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THE INHERENT POWER OF GENRE





THE INHERENT POWER OF GENRE Series:

*(MARCH, 2016)  "BATMAN v SUPERMAN" / "MARVEL v D.C." - AND WHY D.C.'s ON THE RIGHT TRACK
*(MAY, 2014) INHERENT POWER OF GENRE - PT 5: "GOJIRA" / "GODZILLA" HOWEVER PRONOUNCED, HE'S KING!

*(DEC. 2011 / JAN. 2012) INHERENT POWER OF GENRE - PT.4: BOOMER ANGST AND THE 1970s
*(OCT. 2011 / Revised - JULY 2014)  INHERENT POWER OF GENRE - PT.3: HISTORY OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

*(JULY / AUG.  2011)  INHERENT POWER OF GENRE - PT.2: TV AND THE 1960s, "TWILIGHT ZONE" & "STAR TREK"

*(MAY, 2011)  INHERENT POWER OF GENRE - PT.1:  COLD WAR AND THE 1950s


JULY - 2011
 
A BRIEF HISTORY OF …
THE INHERENT POWER OF GENRE - PT. 2
GROWING PAINS - THE 1960s, “THE TWILIGHT ZONE” AND “STAR TREK” 

by CEJ


Racial discord dons a new "face" in TREK's "BATTLEFIELD"      

     Adolescence is trauma: a psychological, spiritual and  physical evolutionary growth spurt filled with confusion, anger, rebellion against authority, and a questioning of established norms in the search for a sense of meaning of existence; ultimately a search for a sense of self.   At just under 200 years old,  America would finally be dragged kicking and screaming out of a national state of “arrested development” into it’s own adolescence during the 1960s.  A fulcrum point in it’s history,  the decade would be the climactic result of two centuries of hard learned lessons - among them: a Civil War, two World Wars, a Cold War arms race, the imprisonment (born out of fear) of it’s own Asian citizenry; and a burgeoning Civil Rights and gender equality movement born of out frustration.  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

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  The decade would also prove to be the introductory first act for a new era of daring ideas which would influence not only it‘s own future, but that of the world in general: everything from sexual liberation (… and yeah, we know, that phrase is "ohhh so 60s!“) to the collective power of the common man rising against the unjust didactism of oppressive governments (anti Vietnam protests, the Watts riots, Czechoslovakia’s “Prague Spring”, etc.).  As in any adolescence (or rebellion for that matter) the arts would play a major role in helping solidify the angst and hopes of the era.  In the truest fashion of the Dada-ists (with it’s “art as political manifesto” belief) the “Pop Art” movement of the 60s reveled in the tearing down of established walls and perceptions of normalcy.
ANDY WARHOLl’s comic book and industrial influenced work became legend … as well as subjects of controversy and derision from proponents of more traditional art.  The same for JACKSON POLLOCK’s visual esoterica.  But this was okay, because in some respects art must always be “graffiti” or “rap music” in the sense that it must represent and vent the inner longings (and psychosis) of the average Joe or Jane; either doing so intentionally or by mere coincidence of timing.  When left in the hands of official “arbiters of good taste” the art is in danger of becoming dishonest and an inaccurate historical representation of the time in which it was produced.  Now …



     All of this specious “mumbo jumbo” to lend importance (and they WERE, ARE and always WILL BE important in the medium of the cinematic arts, especially in the arena of “Genre as a force for social change“) to two of the eras most popular and at the same time revolutionarily subtle entries.  And would you believe they came via the “second tier” medium of television?  They were ROD SERLING’s THE TWILIGHT ZONE and GENE RODDENBERRY’s STAR TREK.  A major “fulcrum point” in the history of socially relevant genre fiction via the visual arts, both were themselves the climactic result of earlier “consciousness raising” genre entries such as THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), and both would become the first act launching pad for a new era of socio-political fiction - films like 2001: A SPACE ODYESSY (1968), PLANET OF THE APES (1968), SILENT RUNNING (1972), SOYLENT GREEN (1973), ROLLERBALL (1975), LOGAN’S RUN (1976), BLADE RUNNER (1982) and MINORITY REPORT (2002) being forever in their debt. 
    

