Monday, 26 July 2021

Ignoring Foreign Films in 1964

This blog post is the seventh in a series examining past winners of the Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo Award. An introductory blog post is here.  

There was no Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1964.
Godzilla vs. King Kong remains
one of the most successful Japanese
movies of all time. Still didn't 
earn a Hugo Award nomination.
(Image via DenOfGeek)

As had happened in the previous several years, fans had been solicited for nominations in a variety of categories including Best Dramatic Presentation. But of the 165 people who sent in nominating ballots, fewer than a dozen people offered suggestions for what should be considered in this category.

In response to the extraordinarily low number of ballots cast in the Best Dramatic Presentation category in 1961, a paragraph was added to the WSFS constitution as Section 2.1: “At the discretion of an individual convention committee, if the lack of nominations or the final votes in a specific category shows a marked lack of interest in that category on the part of the voters, the Award in that category shall be cancelled for that year.”

And for the first time in 1964, this clause was invoked by the Worldcon Committee, who called the disappointing ballot count evidence of a “total lack of interest in the category.”

But we would suggest that this ‘lack of interest’ in 1964 reflects both that it was an exceedingly mediocre year for celluloid science fiction in North America, and that the Hugo Awards remained a largely parochial award that rarely recognized works made outside of the United States or the United Kingdom.

During a 40-year stretch from 1964-2003, no foreign films were shortlisted for the Hugo Award: no nominations for Stalker, Akira, Fantastic Planet, City of the Lost Children, Solaris, Planet Of The Vampires, or for Alphaville.

In terms of the 1964 Hugo Awards, it seems a travesty that the Chechoslovakian epic Ikarie XB-1
Ikarie XB-1 is among the best science fiction movies
ever made, and far ahead of its time on many fronts
including depiction of competent women astronauts.
(Image via JanusFilms.com)

didn’t get any recognition. Loosely based on Stanisław Lem’s The Magellanic Cloud, the movie chronicles the multi-year voyage of humanity’s first expedition to Alpha Centauri. The production design by Karel Lukás is among the most influential in the history of science fiction cinema, inspiring everyone from director Stanley Kubrik to designer Matt Jeffreys to architect Eero Aarnio.

The sets built by Lukás help bring to life one of the most mature and human-focused science fiction stories on screen that had been filmed to date. Although the story starts slowly, the filmmaker builds viewer’s emotional investment in the crew and their relationships, and the payoff is excellent because it makes later moments connect.

There are numerous details that we loved about Ikarie XB-1: The non-military international crew, the belief in science, the reaching out to new civilizations in peace and friendship, the fact that the crew has women in positions of authority, the moments of philosophical musing. Combined with the high production value and the technical expertise of the editing and filmmaking, this is a stone-cold classic of science fiction.

Another notable omission from Hugo contention in 1964 was The Mouse On The Moon, an odd
One of the many shots from Ikarie XB-1 that gets
compared to Kubrik's 2001.
(Image via JanusFilms.com)
science-fictional sequel to Peter Sellers’ surprise 1959 hit The Mouse That Roared. This was a great-looking movie despite being made on a shoestring budget with only one member of the original cast returning for a second movie. Notably, the recasting included future Doctor Who companion Bernard Cribbins, Terry Thomas who received a Golden Globe nomination for the movie, and Margaret Rutherford who would go on to win an Academy Award a few months later for her performance in The V.I.P.s.

This little-remembered sequel, which depicts the fictional European micronation Grand Fenwick using their terrible wine-making skills to develop a space program to rival the Soviets and Americans, is charming.

Given its then-unknown director, lack of resources, and insane plot, the movie has all the ingredients of a flop. But inventive reuse of props and sets from other productions, breakout performances from some then C-list actors, and first-rate cinematography made this one of the most surprisingly winsome science fiction movies of the year.
The Mouse On The Moon helped propel director
Richard Lester to a longstanding collaboration 
with The Beatles, directing multiple movies
with the various members of the band.
(Image via ParkCircusFilm.com)

The movie (along with his short film The Running, Jumping, Standing Still Film) helped Director Richard Lester earn the opportunity to direct The Beatles’ first movie A Hard Day’s Night.

Several more mainstream movies might also have merited some attention from the Worldcon voting membership: Roger Corman’s X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes is a well-done mad-science gone wrong parable whose narrative arc is not dissimilar from that of The Invisible Man. It’s among the best movies Corman has ever directed.

Likewise the 1963 cinematic adaptation of John Wyndam’s The Triffids is a competent and visually interesting film, though it excises the novel’s most interesting themes surrounding labour and colonialism. The result is mostly similar to a decent zombie movie.

On television, and in retrospect, the obvious major contender for a Hugo Award casts a very long shadow: the first season of Doctor Who. Revisiting these episodes with 50 years of hindsight is an eye-opening experience because within the first two serials (those that aired in 1963) you can see almost everything that made the show such an enduring classic: the sense of wonder, the dynamic between the Doctor and companions, and the engaging plots.

If we had been nominating in 1964, the serial we would have put on our ballots would be the second one The Daleks. Although that series introduced Doctor Who’s most enduring foes, the story has more in common with the 1960 movie The Time Machine than it does with later Dalek stories; the bifurcation of a race into a hideous violent species (Morlocks/Daleks) and a peaceful beautiful race (Eloi/Thals), the moralizing over the effects of global warfare. Made on less than a pittance of a budget, with barely two sets, the actors make extraordinary use of what little space they have to act.

In 1963, the best science fiction on screen was not coming from America: It was coming from Czechoslovakia, from Japan, and from England. If Hugo voters had been able to cast their nets a little more widely, they would have found some dramatic presentations worthy of a Hugo Award in 1964.

2 comments:

  1. I presume one reason why the European and Asian films and TV programmes did not get nominated for the Hugo Awards is that hardly anyone in the USA had seen them and the USA was to an even greater extent than now fandom's centre of gravity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. However ... "Mouse On The Moon" was a major release. It had its American premiere with NASA astronauts at Cape Canaveral on June 17, 1963.

      Alphaville was so popular it was referenced in an episode of Star Trek the year after its release.

      Fantastic Planet got a near-simultaneous release in the USA, was reviewed in the NY Times, the Chicago Tribune, the LA Times... most of those it made the front of the entertainment section.

      Ikarie XB-1 was widely seen in the USA (though with a different, slightly worse ending).

      Delete