Peter Fonda’s Idaho Transfer is a strange and inventive little film that has gained something of a cult following over the years, though it remains stubbornly elusive. The Trylon, working with the Minnesota Historical Society, has gotten hold of the only known print of the film, making this something of an event. While it’s a flawed movie, it’s also an intensely interesting one: a parable of human frailty and stupidity, and an elegant eulogy to the shattered dreams of the 1960s.

Idaho Transfer begins during an ecological crisis that has apparently doomed civilization. Young Isa Braden (Caroline Hildebrand) recruits her sister Karen (Kelly Bohanon) to join their father’s top-secret research study in the Idaho badlands. It seems Braden pere has perfected a teleportation device that can send a traveler to a second transfer station 11 miles away. But what very few people know – not even the project’s government funders – is that the volunteers are transported not only through space, but more than 50 years in the future as well. Knowing that civilization back home is doomed, the travelers must determine if anyone still lives in the seemingly depopulated future Earth. At the same time they are expected to kick-start a new society. But one of their discoveries is that you can never completely leave the past behind, and many of the sins the doomed the old world threaten the new one.

The movie was made in 1973, when filmmakers were busy picking through the wreckage of the utopian 1960s. Idaho Transfer is a bleak and despairing film, with a human species that has finally outsmarted itself, unable to go either forward or back.

To be sure, the movie has its share of problems. Fonda made the decision to cast non-actors in nearly every role, clearly hoping this would yield naturalistic, unaffected performances. Instead, Fonda’s amateur players stumble around on the screen, swallowing their lines, gawking into the middle distance, not knowing which way to look or what to do with their hands. They carry their performances around like buckets filled with steel shot.

Yet somehow, the movie works despite these gormless performances; the very dull, pedestrian line readings lull you into seeing the production as being low-stakes, as though you’re watching a high-school production of Charley’s Aunt; but the beautiful cinematography and the audacious premise point in another direction. These already small characters somehow seem even smaller when the fate of the human species is set down on their shoulders.

Ultimately there is a beauty and a vaunting ambition to this oddball production, and it deserves a wider audience than it’s had up to now. — Michael Popham

IDAHO TRANSFER is presented in partnership with the Minnesota Historical Society. It screens Sunday, March 5 at 3:00, with an introduction by musician Mark Mallman. It also screens Monday and Tuesday, March 6 and 7, at 7:00 and 9:00.



Review by Elizabeth Kingsley, from the film blog And You Call Yourself a Scientist!  Reprinted by permission.

I love Westworld. I want to state that quite plainly at the outset because, while I do love it, I also have a lot of very serious reservations about it. This was the first film directed by Michael Crichton, made back in the early days of his career, before he was seduced by The Dark Side; and as with most of his early work, Westworld is a warning about the perils of mankind placing too much faith in technology. However, the film fails as a message picture because its central premise is utterly untenable.

Now, it may be argued that in contrast to The Andromeda Strain, which was successfully filmed as a taut science fiction thriller, Westworld was intended as a satire; and unquestionably, parts of the story are intentionally funny. However, there is also the sense that we are supposed to be wowed by the technology on display here, and disturbed by the notion of that very technology taking on a life of its own and turning on its creators. In other words, Westworld tries to be too many different things at once, and ends up afflicted by a distinct uncertainty of tone. Given the screentime granted to the behind-the-scenes running of Delos, and the reaction of the resort’s staff to the disaster confronting them, I think that in spite of the humour in the early scenes, we are supposed to take the film seriously, and that is precisely what’s wrong with it. No matter from which angle you choose to look at it, the whole concept of the Delos resort is farcical. First of all, who could afford to build a place like this, let alone run it, even if they were charging their guests a thousand dollars a day?

