1/31/11

Mind Bending Movies Through the Decades


I was watching Moon (2009) the other day and it struck me that there's been a lot of really good mind-bending movies out in recent years..... and there were hardly any during the 1970s and 80s.  We are truly living in the Golden Age of Cinematic Mind Blowers.  I'm not talking simply "science fiction"; I'm talking "this movie literally hurt my brain!"

The 1960's had precious few mind blowers - the penultimate being 2001: A Space Odyssey. Another film, Seconds, starring Rock Hudson, was so brain busting, it kept Brian Wilson away from movie theaters for 15 years!  Other than that, films tended to be either straight or artsy-fartsy avant garde.  Roger Corman drug culture movies made stabs at being transcendental, but weren't particularly deep, they were mainly just trying to look hip. The television provided most of the mind blowing via The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Doctor Who.

The 1970's was perhaps the worst decade for trippy films.  After Easy Rider, things tended to be gritty and realistic.... there wasn't much room for science fiction mind games. Sure, there was A Clockwork Orange and Solaris, but that was just about it.  When Star Wars came around in the latter part of the decade, there was no hope whatsoever for mind blowers - science fiction had to be swashbuckling adventure.  Giant black obelisks on the moon were out; lightsaber duels were in.


Of course, the 60s and 70s had tons of great mind blowing fiction published during this time, which makes it a bit surprising that none of it never made its way to film.

I want this in a frame

The 1980's weren't much better.  Still heavily influenced by Star Wars, science fiction had to be exciting, not mind blowing.  E.T. didn't help matters either.  Eraserhead is by far the biggest mind blower to emerge from this decade, with The Wall, Repo Man and Blade Runner trailing far, far behind.  It wouldn't be until well into the 1990's that we'd get a flood of mind blowing goodness to movie theaters.

I can't begin to list them all, but among the most notable are: The Matrix, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Primer, The Man from Earth, Donnie Darko, Oldboy, The Fountain, Mulholland Drive, Martyrs and, most recently, Inception.

What the hell? Why all of a sudden?  It's not like CGI is necessary to make a mind-blower.  Why are we suddenly inundated with these films?  I can tell you both Donnie Darko and Martyrs made my cerebrum convulse for days.... I literally felt like I'd taken a severe blow to the head.

In summary, the seventies and eighties produced some great films.  I'd much rather watch the gritty realism of Dirty Harry or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest than just about anything.  But, when it comes to making movies that hurt the brain, there's been no better time than the present.

23 comments:

  1. From the Eighties, other possible candidates are the Douglas Trumbull film Brainstorm and Ken Russell's Altered States. Neither one is written about too much these days, but they were both considered a big deal at the time!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jodorowsky and Ken Russell were definitely making mind-blowing films in the 1970s...

    ReplyDelete
  3. Maybe back then people were not ready for mind-blowing cinema. After all, they had the perspective of being blown up in a mega nuclear war. Nowadays, it's only our mind that is left to screw up.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Altered States
    Videodrome
    Brainstorm (sort of)
    Cemetery Man (1994)

    These are a few of the mid blowing films of the 1980s and 1990s. As for the 1970s, a few dystopia scifs, but the most part you are correct.

    ReplyDelete
  5. i'll give you Altered States, and maybe another Russel film, Videodrome. But you have to admit that's still pretty slim pickings compared to today.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Videodrome was Cronenberg. My bad.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Jodorowsky definitely. The Holy Mountain made my brain snap. Also, Fantastic Planet is a great 70's trip.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Don't forget the bending of children's minds – e.g. 1953's The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Apocalypse Now is a mind blower. When I showed it to my brother when he went to college, (he's 9 years younger than me), he said, "That's not a war movie, that's a head movie!"

    Also, didn't you write about Entertaining Mr. Sloane? It just came up on Netflix instant.

    RetroHound.com

    ReplyDelete
  10. Are you forgetting 1974's Zardoz?

    ReplyDelete
  11. There's also 1976's The Man Who Fell To Earth.

    ReplyDelete
  12. The Man Who Fell to Earth really didn't blow my mind that much, and I haven't seen Holy Mountain yet (it's been recommended to me, but I haven't gotten around to it).

    Wasn't Zardoz the one with Sean Connery running around in a man bikini the whole movie? Too much Connery skin to distract me from any mind blowing plot that may have been going on.

    Apocalypse Now definitely made me think, but I can't really call it mind blowing. There's a difference between when you're watching a movie and say "whoa, that's deep" and when you're watching a movie and say "Whooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaa. OMG my brain is imploding!"

    ReplyDelete
  13. "Whooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaa. OMG my brain is imploding!" is exactly what Apocalypse Now did to me.
    RetroHound.com

    ReplyDelete
  14. I was physically exhausted after watching The Matrix for the first time. I felt as though my brain was on the treadmill for two hours. I have seen this movie countless times and I pick up on something new each time.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I can recommend "The Ninth Protocol" (1980) starring Scott Wilson and Stacy Keach as a movie that comes near to mind blowing: It's certainly unlike anything else made. In fact, 1980 gave us "The Ninth Protocol" and "The Stuntman". Both films mess with my mind in a fun way.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Several people mentioned Jodorowsky. I was specifically thinking "El Topo" by him in the early 1970s. I actually own the soundtrack. Then there was a movie subtitled "The First Electric Western" but I can't remember the real title. IMDB is not being much help.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I submit Jacob's Ladder and Kurosawa's Dreams. Both had release dates of 1990, which meant they were actually made in the 1980s. It's up to Gilligan to decide whether that counts as regards the post, of course! And I didn't see anything in the post specifying U.S. films, which I think opens the field up to include a fair number of Weird European and/or Asian Films.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Capewood--"Zachariah" was billed as "The First Electric Western". Caught it on television years ago and I was underwhelmed.

    ReplyDelete
  19. stuntman was a minor head trip...my theory about the lack of "mindblowing" films from the era is: the lack is inversely proportional to the intensity of mindblowing reality and the ready availability of chemical "accelerators"

    ReplyDelete
  20. You have gone all Artsy-Fartsy on me. I can't believe it. Just because they were commercial successes doesn't mean that they didn't "Blow Your Mind."

    1962 - Dr. No (And every subsequent Bond Film - Though the Roger Moore ones were often dreadful. But Space Stations & Lasers in space & rockets, etc.==Science Fiction)

    1984 - The Terminator

    1985 - Back To The Future

    1991 - Terminator 2: Judgment Day (The invention of the digital Morphing technique is still mind-blowing.)

    I propose that you are using Selective Memory, or perhaps you forgot to take your medication that morning.

    ReplyDelete
  21. AnonymousJuly 17, 2011

    While I may agree that there were some truly good movies mentioned in the above article, I must admit that saying things like we are living in the "Golden Age of Mind Blowing Cinema" is truly a naive and utterly uninformed statement that is only worthy of being made Online. I like some of these as much as the next guy but if films like The Matrix and Inception really caused your brain to hurt, perhaps you ought to be seeking a Lobotomy for your troubles. Zardoz!

    ReplyDelete