Orson Welles, in the decade or so before his death, returned to his least examined passion, that of Educator. Following on from his Skipper Hill inspired editions of illustrated, more user-friendly Shakespeare, which carried on well into his young manhood, he turned in the 1950s, '60s, and especially in the 1970s to a series essays and explorations of culture, futurism and religious subjects. There were his introductions of great novels and plays for classroom films, and his travel and cultural pieces for the BBC in the 1950s, attempts at philosphical work on American TV in the period, independent productions of a roughly educational nature for syndication in the 1960s, and in 1974, possibly his second best film, F FOR FAKE, on the nature of Art.
Then, there stand out from nondescript stuff three curious, very pessimistic pictures about the future, each of which bear his stamp, but which were ostensibly done by others: "Future Shock," (1972), THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH (1979), and THE MAN WHO SAW TOMORROW (1981). Each, in its own way, is full of dire foretellings:
In THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH, based on Hal Lindsey's Christian Zionist Biblical prophecy of the Second Coming of Christ, and the appearance of the Anti-Christ, Robert Nisbet, a sociologist, is quoted as saying: "If Fascism ever comes to the United States, it'll be called Americanism. And I think that if we are going to have a fascist, totalitarian type of government or ruler in this country, he is going to be someone who exemplifies almost perfectly what we think of as the traditional American character. He's going to have elements of the rural in him, but he's not going to be in any sense a hick. He's going to have to be an individual who knows the military, likes the military, and is capable of using it."
[Calling that Texas chip-kicking Eastern Family scion, George W. Bush! The guy everybody wanted to play pool and swig a Bud with!]
Then, in "THE MAN WHO SAW TOMORROW, Welles, who Director Robert Guenette said re-wrote a number of Nostradamus's Quatrains, has a Middle Easterner, wearing a blue turban, ordering the destruction of New York City. Guenette went on, in 1992, to write and direct the documentary, ORSON WELLES: WHAT WENT WRONG.
Finally, the earliest of these "educational" documentaries, "Future Shock," based on the book by Alvin Toffler, may stand up the best. Toffler and his wife/collaborator Heidi are still around (unlike Nostradamus), still influential (not fairly discredited like Hal Lindsey, for all his influence on neocon and pnac thinking), and still writing books (Revolutionary Wealth, 2006). Toffler who, from what I know of him (and aside from his ideas, he is a bit of a mystery), may be the closest thing to "Sidney Riley, Ace of Spies," that America has come up with. And his ideas are still being taken seriously in the mainstream, not only in America, but in Europe, Russia, China, and the Sub-Continent.
"Future Shock" is the most concise, most Wellsian of the three films, and its predictions are still playing out, still viable.
I remember using this film in my high school "Film and Mass Media" class (always a bit surprised that the County had bought it), and being intrigued that the documentary riveted students (along with TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, I'm sorry to say). They saw themselves as the young revolutionaries fighting against the robots, both real and human, depicted in the picture.
[The most vocal of them were convinced that same-sex marriage would be "no way" -- not ever -- in America!]
And so, though the music may seem now smarmy (maybe "cheesy" as you would say), the ideas are still working. And despite the terrible print, the editing still works, too.
I might note that the Film Editor of "Future Shock," David Newhouse, six years previous had edited that little masterpiece of future shock, (SECONDS, 1966).
AND . . . the Cinematography for "Future Shock" was created by
Vilis Lapenieks, who nearly a dozen years earlier had done similar honors for Curtis Harrington's NIGHT TIDE (1961).
So we are back, with these films, in a curious way, to Aleister Crowley, CHEMICAL WEDDING, Jack Parsons, Marjorie Cameron, Barbara Bush, and the Anti-Christ!
Not that all these figures should be made "victims of guilt by association."
But "fun to watch," as you say, Alan.