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15 Dystopian Facts About THX 1138

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Work hard, increase production, prevent accidents, and be happy. It’s the 45th anniversary of George Lucas’ first film. No, not Star Wars. No, not American Graffiti either. It’s THX 1138, the dystopian sci-fi cult classic that introduced Lucas to the world before he made it to a galaxy far, far away. Here are 15 facts about his big-screen debut.

1. IT’S BASED ON A LEGENDARY STUDENT FILM BY GEORGE LUCAS.

George Lucas expanded THX 1138 from Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, a student film he made as a grad student in the film department of the University of Southern California. The film was completed in unofficial cooperation with the U.S. Navy: USC worked in collaboration with the Navy to help military filmmakers earn college credits via student-taught classes. Lucas agreed to teach the class in order to gain unlimited access to the camera equipment, film stock, and processing facilities that the school had reserved for the Navy. He also employed his students as the film’s cast and crew.

2. LUCAS INCLUDED AN HOMAGE TO SATURDAY MORNING SERIALS.

The first-time filmmaker included the trailer to Tragedy on Saturn, Chapter Two of Buck Rogers,  a 1939 Saturday morning serial, before THX 1138. Lucas attempted to draw an ironic contrast between the swashbuckling Rogers and the titular character in his bleak sci-fi debut because each was “just an ordinary, normal human being who keeps his wits about him.” But he also saw it as an homage to the kinds of sci-fi stories he loved growing up. The serialized space adventures of Buck Rogers were also a fundamental influence on Lucas’ Star Wars.     

3. THE STORY WASN’T ORIGINALLY LUCAS’ IDEA.

Lucas adapted the idea for the original short—and eventually the feature film itself—from a 1.5-page outline called “Breakout,” which was written by fellow USC student Matthew Robbins, about a man escaping an underground dystopian society. Besides collaborating on both the short and the feature, Robbins would go on to have a long career in the movie business. Robbins is perhaps best known for directing such films as The Legend of Billie Jean and *batteries not included, and most recently co-wrote the screenplay for Guillermo del Toro’s 2015 film, Crimson Peak.

4. THX 1138 ONLY EXISTS BECAUSE OF THE RAIN PEOPLE.

After Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB won first prize at the 1967/1968 National Student Film Festival, Lucas was recruited out of USC by filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, first working behind the scenes on his 1968 film Finian’s Rainbow and then as an assistant on his 1969 film The Rain People. Based on his work, Coppola offered Lucas the chance to make a feature film through his production company, American Zoetrope, which had a multi-film development deal through Warner Bros. Lucas eventually cast Robert Duvall, one of the stars of The Rain People, as the titular character in the feature film version of THX 1138.

5. LUCAS PUT HIDDEN MEANINGS IN THE ABBREVIATED LETTER NAMES OF THE CHARACTERS.

At first, the three-letter names of the characters in THX 1138 seem like random sequences ascribed to the dehumanized people that populate Lucas’ dystopian creation. But most of the names of the characters are thematically intentional to the movie itself. THX stands for “sex” and his companion LUH stands for “love,” because both become connected via sex and love after refusing to take their government-mandated, mind-altering drugs. SEN, the ostensible villain of the movie, stands for “sin.”

Other characters SRT, NCH, and PTO stand for “Sartre,” “Nietzsche,” and “Plato” respectively because of their philosophical ramblings while THX is imprisoned.  

6. OMM IS ACTUALLY A 15TH-CENTURY DUTCH PAINTING.

The face of the deity worshipped by the dystopian masses in THX 1138 is actually “Christ Giving His Blessing,” a 1478 oil painting by German painter Hans Memling. It is currently in the collection of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. 

7. THE BALD DYSTOPIAN MASSES WERE RECRUITED FROM A LOCAL REHAB FACILITY.

Lucas required hundreds of bald extras to represent the uniform citizens of his future society. Instead of having regular movie extras shave their heads, he had casting supervisor Ronald Colby recruit members of the San Francisco chapter of a drug rehabilitation program called Synanon, which required all of its members to shave their heads to complete the program. Each extra was paid $15 for one day’s work.  

8. LUCAS ORIGINALLY WANTED TO SHOOT THE MOVIE IN JAPAN.

During film school, Lucas’ favorite movies were from Japanese filmmakers—namely Akira Kurosawa (Lucas would go on to base the framework of Star Wars on Kurosawa’s film The Hidden Fortress, and eventually executive produced Kurosawa’s 1980 film Kagemusha). Because he wanted the tone of his film to be stately, intentionally slow, and somehow alien, Lucas attempted to shoot the film in Japan. He even went so far as to scout locations for the movie before budgetary restraints forced him to shoot the movie on sets and at various locations in San Francisco.

