Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Not so good

It's time for my Atkinson vitamin:

In Tempo di viaggio (1983), the doodle Andrei Tarkovsky and Tonino Guerra made for Italian TV as they prepped Nostalghia, the great struggling Russian answers a question about genre films by saying that his Solaris (1972) is “not so good,” essentially because it is science fiction, because it is a genre film. You can easily understand why Tarkovsky felt this way, given his topos and metaphysical concerns, but what’s shocking is how little the filmmaker apparently understood about his own film, and about the purpose of science fiction in general. The key to the genre is its functionality as metaphor—if it’s merely space opera (Star Wars or the new Star Trek or whatever), then it’s kiddie stuff, and as close to real science fiction, as it’s evolved, as the old Buck Rogers serials. Real science fiction, the only genre defined by ideas, is closer to satire than to fantasy or horror: its battery of metaphors is used as speculation and commentary about the present, hyperbolically exploding whatever mitigations might couch an issue in real life, so we can see the fallout rain down. (In ideas begins morality, and pulpist Edmund Crispin was only the first to note that science fiction is “the last refuge for the morality tale.”) The critic who got this best was the late Brit writer Philip Strick, whose modest but electrically philosophical 1976 volume Science Fiction Movies was an epiphany for me as a movie-struck tween.

—Michael Atkinson, Criterion Collection online

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