After a Fashion
After a Fashion is people!
IS PEOPLE! When I moved back to Texas for the third time in 1973, I went to see Soylent Green with a friend of my sister's. I remember it well primarily because I remember we could smoke cigarettes in the theatre and bring in our own bottles of Dr Pepper (or DP, as we called it then), so I'd watch just about anything. I loathe science fiction, particularly the intergalactic variety (in space no one can hear you yawn), and though Soylent Green was indeed science fiction, it was a catchy unintergalactic premise. Made in 1973, this movie takes place 49 years in the future – in 2022, a scant 12 years from now. The story is that society has completely broken down by 2022 and we have completely destroyed our world through pollution and overpopulation. The differences between the remaining moneyed class and the multitudes of have-nots is as pronounced as ever, and rioting over food (or the lack of it) is not uncommon. Food as we know it is a thing of the past for everyone except for the privileged few. Meat is a rarity for everyone, and many citizens of 2022 have never seen an egg, Strawberry jam is $150 a jar (Big deal! You can already pay $11.99 for a pound of chicken salad at Whole Foods!), and everyone eats margarine, which is perhaps the most disturbing element of the movie's premise. Charlton Heston (commonly mistaken for Jesus) plays Detective Thorn – an overzealous policeman on the trail of a murderer, Tab Fielding (played by porn pioneer Chuck Connors). Any movie starring Heston (according to IMDb.com, aka "Captured Slave Charlton Heston," aka "Charlton Easton") is instantly dated. But this movie hardly needed Heston to be dated; it does it all by itself. It's always funny to me how movies – whether they're portraying the past or the future – usually wind up looking exactly like the decade in which they were made. And this one's a real lulu. Apparently in 1973, the film's visionaries thought that everything would look pretty much the same in 49 years. Trimline phones (with cords!) would still be the rage, and emergency phone calls would have to be made from emergency phone boxes on the street. This movie missed the cellular revolution entirely. On the other hand, women are "furniture" that come with luxury apartments, and female lead Leigh Taylor-Young (as Shirl) is among them. Living in luxury as concubines has a heavy price, and on their rare days off, the "girls" all get together like a harem of early Seventies odalisques, looking like candy-colored prostitutes – er, "models" – wearing fake Halston and enough lip gloss to lubricate the Statue of Liberty. It's interesting to hear them discuss global warming and the greenhouse effect as a 79-year-old Edward G. Robinson (who, at times, bears an uncanny resemblance to Chronicle Editor Louis Black) pedals a stationary bike to produce enough electricity to work by. Fortunately, there's Soylent Green (or Soylent Gold or Soylent Red or even Soylent Teal, as Phil Hartman once lampooned on Saturday Night Live). But unfortunately, supplies of this ultranutritious substance, which is supposedly made from plankton, run low, and the crowd riots. One man starts yelling: "The scoops are coming! The scoops are coming!" And in no time, the scoops (aka garbage trucks) arrive and start dumping the unruly crowd into their hoppers. I just love that idea. (Picture a Critical Mass demonstration.) During the manhunt, the fatherly Sol (Robinson) provides sentimental nuances and glimpses of the world that he remembers. OK, in 2022, he's about 80, which would make him 68 in 2010. Clearly the world he's remembering is the world we live in now (minus Trimline phones). I love the very humane death chamber where Sol goes to die. Thousands of people choose death, and death clinics that look like airport terminals are available to assist them. A few simple questions – "What's your favorite color?" and "What kind of music do you like?" – and voilà! – you are led to a sterile lablike setting and met by staff dressed in white robes (Thetans?) who rub you and speak to you soothingly while you drink a lovely sedative that kills you. But before you die, you are surrounded by screens showing the wonders of nature – scenes of deer and flowers and ocean sunsets. Meanwhile, Thorn kills Fielding and shows up at Sol's end. He surreptitiously follows Sol's body as it is loaded into a garbage truck to be taken to the waste processing plant. We won't spoil the film for you (if you haven't already seen it 1,000 times on cable), but we'll leave you with this: Despite its bleak ending, I always remembered this piece of dialogue. When Thorn reminds Sol that he always says people used to be nicer, Sol responds: "No, people have always been rotten. But the world was beautiful then."