Consider the staff required to keep things running smoothly – supervisors who must monitor each and every robot every second the resort is operational, in order to ensure their appropriate interaction with the guests; electronics experts who can fix any problem within a couple of hours – all of whom must presumably be fed, clothed and housed on site (not to mention their families – where do they live?). Then there are the robots themselves. Granted, the idea of a confrontation between humans and almost humans remains an intellectually exciting one, but Westworld takes it well beyond the realm of the credible. We are asked to believe in robots that can talk, act, react with perfect spontaneity; that never sustain irreparable damage despite being repeatedly blasted with bullets; that cannot be distinguished from the real humans by anything other than a tiny design flaw; and that – at least in the case of the “female” robots – are physiologically perfect as well. And as if all this is not quite enough for the audience to swallow, on top of it we are then asked to accept the “rules” of Delos, despite their being violated every time the story requires it. For instance, the script harps continuously on the “authenticity” of the three worlds, then presents us with an immaculately clean 13thcentury Europe populated by individuals with impeccable personal hygiene. John Blane tells Peter Martin that the guns in Westworld won’t fire at anything with a body temperature, yet when the men have sex with the prostitute robots, we are led to infer that the experience is, ah, authentic. And speaking of those guns – what faith the owners of Delos must have in the prowess of their guests! Sure, perhaps the guns won’t fire when pointed at the guests, but doesn’t anyone ever miss? Don’t bullets ricochet in Westworld? And what happens when they pass through a robot, as happens when Peter shoots the Gunslinger? And while we know how the guns are supposed to be controlled, what of the swords in Medievalworld?

Questions such as these accumulate in the viewer’s mind until it is simply impossible to take the story seriously. And just to add insult to injury, the events behind the scenes at Delos are even less credible than those happening within the resort itself. Would you believe that the creators of Delos designed a control room with electronically operated, airtight doors? That they didn’t think to include a manual control (i.e. a door handle)? That when they cut the power to try and stop the malfunctioning robots (needless to say, it doesn’t work), they then find themselves trapped in an airlock with no way of escape!? As we watch these alleged geniuses suffocating to death, we can only wonder how Delos was created in the first place – certainly, nothing in these scenes impresses us with the intelligence of the people in charge. In fairness, there is one genuinely interesting plot thread in this section of the film, and that is Crichton’s prediction (or use? I’m not sure of my history) of the computer virus, when the Supervisor describes the increase in robot malfunction as mimicking “the infectious disease process”. (Amusingly, one of his superiors responds, “I find it difficult to believe in a disease of machinery.”) However, even this is undercut by Crichton being unable to find any credible explanation for the actual transmission of the “disease”. It just happens, and that’s that.



Apart from the technological impossibility of it all, the other major problem with the Delos concept is – who would really want this kind of holiday? (Admittedly, I’m probably not the best person to answer that question. I like my creature comforts too much – hot running water, indoor plumbing, that sort of thing. Now, if the creators of Delos had included Loungeroomworld, and furnished it with The World’s Comfiest Armchair, The World’s Best Television, The World’s Biggest Collection Of Movies, and The World’s Most Bottomless Cup Of Coffee, well, then we might have done business.) The opening scenes of the film consist of an advertisement for Delos, in which your standard talking head with a microphone interviews people returning from the resort. One man, having visited Medievalworld, reports that “I’ve had a couple of swordfights and three jousts – and I married a beautiful princess!” “Is that something you always dreamed of doing?” asks the interviewer gravely. “All my life!” responds the guest enthusiastically. Hmm….well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never numbered “jousting” amongst my unfulfilled dreams. In fact, nothing on display at Delos appeals to me in the slightest – and that is exactly the problem: why on earth would any woman want to go there? Now, I’m not saying that a woman’s life today – or even in 1973 – is perfect, but I can’t think of a single point in history I’d swap it for. And the more Delos insists on its “authenticity”, the less desirable the whole experience becomes.


