What is the
most luddite film of all time? The top 12? Maybe these questions have
never come up, but here are the answers anyway. The Luddite Reader website
today announces the Luddite Top 12. The most luddite film of all time
is Godard's Alphaville (1965), the only film in which the central character
actually says, "Technology, hah! Keep it!" Alphaville also features the
most luddite character name of all time: Lemmy Caution, a comic-bookish
detective played by the durable, somewhat eroded Eddie Constantine. And
the top twelve films? They are:
1. Alphaville (Godard, 1965)
2. Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1926)
3. Tie: A Nous La Liberte (Rene Clair, 1931) and Modern Times (Charlie
4. Tie: Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931) and Young Frankenstein
5. Fahrenheit 451 (Francois Truffaut, 1965)
6. Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)
7. Terminator (James Cameron, 1984)
8. The Gods Must Be Crazy (Jamie Uys, 1984)
9. Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
10. Robocop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)
11. They Live (John Carpenter, 1988)
12. Gattaca (Andrew M. Niccol, 1997)
Why 12 and not 10? Well, our favorites couldn't all fit in 10. In fact,
we left one very important film out, so here's an additional category:
Missed congeniality: Jonah Who Will Be 25 In The Year 2000 (Alaine Tanner,
1976) That's fifteen, if you are counting.
Some of these have been sequelled, of varying degrees of quality (Terminator,
The Gods Must Be Crazy, and Robocop, and the champion property of all
time: Frankenstein, produced in 80+ varieties, including Frankenpooh and
Frankenweenie, a Disney dog) and knocked off by cheap imitations. Another
Terminator is assuredly in the works and a Mel Gibson remake of Fahrenheit
451 has long been rumored, but the rest of the list is fairly safe from
remake, or is it? Imagine Bruce Willis as Lemmy Caution in Alphaville2:
Die Hard Disk; a Tim Burton / Madonna Metropolis; or Jim Carrey in Modern
Times. Worse things have happened
to better people.
But why these fifteen twelve great films? Here's why:
#1 Alphaville (Godard, 1965) - The only luddish film in which the protagonist
actually says, "Technology, hah! -- keep it!" Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine)
establishes the archetype of the Luddite detective (spy/assassin; agent
003) in this wordy classic that critic Carlos
Clarens called "Science Poetry." In another galaxy (a Ford Galaxy, if
you must know) Caution enters Alphaville, a technocracy ruled by the Alpha-60
computer, to retrieve or kill its creator, a Dr. Nosferatu (formerly Dr.
von Braun). Clarens described the Alpha-60 this way: "a giant electronic
computer that processes, classifies, and programs the life data of its
residents. This control has brought about a cult of absolute logical behavior
and those who do not conform to it (i.e., those who show some emotion)
are ruthlessly destroyed by execution
during staged acquacades, or by submitting to the persuasion to commit
suicide. To abet this law and order of the machine, words are kept in
place by changing meaning, some being suppressed altogether while new
editions of the bible/dictionary are issued daily." Caution kills Nosferatu,
causes Alpha-60 to autodestruct by feeding it poetry, and rescues Nosferatu's
daughteer (Mrs. Godard). It's a film both pretentious and funny, more
amusing to talk about afterward than it is to watch.
#2 Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1926) The film that established the beauty
of robots as well as the question of who can remain (and know they are
assuredly) "real" in a culture which is replacing humans with machines.
It's all here: dehumanization of work; polarization of society; unionism;
marianism; robotics; and art direction that has influenced science fiction
films ever since.
#3 Tie: A Nous La Liberte (Rene Clair, 1931) and Modern Times (Charlie
Chaplin, 1936) - Two benchmark films about working in factories. A Nous
is the original, depicting the boss as a thief (literally), fascist factories,
and the prison-like tyranny of factory worklife. Chaplin
lifted this concept for the most memorable bits in his last tramp film,
Modern Times, which played on the haplessness of the factory worker as
demonstrated by the Tramp. Chaplin comments on the Taylorism movement
for worker efficiency in both the speedy assembly line scene and the automatic
worker feeding machine scene. Of the two films, Modern Times has become
more emblematic, perhaps because stills of Charlie caught in the gears
of a giant machine have become one of luddism's most widely seen icons.
#4 Tie: Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931) and Young Frankenstein - The
original Frankenstein has become a genre unto itself. "It's alive!" It
is the Ur-film [after Metropolis] of modern mad science. It remains the
prime example of the message that things you make may turn on you. It
is also, with Metropolis, one of a only a few examples of the expressionist
theatrical style on film. No other film has ever spawned as many derivative
descendents, including such screen gems as "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's
Daughter" (1966). Mel Brook's Young Frankenstein used the original props
and has one genuinely remarkable scene which pokes fun at the marketing
of the acceptability of science and technology: Dr. Vicktor Frankenstein
puts on a show with his monster and they sing and dance a duet of "Putting
On The Ritz." The townspeople are not fooled. What monsters are we creating?
