood reporter.

Two Kinds of Americans

In fact, Thomas was a red-carpet interviewer before her stint on Traveling Stars. Surely the origin of the show exists in someone’s papers (perhaps her own; she deposited both papers and films with the Lilly Library, yet her papers seem to be mostly notes about her later Men of Space project). It may be reasonable to assume that her experience as a red-carpet worker led her to this show, and also scored her her connections with these particular Hollywood elite. She is credited with “Readin’, Writin’, Research” so she was not simply the face of the program, she also provided all of the written content. And while the format of the show may seem a little old hat in 2012, I would argue that Shirley Thomas was actually ahead of her time.

Television watchers and film-goers in the post-war era were used to celebrity fetishism, and while the locations featured in the show were likely out of most Americans’ price-range as far as travel expenses go, Thomas never seems condescending when discussing these exotic places. Even the celebrities themselves are very humble about their travels, and very inclusive; at the end of the show one feels hopeful about going to these places rather than othered and excluded from them. In fact, Thomas ends the first episode by saying “There are two kinds of Americans: Those who are taking a trip, and those who are planning one.”

The Rise of Realism

Edward Dmytryk makes the case for realism on Traveling Stars

This post-war optimism typifies the era; anything was possible, even a trip to far-off Japan. Thomas succeeds in bringing not only Hollywood, but also the entire world, into the living rooms of those watching. It is likely that many of these television watchers had never seen such candid footage of these foreign places. Dmytryk points out that for years Hollywood had relied on “phony” sets to transport viewers, but that Hollywood could not “fool people anymore.” Traveling Stars, with it’s actors and directors as real people model and its amateur footage of far-off places was only helping in making realism an important Hollywood and television commodity.

Dean Martin, Anna Maria Alberghetti, and Shirley Thomas say “hello” to Rome from an “airplane cabin”

Woman of Space (and Time and Travel)

Shirley Thomas completed one season of Traveling Stars and, though she  remained somewhat active in show business, received her B.A. in 1960 and, subsequently, her PhD in Communications. Between 1960 and 1968 she authored an eight volume work about astronauts entitled Men of Space, the papers for which are now held at the Lilly Library.

The cover of Shirley Thomas’s Men of Space

This ambitious work shows that, for her, traveling was more than a mundane tourist activity; in fact, it was a way to understand the world, both on earth and off of it. Despite the show propagating some 1950s female stereotypes (it was sponsored by a “diet” cookie called Duets, meant to curb your appetite — see the link above for a complete ad), both it — and Shirley Thomas’s subsequent work — instead show the presence of a strong, independent citizen of the world, working within a media which was, at the time, largely run by white men. IULFA is proud to hold these works and we hope to make it more widely available as our preservation activities continue.

~Jason Evans Groth