Film Studies

The Showroom’s Film Studies programme is open to everybody interested in film, with alternate screenings and discussions led by film lecturers from Sheffield Hallam University every Wednesday. The terms are 8 weeks long, with 4 films and 4 sessions.

£65 / £50 concessions for the full term. Tickets for the whole term can be booked at the Box Office. Tickets are also available for the films individually.  

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Who Owns the Future?: American Science Fiction in the 1970s

Science fiction has always been adept at ruminating on the particular traumas and anxieties of its time. Though it had antecedents in the likes of Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man (1933) and Things to Come (1936), sf was truly born as a cinematic genre in the 1950s, an era defined by the Cold War, McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare. From The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) to The Blob (1958) via Invaders from Mars (1953), Them! (1954) and Kronos (1957), the classic American films produced in that decade reflected on fears of communist infiltration, all-out invasion, nuclear disaster and the human race's potential to wipe itself out, all through colourful tales of aliens, giant bugs and robots run amok.

While a steady flow of popcorn sci-fi pictures continued to be released into the 1960s – see, for example, The Time Machine (1960), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961) and Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) – the New Hollywood movement ushered in a more existential form of science fiction as the decade wore on and Hollywood's classical period came to an end. Amidst huge industrial changes and a tumultuous period in United States history that saw race riots rage in the nation's streets while its military fought a proxy war in Vietnam, the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Planet of the Apes (1968) confronted America with its mistakes and set the stage for the subversive science-fiction cinema that would dominate the 1970s.

Of course, the later years of the 1970s saw the release of such bright and optimistic blockbusters as Star Wars (1977) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). But before science fiction came to represent box-office gold courtesy of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, the genre produced some of the most unflinchingly dark, thought-provoking and politically engaged movies of the entire decade. These films dared to highlight America's failings and make grim predictions about its future in an age defined by the counterculture, the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal and the on-going battle for civil rights.

Perhaps the first true science-fiction franchise, the Apes series (1968–1973) dominated the early years of the decade, expressing anti-war sentiments and constructing increasingly intelligent commentaries on race relations, while Douglas Trumbull's ecological space drama Silent Running (1972) laments the death of the idealistic 1960s. Soon, dystopian visions were everywhere; the likes of Soylent Green (1973), Rollerball (1975) and Logan's Run (1976) imagine nightmarish future Americas in which political corruption and capitalist greed have destroyed the nation. Meanwhile, Westworld (1973), The Stepford Wives (1975) and Demon Seed (1977) use androids and artificial intelligence to indict corporate ubiquity, conservative communities and oppressive patriarchy. Even the major alien-invasion film of the decade, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), attacks a society constructed on consumer conformity.

This course will investigate the radical science-fiction cinema of the 1970s and explore how the genre was reinvented by filmmakers to forge astute political commentaries on an immensely turbulent period in American history. Ultimately, it will argue for the 1970s as one of the most important decades for science fiction, and reveal the continued relevance of these films today, in an era defined by the alt-right, 'fake news' and a new cultural crisis.

Tutor Biography

Craig Ian Mann is an Associate Lecturer in Film Studies at Sheffield Hallam University. His research explores the political dimensions of genre cinema, including science fiction, horror, and the Western. He has contributed to Science Fiction Film and Television as well as several edited collections and is co-organiser of the Fear 2000 conference series on modern horror.

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