"Yep, they sure don't make pictures like that anymore," says Charlton Heston, glaring wistfully at the hippies on-screen in Woodstock. Charlton Heston? Woodstock??? Indeed! This delicious moment in Boris Sagal's 1971 sci-fi dystopia The Omega Man brings to mind that they really don't make pictures like that anymore — postapocalyptic visions that approach impending doom with gritty seriousness and cynical wit, both scarce in times of superficially polished and politically correct moviemaking.
Luckily, the Cinefamily series "Post-Apocalypse Now!" steps in. The Omega Man shows as part of a March 26 triple bill, but the perfect double feature on March 12 dazzles most: Richard Lester's superb British comedy The Bed Sitting Room (1969) meets cult B-picture A Boy and His Dog (1975), directed by actor L.Q. Jones, best known for his outlaw performances in Sam Peckinpah's Westerns.
Both films start with psychedelic flashes of the catastrophe, which is mercifully brief: Lester's World War III takes two minutes and 28 seconds, while Jones follows his colorful atomic-bomb opening salvo with the curt intertitle "World War IV lasted five days," adding, "Politicians had finally solved the problem of urban blight." The outcome is basically the same: The last few men try to survive on the surface, a wasteland with "settlements" consisting of amassed debris, or go underground — a life of riding circles on the subway in The Bed Sitting Room, an artificial, dying "paradise" ruled with draconian laws in Jones' film.
In Lester's deadly satire of social norms and English mores, a lord played by Sir Ralph Richardson turns into the titular apartment, while the TV news announcer makes house calls, saying, "I am the BBC" (and at some point announces that Charlton Heston will wrestle the pope!). The barbed happy ending sees the same-old arising from inventively orchestrated comic chaos.
Down to its similarly wicked and remarkably tasteless but completely consistent capper, A Boy and His Dog remains American to the bone: Loner Don Johnson walks an Earth without women, exchanging telepathic remarks with his dog (whose repartee retains the full caustic humor of Harlan Ellison's original story). The sarcastic inversion of the Lassie formula is complicated by the arrival of the female sex, causing a detour to the uncomfortably Fellini-esque underground world, where Johnson's dreams of superstud-dom end up on the giving end of a semen-milking machine. In what may be Jones' most subversive touch, the Disney formula saves the day — if not the human race.
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Post-Apocalypse Now! | Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre | Fridays in March, 8 p.m. | cinefamily.org