In the unjustly little-known western Hellfire, Marie Windsor plays the female outlaw Doll Brown, who explains her career choice in grim terms. “This is a man’s country – girl earnin’ a livin’ ain’t got much choice.” She further reveals that she was once a “saloon girl”. If we take that expression for the euphemism it undoubtedly was, we put our finger on one of Westworld’s major flaws. Try as I might, I can’t think of a single reason why a woman might want to have an “authentic” western experience – unless she’s always had some bizarre desire to be either a schoolmarm or a prostitute (and if the latter, why not just do it? – earn a thousand dollars a day, don’t pay for the privilege!). And yet when Peter and John are transported to Westworld, we see as many women going there as men. So difficult is this to believe that it really comes as no surprise when the question of what the female guests do in Westworld is never even touched upon, let alone answered. Indeed, after the arrival scene, we don’t see any of the vacationing women again until the final sequence of the film, when disaster has struck. This scene takes place in Romanworld; and the overall inference of the film is that this is the resort that most women will choose to visit. Why? Well, the orientation spiel describes it as “a lusty treat for the senses” while the opening ad sequence has a female guest breathlessly praising Romanworld for “the men!” and further describing it as “a warm, glowing place to be”. (Granted, it’s been some time since I read any Edward Gibbon, but I don’t recall him describing the Roman Empire like that….) In other words, women go to Delos for the S-E-X. Frankly, this strikes me as less a realistic viewpoint (who’d pay a thousand dollars a day to have sex with robots!?), and more your typical early seventies nervous reaction to the implications of the burgeoning women’s movement; and indeed, the script is so unsure of itself here that we spend no time at Romanworld at all.

Westworld is on firmer ground with its inferences of why men find Delos an attractive destination. In contrast to the “lusty treat for the senses” of Romanworld, Medievalworld and Westworld – the two predominantly male destinations – promise, respectively, “chivalry and combat” and “lawlessness, a society of guns and action”. The attraction, then, is violence – but safe violence, where no-one can really get hurt, including, most importantly, the perpetrators. (Mysteriously, the sex dichotomy implied here seems to extend to the robots: when Delos goes berserk, only the male robots commit acts of violence.) Initially, Delos seems like nothing more than an elaborate and expensive paintball arena – a place where, as one guest puts it, you can play “Cowboys and Indians – only for real!” But as the film progresses, a more sinister feeling begins to emerge, due principally to the swiftness with which Delos’s guests immerse themselves in a culture of killing. It is significant that most of Delos’s visitors are what might loosely be described as “civilised” men – lawyers, bankers, stock brokers. It is possible to see the relationship between the resort and its guests as a positive one, inasmuch as it allows these people to rid themselves of any anti-social urges in non-harmful way; or alternatively, it can be read as an implicit criticism of “the real world”, a society that has no place for such “natural” impulses as fighting and killing. But a third interpretation is possible, and it is here that Westworld becomes most intriguing; for after a time, it seems that the real attraction of Delos is not just violence without danger, but violence without consequences. This theme is present from the opening scene, where a guest, asked to describe his Delos experience, exults, “I shot six men!” As the film progresses, the acts of violence perpetrated by the guests escalate in both frequency and intensity: gun fights, bank robberies, and jail breaks, all resulting in streets strewn with “bodies”. A wild, drunken brawl breaks out in the saloon, and our “heroes”, Peter and John, throw themselves into it without hesitation. (Another gaping hole in the “authenticity” of Delos: what we have here is not so much an authentic fight as an authentic movie fight – after getting punched in the face repeatedly and having chairs and bottles broken over their heads, Peter and John emerge with nothing worse than hangovers.) Watching how eagerly these apparently civilised and law-abiding men take to a life of constant violence, it is hard not to wonder just what their conduct in the “real world” might be if they were as free from reprisal there as they are at Delos. And there is yet another, still more disturbing implication lurking within Westworld‘s scenario, one conjured up by the repeated insistence that Delos is a place where “all your dreams can come true” – namely, the rather dismal suggestion that the dreams of your average man rarely extend past a life spent brawling, fucking and killing.


