Saturday, October 26, 2019

Idaho Transfer (Peter Fonda, 1973)

Peter Fonda’s Idaho Transfer is a super-high-concept time travel drama that generally doesn’t feel like it: for much of the time, we could be watching Woodstock types dawdling on their way to the next concert (indeed, the movie early on throws in two secondary characters doing exactly that). The premise is a project to save mankind by setting up a colony in the future, on the other side of a looming apocalyptic event; the time travel technology (located in a secretive desert facility) necessitates sitting on a low metal platform, taking off one’s pants and pushing a few buttons, and doesn’t work for people over thirty (even for them, it eventually transpires that it causes sterility, making the whole project largely pointless). If that explanation seems absurdly high-level, it’s about as much as the movie ever provides: the screenplay is refreshingly free of ringing certainties, and the prevailing mood is that of watching figures in a barren landscape, trying to roll with the punches (Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point may come fleetingly to mind, but everything here is far less charged, including erotically speaking [notwithstanding the frequently absent pants]). Much of the “action” – such as the discovery of a mutated post-disaster civilization - occurs offscreen, and Fonda takes some big narrative leaps, but the sense of emptiness feels well-judged given the rather despairing premise, conveying a pervasive sense of dissipating youthful promise. The movie saves its boldest stroke for the very last scene, reconfiguring our sense of the world we’re watching (possibly too much for comfort, but at least it’s striking) and throwing in some grisly implications. It’s hardly a high-impact piece of work, not so much acted as just embodied, and one almost wishes Fonda had pushed even further in that direction, toward pure abstracted reverie. As it is though, it’s still mostly satisfying, in a stubbornly self-absorbed kind of way.

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