rasx() Screenshots: The 1980 Adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven

Buy this DVD  at Amazon.com! This article about a campy science fiction flick, the 1980 Adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, is inspired by a more serious issue now archived at DemocracyNow.org under “How the Far Right Built a Media Empire to Manufacture Consent.” I am confident that pro-liberal voices can successfully argue that liberal bias in private, corporate media is almost entirely legendary. They might have a problem arguing for public media—namely, public television. I could see even as a latch-key kid of the late 1970s and 1980s that PBS was well-stocked with idealistic, condescending, undereducated hippies. And The Lathe of Heaven is a very fine specimen of such hippie media now long gone because of the revenge of the children of the Reagan revolution. Let’s see some screenshots to hearken back to a strange age of fictional free-love and narcotic-induced innocence:

Dream-Free Love Interest

a skeptical lawyer with no dreams This is the lawyer love interest, the actress Margaret Avery. This is the scene where she helps our hero George Orr, played by Bruce Davison, by essentially guiding his ability to dream. And in this fiction, George Orr has the ability to change the universe when he dreams.

So let’s recap: we have a woman here with strong African features, living in a world that is clearly dominated by recessive-gene patriarchs, occupying all relevant positions of power, exploiting the natural resources of the planet. And now this woman has the ability, by proxy, to change the universe by suggesting a dream to her lover. Well, what is her dream?

Nothing. Her first response is to tell him to dream about nothing.

I would have been deeply offended by this plot point in my younger, more innocent years of idealism. I would have found it hard to believe that a woman—especially one sporting her hair natural—would squander such an opportunity as badly as any properly socialized penis bearer. I’m a little more grown up and can now accept that such a person is plausible. Hairstyles do not make the man.

The Flaccid Penis Mobile

flaccid penis mobile George Orr and his lady friend dash off to another paragraph in their adventure. This must have been a futuristic vehicle back in 1980—which was really the late 1970s. I don’t know my automotive design history to place this car in context so I’ll just call it a piss-yellow, flaccid penis mobile.

This must be the money shot in accord with the whole tech-hippie liberal media aesthetic. It’s like an 8track tape player on wheels. And the bright yellow reminds me of how revolutionary and novel plastic consumer goods were in the 1970s as most plastic retail objects were bright red or bright yellow.

A bright yellow Hummer would not be the contemporary “conservative” Republican improvement over this spectacle—far from it! We can call those Hummers Neanderthal penis mobiles running on dinosaur Viagra.

Jumbo Dumb Terminals of the Future

jumbo terminals You are looking at the platform shoes of the computing world. Huge, white jumbo dumb terminals. During the early 1980s, I actually worked on computers like these when I was a fourteen-year-old computer science student in some ‘special kids’ program at Cal State, Los Angeles. So we can be extremely generous with justifying the design of this film and propose that our hero, George Orr, is dreaming a world of the future but can’t quite envision all of the future, futuristically. So computers, telephones, chairs, Formica, manila folders and jovial bald guys don’t look that much different from the contemporary world where this film was made.

Even back in the late 70s, I am sure that these computers were not that futuristic—but then again I may be underestimating just how innocent the American public was in the 1970s. Remember that the 1970s was the era of the Pet Rock.

The Obligatory Male-on-Male Casual Affection Shot

glam affection Here we see the Socratic beard of Kevin Conway’s Dr. Haber almost making Greek love to the face of our hero. I read in a book somewhere that European males are more casually affectionate with each other than are their North American counterparts. Simultaneously, one could argue quite successfully that Americans sexualize almost all physical contact. Combining the concepts of the previous two sentences of this paragraph leads me to conclude that this shot is the gender-bending nod to the glam rock culture of the 1970s and the high heels of rockers like Prince to emerge in the 1980s. This is solid evidence of the liberal, leftist aesthetic that made public television in the 1980s seem so innovative and educational for me (but I am not really learning anything from this image).

Since I was only a child during the 1970s and early 1980s, I will assume that European culture and influence (dominated by the French) was not so ignored and misrepresented in corporate media back in those days—and a scene like this made filmmakers look continentally hip. Now that public broadcasting is “cleaned up” for “conservative” corporate interests, you will never see a shot like this again—probably forever. I certainly won’t miss it—but I do miss educational public programming.

The Concrete and Glass Money Shot

flaccid penis mobile I am certain that the research exists in the field of architecture history defining a period of modernist concrete and glass works of the 1970s that were so novel and “futuristic” that their appearance on film could “sell” the movie. What we now mistake for shopping malls and college campuses were otherworldly utopian monuments for some kids from the Midwest getting off Greyhound busses. This building shown in this shot near the end of the film reminds me of the surfaces and lines on the campuses of California State University, Dominguez Hills or Los Angeles Southwest College—these are very, very mundane places these days. So we need to go back to days when Logan’s Run was released to an amazed, wide-eyed, science-fiction film audience. And then we need to remember how we quickly forgot about Michael York’s hero running around a shopping mall back east when George Lucas came on the scene…

This article was originally serialized over several days in the rasx() context, the kintespace.com Blog.