So the opening film for Sci-Fi July was important to me because it was in my formative teen-adult years, and it was at a time when net lingo was just beginning to gain awareness and usage in popular culture, or so my naive teen-adult memory recalls. But for the second installment of Sci-Fi July, I decided to turn back the dial, to 1971, to a time before time-as-I-knew-it, and screen a film with a much slower pace, virtually no plot, that was pre-Star Wars and thus before space opera – my hope was it was a movie wholly unfamiliar to the crowd (whereas Johnny Mnemonic was “known” from most peoples’ youth, but simply never seen because it was so bad). I was right, and I introduced the film with the following text (btw the screening took place inside the Flux gallery due to a consistent threat of rain – which did happen for about 5-8 minutes during the film, so I thank everyone for putting up with the humidity of the space – thus the fans!):

Welcome to the second installment of Sci-Fi July, an informal rooftop film series of the science fiction genre.

The movie you’re going to watch tonight has consistently returned a mixed bag of emotions and responses for nearly 30 years. Regarded by some as seminal influence, and by others as a complete flop, I would argue for the staying power of tonight’s film, Silent Running, and its pivot point in film history. It’s influences and its influence are far and wide.

It’s no 2001 A Space Odyssey, but it is directed and produced by Douglas Trumbull, whom some would recognize as a special effects supervisor on that 1968 blockbuster, and who would go on to supervise special effects for one of the truly greatest sci-fi films of all time, Blade Runner. However it would seem Trumbull’s trade was best put to use in the special effects department, and less in the director’s chair – nice try though.

Made on a budget nearly 1/10th of Kubrick’s space masterpiece, Trumbull did employ some genius techniques to achieve his desired shots, notably filming aboard a decommissioned NAVY aircraft carrier, the USS Valley Forge, which also happens to be the name of this film’s space freighter turned botany ark.

You heard me right, I said “botany ark”. The earth has been completely defolliated and the last remaining forests and plant life float in space inside geodesic domes while humans apparently debate over whether plant life is necessary or not for the continuation of the species. Domes whose design was influenced in part by the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Climatron, a Bucky Fuller-style facility in St. Louis housed not but a mile from where I grew up.

Oh and there’s robots! Or “drones” rather. Drones that wobble and never fall down, somehow. That’s because housed inside them were multiple amputee actors, again another genius Trumbull technique. Domes and drones which can easily be seen as influence on other sci-fi titles like 2007’s Sunshine or even Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

However the science falls short: are you seriously telling me you didn’t know light was needed to grow plants? and why are geodesic domes in orbit around Saturn anyhow – what’s wrong with an orbit around Earth? And not about science, but why is it called Silent Running anyhow? If someone from the audience figures this one out, please, enlighten us.

But do look out for some incredible sets, including vector waveform monitors, American Airlines freight containers, and a truly remarkable scene with a sort of microscopic integrated circuit soldering machine – wow!

and once again some great crowd shots by Astrid Bussink’s digital diarrhea photostream