9. MUCH OF SEN’S DIALOGUE AND PRISON SPEECH ARE TAKEN FROM A PARTICULAR PRESIDENT.

In THX 1138 , Lucas attempted to tell a story that critiqued how the particular political atmosphere of consumerism and conformity of the era in which the movie was made could lead to a dystopian future. As such, SEN—the member of society who attempts to pressure THX to conform—was given dialogue culled from speeches by then-President Richard Nixon, including his “We need dissent, but creative dissent!” ramblings. 

10. YOU HAVE THX 1138 TO THANK FOR THE WORD “WOOKIEE.”

Lucas wanted to create a subconsciously disorienting mood for the film, so he tasked sound designer, co-screenwriter, and fellow USC alum Walter Murch to put together improvised soundscapes of ambient noise and chopped-up dialogue. During a sound montage session Murch supervised with voice actor Terry McGovern, the actor spontaneously blurted out the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” on one of the tracks of improvised voice chatter. When Murch asked McGovern what it meant, he told Murch it was the last name of a friend of his named Ralph Wookie, and he said it because “I always want to stick it to him and thought he’d get a kick out of hearing his name in a film.”

11. THX WORKS AT A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT (KIND OF).

Though it’s obvious that THX works at a factory that makes his society’s android police officers, the strange levers and thickly sealed glass screen he stands in front of at his job should be familiar to those who work in nuclear engineering facilities. Lucas shot the scenes of THX at work in front of an actual functioning radiation containment chamber, also known as a “hot cell,” which was used by those who must handle radioactive materials like isotopes.   

12. THE FUTURE IS MADE OF OBSOLETE PHONE TECHNOLOGY.

The seemingly endless Control Room where the android police try to corner THX and SRT, who find out LUH has been consumed for organ reclamation, was actually the circuit switch room of the San Francisco location of the Pacific Bell Telephone Company. PacBell allowed Lucas to shoot the film there because the entire room and the hardware found there were about to be dismantled as the phone company was switching to touchtone phone technology.

13. THE FUTURE IS ALSO MADE OF UNFINISHED BART STATIONS.

Another lucky break for Lucas in his attempt to use existing locations for his stark futuristic vision was his ability to shoot in the then-unfinished San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. The final shot of THX climbing to freedom in a vertical shaft was actually the unfinished horizontal BART Transbay Tube. Duvall crawled on his stomach while Lucas turned the camera on its side to make the angles look like the character was climbing upwards.

The chase sequences between THX and the android police were shot in various mass transit tunnels during the middle of the night, including the Alameda tunnel in Oakland, California and the then-unfinished Broadway tunnel in San Francisco.

14. THE ICONIC FINAL SHOT WAS 100 PERCENT REAL.

The end shot of THX escaping and seeing the setting sun for the first time wasn’t a special effect or timelapse shot. Uncredited cameraman Caleb Deschanel (father of Zooey and Emily) and Matthew Robbins scouted a location for Lucas and found a perfectly clear horizon for the shot in Port Hueneme, California. Robbins and Deschanel tried to get the shot four times but the weather made it impossible until it was captured on the fifth attempt. Robbins played THX in the final shot. 

15. “1138” HAS BECOME A GOOD LUCK CHARM FOR LUCAS.

References to the number “1138” have been scattered as Easter eggs throughout Lucas’ subsequent films. In American Graffiti, it is the license plate number on John Milner’s car. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo transfer Chewbacca to cell block 1138 while disguised as Stormtroopers. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, a Nazi loudspeaker in the submarine dock scene announces "ein, ein, drei, acht," which in English translates to “one,” “one,” “three,” “eight.” The list goes on.

Additional sources: THX 1138 Blu-ray 

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6 Times There Were Ties at the Oscars
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Only six ties have ever occurred during the Academy Awards' near-90-year history. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) members vote for nominees in their corresponding categories; here are the six times they have come to a split decision.

1. BEST ACTOR // 1932

Back in 1932, at the fifth annual Oscars ceremony, the voting rules were different than they are today. If a nominee received an achievement that came within three votes of the winner, then that achievement (or person) would also receive an award. Actor Fredric March had one more vote than competitor Wallace Beery, but because the votes were so close, the Academy honored both of them. (They beat the category’s only other nominee, Alfred Lunt.) March won for his performance in horror film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (female writer Frances Marion won Best Screenplay for the film), and Beery won for The Champ, which was remade in 1979 with Ricky Schroder and Jon Voight. Both Beery and March were previous nominees: Beery was nominated for The Big House and March for The Royal Family of Broadway. March won another Oscar in 1947 for The Best Years of Our Lives, also a Best Picture winner. Fun fact: March was the first actor to win an Oscar for a horror film.

2. BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT // 1950

By 1950, the above rule had been changed, but there was still a tie at that year's Oscars. A Chance to Live, an 18-minute movie directed by James L. Shute, tied with animated film So Much for So Little. Shute’s film was a part of Time Inc.’s "The March of Time" newsreel series and chronicles Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing putting together a Boys’ Home in Italy. Directed by Bugs Bunny’s Chuck Jones, So Much for So Little was a 10-minute animated film about America’s troubling healthcare situation. The films were up against two other movies: a French film named 1848—about the French Revolution of 1848—and a Canadian film entitled The Rising Tide.

3. BEST ACTRESS // 1969

Probably the best-known Oscars tie, this was the second and last time an acting award was split. When presenter Ingrid Bergman opened up the envelope, she discovered a tie between newcomer Barbra Streisand and two-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn—both received 3030 votes. Streisand, who was 26 years old, tied with the 61-year-old The Lion in Winter star, who had already been nominated 10 times in her lengthy career, and won the Best Actress Oscar the previous year for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn was not in attendance, so all eyes fell on Funny Girl winner Streisand, who wore a revealing, sequined bell-bottomed-pantsuit and gave an inspired speech. “Hello, gorgeous,” she famously said to the statuette, echoing her first line in Funny Girl.

A few years earlier, Babs had received a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, but didn’t win. At this point in her career, she was a Grammy-winning singer, but Funny Girl was her movie debut (and what a debut it was). In 1974, Streisand was nominated again for The Way We Were, and won again in 1977 for her and Paul Williams’s song “Evergreen,” from A Star is Born. Four-time Oscar winner Hepburn won her final Oscar in 1982 for On Golden Pond.

4. BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE // 1987

The March 30, 1987 telecast made history with yet another documentary tie, this time for Documentary Feature. Oprah presented the awards to Brigitte Berman’s film about clarinetist Artie Shaw, Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got, and to Down and Out in America, a film about widespread American poverty in the ‘80s. Former Oscar winner Lee Grant (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1976 for Shampoo) directed Down and Out and won the award for producers Joseph Feury and Milton Justice. “This is for the people who are still down and out in America,” Grant said in her acceptance speech.

5. BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION) // 1995

More than 20 years ago—the same year Tom Hanks won for Forrest Gump—the Short Film (Live Action) category saw a tie between two disparate films: the 23-minute British comedy Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and the LGBTQ youth film Trevor. Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi wrote and directed the former, which stars Richard E. Grant (Girls, Withnail & I) as Kafka. The BBC Scotland film envisions Kafka stumbling through writing The Metamorphosis.

Trevor is a dramatic film about a gay 13-year-old boy who attempts suicide. Written by James Lecesne and directed by Peggy Rajski, the film inspired the creation of The Trevor Project to help gay youths in crisis. “We made our film for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider,” Rajski said in her acceptance speech, which came after Capaldi's. “It celebrates all those who make it through difficult times and mourns those who didn’t.” It was yet another short film ahead of its time.

6. BEST SOUND EDITING // 2013

The latest Oscar tie happened only three years ago, when Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall beat Argo, Django Unchained, and Life of Pi in sound editing. Mark Wahlberg and his animated co-star Ted presented the award to Zero Dark Thirty’s Paul N.J. Ottosson and Skyfall’s Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers. “No B.S., we have a tie,” Wahlberg said to the crowd, assuring them he wasn’t kidding. Ottosson was announced first and gave his speech before Hallberg and Baker Landers found out that they were the other victors.

It wasn’t any of the winners' first trip to the rodeo: Ottosson won two in 2010 for his previous collaboration with Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Sound Mixing); Hallberg previously won an Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing for Braveheart in 1996, and in 2008 both Hallberg and Baker Landers won Best Achievement in Sound Editing for The Bourne Ultimatum.

Ottosson told The Hollywood Reporter he possibly predicted his win: “Just before our category came up another fellow nominee sat next to me and I said, ‘What if there’s a tie, what would they do?’ and then we got a tie,” Ottosson said. Hallberg also commented to the Reporter on his win. “Any time that you get involved in some kind of history making, that would be good.”

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11 Haunting Facts About Beloved

Toni Morrison—who was born on February 18, 1931—made a name for herself with The Bluest Eye, Sula and Song of Solomon, but it wasn’t until 1987’s Beloved, about a runaway slave haunted by the death of her infant daughter, that her legacy was secured. The book won the Pulitzer Prize and was a key factor in the decision to award Morrison the Nobel Prize in 1993. All the awards aside, Beloved is a testament to the horrors of slavery, with its narrative of suffering and repressed memory and its dedication to the more than 60 million who died in bondage. Here are some notable facts about Morrison’s process and the novel’s legacy.

