Predating the Internet, smartphones, Wikileaks, and Snowden, this easygoing techno-thriller was remarkably prescient about the dangers of data dependency. Robert Redford leads an oddball band of hackers as they hunt down a code-cracking McGuffin like their lives depended on it.
At the height of their fame, The Beatles could have spent their film debut combing their hair for ninety minutes and play it to packed houses, but instead, John, Paul, George and Ringo, aided by a sharp supporting cast and an innovative director, made a sterling effort and created a breezy comedy classic.
A true work of cinematic art, this wordless documentary deconstructs modern civilization by speeding it up until people flow like tides, cityscapes pulsate like circuit boards, and the very world spins out of control. The hypnotic score by minimalist composer Philip Glass nicely complements the mechanistic imagery.
Five high-school stereotypes share a Saturday in detention, confronting authority, each other, and finally themselves. Writer/director John Hughes had a gift for creating nuanced, complex teenage characters, and these five were his best, grappling with youthful problems in an adult way.
Nineteen Eighty Four as a comedy? Yes, please. Set in a dystopian alternate reality drowning in bureaucracy, terrorism, and random ductwork, Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece follows an unambitious clerk (Jonathan Pryce) whose search for a mystery woman leads him straight down the rabbit hole. Almost as remarkable was the drama behind the scenes, in which Gilliam and Universal Pictures battled for creative control, Gilliam winning at last after publicly shaming the studio.
From 1970 to 1998, National Lampoon published humor by WASPs for WASPs, and the first movie under its imprimatur was essentially that, as the likable privileged white guys squared off against the unlikable privileged white guys, creating the template for the slobs-v-snobs campus comedy that would pollute theaters for years after in the form of vastly inferior knockoffs. The film debut of comedy Challenger disaster John Belushi from Saturday Night Live, who basically eats the movie.
Historically accurate? Probably not. But the real story of Amadeus is not the rivalry between Mozart (Tom Hulce) and Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), but rather a three-hour, big-budget rumination on the nature of Genius: who’s blessed with it, who isn’t, who deserves it, and who thinks he deserves it more. Outstanding performances, beautiful locations, fabulous costumes, and, throughout it all, the most beautiful music ever created by an insufferable little prick. With Jeffrey Jones playing Emperor Joseph II as every idiot boss you’ll ever work for.
Of all the facets of the net neutrality debate, the one that irks me the most is this: Private enterprise is railing against government regulation of a resource the government created, a resource that private enterprise could never have built if it had a thousand lifetimes to try.
A dramatic claim, you say? Let’s have a look at the landscape of online services, pre-1995. It looks much like a map of some medieval realm, with a few tall castles surrounded by small, disconnected hamlets. The castles were CompuServe, Prodigy and America Online (Apple and General Electric tried to build castles too, but they sank into the swamp).
If you were a paying guest in of one of these castles, you could communicate with other guests, buy from merchants who set up shops within the castle walls, and enjoy whatever amusements the castle had to offer. The data zipped across the country on high-speed lines, but had to slow down to travel across the phone line to the customer’s modem.
If you wanted to communicate with a guest in another castle, you needed to pay for a membership to that castle as well. Why, you might grumble, can’t I just send a message from Castle A to Castle P? Because Castle A wants Castle P’s customers as its own, and vice-versa, so neither has any incentive to allow interconnectivity. Likewise for the other content, the commerce, the games, the chat rooms: The monthly access fees pay for it all, so the castle will never offer these services free to outsiders.
And who were those outsiders? Tens of thousands of tiny bulletin board systems (BBS), running from home computers hooked up to jury-rigged trunk lines. Many were mini-castles, closed to all but their users, but some were linked together by software known as FidoNet, creating an internet (a network of networks).
Could this lower-case internet have evolved into The Internet? Let’s speculate. FidoNet used a “store and forward” approach to passing messages from one network to the next — acceptable for email and message board postings, but not robust enough for real-time communications. Furthermore, users dialed in using modems and phone lines.
But perhaps some enterprising entrepreneurs could step in and speed things up. They’d have to start by replacing FidoNet’s store-and-forward with a nimbler packet-switching system that broke large data streams into manageable chunks for efficient routing. And you’d need to do something about the speed; even if users are stuck with dialing in on slow phone lines, the individual networks could be tied together by high-speed lines.
Naturally, no entrepreneur or private capital will pay for all of this unless they can monetize it, so the whole thing will have to be exclusive. Users will have to pay monthly service fees, and there can’t be any connectivity with outside networks because you’d be giving a key product benefit away for free. And to help draw in customers, there would be content and commerce and games and… Hold on a second. This is starting to look like just another curated castle. So where is The Internet going to come from?
From the U.S. government, specifically the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense. Looking for a networking scheme that couldn’t be disrupted by enemy attack, its engineers developed what would become the Internet Protocols. (When one of these engineers, Paul Baran, presented the idea of packet-switching to engineers at AT&T in the 1960’s, they thought he was nuts.) These protocols fueled a network that grew and evolved until the government placed it in private hands in 1995, ushering in the era of the commercial Internet we enjoy today.
Since then, business has put the resource to amazing use. In its nearly two decades as a commercial resource, the Internet has inspired new applications and products, replaced crumbling commercial models with shiny new ones, created new jobs while eliminating others — a rocket sled, for better or worse, into the twenty-first century.
And while the effects of private enterprise have been phenomenal, they took place atop a platform that private capital could never create. Only the government, free from any need to show profit, could create a network built upon open data sharing, with no admission fees other than the cost to connect.
Capital, by comparison, seeks rents everywhere, and it’s this impulse to monetize that would have limited the Information Age landscape to nothing but closed-off castles and humble hamlets for the balance of Time.
So when you hear some buffoon shriek that “the Internet should not operate at the speed of government,” remember that the government built that Internet when nobody else could. And now that private enterprise, in its predictable rent-seeking fashion, has signaled its eagerness to cut that Internet into two speeds — regular and extra-slow — it’s time for the government to stop them.
“I create nothing,” admits financier Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). “I own.” And it’s with this line that writer/director Oliver Stone reveals the sea change that defined the 80’s, from a nation of builders to a nation of outsourcers, in which ambitious Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) must choose between two mentors: his working-class father (Martin Sheen) and Satan in Suspenders. It’s mostly soap-opera sludge, but Douglas owns the movie as the slick seducer. Also, shoulder pads, bad décor, and cell phones the size of bricks.
French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet creates whimsical cinematic contraptions that lack a human soul. Amélie is the exception: an intricate storybook romance about a waiflike waitress (Audrey Tautou) who follows a series of good deeds down a path that leads unexpectedly to her heart’s desire. This film popularized the urban legend of the traveling garden gnome; later, Travelocity would adopt him as a mascot.