The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968)

For a long time this film has sat on my “must watch list” with the XXX 2012 Summer Olympics underway now was as fitting a time as any to watch The Year of the Sex Olympics.

It only took 40 years for most of this to come true.

This 1968 television play takes place in a near future where all of the world is controlled via television programs. Human emotions and impulses are held in check by programming designed to turn them off from eating or reproducing. Shows about sex and food dominate the airwaves. The world has been split into two classes of humans – the high-achievers or those that produce television shows and the low-achievers or the audience that consumes the programming.

In the effort to create a new show a television producer suggests a program where a couple is banished to a remote island and forced to survive without technology. If this all sounds familiar it is probably because we have seen numerous reality television shows with a similar premise. Of course, this film predates all of them. It also touches upon so many other modern television trends.

Were this film made today it could be easily seen as a satire of so many shows: Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, Big Brother, Survivor, Frontier House, even numerous food related programs. They are not far from the shows in this film, things like Art Sex or Sports Sex or my favorite show of the future which appears to be two grown men sitting in a vat of mashed potatoes fling lumps of potatoes at one another’s face. That’s a show we need today. That feels like something you’d see on South Park if they were to send-up the gluttonous food porn shows clogging up are modern channels.

As funny as some of the programming imagined in The Year of the Sex Olympics, this television movie is less satirical and more cautionary. It warns us of a future when we are both controlled and manipulated by television.  At worst, it predicts a time when real people’s lives are drastically changed, even ruined, for the entertainment of others. One can see this film having a kinship with movies like The Truman Show or The Secret Cinema (which came out the same year).

The film also examines whether we are born and bound to particular social classes or if we can rise above limitations. In this sense The Year of the Sex Olympics feels akin to GattacaHowever, the production design budget for this film is far less than Gattaca. The future envisioned in The Year of the Sex Olympics is very much a mash-up Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and 60’s mod-on-a-dime fashion and decor. This is not to disparage the look of The Year of the Sex Olympics, if anything the look is dated, but fun and fashionable; certainly not forgettable. Factoids on-line tell me that the film wast shot in color, but that to-date no color version of the film exists. I can only imagine how wild some of the sets and costumes must look in color.

Behold, the future. Now, imagine it in color.

Perfect, this film is not. Its story and the ideas at play are far more interesting than all aspects of its execution. There are times when the technical and financial limitations of the production remind you that this is a tele-play. Toward the films climax, when part of the story moves to exteriors the framing and compositions begin to take on a highly cinematic style. Still, the acting, reaches emotional levels that feel a bit…well…theatrical. If one can look past the expressive eyes and dramatic gestures, there is more intelligence and quality in The Year of the Sex Olympics than is to be expected. I’m left wondering why it took me so long to get around to watching this truly entertaining and engrossing film.

Today, the notion of reality television is less novel and more-or-less a far reaching genre with various sub-genres. To be warned of its effects on both subject and viewer may feel unnecessary. A whole generation has grown up bombarded with reality based television for them is probably normal.  I am sure that at the time of its first broadcast the concept of real people over-indulging in sex and food or putting their lives on display 24-hours a day might have been received as impossibly silly or paranoid or fantastically fearful. However, today, The Year of the Sex Olympics feels all too real and worth watching.

You can check it out in its entirety on YouTube, for now. No telling how long the future will be around for your viewing pleasure.

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