Interview: Director Milton Ginsberg Talks About His New Sci-Fi Film 'The Future Is Planning a Farewell Tour'

Wednesday, 24 May 2017 - 2:00PM
Wednesday, 24 May 2017 - 2:00PM
Interview: Director Milton Ginsberg Talks About His New Sci-Fi Film 'The Future Is Planning a Farewell Tour'
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Image credit: Warner Bros.
The Future Is Planning a Farewell Tour sets out to be one of those films that changes the way you look at the world, not to mention sci-fi as a whole. It's a mosaic of sci-fi films from across the decades, weaving iconic imagery and sound into a tapestry that challenges you to ask deep questions. Questions like:

Opening quote
Is humanity facing extinction in this very century? Have we already turned corners from which there is no turning back? And have sci-fi films merely been offering us entertainment—or have they been accurately predicting the end of our existence? [Sci-fi] films have described our colonizing space, our bending time and our achieving immortality. But they have also featured cyber-wars, pandemics, the rising of the oceans, the end of democracy, our replacement by robots, and the biological transformation of the human species.
Closing quote

Farewell Tour sets out to be a prophetic vision of what's to come by looking through the lens of science fiction, which has been our window into the future for the past century. We sat down with Milton Ginsberg, the director of the film, to talk about what inspired him and where we're headed. You can watch the premiere of Farewell Tour on Friday, May 26th at the Museum of the Moving Image as part of the 5-day Philip K. Dick Sci-Fi Film Festival here in New York!

Outer Places: Tell me a bit about yourself and your film career. Are there films or artists you look to for inspiration?
Milton Ginsberg: I attended the Bronx High School of Science with the intention of becoming an [aerospace] engineer, but the call of literature was too strong by the time I entered Columbia. I tried to write the Great American Novel but couldn't get past the  Great American First Sentence. During my university years I had no interest in cinema, and then I saw L'Avventura, and Renais' Last Year At Marianbad, and Olmi's The Fiancés and a lot of Fellini—and I was smitten by cinema. I saw you could crystallize emotion in a film the same way you could in a novel. Making movies was something I could and suddenly needed to do.

I found a job as an Assistant Editor and drifted into camera work and about ten years later [I] wrote and directed a feature called Coming Apart—a film about a psychiatrist who records his own emotional disintegration. Starring Rip Torn, the film was shot into a mirror from a single camera angle in a studio apartment. I followed it up a few years later with Dean Stockwell as The Werewolf of Washington. And I have just completed a two-hour, quite subjective documentary, The Mirror Of Noir.
OP: What initially got you interested in science fiction?
Ginsberg: The first novel I ever read, for a book report in junior high, was The Time Machine. The last novel I read, by the way, is Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, the best sci-fi I've read in decades. I also enjoyed everything Arthur C. Clarke wrote. Same with movies, my favorites were always sci-fi. The first film I ever saw was the original King Kong, and I haven't seen any of the variations since. I couldn't believe they could improve on it. And I saw all those early Universal horror films which anticipated sci-fi.
OP: What are some of your favorite pieces of sci-fi, in film or other mediums? 
Ginsberg: For me, among the early ones, Lang's Metropolis and H.G. Well's British A Vision Of Things To Come are the masterpieces. All of the genre pieces of the '50s were exciting in their way, especially The Incredible Shrinking Man, Invasion of The Body Snatchers, and for it's ambiance, Edgar Ulmer's no-budget The Man From Planet X. And a bit later...2001 and Blade Runner...Chris Marker's 35-minute La Jetée and Tarkovsky's Solaris. All required viewing for those new to sci-fi.
OP: What are your thoughts about some of the more contemporary sci-fi films, like Interstellar, Arrival, or Gravity?

Ginsberg: I found Arrival incredibly disappointing. Gravity was okay while you're watching it, but all the old space junk conveniently lining up for the heroine, gimme a break! I thought the The Matrix trilogy was much too muddled conceptually. But the truly dumbest ever was Close Encounters. Aliens that have held our fliers from the Bermuda Triangle for 40 years [and] have the technology to cross the galaxy in a chandelier can signal Richard Dreyfuss that they're landing in Wyoming—and still can't speak English! We have to teach them English using a giant accordion with color panels. Please!

My favorite recent sci-fi film is Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, which is masterful in its ambitious treatment of time-travel—and its use of cosmology as a powerful metaphor for human emotion. The scene between Matthew McConaughey and Ellen Burstein, [where] his daughter [has] grown much older than him, is worth the price of admission...District 9, Terminator 2, The Day After Tomorrow, Transcendence and the earlier Silent Running are also terrific.

OP: Tell me a bit about The Future is Holding a Farewell Tour.

Ginsberg: ...nearly all of the films I've mentioned have worked their way into the mosaic of Farewell Tour. I was working for a few years on my noir study when one day I played around with a few shots from sci-fi movies, including Metropolis, laid a fancy title and oddly some Benny Goodman over it (all still in the film as its main title), and showed it to my painter wife, Nina, now my producer. "It's stunning," she said, "make it!"  

Farewell Tour has a single theme—its key question: have the sci-fi films that have been entertaining us for decades actually been sending us an alarm we have refused to hear? Have they accurately been predicting the end of our days on this planet due to our own misguided ecological, genetic, economic and political agendas? The [images from sci-fi films] are often overlaid with the commentary of scientists and political figures...[and] Farewell Tour describes where I see our species going within the next several decades—a vision largely shared by the scientific community.  Indeed, sci-fi cinema is proving to be our new Neo-Realism.

You can watch The Future Is Planning a Farewell Tour this Friday at the Museum of the Moving Image as part of the annual Philip K. Dick Sci-Fi Film Festivalget tickets here! You can also visit Milton Ginsberg online here.
Science Fiction
Sci-Fi Movies