The manner in which the psyches of Peter Martin and John Blane are revealed to the viewer is one of Westworld‘s major strengths. The opening scenes of the film sketch our protagonists for us with praiseworthy economy. Peter is a lawyer, a city-dweller, an urbanised individual who has lost contact with his manhood. John, on the other hand (whose profession we never learn), is a man’s man, comfortable with guns and hard liquor (Peter chokes on the Westworld whiskey) and scenes of violence. John has brought his friend to Westworld to help him get back in touch with his masculine side – and, incidentally, to get over his divorce, in which, modern wimp that he is, he allowed his ex-wife to “take him for a ride”. First complaining about the standard of the accommodation, then ordering a martini at the saloon, Peter completes his shame by hesitating when confronted by the Gunslinger. John, however, has no such qualms: “Kill him!” he hisses, forcing his friend to take action. Peter finally does, putting three bloody holes in his adversary. He then celebrates his first “kill” by visiting the local brothel. After this violence/sex double-header, Peter is clearly a “new man”, announcing triumphantly, “This place is really fun!” Meanwhile, the other male guests whom the story chooses to follow have also made the most of their opportunities: one has become the lover of the “queen” of Medievalworld, while the other (seen removing his wedding-ring while getting outfitted) wakes up in Westworld with a prostitute in his bed and a smirk on his face. Ahh – real men!

Yet surprisingly, having set up this scenario, Westworld then cuts the ground out from beneath itself, becoming increasingly more interesting with its examination of what exactly a “real man” is. If I can be permitted another cinematic digression here, while I was watching Westworld, I kept being put in mind of another early seventies movie: Deliverance. While at first glance you might think that there could hardly be two films with less in common, in fact they do have certain thematic similarities; namely, their investigations into what type of man is best able to deal with a crisis. Fascinatingly, both Deliverance and Westworld give the same answer to this question, and it is not at all the one you might expect. Both films centre around a pair of male protagonists, one of whom is the act first, think-later-if-at-all type (Burt Reynolds in the former, James Brolin in the latter), the other the more intellectual type (Jon Voigt, Richard Benjamin), clearly unused to the outdoors and with no taste for roughing it, and who is – initially at least – appalled by the prospect of violence. Of course, in both films disaster strikes – and amazingly, it is not the “rugged individualist” who survives and triumphs, but the thinker – the one who proves capable not just of resorting to violence once it is necessary, but who can keep his head under pressure and plan his course of action. Conversely, it is the “action man” who is the first one taken down in each story. This implicit celebration of the cerebral man is almost startling when viewed across nearly three decades of what are generally referred to as “mindless action movies”. I can’t help feeling that if either Deliverance or Westworld had been made a few years later, or if, God forbid, they were to be re-made today (not that Deliverance would be made today, but that’s another story), the reverse situation would be well in evidence, with anyone hesitating over whether or not to use violence blown away before the opening titles had even finished rolling.


