Space is the place

Pub date May 4, 2010
SectionFilm Review

LIT/FILM “I’m a lifelong space fan old enough to remember the Apollo era and grow up on Star Trek — when I was little, the Apollo missions and Star Trek merged in my mind,” says Megan Prelinger. “I lived my life, but kept one eye on space, watching and waiting to see what would happen. As I got older I realized that the general public is disenfranchised from having an opinion about or experience of space. I thought I could make an intervention — an intervention into space.”

Prelinger’s intervention has taken the form of Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957-1962 (Blast Books, 240 pages, $29.95) a flat-out awesome full-color collection of illustrations of American aerospace coupled with a historical critique of a time when the sky wasn’t definied by fear and terror and the outer reaches were aligned with ideas about potential. Prelinger’s book is a work of Bay Area dedication and intellectual independence, akin to everything from Jacques Boyreau’s and Jenni Olson’s published collections of movie poster art to Trevor Paglen’s books on the hidden machinations of U.S. forces. It couldn’t arrive at a better time, with Carl Sagan warning us that aliens won’t be friendly, and President Obama demonstrating a marked lack of faith in the space program.

“The Obama administration wants things both ways,” says Prelinger, when the President’s most recent statements on the subject are broached. “They want to be committed in the long run but cancel everything in the short run to reformulate. The plans he’s laid out are too general. They’re almost hard to interpret. In the short run, he wants to stop spending money, and I can understand that, but the long term plans are underfunded and underarticulated. The jury is out.”

The jury may be out, but for the time being, the curious are invited to see a space-related film program that includes vintage short films selected by Prelinger. This weekend, “Atomic Age Artifactuality” brings Prelinger’s-choice archival treats such as Birth of the Orbis Electronic Computer and All About Polymophics to the screen, along with Laura Harrison and Beth Federici’s new documentary Space, Land and Time: Underground Adventures with Ant Farm. The ideas in the program should ricochet interestingly off of the recent Cold War treatise Double Take, by another Other Cinema regular Johan Grimonprez. “There’s a really complex interaction between tech and society in the Cold War, where it’s used to express utopian and dystopian possibilities,” Prelinger observes. “Those two dissonant possibilities exist side by side through decades.”

As for today, Prelinger’s vision is clear. “Our space program belongs to all of us,” she says. “We should think about what we want from it, and ask for it.”

(Johnny Ray Huston)


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