‘Alistair1918:’ A nice little film you probably haven’t heard of


Just a quick word about a neat little film you may not have heard about, and might enjoy.

It’s called “Alistair1918.”

I ran across it on Amazon Prime, where you can see it for free if you’re a subscriber. It wasn’t among the films and TV shows the service promotes on its main page. You know how if you call up a film, depending on your interface, you get a list of similar movies across the bottom of the screen — and then if you click on one of those, you get a list of things related to that? After you do that two or three times, you get to some interesting, and unexpected, stuff. Well, I was a click or two into one of those searches for arcana, looking for something to watch while working out, and ran across this.

But the blurb doesn’t really tell you what it’s like. It says, “A World War One soldier accidentally time travels to present day Los Angeles. Filthy, penniless, with no way to prove his identity, he struggles to find a way back to his wife in 1918.”

Actually, all of that has already happened when you meet Alistair, the British soldier. He’s been in the present day for about a month, and he’s already come to grips with the fact that it’s the 21st century and that he’s stuck here. He’s been living in Griffith Park, staying alive by trapping squirrels.

So there are no battle scenes, or flash-bang depictions of what time travel might be like, or anything. No “Back to the Future” action involving DeLoreans. In fact, it’s basically like what you’d see on an amateur documentary, because that’s what it’s supposed to be. Near as I can recall, you see nothing that’s not part of the “documentary” footage. It’s about as vérité as cinéma gets.

When the film started, I thought it was a promo for something else, one of those Prime routinely gives you at the start of a video, and only when the “promo” dragged out into extended scenes did I realize the show had started.

It starts with this nervous young woman named “Poppy” trying on different outfits before doing interviews on camera. Gradually, you infer that she’s a graduate student shooting a documentary for her master’s, with help from friends, about homelessness in Los Angeles. She starts by asking people on a city street about the homeless. After a couple of people mention all the homeless in Griffith Park, the crew goes there. They head off the beaten path and starting looking in a wooded area, and the first homeless guy they meet is the one you see below — Alistair.

When they interview him, he very matter-of-factly explains his situation. As I’ve said, he’s had time to adjust. So there’s none of the “Where the hell am I, and what’s happened to me?” drama you see in most time-travel films. He’s even unimpressed with the technology. Alistair dismisses such tropes as irrelevant to his situation or his goal — which is to get back to his wife in 1918. Later in the film, when one of Poppy’s friends sort of condescendingly asks him whether he’s amazed at the old flip phone Poppy has given him, he says, with a “what kind of rube do you think I am?” tone, “We have telephones.” When the guy says, yeah, but this has no wires, Alistair says, “We have radio, also.”

Alistair’s a pretty smart guy who defies the usual fish-out-of-water cliches. You know he’s a pretty smart guy because when they ask him what he did before the war, he says he wrote for a newspaper back in England (ahem!). He’s a guy who reads, and writes, and figures things out. In fact, after a “scientist” he meets fails to get him back home through a hare-brained stunt, he reads every book in the library that deals with wormholes in a quest to figure out how she got it wrong. (The film’s title is Alistair’s email address, which Poppy creates for him so he can communicate with the scientist.)

The film was written by Guy Birtwhistle, the actor who portrays Alistair. Told you he was a smart guy.

Anyway, I think you’ll enjoy this. You should check it out…

in Griffith Park

16 thoughts on “‘Alistair1918:’ A nice little film you probably haven’t heard of

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    A quibble about a quibble…

    I decided to tell y’all about this film when I realized how obscure it was — it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. But there are some reviews out there, and one of them that was otherwise positive complained about Alistair’s claims about technology, saying:

    There are two slight slip-ups regarding the public’s knowledge of media in 1918 when Alistair says to one of his 21st century friends that they had telephone and radio back in 1918. That’s technically true, of course — telephone was invented in 1876 and radio in 1900 — but few people other than scientists and engineers knew about them until the 1920s. Alistair did work for a newspaper before he went to war, so it’s certainly possible that he had knowledge of those two inventions — but, if so, he should have said that he knew about them by virtue of his work at a newspaper, and not as knowledge that was generally known. (Radio was developed considerably during the first World War, but, again, most soldiers on the front likely had little knowledge of it.) But this is a very minor point, and no one other than a persnickety about media-history professor like me would have spotted it.