I started out by saying I loved Westworld, and then I dumped all over it for several paragraphs. Well, I’m going to say it again – “I love Westworld!” – and now I’m going to tell you why: because it’s fun! In fact, it’s so much fun that I’m actually able to shut down that pesky rational side of my brain and just enjoy it – at least until after the end credits. If the film does go off the rails with its attempt to be a “warning” picture, there are still enough funny moments and inventive visuals scattered throughout to keep it thoroughly entertaining. Scenes that stand out include our introduction to a couple having separate Delos vacations, he in Medievalworld, she in Romanworld. He reacts to the thought of the various pleasures in store for him with a leering smile, which is abruptly wiped from his face when he hears what’s in store for his wife. Another memorable snippet comes when our Medievalworld visitor tries to seduce one of the castle “wenches”. Instead of complying, she slaps his face. (You go, girl!) Two watching Delos technicians are suitably horrified. “She is a sex model!” protests one. “She certainly is!” sniggers his companion. (Given that Delos is entirely staffed by men, I’m tempted to inquire how the male “sex models” were tested!) Other charmingly absurd moments include scenes of robots interacting when there are no humans around; the sight of a deactivated horse lying as stiff as a board in a Delos workroom; and my personal favourite, half a dozen grim-faced technicians peering with desperate seriousness into the workings of a mechanical snake. Richard Benjamin and James Brolin are both good as our supposed identification characters, but of course, the highlight of Westworld, and the one thing that nobody who sees it ever forgets, is the performance of Yul Brynner as the Gunslinger; a contribution that, by some cinematic miracle, allowed the actor to parody and enhance his image all at the same time. The final third of the film consists of the relentless pursuit of Peter Martin by his black-clad adversary, an extended sequence that is chilling, funny and suspenseful – and which also functions as an interesting personality test. Who do you cheer for, when the robots revolt? Whether you sympathise with the newly terrorised humans or the perpetually put-upon robots may well depend upon your own life experience. For me, one of the supreme pleasures of Westworld is watching the human characters learn what, sadly, far too few real life bullies ever do: that violence is no fun at all when it’s directed at you. Given Westworld‘s overall attitude, it comes as no surprise that John Blane is amongst the first of Delos’s real victims, first having a robot rattlesnake strike at him successfully (“That’s not supposed to happen!”), and then, when he and Peter find themselves facing the Gunslinger for the third – and in John’s case, last – time, choosing precisely the wrong moment to show off his gun-handling skills. This fatal confrontation is a beautifully choreographed scene, with time almost standing still as both men stare blankly at the blood pouring from the hole in John’s body. “I’m shot,” John says, so numb with astonishment that he seems oblivious to his own pain. “I’m shot.” They are the last words he will ever speak. Following hard as it does upon the casual divvying up of who is going to “kill” the robot this time (“Oh, not you again.” “Let me do it this time.”), the Gunslinger’s supreme act of rebellion is one of those jaw-droppingly wonderful moments that can turn a simple film watcher into a dedicated cinephile for life. –– Elizabeth Kingsley


WESTWORLD screens Sunday, January 1 at 3:00, and Monday and Tuesday, January 2 and 3, at 7:00 and 8:45. Tickets are $8.00, and can be purchased here.



The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” — L.P. Hartley


The 1985 depicted in Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future is as distant to us now as 1955 was to Marty McFly, the protagonist of this now-classic time-travel comedy. Looking back, the juxtaposed Eisenhower and Reagan eras of 1955 and 1985 seem to be suspiciously similar places, defined by a zeal for conformity and the acquisitiveness of their inhabitants. It shouldn’t be surprising that high school student Marty ends up in the 50’s, since at the time of Back To the Future’s release America had been trying desperately to get back there for three decades, and the election of Ronald Reagan was in many ways a referendum on transporting the entire nation there as quickly as possible. It is no small irony that Marty’s goal is to return to a future that itself was longing to escape into the past.

Imbued with a cheerfully innocent worldview and plotted with clockwork precision, Back To the Future posits time travel as the ultimate self-improvement program. Marty McFly’s parents are introduced as dreary and defeated losers who quibble helplessly over trivial matters. They have no control over their lives or their fates, and Marty must watch in anguish as his father is bullied and humiliated by old high-school classmate Biff Tannen. Marty himself has a spark and strength that his parents don’t — he is determined not to share their fate — but their defeatism is a contagion to which he knows he may eventually fall prey. Marty’s greatest ambition is to be a rock and roll star (albeit of the corporatist Huey Lewis and the News variety), but he’s just been rejected from performing even at his own high school dance, and has begun to question if he’s good enough — or if the assistant principal at his school is correct in his assertion that “No McFly has ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley”.

Once accidentally marooned in 1955, Marty finds he has inadvertently prevented his parents from meeting and falling in love. Tasked by Doc Brown with getting them together, he coaches his own father in how to woo his mother, and discovers that George McFly has a talent buried so deep that Marty has spent his whole life unaware of it: McFly pere writes science-fiction stories, but is so terrified of failure he never shows them to anyone. Bucking up George’s confidence is necessary to achieving Marty’s immediate goal — his very survival — but it will ultimately prove key to Marty fixing the problems that he left behind in the future.

