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Palmerston North Film Society: McLuhan’s Wake


Wed 10 Aug 2011, 5:30pm
Wed 10 Aug 2011, 8:00pm

Where: Downtown Cinemas, 70 Broadway Ave, Palmerston North

Restrictions: All Ages

Ticket Information:

  • Waged membership: $85.00
  • Unwaged membership: $70.00
  • Triple feature card: $30.00
  • High school student: $30.00
  • Additional fees may apply

Listed by: Ross Stevenson

Directed by Kevin McMahon and David Sobelman
Canada, 2002, 94mins

A clip:

In the '50s and '60s Marshall McLuhan (1911–1980) was the world’s hippest intellectual. He said ‘the medium is the message’, he spoke of the ‘global village’, he insisted that the study of advertising was a valid academic pursuit. He predicted the electronic retrieval of information in a way that clearly foreshadowed the search engine.

The medium did indeed become the message as McLuhan’s innumerable appearances on North American television talk shows broke his arguments down into sound bites; the more apparently wacky, the more the hosts could hoot with delight.

Kevin McMahon’s elegant documentary seeks to rehabilitate McLuhan’s reputation and interrogate his work for its pertinence today. Structuring his enquiry around McLuhan’s final book The Laws of Media, he draws on plentiful archival footage of McLuhan, along with interviews with his colleagues, family and other scholars. These are interspersed with McMahon’s own handsomely filmed extrapolations of the metaphors in McLuhan’s work.

The film opens with images of water, and uses this as a metaphor for McLuhan’s intellectual life. McLuhan himself was fascinated by Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, A Descent into the Maelstrom, seeing the legendary Scandinavian storm as a metaphor for information’s impact on our consciousness.

“Marshall McLuhan did learn how to survive the vortex, and he wound up just like Poe’s sailor,” says the voiceover (performed by McLuhan’s son Eric and Laurie Anderson). An excerpt from the story, “My rescuers were old mates of mine, and yet they would not admit that my experiences had been real,” follows the soundtrack, and this lays out McMahon’s thesis.

One of the more melancholy moments of the film comes towards the end, when a blow-dried talk-show host cheerfully chuckles about the books that they’ve just discussed, “I still don’t understand it.”

“McMahon has done a good job of integrating talking-head interviews, archival footage, photographs (including some very nice stuff from McLuhan’s days at the University of Toronto) and (sometimes highly manipulated) newly shot material. McLuhan’s Wake, then, is a formally ambitious piece of portraiture, rendered with respect and deep knowledge of the subject.” – Jerry White, Dox

Did you know?
His 1951 book The Mechanical Bride began his steady deconstruction of the culture, and it was soon followed by The Guttenberg Galaxy, about the impact of the invention of print and Understanding Media, resulting in an oft-quoted summarization, "the medium is the message".

Two screenings - 5.30pm and 8pm at Downtown Cinemas
Members only. Palmerston North Film Society Membership is available at the door before each screening and lasts for one full year.

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