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exponentiation ezine: issue [6.0:culture]

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Film: Threads
Dir: Mick Jackson
Release: BBC (1984)

This gritty movie was released in 1984 as a documentary movie, but for the sake of efficient and striking expression, it left out the talking heads and focused on communicating via aesthetics instead of gunning facts to the screen at a frenzied speed. Not obvious judging by the title, "Threads" aims to enlighten the viewer of the terrifying effects of a nuclear strike.

The movie begins with a view of Sheffield, a gray industrial town in England, and explains with a handful of words the two-edged sword of our complex societies: "In an urban society everything connects, each person's needs are fed by the skills of many others. Our lives are woven together in a fabric, but the connections that make society strong also make it vulnerable". Jimmy and Ruth, who are getting married soon, live in the city among their parents, and as such are one of the many building blocks of the society. Ruth is also expecting a child, and by the purchase of their home it appears the sun is finally shining over them, gracious rays flowing past the cracks in the dense wall of industrial smoke.

The background plot tells of a conflict between the US and the Soviet Union on Iranian ground, and as the result of this, tactical measures are taken by NATO and the Warsaw Pact in West and East Germany. There is a RAF base only 17 miles from Sheffield, so the city is highly prone to be caught in the blast if the base is attacked. The conflict escalates, and the population becomes increasingly anxious to fend for themselves under the nuclear shadow, stocking for provisions as recommended by the government, but it breaks out as looting and felonies by the panicked people. Soon, an open war bursts out, and the nukes are sent on their way. One detonates high over the North Sea, its EMP pulse knocking out electrical systems, stopping the now-constant broadcasts of public information; a few minutes after that, a missile salvo hits NATO targets, including a 150 kiloton warhead at the nearby RAF base. Finally, a one megaton nuke is detonated above Sheffield.

The nuclear exchange of 3000 megatons on overall between East and West, 210 megatons for UK alone, leaves the country a barren wasteland, decimating millions of people and razing cities with its sheer, unrelinquishing might. The war ceases, but the effects last for generations to come. All the threads that made the society function have now been severed with one brutally simple attack, and the nation is left crippled for a long time: casualties rise as the people who weren't lucky enough to get shelter from a cellar are exposed to the fallout, and radiation sickness takes its toll all around whether you were sheltered or not. Nuclear winter ensues from the billowing dust clouds blocking out the sun, and temperature drops down drastically. Fallout reaps the land, and bodies litter the wrecked streets, providing fertile ground for typhoid, dysentery and cholera epidemics.

Amongst the total ruin, some bonds of society are being resurrected, and attempts are being made to gather people able to work. Looters abound, of course, as the environment suits them fine, but harsh martial law catches some of them. Despite the hopes of reconstruction, there are still too many people left for the remaining food reserves to sustain, and so many perish due to this inescapable fact. Farming is continued, but it is found very difficult because of the lack of fertilizers and effective equipment. Eventually, though, the people manage to struggle through the tough times, albeit many succumb to the harsh winters. Only the strongest survive because the environment wouldn't will otherwise, and the population slowly rebuilds a cohesive society. Still, even though they managed to rise, the past still spreads its black wings over them: radiation contaminated the soil, poisoned the people, and thus left a permanent mark in the form of genetic mutations. Ruth managed to give birth to a healthy baby, but after Ruth died of cancer, her daughter gave birth to a dead baby due to a mutation, distortion in the genetic patterns.

In a way one could view a nuclear attack as purifying fire, as it would cut a population down and keep it from bloating by demolishing the necessities for upholding the modern society. In spite of the crash re-enabling humanity to flourish after the modern spiritual stagnation, its touch would forever plague the survivors, and being an even more undesirable course of action when one considers the irreversible damage to the environment, which is required for our sustenance. Thus, it is very doubtful that such a scenario could be regarded as a savior of any kind, even though it is capable of wiping out untold numbers of people, presenting a solution to the overpopulation problem.