Der Teenager Marty (Michael J. Fox) wird mit der Zeitmaschine in das Jahr 1955 katapultiert, wo sich seine eigene Mutter (Lea Thompson) unsterblich in ihn verliebt.


Marty’s other obstacle to getting his parents together is the fact that his teenage mother Lorraine is infatuated with him in his guise as visiting student “Calvin Klein”. Unable to escape her attentions, Marty hatches a weirdly oedipal plan to drive her away: he takes the attractive Lorraine to the high school dance, parks the car in a secluded corner of the parking lot and makes what he presumes will be an unwanted sexual advance. Instead, his overtures excite and encourage her, and Marty’s discovery that his mom wasn’t always a “good girl”, but she is secretly a smoker, a drinker and is presumably sexually active, is only one of the false illusions Marty has been carrying around about the supposedly staid older generation.

Of course, Marty succeeds in his quest to get his parents to fall in love, but as a happy side effect he teaches George to believe in himself, and upon Marty’s return to Hill Valley of 1985 finds that his father is stylish and confident, ordering Biff Tannen around and engaging in snappy repartee with a slimmed-down and sophisticated Lorraine.  Another Reagan-era indicator of worth is signaled here as well, when Marty discovers that the McFly residence is now tastefully (and expensively) appointed, though the family still inexplicably lives in the same suburban tract housing as before. Most importantly, the new pickup truck that Marty had planned to use for a weekend getaway with girlfriend Jennifer is now miraculously intact, after having been smashed-up by the counter-1985 by an irresponsible and uncontrollable Biff.As if this weren’t enough, Marty has also regained confidence in himself through an outrageous bit of cultural appropriation. Having played “Johnny B. Goode” to a star-struck teenage audience in 1955 we discover that Chuck Berry has been tipped off to Marty’s “new sound” by his cousin, the bandleader of the Starlighters, implying that Marty has accidentally created the rock n’ roll genre single-handedly. This would imply a baffling paradox but fortunately the movie doesn’t take itself that seriously, and in any event is paced too quickly for you to wonder about it.

Zemeckis’ 1955 is a sanitized, Colonial Williamsburg-style version of the past, where even the casual racism of the time is played for laughs. And Doc Brown remains suitably ageless to the teenage Marty, looking exactly the same in 1955 as he would appear three decades later.


Doc Brown’s role in the movie is that of Marty’s offbeat mentor and time-travel enabler, cool enough in his own eccentric way to have fashioned a time machine from a gull-winged Delorean sports car. Over the years the Delorean’s reputation has been almost entirely consumed by the film franchise and the indeed the car seems to epitomize a certain unforced 80s cool, right down to its OUTATIME vanity plate. Audiences today miss that the Delorean’s presence in the film was originally a kind of joke. John Delorean had recently been convicted of dealing cocaine in a futile attempt to keep his troubled car company afloat, and the car itself, though unquestionably stylish and innovative, had an air of zany failure about it.

The success of the film led to two sequels, filmed together in order to reduce costs: Back To the Future Part II leads Marty and Doc forward in time 30 years to a haphazardly rendered 2015 in which floating skateboards and self-lacing shoes are commonplace consumer items; nostalgia for the 80s is as pronounced as 50’s nostalgia had been three decades earlier. A stolen sports almanac serves as a McGuffin that Marty and Doc pursue through time.


Back To the Future Part III allows Doc Brown to take center stage as something of a temporal refugee, living in Hill Valley in 1885 as the town blacksmith and tinkerer, and facing a showdown with town bully (and Biff’s ancestor) Buford “Mad Dog”  Tannen. Doc even discovers his soulmate in a schoolteacher named Clara, who shares Doc’s interest in science. Though Clara arrives late in the series her presence is a welcome one; she helps make up for the dearth of interesting women in the Back To the Future series.  Lorraine had too little to do in Part II and the luckless Jennifer even less; she was knocked out and left on a porch swing in a bad neighborhood by Doc and Marty. We have to assume, though, that she got home just fine, and everyone else had a grand adventure. — Michael Popham


BACK TO THE FUTURE screens Friday and Saturday, November 27 and 28, at 7:00, and Sunday, November 29 at 5:00. Tickets can be purchased here.

BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II screens Friday, November 27 at 9:15, and Sunday, November 29 at 7:15. Tickets for these shows are here.

BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III screens Saturday, November 28 at 9:15 and Sunday, November 29 at 9:30. Tickets for these shows are here.

Please note: We’re also offering tickets to a one-night triple feature at a discounted price: ALL THREE Back To the Future movies for $16! The show starts at 5:00 pm on Sunday, November 29. Tickets for the triple feature are here.


Review by Trylon lightcycle racer Aaron Vehling

The original Tron, released in 1982, and starring Jeff Bridges and David Warner, is wholly of that era and yet it feels timeless. Some of that is the perpetual 80s nostalgia we’ve been living in for a good eight years (and codified in our daily breathing exercises in 2011, thanks to Drive). But some of it is also that the film’s politics, religion, and fear of technological inventions is an ongoing concern today.

Bridges is Kevin Flynn, a cool-cat former programmer with computer company ENCOM (The dude abides, even 15 years before The Dude is The Dude). He’s been sidelined by Ed Dillinger (Warner), a top executive at the company who made his way to higher echelons of power by stealing Flynn’s video game ideas.

Flynn’s been trying to break into the company’s main computer system virtually to find the proof of Dillinger’s malfeasance, but the autonomous, HAL-like Master Control Program has made sure not to allow such things to happen. Besides, MCP is too busy trying to break into the networks of the Pentagon, the Kremlin, and other consequential computer systems in an effort to absorb all of the software he can get into himself. He doesn’t need Flynn messing about.

Meanwhile, Flynn’s pal, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), has programmed security software called Tron. At one point, Flynn convinces Bradley and their friend and colleague Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan) to help him break into the ENCOM headquarters after Flynn’s own program, CLU, fails in its bid to find the secret files pointing to Dillinger’s intellectual property theft.

Flynn succeeds to a point. They break in and he finds himself in front of the computer, ready to implement some special hacking tomfoolery, when the MCP gets upset and beams Flynn into the computer world.

That point when he ends up in The Grid, ENCOM’s cyberspace, is a bit like that moment in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy wakes up and everything’s in color. In this case there are distinct reds, yellows, and blues contrasted against black, coloring strange wireframe objects, ribbons and other ephemera. But more importantly, the dour realm of Reagan’s 80s is left behind in exchange for this loco contrast that houses anthropomorphic computer programs who engage in some gladiator-style video game warfare, with some of the key programs played by the same actors who play parts in the “real world.”

Although Tron isn’t merely Oz updated for the 80s generation, that it is a product of its time is apparent. The oppressive MCP, while a mere HAL-like hacking program in the real world, in The Grid is a Stalinistic dictator and his second-in-command is a program that is a reliable party-secretary-in-waiting. Flynn and his cohort are the American liberators in the Soviet hellscape. Hell, the bad guys are even embellished with red neon if the distinction weren’t clear enough.

The contrast of America’s political system and that of Russia’s is also on display in the response to some programs’ religious devotion to their “user,” the human in the real world who — at minimum — gives the program instructions, or has even created the program. MCP and his comrades mock the “religious” and seek to undermine the credibility of the false gods. The Americans are the pious and the Russians are the heathens. Oops, I mean the good guys are the pious and the bad guys are the heathens. There. That’s better.

The other element — fear of our own creations, or our own creations’ inevitable awareness and revolution against us — is also on display. The MCP, echoing HAL, is a malevolent creation. He originally started out as a chess program and become more powerful but maintained some benevolence. When Dillinger came into the equation, he set MCP on an ignoble path.