INTO THE “ZONE”:


                                ** AUDIO CLIP ** Twilight Zone Title Theme



     One of the most famous and recognizable themes in history (by French new wave composer MARIUS CONSTANT) became the weekly entre’ for millions of viewers into one of the most beloved and legendary series in the history of not only genre television, but the medium itself:  Rod Serling’s “Land between science and superstition”,  his  “middle ground between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.  That wondrous land of imagination …” generations of fans came to know as THE TWILIGHT ZONE.  The show’s October 2, 1959 debut episode “WHERE IS EVERYBODY” starred EARL HOLLIMAN (POLICE WOMAN) as Mike Ferris, an apparent amnesiac military man who finds himself alone on an empty Earth and trying to maintain his sanity while figuring out what happened to the rest of the planet’s population.
 


"Where Is Everybody?" (Oct. '59)

TZ-Where is Everybody?


     In the 30 minute episode’s climactic twist the audience comes to realize the entire story took place across the landscape of Ferris’ mind.  For he was in actuality an Air Force test subject placed in solitude to determine whether or not solo explorers could withstand the loneliness of long distance space travel.  Unable to do so, he suffered a psychotic break and subsequent hallucinations his brain told him were real.  A nifty sci-fi yarn penned by Serling himself (who would go on script 96 of the the ZONE’s 156 episodes over it’s five year run), “WHERE IS EVERYBODY?” was actually the test episode Serling had shown CBS and it’s sponsors to earn the series it’s green light.  After years battling network sensors on live TV drama series like PLAYHOUSE 90, “EVERYBODY” was deliberately designed as “safe bait lure” - cleverly executed to be little more than an enjoyable AMAZING STORIES / WEIRD TALES magazine-type pulp yarn with a surprise climax but no real political agenda.  Once given the go-ahead however, Serling went right back to his patented “message fiction“.  Aided and abetted this time by a group of other writers known for their own present and future contributions to genre and dramatic fiction (men like RICHARD MATHESON - THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, I AM LEGEND, GEORGE CLAYTON JOHNSON - LOGAN’S RUN and EARL HAMNER JR. - who would go on to create THE WALTONS), Serling would tackle the same themes he’d attempted with PATTERNS,  A TOWN HAS TURNED TO DUST and other stories.  


                                                                                                                 "Nightmare at 20,000 Ft." (Oct. '63)




     None of which is to say “TZ” (as fans came to refer to it) didn’t have it’s fair share of freakishly fun yarns for their own sakes.  Quite to the contrary.  “NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FT” (1963) with WILLIAM SHATNER as a nervous airline passenger who believes there’s a destructive gremlin on the wing of the plane; “LIVING DOLL” (1963) with TELLY SAVALAS as an emotionally abusive stepfather receiving death threats from his stepdaughter’s “Talky Tina” plaything; and “THE INVADERS” (1961) with AGNES MOOREHEAD as a mute woman battling terrifying toy-sized alien invaders who infiltrate her rural cabin, where series highlights, all of which are lovingly remembered to this day.  Serling’s main thrust however would be his social allegories, and this during one of the most turbulent and traumatic periods in American history.


"The Eye of the Beholder" (Now. '60)

Eye of the Beholder
      Embroiled in a decade of political assassinations, a Cold War inspired space and technology race with the Soviet Union, Civil Rights protest, and even a nationwide religious and spiritual quest revival, the public had seemed to catch up with Serling’s moral agenda of the previous decade.  The time was right for art to jump in and make a difference.  And to this end “TZ” episodes such as “THE MONSTERS ARE DUE ON MAPLE STREET” (1960) - a thinly veiled indictment against McCarthy-ism wherein a small neighborhood destroys itself believing one of their own to be an alien spy on a recon before an invasion; “I AM THE NIGHT - COLOR ME BLACK” (1964) where a mysterious cloud born of racism in the American South, grows, becomes alive, then moves “Blob-like” across the entire nation; and the ironic “THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER” (1960) where a beautiful woman (DONNA DOUGLAS - “Ellie May” from THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES) seeks plastic surgery in order to be accepted by the lizard-like society in which she lives, became not only highlights of 1960s television, but passionately discussed water cooler conversations the next day at work for millions. 


