25 years ago in November, the people of East Berlin rose up to topple the Communist government foisted on them by Joseph Stalin in the aftermath of World War II. And in doing so, they let loose a tidal wave of reform and revolution that turned World War III into a distant and largely theoretical possibility, instead of a nightmare reality that seemed always just around the corner. Join 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting and Checkpoint Telstar in celebrating that momentous anniversary with a bunch of old films that help dramatize what we no longer have to fear.

 

 

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1000 Misspent Hours and CountingInvasion U.S.A.

That leaves just one more customer, a mysterious, oddly accented man named Ohman (Dan O’Herlihy, from Good Against Evil and RoboCop). Rather than answering Potter’s question directly, Ohman psychoanalyzes the answers already given by everyone else. His diagnosis is that everybody wants a strong, prosperous, and free America, but no one is willing to foot their share of the bill for making it so. As for his own answer to Potter’s question, well… Ohman raises his brandy snifter at this point, and begins methodically swishing the liquid around within it. At first, it looks like he’s just stalling to collect his thoughts, but then the attention of all his listeners is captivated by the ripples in the swirling brandy. Ohman’s a hypnotist, and everything we see from here on out is a suggestion that he plants in the others’ minds in the hope of setting them straight.

Rocket Attack U.S.A.

On October 4th, 1957, the OKB-1 rocketry bureau under Chief Designer Sergei Korolev (one of several independent and to some extent competing agencies within the Soviet space program) launched Sputnik 1 into orbit. The satellite didn’t actually do anything except emit radio pulses like an electronic heartbeat, detectable from the ground on two different shortwave frequencies, but functionality wasn’t the point. The point was that for the first time ever, an object made by human hands had taken up long-term residence in outer space. (Sputnik 1 stayed up for exactly three months, dropping into the atmosphere to its destruction on January 4th, 1958, after 1440 complete orbits.) Or rather, that was half the point. The other half was that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had pulled it off before the United States of America or any of the other Western powers: IN YOUR FACE, capitalist-imperialist running dogs!

War of the Satellites

I expected a completely different experience from War of the Satellites than what it actually delivered. Knowing only that Roger Corman made a movie by that title in response to Sputnik hysteria, and that he did so with all other concerns subordinated to getting it into release before the public had a chance to settle down, I pictured a very dull and talky thing (because talk is cheap, while action costs money) that would culminate in a brief and disappointing clash between American and Soviet satellite controllers— a bit like a black and white Robot Jox in which we’d never see the high-tech machines in action until the last five minutes. A workmanlike alien invasion movie, with a bit of style and a story structure that makes it feel much faster-paced than it is, was thus a welcome surprise, even if it’s basically just It Conquered the World with no name actors and no rubber monsters.

Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

As the group captain learns when he goes to see Ripper with his discovery, the true situation is far more sinister than any badly designed secret drill. Ripper has decided that he can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify America’s precious bodily fluids. Whatever the hell that means.

WarGames

I don’t remember when I learned that I was living in the midst of a conflict that threatened to end civilization, and maybe even to cause the extinction of the human race. It seems like the kind of thing that would stick with you, but although I vividly recall how I learned exactly what an atom bomb did (thanks, “Night Flight”…), the moment when I discovered that dozens of the things were pointed more or less directly at my house is now lost to my memory. Maybe the very pervasiveness of the nuclear issue during the Cold War was such that there simply was no single, discrete moment of enlightenment. I mean, they joked about the looming apocalypse on “You Can’t Do That on Television,” for the love of Surt! There’s a good chance, though, that the first time I was provoked to think seriously about the subject, to sort through the probabilities, the stakes, and the implications to the best of a child’s ability, was when WarGames made its way to the cable movie channels. I would have been nine years old at the time.

Checkpoint TelstarGood Bye Lenin!

This film, if you're an American, is an obscure arthouse comedy from Germany starring the guy who would later be the sniper / war hero in Inglourious Basterds and the antagonist Formula 1 driver in Rush (and who will hopefully be raising his profile considerably when he's in Captain America: Civil War in a couple years). If you're German, it's the third-highest-grossing native film in your country's history.

Red Planet Mars

Calder is bitter over having to hide in a tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere, and gets a pretty good "I'm done skulking like a rat and want to impose my will on the Earth" speech. He tells his interrogator that he's officially failed to get in touch with Mars, but that the Americans who stole his work have succeeded (his surmise is that this information will prevent his masters from killing him because they're CCCPissed off at his failure).

These Are the Damned

Wells declines a doctor but accepts the offer of a restorative drink (and England appears to be rubbing off on him; he's polite enough that he apologizes for the way he looks after having been beaten unconscious by ruffians). Wells mentions to Bernard and Freya that he was expecting some of the things he's seen so far in England (I'm assuming red phone boxes, stuffy scientists and Daleks) but that he was pretty sure the biker gangs would be left back on the other side of the Atlantic. Bernard says that "the age of senseless violence has caught up with us too". Incidentally, everyone keeps calling the gangs "Teddy boys", but they're rockers. Come on, English screenwriters, it's your youth subcultures, you should be able to identify them properly.