High Sci-Fi; a Simpleton for President; Shady Developers!

A scene from the film, "Being There."

On July 14, the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale (53 Wall St.; 203-432-6556, yale.edu/whc) opens a film series, "The Gardener's Shadow," in collaboration with Artspace and Yale's Marsh Botanical Garden. The films, which feature themes of gardening and sustainable living, were selected by Eric Larson, curator of plants at Marsh, to complement the exhibition Marie Celeste, currently showing at Artspace (and reviewed in this issue of the Advocate). The exhibition takes its name from "Marie Celeste, or Colony Collapse, Disorder" — the decline of bee populations — and addresses environmental threats. The films show at 7:30 p.m., are free and open to the public, and is followed by a discussion.

First up on July 14 is Silent Running (1972), a futuristic sci-fi film set in a time when all vegetation on earth has been destroyed but for the flora and fauna kept alive in domes sent out into space and tended by space-travelling gardeners. Bruce Dern, aided and abetted by the charming drones he names Huey, Dewey and Louie (after Donald Duck's nephews), has to develop some evasive maneuvers to keep the domes from being returned to earth and scrapped. The film's a '70s classic with noble human self-sacrifice in favor of nature and, with Joan Baez on the soundtrack, it's easy to imagine there might be stuff growing in those domes that has been recently decriminalized in this state.

Director Douglas Trumbull worked on the creation of deep space special effects in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), so we can assume the echoes of that film are deliberate, particularly the use of a powerful final image. Dern's likeably erratic performance is memorable, and if the drones remind viewers of Pixar's popular WALL-E, that's not accidental: Andrew Stanton, director of that film, cited Silent Running as an inspiration.

On July 19, it's Being There (1979), Hal Ashby's winsome film adapted from the 1971 novella by '70s bestseller Jerzy Kosinki. Featuring an Oscar-nominated performance by the inimitable Peter Sellers, the film depicts, long before Forrest Gump (1994), how a simple-minded man can influence national affairs. In this case, Chance (Sellers), the gardener for a rich man living in Washington, D.C., is put out on the street when the man dies — only to find himself befriended by an influential multi-millionaire, Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas, Oscar-winner for Supporting Actor). Chance's only education has come through watching TV, but he is perceived as a font of wisdom due to his laconic pronouncements tinged with a feel for the soil. Jack Warden, as the U.S. President and Shirley MacLaine, as Rand's wife, provide great comic support. In 1979, the notion of a simpleton becoming president was only too prescient.

Next Thursday, July 21, The Garden (2008) screens. A documentary written and directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy, the film depicts the struggles over an urban farm in Los Angeles. The land — 14 acres — was turned over to community farmers in the wake of the Rodney King riots in 1992, and became an opportunity to make a difference. In the 2000s, developers want the land for commercial purposes. Shady dealings commence, and the farmers have to take their cause to the streets and to the courts and (this is America) to any celebrity who can help raise consciousness and dollars and fight City Hall.