The movie tells about the events and the aftermath of the explosion with coarse realism, slipping tidbits of information in-between the apocalyptic aesthetics. Using nuclear attack as an example disaster, it illuminates the factor that makes our society strong, but susceptible to harm at the same time. The many needs of our people are sated only by many material possibilities, and the web is thus a rather complex structure. Like a cobweb, it will collapse to a greater degree the further away from the center a thread is severed.

We are not immortal in our tower, as the construction is actually a prison we fortify and heighten every day, sealing ourselves from the green beneath. It provides safety from the beasts of the night, secluding us from the cold winds that roam the wilderness, but however awesome the tower may be, it is rooted to the very same earth that we are so afraid of - we are even nervously ridiculing the lowest levels of our precious tower -, and should the tower lose foundational support, it would collapse and greet the earth it so sought to escape. The higher the fortress towers, the more unstable it becomes, nearing the danger of losing its footing, and thus leaving the inhabitants in an environment that possibly cannot support their numbers, but takes its toll. - Frostwood


Film: All About Eve
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Release: 1950 (138 minutes)

An actress, Margo Channing (Bette Davis), who fears aging, is landed with a seemingly naive but kind admirer named Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). The latter retells the tragic story of her earlier life, and Margo, who's tired of the falseness and hunger of the autograph hunters, takes her under her wing; Eve very soon becomes Margo's supporting handyman. Early on in the film, Margo's lover Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill) teaches what the theatre really is: it's everywhere, available to anyone. Something which, through the newcomer's anything but flattering intent, appears to be quite useful even outside the stage.

In the world of theatre and acting much is necessarily shallow. The ambition to "be someone" in society takes on an almost ontological character in this film, and toys with the metaphors of theatre to ask us what is real and what is mere surface. It seems as though the visible flaws in the long run can be completely irrelevant as long as the essence is of superior capacity. We're given an opposite in an orderly and modest person, whose "silent qualities" show a predator on her way up the career ladder. "It is just as false not to blow your horn at all as it is to blow it too loudly," says theatre critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders).

The conclusion is transferred to theatrical terms: the true star is unchangeable and eternal (she doesn't get "old," after all), and possesses a charisma that attracts people. The Machiavellian carbon copy, on the contrary, hunts for prey and doesn't really become anything more than the autograph fiend she always was. "The career" of being human suddenly obtains a greater value, and when this is shown as a contrast to "this megalomaniac society," the film is given a slightly humanistic touch. This is nevertheless a pleasant idealism celebrating everything genuine, but it is perfectly balanced by the film's razor-sharp cynicism that gives us a much-needed look into the reality that is society.

The dialogue is not entirely believable, but that was hardly the point when making this; the theatrically emphasized lines are, more than anything, meant to be the medium of the brilliant writer and director Joseph Mankiewicz's ideas, which, in contrast, are eerily realistic. The casting is highly satisfactory, with one exception: Anne Baxter's acting is, especially at first, far from convincing. Only in part is her superficiality successful considering the theme of this film. Baxter's flaws are, however, solved by skipping the buzzed-about scenes that Eve is said to play so well. (These gaps would have been sensible no matter the quality of Baxter's performance, and on the whole, the film is full of this kind of clever solutions.) Apart from that, one could mention how the ending slightly exaggerates the theme even if the symbolism in the mirror is quite striking.

The film brings up the fear of losing status and gaining age, and is all in all most probably mainly a criticism of the American type of nearly neurotic ambition during the 1940s and 1950s, but when seeing it more than half a century later it has a more universal character. With Davis and Sanders as spearheads, "All About Eve" is an affrontingly entertaining journey through the psychology of a type of person who uses all her talents to take revenge upon the world that made her unable to love or be loved. Pretty soon one realizes that the relation between effort and reward must have taken on peculiar proportions when she crawls beneath the surface like an unconscious warning of serious clangers in human evolution. "It's funny, a woman's career. The things you drop on your way up so you can move faster," says Margo, as if she commented on the hurry of the whole of civilization, and with a sad face watched everything we drop on our way. -Ensittare

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