SPECTRES OF THE SPECTRUM (DVD) Image

Like his earlier Sonic Outlaws, this put my pop-culture paradigm back in the blender for a little more mix-up, and I am much the better for it. Part documentary, part dreamscape, this is a very, very quick-witted exploration of the origins, development, and meaning of electromagnetic technology. On the one hand, the film outlines the work of Tesla, Bell, and other innovators, then traces the bizarre transition from smoky superstition to technologism (Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant, the film tells us, listened to the static on the telephone line in search of spirit voices). It also describes a sci-fi future in which the Earth is about to be destroyed by an electromagnetic catastrophe and a few rebels’ quest to stop it. The link between the real and the imaginary is a woman glimpsed on the 1950’s educational-film series “Science in Action”, embellished as the deceased mother of a psionic-powered superhero girl and husband to a technician-turned-pirate broadcaster. As we see stock footage of Edison electrocuting an elephant to bring disrepute to his rivals, and American Generals promoting science as a means of fighting the commies, we come to terms with the shaky social, spiritual and ideological foundation of our technotopian goals.

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