Things to Come . . . and Go

Well, there are few signs of it here. And sometimes I am not sure how I feel about that. Progress, I mean. Yesterday, I took in the lavish and fabulous Things to Come, one of the cinematic gems the BBC has been dispensing in its current Summer of British Film retrospective. For once, our progress-defying DVD recorder did not refuse its services; so, unlike the previously shown Quatermass Xperiment, which I was unable to preserve for future viewing, Things to Come flickered on our Ikea-blind-turned-movie screen last night without a glitch.

“Progress is good,” “ignorance is bad,” and “war is a waste of energy” are the chief messages conveyed by this collaboration of H. G. Wells and director William Cameron Menzies, posing here with Pearl Argyle in a publicity shot featured, like the image below it, in my frequently raided copy of Film Pictorial Annual 1937, which devotes over a dozen pages to retelling the story in an “easy-to-read narrative.”

The second of these messages, “ignorance is bad,” is being brought across forcefully in the opening scenes, in which the cheer of the folks in Everytown are being contrasted with the warnings of an impending war. I was reminded of Archibald MacLeish’s aforementioned radio drama “Air Raid,” in which warnings about the coming of war are being disregarded by those who subsequently perish in a blitz on their village.

In Things to Come, chemical warfare results in the spreading of a “wandering sickness” crippling all civilization. As the Film Pictorial Annual sums it up in what reads like a bowdlerized version of Byron’s “Darkness,”

Nation after nation was dawn into the gigantic struggle. Infinitely more horrible than the last world war, this new fight carried death by bombs, by gas, by famine and by disease into every city an every town in the civilized world. New hates, new forces were unleashed; until, so obstinate, so wilful is human nature that there was none left to work for peace. The whole world, caught in the struggle, could find no way to end this horror.

Living as remotely as I do, it is quite easy to get lost in the everyday, to lose sight of world events, present or prospective. Right now, I am once again cut off from the internet, this time due to a crossed telephone line. During times like these, I become aware of how I much I depend on telecommunications technology and how keenly I sense its loss. Progress, after all, means positive change only for those who are privileged to benefit from it. To find out whether things are truly as peaceful as they appeared in the tranquility and seclusion of home—things-hard-to-come-by these days), we drove down to our nearest Everytown. And, succumbing to a “wandering sickness” of the Weltschmerz variety, we took advantage of the technology denied us at home to book a trip out of town. Expect to find references to Prague woven into posts to come once we prove victorious in this latest battle for broadband . . .

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