Gone Forever

11 02 2010

We got ourselves a Roku for Christmas, and now we can play all of Netflix’s Watch Instantly videos on our TV. It is awesome. Netflix was always our alternative to cable/satellite/tivo, and now we don’t even have to wait for discs in the mail. On the downside, I’ve been spending a lot more time watching TV– mostly plumbing the treasure trove of programs from my younger days; The Hitchhiker’s Guide the the Galaxy (BBC series), Cosmos, old Doctor Whos, etc.

Also on Watch Instantly: THX 1138, George Lucas’ first film from 1971. Or rather, the “Special Edition,” all tarted up with additional CGI scenery and effects, the same treatment Lucas gave the Star Wars trilogy. Part of that treatment is to eliminate the original, un-tampered-with version from all accessibility. (Spoilers ahead, not that there’s anything left to spoil.)

Several years ago I saw the unvarnished THX 1138. It was one of those accidental, late-night cable experiences, stumbling across something strange and being riveted for hours. I recognized many of the disembodied voices in the beginning sequence as audio samples used by Front 242, Laibach, and others. It turns out disembodied voices were a primary device in the movie, used with blurry screen images and shots of banks of machinery to vividly, thoroughly portray a whole world of hermetic dystopia.

The minimalist technique was surely due to limited resources, and Lucas probably found it endlessly frustrating. I wish someone would explain to him that great works come from artists bumping against their frustrations. (A prison cell composed of infinite empty whiteness? Genius!) The world of THX 1138 was unique, eerie, and enormously compelling in its antiseptic physicality. Sure, it’s a little bit funny seeing a future made of 1970s technology, but the archaic machines are essential to the surreal otherworldliness.

I love a good escape-from-enclosed-world story, where the boundaries of consensus reality are made physical, and thus, breachable. THX’s long odyssey past barrier after barrier into an ambiguous daylight delivered on that score, big time. I’m probably raving about this movie more than it really deserves, but it was intriguing for sure, and I’d like to be able to watch it again. But it is not to be.

I watched the first 20 minutes or so of the Special Edition, and I had to turn it off. It’s a different movie. Even though the additions are mostly obvious, watching the Special Edition was only going to dilute my memory of the original version. That memory can never be experienced again, and is therefore too precious to throw away.

In a way I’m grateful. It’s increasingly rare for recordings of any kind to disappear into the past. Today, when everything can be rewound, reviewed, and repeated, it’s nice to be reminded to savor an experience while you can.

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