#5 Fahrenheit 451 (Francois Truffaut, 1965) In the future, most people
live in fireproof houses and the job of firemen is to burn books for the
state, to protect the populace from ideas that might make them unhappy.
Fahrenheit 451 is Ray Bradbury's parable of how technology destroys heritage
and self-knowledge, and how television anesthetizes the populace. The
underlying message of this film is that you don't have to physically burn
books (the title refers to the temperature at which paper burns) to "burn"
books. It is also the canonical film about censorship. The book is probably
the most widely assigned luddite text
in US high schools. This is probably the most likely luddite film to be
remade, although it will be difficult to find someone who does angst better
than the late Oskar Werner.
#6 Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) If we can make real-looking androids,
how can we be sure who is real, or even if we ourselves are real? And
if we can create an android (replicants, they are called here) that looks
like Daryl Hannah, why can't we make future Los Angeles look like someplace
you might want to live? Most importantly: if we create a near-human consciousness,
what rights do we endow it with? This film is Phillip K. Dick (from his
novel "Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep") made technoir through the
Important as much for its art direction as for its message.
#7 Terminator (James Cameron, 1984) As if you didn't have enough to worry
about... The evil future is sending cyborgs back to crush the prenatal
spark of humanity [by killing the not-yet-pregnant mother-to-be of a hero
of the future (the leader of the rebel forces, no less) who hasn't been
born yet - got that?]. Arnold Schwartzenegger gives the performance he
was born to play: a cyborg who says, flatly, "I'll be Baaaaack!" And keeps
his promise. Message: in the future, when machines get the upper hand,
we become the cockroaches.
#8 The Gods Must Be Crazy (Jamie Uys, 1984) Our trash is still pretty
advanced technology in much of the world. This film is the apotheosis
of the returnable bottle. A noble savage encounters less than noble civilized
folks on his way to the edge of the earth to dispose of some disruptive
technology, a soda bottle thrown out of an airplane and into the desert
habitat of his tribe. The message? Don't assume that our technology is
good for everybody. Currently inexcusably out of print.
#9 Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985) In the future, the machine that will be
most dangerous will continue to be the bureaucracy. In a bureaucracy no
one admits to hearing you scream. Brazil presents a bleak dystopian future
where a literal (smashed) bug causes the film's hero big trouble. Robert
DeNiro plays the kind of handyman that we are all going to need in the
#10 Robocop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987) Luddite paranoia on film: the threat
of high-tech outsourcing. You say your job is killing you? This is worse.
Your job has killed you, and you come back as a cyborg owned by the evil
outsourcing company that made your job hell in the first place, and you
are tormented by UHF reception problems in your memories of your
former family. A really well done satire of cold-blooded corporate R&D
run amok, comic book heros, and action films.
#11 They Live (John Carpenter, 1988) Ever get that feeling, at about 10
in the morning, that maybe the world is run by a bunch of ugly aliens
in some kind of Amway scheme, and that they are keeping you compliant
with subliminal messages everywhere such as "consume," "Don't question
authority," and "sleep," that you could see if only you had these special
sunglasses? Beyond luddite paranoia and into the bounds of schizophrenia,
this is the primo educational film about subliminal messaging and may
even be Noam Chomsky's favorite science fiction film.
#12 Gattaca (Andrew M. Niccol, 1997) The database as enemy. If your company
has a DNA code instead of a dress code, "casual friday" can be murder.
Great technoir film about the future uses of genotyping. In the future,
faking your resume to get a great job may include faking your DNA. Interesting
and gross title sequence (once you understand what you are seeing). Gore
Vidal as the hero's boss (!) "Jerome," the hero, wants to fly in space,
with the Gattaca Corporation. But he is naturally conceived and born,
not genetically engineered to be perfect, as Gattaca requires all employees
to be. So he can clean the toilets with Ernest Borgnine (Marty!) or find
some way to fake his way in. A murder investigation complicates it all.
Set in Frank Lloyd Wright's last design, completed posthumously, the Marin
Civic Center. Medical histories and treatment databases already limit
employment for many (cancer survivors particularly). This film provides
an extreme example of how the uses of such knowledge might become, ab
ovo, even more controlling in the future.
More: And now, our missed congeniality selection: Jonah Who Will Be 25
In The Year 2000 (Alaine Tanner, 1976) This is the best film ever made
about people resisting development (and about the failure of resistance).
Luddism is really not about machines, it is about
considering humanity and community before technology and development,
without measure against the holy standards of profit and efficiency and
markets. This film is about a group of people who gather on a farm and
resist local developers. It has one scene that is unique in the history
of film and that will never be equaled in Hollywood: the characters gather
around a dinner table and sing a song to the unborn child Jonah, in the
hope of his future. Since this film has been made their hopes seem to
have been misplaced, and at least one reviewer has speculated that Jonah
has become an MBA.
There are informative websites for several of the top 12 Luddite films:
Gods Must Be Crazy