    Well, professor, I’m not sure about Britain, but in this country, the first commercial telephone exchange was established in 1878. The first long-distance line was laid a year before that. In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, published in 1889, Hank Morgan treats telephones as an everyday convenience that Twain seems to assume would be quite familiar to his readers (although admittedly, that first exchange was in Connecticut — I’m not claiming everyone in Appalachia had a phone).

    You’re on more solid ground with radio. The average Brit would have have experienced it until the years right after the war. But as you suggest, it’s perfectly credible that a newspaperman would have been familiar with it. It’s also credible that Alistair, ticked off by the supercilious manner of the other character, would have said it just as he did — exaggerating the ordinariness of the technology — in order to put the wise guy in his place…

  2. Norm Ivey

    This sounds like a show I’d like to see. I’m a time travel geek. It’s going on my watchlist. If you’ve never seen it, try Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel. It really explores the paradox of time travel making a copy of the time traveler in the past, and each subsequent sojourn creates an additional copy.

  3. Dave Crockett

    I, too, am a time-travel geek. I even started on a time-travel novel nearly 30 years ago and have poked at it many times since. But fiction writing and dialog just don’t come naturally to me. And the story is kinda half-baked, to be honest.

    But I’ll have to give this flick a look-see. Thanks, Brad!

    1. Norm Ivey

      I have this mental outline of a time travel episodic novel that uses a jukebox of mysterious origin as the portal. You punch D6 or whatever, and it takes you to the year the song was originally recorded. It would be a collection of short stories all featuring the same time travelers. I have no intention of ever doing anything with the idea, but every now and then I think of an episode I could add to it, and then try to come up with a song that would serve as the portal.

      1. Dave Crockett

        My story involves the creation of a time travel agency (the Department of Historical Information Coordination or ‘DHIC’) with a charge to ‘verify’ historical accounts of events employing a recently discovered means of time travel…only to discover its work is actually warping history as we perceive it. Secondary story involves a DHIC employee who tries to commit suicide by killing his father before he was conceived (classic time travel paradox) only to find that doing so also doesn’t have the expected effect. Other subplots in various stages of development all impinging on the paradoxes and perils of time travel.

        1. Norm Ivey

          You could go to multiple places and events in 1971. Each song would take you back to a different scenario. It’s sort of a Quantum Leap concept. The song is tied to some past event that needs to be adjusted…

      1. Norm Ivey

        It is, and I think that’s a characteristic of many indie films, and I’ve become a bit of a fan of them. The big companies just seem to recycle the same stories over and over, but the indies seem to break new ground. In the last month I’ve seen The Oath (meh), Colette (excellent), Puzzle (pretty good), and Juliet, Naked (Chris O’Dowd again) (best of the bunch). Although that last one may not have been an indie.

      2. FrankP

        Indeed. i saw it listed as a freebie Sci-Fi choice on Prime .. found your blog entry above .. and both my wife and I enjoyed it immensely – Thanks! And she is a tough critic of anything fantastical/sci-fi.

        As you say, a unique and earnest tale, well executed. Reminds us how simple a story can be, and still entertain, intrigue and engage us.

        I’ll rec. an older, v. short film – not Sci-Fi, but an insightful, humorous take on the sexes. And a good one to watch with a female friend: “Peep Show” – ’99: http://peepshowshortfilm.com/Watch_Peep_Show.html (not the more recent Amazon series of the same name).

        Note the number of “Best Short Film” awards won in ’99, listed on the above home page.

        It’s apparently not avail. in any form for streaming at this time, but well worth the <5 bucks to purchase (I'm not affiliated, etc., but became a fan after catching it, some years ago, on an "Independent Lens" segment, IIRC, on San Francisco's PBS station, KQED.

        On Amazon (I don't see it listed anywhere else): https://www.amazon.com/Peep-Show-Sylvie-Bouchard/dp/B00005O5BP/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=peep+show+short+film+1999&qid=1593333762&sr=8-1

        (A caveat: the Dir. and actors listed in the text are incorrect. However, the description on the DVD box/cover, and the director, Charlie Call, refer to the '99 short film.)


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