1. IT’S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

While compiling research for 1974's The Black Book, Morrison came across the story of Margaret Garner, a runaway slave from Kentucky who escaped with her husband and four children to Ohio in 1856. A posse caught up with Garner, who killed her youngest daughter and attempted to do the same to her other children rather than let them return to bondage. Once apprehended, her trial transfixed the nation. "She was very calm; she said, 'I’d do it again,'" Morrison told The Paris Review. "That was more than enough to fire my imagination."

2. MORRISON CAME UP WITH THE CHARACTER BELOVED AFTER SHE STARTED WRITING.

The book was originally going to be about the haunting of Sethe by her infant daughter, who she killed (just as Garner did) rather than allow her to return to slavery. A third of the way through writing, though, Morrison realized she needed a flesh-and-blood character who could judge Sethe’s decision. She needed the daughter to come back to life in another form (some interpret it as a grief-driven case of mistaken identity). As she told the National Endowment for the Arts’ NEA Magazine: "I thought the only person who was legitimate, who could decide whether [the killing] was a good thing or not, was the dead girl."

3. SHE WROTE THE ENDING EARLY IN THE WRITING PROCESS.

Morrison has said she likes to know the ending of her books early on, and to write them down once she does. With Beloved, she wrote the ending about a quarter of the way in. "You are forced into having a certain kind of language that will keep the reader asking questions," she told author Carolyn Denard in Toni Morrison: Conversations.

4. MORRISON BECAME FASCINATED WITH SMALL HISTORICAL DETAILS.

To help readers understand the particulars of slavery, Morrison carefully researched historical documents and artifacts. One particular item she became fascinated with: the "bit" that masters would put in slaves' mouths as punishment. She couldn’t find much in the way of pictures or descriptions, but she found enough to imagine the shame slaves would feel. In Beloved, Paul D. tells Sethe that a rooster smiled at him while he wore the bit, indicating that he felt lower than a barnyard animal.

5. SHE ONLY RECENTLY READ THE BOOK HERSELF.

In an appearance on The Colbert Report last year, Morrison said she finally got around to reading Beloved after almost 30 years. Her verdict: "It’s really good!"

6. THE BOOK INSPIRED READERS TO BUILD BENCHES.

When accepting an award from the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1988, Morrison observed that there is no suitable memorial to slavery, "no small bench by the road." Inspired by this line, the Toni Morrison Society started the Bench by the Road Project to remedy the issue. Since 2006, the project has placed 15 benches in locations significant to the history of slavery and the Civil Rights movement, including Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, which served as the point of entry for 40% of slaves brought to America.

7. WHEN BELOVED DIDN’T WIN THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN 1987, FELLOW WRITERS PROTESTED.

After the snub, 48 African-American writers, including Maya Angelou, John Edgar Wideman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., signed a letter that appeared in the New York Times Book Review. "For all of America, for all of American letters," the letter addressing Morrison read, "you have advanced the moral and artistic standards by which we must measure the daring and the love of our national imagination and our collective intelligence as a people."

8. IT’S ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY CHALLENGED BOOKS.

Between 2000 and 2009, Beloved ranked 26th on the American Library Association’s list of most banned/challenged books. A recent challenge in Fairfax County, Virginia, cited the novel as too intense for teenage readers, while another challenge in Michigan said the book was, incredibly, overly simplistic and pornographic. Thankfully, both challenges were denied.

9. MORRISON ALSO WROTE AN OPERA BASED ON GARNER’S LIFE.

Ten years ago, Morrison collaborated with Grammy-winning composer Richard Danielpour on Margaret Garner, an opera about the real-life inspiration behind Beloved. It opened in Detroit in 2005, and played in Charlotte, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York before closing in 2008.

10. MORRISON DID NOT WANT IT MADE INTO A MOVIE.

Although she publicly claims otherwise, according to a New York magazine story, Morrison told friends she didn’t want Beloved made into a movie. And she didn’t want Oprah Winfrey (who bought the film rights in 1988) to be in it. Nevertheless, the film came out in 1998 and was a total flop.

11. THERE'S AN ILLUSTRATED VERSION.

The Folio Society, a London-based company that creates fancy special editions of classic books, released the first-ever illustrated Beloved in 2015. Artist Joe Morse had to be personally approved by Morrison for the project. Check out a few of his hauntingly beautiful illustrations here.

This article originally appeared in 2015.

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