Here is a question for the ages. Are you ready? Sorry, that wasn't the question. The question is this. Which is more mind-blowing: burying a time capsule or digging one up? Whoa.
On the one hand, you have the invigorating challenge of cultural encapsulation ("OK, so let's put in an iPhone, a carabiner key chain, and... what else?!"), not to mention the giddy wicked thrill of willful environmental irresponsibility: putting something in the ground that is deliberately not biodegradable -- something that's supposed to last, to outlive us all, to just sit there, taking up space and of course time, only to be uncovered much much later merely so somebody else might look inside and say, "Ah, interesting!" On the other hand: Ah, interesting! ("Back then they had books made of paper! Weeeeeird!") Maybe it's not irresponsible after all, when you consider the entire, four-dimensional environment.
Saturday's Other Cinema event is said to consider, in addition to the entire four-dimensional environment, the time capsule itself, as "an expression of cultural imagination and self-portraiture." And the right man for this job, absolutely, is homegrown exploratory documentarist Sam Green, who's lately been taking big ideas and refining them into personal, poetically investigative live-narrated cinematic events -- finding a cozy balance between the unvarnished schoolroom show-and-tell and the heady Ideas-conference keynote. His History of the Time Capsule portends a magical reminder of how both the burying and the digging up can inspire us to contemplate The Sublime Narrative Ellipsis of It All.
And anyway, the burying is mostly metaphorical. It's already plenty mind-blowing to consider that the preparers of that time capsule from the 1939 World's Fair, planning 50 centuries ahead, probably couldn't even imagine the lo-fi self-portrait of 1977 humanity that NASA later would blast into the cosmos via Voyager. And now, because maybe 50 centuries is not enough, and twice as many might be better, we have the San Francisco-based Long Now Foundation, combating cultural short-sightedness with the Green-piquing big idea to build a 10,000-year clock. As engineer Daniel Hillis puts it: "It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium."
This way of thinking allows for all manner of science-fiction stuff. It brings to mind Stanley Kubrick's famous spine-tingling match cut from a thrown bone to a gliding spacecraft in 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Star Trek: The Motion Picture, in which San Francisco's own United Federation of Planets HQ gets all in a tizzy when one of the Voyagers, having become nearly but not completely all-knowing, returns to Earth with aggressive existential questions still pending, like an enormous mechanical starship-obliterating chicken coming home to roost. As if it weren't already hard enough to get your head around what'll happen in 20 years when your grown children, wondering what made them who they are, look back through all the photos of their fetal and infant and toddler selves that you posted on facebook for the mysterious, now-forgotten then-world to evaluate. How will the view across history's chasm look to the offspring of humankind itself?
In the end, as in the beginning, it's really just about putting it out there: a friendly and self-revealing gesture that you can't ever really know will be accepted. It's poignant, this manner of communication that's necessarily one-way. And it's poignant that The Future is here now, just in time for thinking about it to seem like a thing of the past.
History of the Time Capsule plays at 8:30pm March 12, 2011, at Artists Television Access in San Francisco. For more information, visit othercinema.com.