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The Yesterday Machine: ‘Somewhere in time Hitler lives!’
12:16 pm

When I read Wired editor Chris Anderson’s 2006 best-seller, The Long Tail, I was still professionally involved with book publishing and DVD distribution, and called total bullshit on his theory.  Anderson’s central thesis in the book, that unlimited digital “shelf space” would enable long term profits on “back catalog” items, I can tell you for certain, is absolute nonsense, for all but retailers of Amazon’s size (can you name another?). Comforting fiction to corporations, companies and individual who would sell their wares on Amazon or iTunes, perhaps, but fiction nonetheless. The public always wants the “new” thing and after a point, books and movies just become too dated for anyone to care about, let alone pay for.

Even more to the point, it seemed like Anderson, when he wrote The Long Tail, had scant awareness that Bit Torrent was about to do for the Hollywood bottom line what it had already done for the music industry’s. Presuming people were going to actually pay for stuff, was the book’s most fatally flawed assumption. As far as this reader was concerned, six months after The Long Tail appeared on the best seller charts, its thesis was pretty much D.O.A. (as Anderson kind of tacitly admitted to with the title of his next book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price in 2008).

Certain things, even if they were priced at a dollar, no one would buy them. Human psychology, especially that of the subgroup “American consumer” would also make a calculation “too cheap = it must suck.” There is also an opportunity cost associated with this internal calculation, that of how do you want to “spend” your free time and of other things competing for your attention, be they “real life” or more entertainment choices. “New” usually wins, because it also happens to be what most other people are interested in, and so there is the “social currency” aspect of what what entertainment and infotainment provide, which is to say, if you haven’t seen it, you can’t have an opinion about it and so you are left out of the conversation.

But what does any of this have to do with Adolph Hitler still being alive? Not a blessed thing, I grant you, but here’s a free, little known regional 1963 cult film, The Yesterday Machine with unintentionally campy Cold War overtones, teenagers, rock and roll, a Nazis scientist on the loose in America, whack physics that stoned nerds could argue over for hours and… so much more.

Here’s a description of The Yesterday Machine, taken from The Classic Sci-Fi blogspot:

Quick Plot Synopsis
Margie, a college baton twirler, practice her moves while her boyfriend, Howie tries to fix a balking fuel pump. It’s getting late, so he gives up and they walk through a woods to get help. They encounter two civil war soldiers who shoot Howie. Margie is unaccounted for. Howie’s wound and Margie’s disappearance has the local police and a reporter asking questions. The bullet in Howie, and a cap found at the scene were authentic civil war items. This causes Lt. Partane to recall an odd experience in WWII where old men prisoners were, by the records, actually young men. The camp’s Kommandant was a rogue physicist, but was never found. While reporter Jim and Margie’s sister Sandy explore the scene, they are transported to Dr. von Hauser’s underground lab. Sandy and Margie are reunited in a dungeon cell. Von Hauser lectures Jim, (at some great length) about his science. The two rehash the old arguments over Nazi machiavellianism, which gets Jim tossed into an adjacent cell. They try to talk Didyama, (a female minion from ancient Egypt) into helping them escape. One nazi guard enters the women’s cell with ill intent. Didyama stabs him in the back, but he chokes her to death before he dies. The women get out and let Jim out. In a showdown back in the lab, Jim shoots the other nazi guard and puts two bullets into the time machine before fleeing. Coming up through a secret hatch in a private graveyard, Jim, Sandy and Margie meet Lt. Partane and other policemen. They hear the time machine start up again. Partane goes down to the lab. Von Hauser shoots, but Partane hits von Hauser, who slumps into the time machine’s chair and fades out to some other time. Partane destroys the machine. He gives a speech about man not being ready for such technology. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The plot unfolds with such unHollywood quirkiness, that it keeps viewer interest up. The story opens with a college coed twisting and twirling her baton to old style rock and roll. From the get-go, FY is different. Also, Jack Herman’s flamboyant acting as Nazi scientist Ernst von Hauser is entertaining.

Deeper Question—Overshadowed by its many shortcomings, YM still manages to raise an interesting question. What if time travel was done by villains? All the usual noble ethics of non-interference would be in the bin. Von Hauser wanted to give his favorite Führer a few more months so that superweapons under development could be finished. Von Hauser talks wistfully of a Reich that would continue more than a thousand years. Why not? With his time machine, the regime could enact as many do-overs as necessary. But, what if TWO powers had time travel? Who’s mucking would prevail?

Science Lecture—Often enough, the villain monologues to the hero for no logical reason other than the scriptwriter’s need for some exposition. Von Hauser gives Jim an extended science lecture in front of a chalk board, to explain time travel to him. The briefer version runs like this: if you speed up light so it goes faster than the (um) Speed of Light, it begins to move backwards in time. The more you speed it up, the more quickly backwards time travels. Just how von Hauser does this with some surplus radio parts is not explained.

Sound good? The Yesterday Machine, all 78 minutes of it, is free to watch on YouTube. If you like this kind of stuff, toke up and watch the motherfucker. But I wonder, if you had to pay a $1 for this, would you?

Thanks Jaye Beldo!

Posted by Richard Metzger
12:16 pm



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