“The following film describes an unusual motion picture now being produced in London for release all over the world starting in 1967.” We hear and see this announcement, which precedes A Look Behind the Future, the promotional documentary above, delivered by a pomade-haired, horn-rimmed middle-aged fellow. He has much else to say about our need to prepare ourselves through edifying entertainment for the “radical revisions in our total society” fast ushered in by the Space Age. Another, even more official-sounding announcer introduces this man as “the publisher of Look magazine, Mr. Vernon Myers.” This could happen at no time but the mid-1960s, and Myers could refer to no other “unusual motion picture” than Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Modern-day examinations of 2001 usually celebrate the film’s still-striking artistic vision and its influence on so much of the science fiction that followed. But when this short appeared, not only did the year 2001 lay far in the future, so did the movie itself. Contemporary with Kubrick’s production, it touts how thoroughly researchers have rooted the speculative devices of the story in the thrilling technologies then in real-life development (whether ultimately fruitful or otherwise), and how the picture thus offers the most accurate prediction of mankind’s high-tech future yet. It even brings in co-author Arthur C. Clarke himself to comment upon the NASA lunar exploration gear under construction. The Apollo 11 moon landing would, of course, come just three years later. A Look Behind the Future reflects the enterprising if square technological optimism of that era, a tone that perhaps hasn’t aged quite as well as the haunting, bottomlessly ambiguous film it pitches.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.