Films / scenes that depict the pre-wired world?
January 3, 2004 7:39 AM   Subscribe

A colleague of mine wants to show a film (or clips from various films) to her class of media undergrads to help them better understand the pre-wired world -- before the Internet, ubiquitous PCs, mobile phones, 300 cable channels, etc. -- and specifically the 1960s milieu of IBM mainframes, punch cards, and centralized computing. Are there any films or even scenes from films that come to mind?
posted by tranquileye to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This and this may have some useful images.
posted by dydecker at 8:11 AM on January 3, 2004

Hollywood and Computers. Some of the movies listed are from the '80s and '90s, but there are probably a few pertinent ones in there.
posted by staggernation at 8:16 AM on January 3, 2004

Epicac by Kurt Vonnegut Jr is a great short story which would tie in nicely.
posted by iconomy at 8:28 AM on January 3, 2004

Desk Set with Katherine Hepburn might be good for that...her research dept. is replaced by a gigantic computer.
posted by amberglow at 9:02 AM on January 3, 2004

A few scenes from Apollo 13 would probably work.
posted by Cyrano at 9:11 AM on January 3, 2004

The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes

If you're going for the random 60s computer kitsch.
posted by Katemonkey at 9:26 AM on January 3, 2004

War Games and Collosus: The Forbin Project spring to mind...
posted by JollyWanker at 9:33 AM on January 3, 2004

The Andromeda Strain (1971) would be good for this.

You can also find brief shots of mainframe computers, punchchards, etc. in just about any episode of Hawaii 5-0 — probably one of the first police shows to prominently feature the use of computers to aid in crime-solving.
posted by filmgoerjuan at 9:56 AM on January 3, 2004

posted by ac at 12:01 PM on January 3, 2004

In Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory there's a memorable scene where scientists try to use a computer to find the last remaining golden ticket, but the computer won't reveal the answer because "that would be cheating!" The best part is that it is being 'programmed' with a simple 10-button keypad. Very high tech.
posted by contessa at 2:02 PM on January 3, 2004

I'll second Alphaville.

Soooo good....

Supercomputer: "What is the advantage of death?"
Superspy: "To die no longer."
posted by kaibutsu at 2:12 PM on January 3, 2004

I'd second the recommendation for Desk Set, one of my favorite movies.
posted by Vidiot at 2:15 PM on January 3, 2004

Dragnet, the Big counterfeit
posted by clavdivs at 3:23 PM on January 3, 2004

Third for Deskset. It was used in a History of Technology class I took in College for the same purpose. It has specific scenes where the operators call the system an "electronic brain." Heh.
posted by zpousman at 3:51 PM on January 3, 2004

I'm surprised no one has yet mentioned 2001.
posted by beth at 4:04 PM on January 3, 2004

Doris Day plays a UNIVAC punchcard operator in That Touch of Mink, which has a pretty funny scene where the machine goes bezerk.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:10 PM on January 3, 2004

Human-Computer Interaction in SF Movies

I can't think of many films before recently where computers were used at all realistically; mostly, they're used as props or over-arching metaphors. That said, No Way Out has some scenes that show, with some stretches, the laborious process and bureaucratic approach to mainframe computing; and like many thrillers, it's already worlds away from the era of cell phones. (Most of North by Northwest would be impossible with a few well-timed calls ...) There's been some discussion of how much harder it's become, in the day of ubiquitous communication, to create the circumstances necessary for a fearful situation, but I think it may actually increase the id-like power of a good thriller -- we've all known, by now, the naked panic of being without one's cel when needed.

Fail-Safe, as filmed, is an OK demonstration of a punch-card era computer glitch, though its accuracy vis-a-vis our C4SI systems, even of the day, is somewhat fanciful.

Star Trek IV might allow your students to identify with the Enterprise crew as they make their way blindly about 20th-century San Francisco, without all their high-tech gadgets at hand. We have to find a pay phone? Butchers!

I don't know that the "1960s mainframe world" was all that relevant to most people, actually, when you think about it. Computers of that day were something that was run by the companies that sent you stuff in the mail, not something most people encountered daily.
posted by dhartung at 6:34 PM on January 3, 2004

I'll second Cyrano's suggestion. Apollo 13 was on TV only last night, and there's a scene where the astronauts want Mission Control to confirm their calculations before entering them into the navigation computer. The engineers start working their slide rules and quickly confirm the numbers.

Also seconding (okay, fourthing) Desk Set. And Fail-Safe.

The NYT actually had an article sometime last year about dhartung's point about modern technology destroying the plots of many classic movies. Sorry I can't be any more specific as to when...
posted by pmurray63 at 11:29 PM on January 3, 2004

The President's Analyst
posted by Dagobert at 2:27 AM on January 5, 2004

« Older trimming a guinea pigs nails   |   Does anybody know the shelf of life of altoids? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.