 Seven Days in May poster 
      After five years of schedule-racing production however, Serling became drained and, seeking to go out on a high note, called it quits for the series.  He’d try his hand as a screenwriter, penning a handful of critically acclaimed films which also fell in line with his heartfelt socio-political agenda (SEVEN DAYS IN MAY - 1964, about an attempted military coup of the U.S. Government;  the original PLANET OF THE APES - 1968,  and the prophetic THE MAN - 1972, starring James Earl Jones as America’s first African-American President), and he’d even talk of writing a stage play.  But in the end he always found himself, for better or worse, returning to television.  He’d say in his famous interview with Mike Wallace “Maybe it’s an admission of weakness on my part.  Maybe it’s a desire to return to the womb.  But I’m a dramatist for television”.  Within his beloved medium his most notable non-TZ series was the adult-themed western THE LONER, starring Lloyd Bridges as a former Union soldier who after the Civil War journeys westward.  En route he’d encounter other post war citizen travelers in search of their own American dream, and become embroiled in the hardships they faced while attempting to bring them to fruition.  The most powerful episode was arguably “THE HOMECOMING OF LEMUEL STOVE” (Nov. ‘65) guest starring Brock Peters (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) as an African-America Union soldier also returned from war who discovers his father has been lynched by the KKK, and who then sets out on a mission of violent vengeance to bring the perpetrators to book. 



Lloyd Bridges as William Colton - THE LONER (1965 - '66)
Bridges-The Loner
     The episode is essentially a debate between Martin Luther King Jr’s. “change through non-violence” belief and Malcolm X’s change “by any means necessary” edict.  Heavy subject matter at a time more safe western shows like GUNSMOKE and BONANZA were all the rage … though in all fairness both of those series would later use their popular platform to address similar themes.  At the time however  THE LONER was, as some had said, "either too real for a public grown used to the unreal Western or too adult for juvenile Easterners.".  For whatever reason low ratings caused the show’s demise after only one season.  One of Serling’s final TV gigs was as host and sometimes writer of the popular NIGHT GALLERY anthology horror series on ABC (1970 - ‘73), but he was never happy with it’s dedication to little more than chills and screams with nothing to say socially. 



Rod Serling 
      In late June of 1975, Serling, a long time chain smoker and relentless workaholic, suffered the second of two heart attacks within one month.  Undergoing a risky surgical procedure, he suffered a third attack on the operating table then died on June 28th at the age of fifty.  Leaving behind a legacy of beloved stories, his THE TWILIGHT ZONE continued to live on through two subsequent television revivals as well as a Steven Spielberg produced feature film in 1982.  Many other writer/directors have also paid tribute to their ideological Sensei Serling in their own way, the most recent being LOST creator J.J. ABRAMS' 2011 film SUPER 8.  Abrams' 8 is itself a return to his own childhood, and thematically shares a kinship with his all time favorite TWILIGHT ZONE episode - 1959's "WALKING DISTANCE" wherein a harried 40 yr. old businessman is transported through time and given the ability to walk through his childhood and hometown.  Abrams even names the military's operation to "sweep" the town in SUPER 8 "Operation Walking Distance".  






super-8-poster-slice


     While many other anthology series have come and gone over the years (THRILLER, THE OUTER LIMITS, NIGHT GALLERY, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE) none have had a more lasting effect creatively or socio-politically than the original THE TWILIGHT ZONE.  The cleverness of the original stories, as well as their unflinching indictment of social injustice, continue to ring fresh in the minds of anyone who ever saw a single episode.  To this day almost any Joe or Jane on the street can name a favorite "TZ" story,  if not by name, then most certainly as “The one where … “.  Such was the artistic legacy of the little pugilist and war hero from Binghamton, New York. 

Walking Distance Monument in bandstand

pg. 1,2,3
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