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17 July 1967: The Machine Stops wins first prize at Trieste

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Jan. 1st, 1970 | 03:15 pm

'The Machine Stops' won the first prize at the Fifth Festival Internazionale del Film di Fantascienza (International Science Fiction Film Festival) in Trieste, on 17 July 1967. This was the first time the BBC had entered for the Festival.

From “The Times” the following day:

Trieste as a port for science-fiction films

… Science-fiction film – or sci-fi, as it is lovingly known – as yet bears no definition. At one end it is the monsters and irrational fears that still lurk in the shadows of our minds, and at the other serious essays into the spiritual, moral and psychological effects of space on man.

The festival would like to get away from the bloodcurdlers altogether, but at present there is not enough of the other kind …

So during the past week we have seen what you could call a series of competent “B” pictures (nothing derogatory here) but with a few outstanding moments. One of these, most hearteningly, was The Machine Stops, which won the first prize for Britain … This piece of Wellsian stature runs for 50 minutes and was produced by Irene Shubik and directed by Philip Saville for B.B.C. television; when first shown it got largely overlooked.

Based on a tale written by E.M.Forster 40 years ago, and even more chilling in its possibilities today, it presupposes that a giant machine has taken over all human life. They live within its pale caverns, emotions and physical strength atrophying, while everything – including a sympathetic word or medical attention – is supplied by the touch of a button. Then the machine becomes so complex there is no one left who can understand it, and it begins to stop.

Yvonne Mitchell gives a beautifully judged performance as the mother of a throwback, a boy who wants to return to the world outside “and entrust myself to the mercy of God.” As the son Michael Gothard is able and promising in his first television part. A haunting film – and a deeply disturbing one.

Molly Plowright

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