The Thing I Like About …

… sci-fi/horror from the fifties: they seemed to think the audience had a brain.

From Monolith Monsters to Tarantula to The Incredible Shrinking Man, these movies employed practically no exposition whatsoever. If there was “science” to be explained – whether real or fanciful – it was presented in clear terms as though anyone could understand it – because anyone can. Especially if the science was the actual established science of the time, the moviemakers made the rash assumption that people might actually be learning things in school all day, and that they might be paying attention to the world around them.

People acted the way people act, without a lot of interpersonal drama about it, because it was assumed that the human beings in the audience might actually know about human nature. Since sensibilities then were different – and you couldn’t just put a bunch of gore or violence or swearing or sex in the film just because – the moviemakers had to learn to imply – and this was pretty easy to do, because – can you believe it? – the audience actually had functioning brains that could fathom what was being implied.

I don’t know how it happened, or when, but today we have films that take over an hour to set up the personal relationships, history, and science before the story-proper can begin; we have “drama” so dramatic that real people would need to be having heart attacks to look that upset; we have a level of gore that (while visually interesting, especially from a special-effects standpoint) is so unrealistic that even procedural crime-dramas are technically sci-fi/horror now … and we have audiences that are becoming so unaccustomed to bringing their brains to the cinema that I predict we will soon see disclaimers in the credits that explain “these words are not part of the story”.

In In Time, when the main character says that he doesn’t have time to explain how it all came to be, and tells us, basically, just to roll with it and suspend our disbelief … I was thrilled beyond words. It was so nice not to be talked down to! – or to have it assumed that I was stupid, or ignorant, or unimaginative. Say what you might about the simple plots and ambiguous creature effects – the fifties’-sci-fi/horror filmmaker thought I was smarter than the seat I was sitting in … and that goes a long way.

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