I was watching Ed Wood last night and all that talk of Bride Of The Atom (which later became known as Bride Of The Monster) reminded me that not long after I saw Cloverfield and The Dark Knight, I half wrote a short essay about how we are now living in a new Atomic Age.
I dug it out, and here it is:
In the 1950’s a new wave of cinema was sweeping America, and as such the rest of the world, known as exploitation. The exploitation films were nominal at the time; playing at drive-ins for short runs then fading into obscurity or destined to be recycled and re-released with a new salacious title to draw in the crowds once again.
These exploitation flicks covered much ground, drag racing to science fiction, scares to creature features. But one thing was exploited throughout the bulk of these pictures, the fears present after the dropping of the two atom bombs.
World War II spawned a whole generation of baby boomers and terrified teenagers. The bombing of Hiroshima and its ilk showed the world of the real dangers of nuclear attacks, children were taught to live in fear via propaganda films like Duck And Cover (in which a turtle shields itself from dynamite by retreating into its shell). These children were told to always be looking over their collective shoulder as the threat of nuclear attack was always looming.
A few short years later, these fears were transferred onto the big screen by producers such as Samuel Z. Arkoff and Roger Corman. While science fiction had been a fixture of books, films and other forms of media prior to dubya dubya two, it now began to come into its own. It now seemed, for the kids of the 40’s, that sci-fi had become sci-fact, or at the very least sci-possible. The Atom Age of film was born.
Titles such as The Amazing Colossal Man transformed the effects of radiation and nuclear fall out into a very real, though albeit amateurish, foe. The films were made fast and cheap, churned out in weeks and then taken on the road, to exploit the fears of the youth that spend their school days tucking themselves into balls under their desks.
In the intervening years, plenty of things have changed and fears have moved on. In the 80’s and early 90’s when the Cold War raged there was an increased amount of post apocalyptic visions of the future clearly thinly veiled attempts at predicting the after effects of the pushing of the button. The advent of video, however, changed the future of these films. They were no longer flash in the pan flicks, tickling fear glands and then merrily going on their way. A few of these exploitative pictures permeated the mainstream and made stars of the leads, but some less polished efforts still managed to permeate the minds of the young.
We now live in the New Atom Age, the Terror Age. Since the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 there has been an altogether new villain looming over Hollywood and its counterparts like a great big bearded turban. Terrorism is an altogether real threat, and certainly scares the pants off me. As such, the climate of fear we currently live under has been exploited by our most recent of film-makers. Where as flicks directly regarding terrorism and the events that have instilled this fear into us have flopped, films filled with allegory have thrived. Cloverfield sees a monster destroying New York City’s landmarks through the eyes of partying teenagers, and while it may not be subtle it certainly was successful (helped in part by the mass viral marketing). Batman’s most recent box-office outing deals with terrorism in a similar way. By mutating the Joker from tittering bank robber to spooky urban terrorist, he is instilled with a sense of urgency that just feels real.
It is easy to see the terrorist threat as a large tentacle wielding monster or a grimacing loon thrashing city after city. The recent spate of home invasion horror flicks are also attributed to the current mood, fears that we aren’t even safe in our own homes is a clear by product of the scary as hell times in which we live.
These films are decidedly more mainstream than the 50’s counterparts, but in a world where once maligned genres are now culturally accepted, it was bound to happen. It has been proven that genre film consumption increases in times of cultural trauma, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see a spate of films discussing greed and its effects on the economy shortly too (although I don’t doubt for one second that they will all have ironically large budgets). Fear is a valuable commodity, both for those who present real threats and those who seek to scare us via moving images. As long as any climate of fear exists, it will be exploited by films and their makers.
Reading it again, it doesn’t really seem that complete and certainly doesn’t have the required depth. But fuck it, you lot don’t care. Do you?