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April 1994


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
BRIAN TAVES <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 5 Apr 1994 11:50:11 GMT
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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          Per  Roberta Pearson's posting  re  cinematic utopias:   For  me,
          perhaps the premier attempt to offer a filmic representation of a
          possible utopia is  LOST HORIZON. The drama ensues not  from  the
          failure  of  the  utopia  or  its teaching but  that  of  certain
          individuals within it,  who retain  old  world baggage and  flee.
          Nonetheless, the community endures and Colman  is  shown managing
          to return.
          A curious update  of  this essentially Eastern myth  into  an  sf
          setting was  offered  in  CAPTAIN  NEMO  AND  THE UNDERWATER CITY
          (1970).  In  an original scenario, Nemo  has  built  an  undersea
          Shangri-La,  disrupted  only  when  he  rescues  survivors  of  a
          shipwreck. Some  stay, others are driven to leave, for  greed  or
          other reasons, but  the  city continues. Nemo  is presented as  a
          sort  of LBJ-style figure, having created  a  Great Society under
          the ocean, removed from surface strife. (I compare this film with
          LOST HORIZON in  more detail in  an  essay  in  The  Jules  Verne
          Encyclopedia, to be out in a few months from Scarecrow.)
          Indeed,  in  20,000 Leagues  Under  the  Sea,  one  can  see  the
          submarine Nautilus itself as  a sort of self-contained utopia (as
          does Roland Barthes), temporarily violated by the presence of the
          narrators, who find  its internal perfection unbearable and  must
          While not directly from  any specific novel, UNDERWATER CITY does
          share  a  number  of Vernian utopian motifs. In MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
          (ie, 1951, 1961, 1974), a semi-idyllic civilization is created by
          castaways from  scratch, although threatened by  forces  man-made
          (pirates) and natural (island is volcanic). Nemo intervenes in  a
          godlike fashion, only revealing himself  to  the castaways toward
          the end.
          A  1929 film  of MYSTERIOUS ISLAND has little in common with  the
          novel,  but emphasizes even  more heavily the utopian theme, with
          Nemo  having  created  a  scientific island  paradise,  which  is
          invaded. The film actually has more  in common with another Verne
          novel, Face  au drapeau, in  which  a  pirate abducts an inventor
          from the asylum where he  was placed by  the American government.
          The pirate, hoping to dominate the seas, gives him  the resources
          to  create  a scientific island fortress, armed  with semi-atomic
          weaponry. This  story  was  filmed directly by  Karel  Zeman  and
          released in the US as THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE.
          Hope this very brief overview of  one particular stream has added
          something to  the utopian dialog. (As  you  may have guessed, I'm
          working on a book on Verne in the cinema.)
          Brian Taves, Motion Picture Division
          Library of Congress