MCP’s conquest of various important computer networks foreshadows the artificial intelligence prowess of Skynet from The Terminator, although MCP isn’t yet ready for mass homicide. It also echoes the ongoing fear of the era of the Soviets somehow getting control of the American defense network, or just a general fear of the unknown harm that could be perpetrated by the relatively new technology of personal computing and widespread networks.

All of those considerations, which make it an 80s film, don’t necessarily date Tron. Neither do the somewhat laughable special effects, a then-groundbreaking mix of back-lit animation and computer graphics. Today, the graphics are co-opted frequently by musicians and graphic artists in the 80s retrosynth/synthwave scene as part of the overall tour-de-force of nostalgia for the decade.

The political contrast, though altered somewhat, is still a concern: Although we’ve grown tired of the news about Russia invading the Ukraine, that event overall solidified a renewed breakdown in Russo-American relations — much to the pleasure of pols and pundits rendered obsolete by “The End of History.” Nowadays the religious battles are scarier than ever, what with ISIS and Al Qaeda and their lot.

The funny thing is that for an 80s film, and one of this character, the soundtrack is utterly lacking in the synthesizers sacred to the eras premiere composers, such as John Carpenter, Giorgio Moroder, and Harold Faltermeyer. This is legitimately ironic, given that Tron composer Wendy Carlos was a pioneer in using synthesizers for classical compositions.

Ultimately, Tron isn’t a bad movie. The Disney touch, responsible for Carlos using predominantly symphonic instruments in the score and the reason for the film’s ending, ensures that it can’t be a great one, though. Despite that, it’s still a classic. It’s still a film to return to occasionally, especially when you have the time to watch it and its Daft Punk- and Lebowski-infused 2010 sequel. –Aaron Vehling




Much is made of the fact that Ralph Bakshi’s first two animated features —  Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic — received the “X” rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. What’s really remarkable, though, is that the “X” rating existed at all. Before the early 1970s, not only would these films not have been cleared for theatrical release, they would probably have been illegal to exhibit publicly in most places; but as the last vestiges of the old studio system crumbled away the last vestiges of its censorship arm went with it.  Newly liberated filmmakers were now able to do the projects they wanted to do. You can feel that exuberance throughout Bakshi’s Heavy Traffic, his most personal film, and his best.

Heavy Traffic tells the story of Michael Corleone, an underground comic-book artist and 22-year-old virgin living in a seedy New York apartment with his bickering parents. His Jewish mother, Ida, is unhappily married to his Catholic father Angelo “Angie” Corleone, who is a low-level mob lackey, and in a series of absurdist comic bits, Ida and Angie attempt to kill each other with various kitchen implements.

While Angie works desperately to get Michael laid — hiring a local prostitute at one point, to no avail — Michael trades his sketches to brassy local bartender Carole (Beverly Hope Atkinson) for drinks. This lands Carole in trouble with her boss and she quits her job. Out of work and being stalked by Shorty, the bar’s (legless) bouncer, Carole moves in with Michael; but because Carole is black, Angie hits the roof and the two of them are forced to strike out on their own.

Unlike Fritz the Cat, which was based on characters created by R. Crumb, the world of Heavy Traffic seems closer to Bakshi’s heart.  The neighborhood is filled with mobsters, drug addicts, hookers and low-lifes, but far from being something that Michael seeks to escape, his surroundings nurture him and serve as inspiration for his art.

Like most of Bakshi’s movies this one makes heavy use of rotoscoping and still photos as backdrops. In too many of his films use of these techniques seem driven by low budgets but here they serve to tie the action to the real world, as does an interesting frame device in which a live-action Michael (Joseph Kaufman) plays pinball in a seedy bar. The movie returns again and again to the pinball machine to punctuate and separate the episodic story elements; like most of Bakshi’s projects this one is rather haphazardly plotted.

Overall, this is an arresting and experimental film, one of the most audacious animated features ever made. –Michael Popham

HEAVY TRAFFIC screens Monday and Tuesday, August 24 and 25 at 7:00 and 9:00 at the Trylon. Tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.