I have a slide of characters I use in teaching, a composite of different mugshots from Jar Jar Binks (never fails to generate a groan) to Scarlet O’Hara, Howard Wolowitz to Sarah Connor. There’s a couple of tricky ones in there … Night Owl II is often mistaken for Batman, and the agent from Serenity is often a stumper, but in general in most classes there’s at least someone who knows each face. Except for the one below, a frame taken from the 2007 film The Man From Earth that no one ever seems to have heard of.
Word of this movie came to our house from friends in the UK, and my husband (ever the supplier in new things) bought the DVD. It worked on our old player, and not on the new one, but we have torrent for that now (more about that later). The box has a quote that says, “quietly restores dignity to science fiction of the mind”, and that’s exactly what it is. Set entirely in one man’s living room (with a few scenes outside the house) it’s one of the most deep-dive entwined science fiction history narratives I’ve seen. It pushes all my happy buttons in the concepts, characters and lingering questions. It’s long been in my top 5 favourite movies.
Then a couple of years ago (I say “a couple” and I mean probably more like ten, because of the small human time dilation) we heard Facebook filtered rumours about a sequel. Jerome Bixby, the revered sci-fi creator, had passed away, but director Richard Schenkman was on board. There was a crowd fund. And it was made: The Man From Earth: Holocene
It’s taken until now for me to come back to seeing it. Some of that is just the distribution. You have to know about it to want it. But in this case, the creators actually uploaded it to file-sharing sites, determined that all who wanted to see it would have access. Partly this was recognising that the cult-status and pirating of the first film was a huge part of its success. For us here in Australia, this was good news. Despite having to dust off and have a wrestle with utorrent (and Optus and TPG, who barred access to the file on PirateBay, even though the movie creators had put it there …), I have the movie now. I have duly been back to manfromearth.com to donate to the creators, but I’m now having another revisit about the thinking behind monetising creative products in the digital age … is it only workable for niche/cult products that generate affectionate feelings in us?
I don’t know. And I’m yet to watch Holocene. Opportunity has not yet presented, and to be honest, there’s that little fear of disappointment, like I have for all the Terminators after the second one (and all the Aliens for that matter). But I also find it comforting that good work, work that inspires and satisfies, can be found everywhere, especially off the mainstream road. And that’s why I keep that slide in my teaching classes, because word of mouth is how these things spread. And someone who doesn’t know it yet is going to find something special in John Oldman, too.