Sunday, March 20, 2016

Don't Make a Scene: THX 1138

The Story: Before it became a theater sound system, THX 1138 was the first film made from Francis Coppola's Zoetrope Studios group—an expansion of friend and colleague George Lucas' prize-winning student film done at USC. It was the first of several films Zoetrope was contracted to make for Warner Brothers studio in a deal to bring "youth-movies" (which were "big" following Easy Rider) to the geezers running the studio. THX was the first one.

And it tanked. It was so unsuccessful that Warner Brothers cancelled the contract, and to keep the Zoetrope dream afloat, Coppola had to "take" a job directing a movie property that Paramount was trying to bring to the screen from a best-seller—but it had "disaster" written all over it. 

That property was The Godfather.

But before that, there was Lucas' little experimental science-fiction film of a future underground dystopian society of drone-humans, metal-robot police, and infrastructure without much purpose other than self-sustainment that ended with a cracker-jack chase scene through the still-being-built BART tunnels of San Francisco. Very few movies looked or sounded like THX 1138, and the story was mostly told obliquely and through imagery. Warner execs hated it and re-edited it, removing what they thought to be superfluous and indulgent material (like a "Buck Rogers" trailer prelude). This was at a time when their hit movies were Klute, Summer of '42, The Skin Game and Man in the Wilderness (which tells the same story as The Revenant). The moguls' idea of science-fiction was Charlton Heston hunting zombies with a machine gun in The Omega Man, not hairless factory workers who rebel against the norm.

Everything in the world of THX is pre-packaged and formalized: the food, the work, the entertainment...the religion. A fair point. All organized religions are a formalized, ritualized spirituality, created to govern lives and behavior, and to keep things on track and away from chaos...and absolute freedom (which is also a fabrication). The religion of THX is a little...vague, somewhere between spirituality and deaf psycho-analysis, and instead of a kneeler or a psychiatrist's couch, we have...a phone-booth. It's also a bit one-sided (but, really, face it, aren't all religions?) not giving much, but very receptive, at least in theory. In the end, religion comes back to us, like a mirror. We get what we think we get out of it, and are granted whatever we think we get from Whatever we suppose grants it. Yeah, that can get confusing—no wonder we have scribes and scriptures to tell us what to think.

Did I say THX was science-fiction?

The Set-Up: THX (Robert Duvall) is having a rough week. He's out of sorts, not sleeping, dissatisfied with his work and his mate. Not even the standard apothecaries are working. On his way home, he decides to seek a higher power.

My time is yours...

Deviations from the script are presented as follows: deletions additions

PRAYER BOOTH THX sits in a small cube which features a desk facing a large photograph of the prophet OMM. The image is similar to a renaissance painting of Jesus.
VOICE My time is yours, go ahead.
THX mumbles a short prayer; which is cut short by the recorded voice.
THX(leans in): Masses for the masses.
THX: One for all. All is one. Masses are what we are. We are the masses. But all in all, we are masses. For the Party and for all, masses are what we are.                
VOICE Very good, proceed.
THX is uneasy, and fumbles for the right words.
THX Well.... I slipped on a T5 thermal transfer this morning. It's never happened before.
THX I wasn't concentrating enough. Things haven't been.....
VOICE Yes. I understand.
THX ....going well. How could I be so wrong. (pause) SCO 1202 cross wired a 904. He's been receiving extra credit. He offered me some. But you must already know about that....Why do I bother you with such.....
THX I did not accept any. (Pause) I... I wanted... to. But I didn't. You know I didn't. Don't you?
There is a pause as THX waits for an answer.
THX My mate has been acting very strange.
THX I can't explain it.....but. I haven't been feeling very well myself.
THX  I don't know, maybe it's me. 
VOICE Yes. Fine.
THX I needed an SP9 pinural last night. I feel as if something...
VOICE Excellent.
THX ...odd were happening to me. Something....
THX I can't understand.
VOICE Could you be more...specific?
THX The sedatives....
THX pauses, and tries to think of what he wants to say.
THX ....I'm taking SP5 etracine, but it doesn't seem strong enough. I have a hard time concentrating. 
VOICE You are a true believer. Blessings of the state,
THX Please forgive me, I slipped on....
VOICE ...blessings of the masses. Thou art a subject of the divine.
VOICE Created in the image of man, by the masses, for the masses.
VOICE Let us be thankful we have an occupation to fill.
VOICE Work hard; increase production;
VOICE ...prevent accidents, and...
VOICE happy.

THX 1138

Words by George Lucas and Walter Murch

Pictures by Albert Kihn, David Myers, and George Lucas

THX 1138 is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Warners Home Video.

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