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Retro Cinema – The Drivetime

Retro Cinema – The Drivetime
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Predicting the future is never an easy thing to do, and looking back at futuristic films from distant eras inevitably gives rise to pinpointing various levels of prescience and absurdity with the latter usually outscoring in the game.

Antero Alli’s underground landmark THE DRIVETIME is somewhat unusual because its future was a mere four years ahead of its 1995 release date. But Alli found himself at the cusp of a significant societal shift, with Internet communications and D.I.Y. media barely beginning to take its first steps. He saw the future and knew something troublesome was coming. Even more chilling was Alli’s ability to predict U.S. government behavior in a manner that ultimately proved to be catastrophic creating hoax crises to justify to overkill usage of military violence.

THE DRIVETIME opens in the year 2023. A librarian named Flux lives in the Nostradamus Islands off the coast what was once the continental United States, which had been destroyed in a 1999 earthquake. A totalitarian government took control after the earthquake and commands all aspects of the mass media. However, there is a matter of missing video footage of a mass riot in Seattle prior to the earthquake the government wants to locate it before it falls into the hands of its perceived enemies. Flux is sent back in time through a process called the Drivetime to 1999 Seattle, where he needs to locate the missing footage.

Coming back to 1999, Flux finds himself in a warped society. Webcam and instant messaging appears to have displaced telephonic and person-to-person communications and in one of the film’s funniest moments, a character reacts in shock when a door opens and another person comes out to speak directly to him!

The search for the missing footage trips over a nasty fact that Flux did not previously know: the government of 1999 was manufacturing footage of non-existent riots as a means of establishing law and order. The videographer who shot the genuine riot footage finds himself in quandary: turn the footage over to his government employers, provide it to a pirate online media outlet that will make it freely available to the wider world, or hand it over to the unlikely time traveler.

I first saw THE DRIVETIME when it was a new release, and I found its vision of a near-term future to be chilling and harsh.  Looking back at the film 15 years later, I am wildly surprised at how close Alli came to envisioning where U.S. society would progress: substitute the phony Iraqi weapons of mass destruction for the film’s imaginary street riots, insert bloggers and YouTube posting for the film’s pirate web station, and magnify the film’s computer obsessed characters to today’s iPhone/BlueTooth/Tweeting world and Alli saw the future.

For its day, THE DRIVETIME was a unique presentation in mixed media formats – BETA SP, HI-8, VHS, C-VHS, SVHS and Super 8 film – and guerrilla filmmaking (a $5,000 budget). Alli brilliantly overcame his financial limits with a surplus of imaginary, particularly in the time travel sequence when audacious psychedelic colors and a deceptively haunting folk lullaby are used to simulate Flux’s absorption into the distant past.

Fifteen years later, THE DRIVETIME has not lost its ability to challenge, provoke and (yes) entertain the viewer with its warning of a society speeding down the information superhighway into the wrong direction. It remains a classic of underground cinema and a crowning achievement in the prolific director’s innovative canon.

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Phil Hall

Phil Hall has enjoyed a three-decade career in the film industry as a journalist, critic, publicist, distributor, festival programmer and actor. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, New York Daily News, Wired, American Movie Classics Magazine and Film Threat. He is the author of seven books, including “The History of Independent Cinema,” “The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time” and “In Search of Lost Films.”

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