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September 1999, Week 4


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Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
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Thu, 23 Sep 1999 13:29:00 -0500
TEXT/PLAIN (78 lines)
Robert Winer requests:

>      I'm trying to put together a film series (in the context of the
> millennium passing) which deals with the inevitability of time's arrow.  Time
> moves forward relentlessly, and what has been done can not be undone.  But
> certain films play with the fantasy that one can have a second chance to do
> it right, by staging sequences in which the same event is replayed, with
> progressively altered outcomes.  The loss implicit in time's passage can thus
> be denied.  (The passing of the millennium, in contrast, presses us to bear
> awareness of the passage of time.)  Among recent films, "Groundhog Day" and
> "Run Lola Run" have this structure.  A variant of this are the films in which
> alternative pathways are successively portrayed; the recent "Sliding Doors"
> and Kieslowski's "Blind Chance" are examples of this form.  (Less pertinent,
> from the point of view of my interest, are films in which time is simply
> bent, like "Before the Rain" and "Pulp Fiction."  In these films the time
> element is a less central issue.)
>      I need probably five or six titles for my proposal, so I'd like to hear
> of other films in which time sequences are repeated.  Send me the title, and,
> if possible, a very brief plot description.

There is a whole subgenre of science fiction that deals with "alternate
universes" (eg. Norman Spinrad's THE IRON DREAM, which is in the form
of the novel that might have been written if Adolph Hitler had left
Vienna and become an American science fiction writer), but there is
curiously little of that type of thing in SF film.  There are also
"multiple universe" stories in which the protagonist meets other
versions of him/herself, from at least the time of James' story "The
Jolly Corner" to Piercy's WOMAN ON THE EDGE OF TIME and Joanna Russ'
THE FEMALE MAN, but again fewere film versions of that kind of thing.

Two obvious film examples are IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and the various
versions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, although the alternative lives aren't
"real."  (And pure dream sequences as in THE WIZARD OF OZ might fit
here as well.)  Peter Del Monte's JULIA AND JULIA, with Kathleen
Turner, is a forerunner of SLIDING DOORS.

Another variation is in fantasies that involve a heavenly force giving
people a "second chance," whether in their lives as a whole or at a
fatal individual moment, eg. HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (remade with Warren
Beatty as HEAVEN CAN WAIT), Powell & Pressburger's STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN/A
MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, and the hapless Tavolta-Newton John vehicle

Some time travel movies work with this theme in rather explicit ways.
The BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy is a notable example.  Kathleen Turner
shows up again in PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED.  A number of STAR TREK
episodes, and a couple of the movies, also use this device or something
like it.

A related theme is the doppelganger--where two individual but similar
characters lead lives that take them on parallel but different paths,
eg. Alan Rudolph's EQUINOX, George Romero's THE DARK HALF (from a
Stephen King novel), and many others all the way back to THE STUDENT OF
PRAGUE. Kieslowski plays on this theme also in THE DOUBLE LIFE OF
VERONIQUE and even RED from the colors trilogy.  STELLA MARIS, made in
2 silent versions and a 1950s film from Argentina, also uses such
parallels.  Another variation is in Chaplin's THE GREAT DICTATOR.

A silly variation on the theme comes in the alternate endings to CLUE.

On a very different note--pure repetition of the same thing, you could
start with BALLET MECHANIQUE.  One example of "bent time" that seems to
encourage an absolute sense of determinism, rather than possibility, is
David Hugh Jones' film of Harold Pinter's BETRAYAL, in which the
sequences run backward in time.

Don Larsson

Donald Larsson
Minnesota State U, Mankato
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