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Topic Section: The cinema of paranoia
TOPIC SECTION:
The cinema of paranoia
Cinema has had an uneasy relationship with science and technology. The ways in which science and technology are portrayed in the movies has reflected the predominant phobias of the time
Picture: 02F_2000_5000_0061_3.jpg
Cinema lobby card for 'Behemoth The Sea Monster', 1959.
Credit: NMPFT, courtesy of the estates of Roy Ashton and Phil Leakey
. In the 1950s, films were dominated by the fear of invading aliens or botched atomic research resulting in giant mutant creatures and radioactive zombies. By the 1970s, env
It was no coincidence that at the time the US military were carrying out nuclear tests in the Nevada desert
ironmental damage and disease had taken over as the popular manifestation of science gone wrong.

The 1950s was the Golden Age of the American science fiction film. Alien invasions and the unbelievable wonders of the Atomic Age and Space Age drew people into the cinemas and made them scream. All sorts of giant creatures menaced the big screen – dinosaurs, ants, locusts, scorpions,
Picture: 02B_2000-5000_0143.jpg
Drawing of the Creature, 1963.
Credit: NMPFT, courtesy of the estates of Roy Ashton and Phil Leakey
 spiders, lizards and even giant humans. One of the most popular films of the time was The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953). Based on a story by Ray Bradbury, this featured a dinosaur disturbed by H-bomb tests in the Arctic, which makes its way to New York where it is finally killed with radioactive isotopes. Them! (1954) featured giant mutant ants that go on the rampage in the Arizona desert. It was no coincidence that at the time the US military were carrying out nuclear tests in the Nevada desert.
Picture: 02A_2000-5000_0139.jpg
Clay head of the Creature, 1963.
Credit: NMPFT, courtesy of the estates of Roy Ashton and Phil Leakey


At the end of the twentieth century, Hollywood films reflected the apocalyptic anxieties that always accompany the end of a century. These started with a spate of alien intrusion and invasion movies followed by films based on the theme of viral infection, such as 12 Monkeys (1995) and Outbreak (1995), then, alien takeover and relationships – Mars Attacks! (1996), Contact (1997) – and, finally, killer asteroids, comets and meteors – Deep Impact (1998) and Armageddon (1998). These films reflected the prevailing worries of AIDS, terrorism, drug abuse and computer viruses. Like infectious diseases spread by ecological change, modern technology, urbanisation, jet travel and human invention, these films reflected the cultural paranoia associated with science and technology.

 
 
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Topic section: The science of screams
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Typically the scientist on screen has been an outsider, often an outcast. Whether played by Peter Sellers as Dr Strangelove or by Bela Lugosi, the role has often explored the line between genius and madness. Both share an affinity with obsession.  > more

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Topic section: Frankenstein’s scream factory
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The question of whether the scientist plays God has been a major theme for movies. The punishment for such arrogance has been portrayed as tragedy. The story of Frankenstein’s monster is replayed in Jurassic Park.  > more
 
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