One forum provided me with a link to an online reprint of Susan Sontag's film on early SF-films, "The Imagination of Disaster," so I responded with some current thoughts on the essay.
I remembered liking the essay when I read it years ago, and so I gave it a quick re-read. Some thoughts:
To the objections raised here that Sontag is glossing over the social critiques in popular SF films, it's possible, but I get the feeling that even if you did point out, say, the possible critique of nucleafr power in GOJIRA, she would dismiss them. Like most critics of the time, she's got a very fixed idea of the type of stories that are sophisticated, and those that don't deserve to be taken seriously. Note that she asserts that SF films are far more consequential to the history of the film medium than most if not all prose SF is to the history of prose literature. Talk about a backhanded insult to the whole of SF literature! But we should remember that there didn't then exist a movement to gauge prose SF on its own merits in the academic world, which seems to have come about more in the 1970s. I think that if you pointed out the serious themes of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, Sontag would instantly dismiss it for not being as good as BROTHERS KARAMAZOV.
I liked her basic notion of "the aesthetics of destruction," and how she connected that aesthetic with other genres, like the Biblical epic. However, it's an overly one-sided picture of SF film, rooted in her agenda to focus upon the common denominator of "the monster" in most of the popular SF films. Yet what about FORBIDDEN PLANET? There's a monster in that, and there's some destruction in it, but it doesn't really follow her pattern. If anything, the main appeal of FP obeys "the aesthetics of construction," at least to those viewers who take pleasure in the immense-- and never destroyed-- Krell power station.
Her whole idea of "the inadequacy of response" is largely like her formulation of the "camp aesthetic." It's an attempt to assert that there's no real meaning in the images and tropes of unsophisticated popular fiction, except as a barometer of social unrest and so on. I've spent years trying to refute this kind of thinking, but I imagine it'll always be with us, because it gives psuedo-intellectuals so much pleasure in their superiority. However, I'll give Sontag this much: I think that to some extent she recognized that these crude films authentically moved her emotionally, and that she was sincerely trying to understand that phenomenon with the intellectual tools she had to work with.
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