One of the areas that the fist chapter of The Knowledge explores is how the world will change after the fall of civilisation, as our cities crumble and collapse and the land returns to forest. This is an aesthetic trope explored very well in sci-fi films like I Am Legend or computer games such as The Last of Us or Fallout. But there are also plenty of real-life places that have been abandoned by humanity and are reverting to nature (and recorded by artistic movement known as ruin porn). One of the most notorious is Pripyat, a city close to the Chernobyl nuclear power station that was abandoned after the reactor melted down in 1986. 30 years later, Pripyat is a hauntingly beautiful landscape, eerily quiet of human life but teeming with nature. Watch this incredible drone footage exploring Pripyat.
The collapse of civilisation and loss of the majority of humanity is the starting point for the thought experiment in The Knowledge. The Introduction explores what sort of world the survivors of the cataclysm might find themselves in, and the challenges they’d face thriving in the immediate aftermath and striving to rebuild civilisation from the ground up. The book touches upon many tropes of post-apocalyptic literature and cinema, which are expanded upon elsewhere in this website (e.g. best post-apocalyptic movies, best post-apocalpytic books, post-apocalyptic art, ruin photography). In this guest blog post, Emma Anne James (Twitter) takes a closer, analytical look at the body of American post-apocalyptic films – their common themes, key differences, and problems with their underlying ideals. Emma is a postgraduate researcher in the Department of History of Art and Film, University of Leicester, writing her PhD thesis on this very topic. Also see Emma’s comprehensive list of 78 post-apocalyptic films from the last 80 years of cinema history.
Emma Anne James (Twitter) is a PhD researcher at the University of Leicester, writing her thesis on the critical analysis of post-apocalyptic cinema. She has written a guest post for The Knowledge website discussing the tropes and common themes, as well as the implicit assumptions within them, of these post-apocalyptic films. Here, she provides for us her exhaustive list of 78 American post-apocalyptic films released in the eighty-year period between 1933 and 2013. This includes absolute classics like On the Beach, some truly awful films like Creepozoids, and all three incarnations of The Planet of the Apes narrative (1968, 2001, 2011).
Emma’s research focuses on films released after 1968, and doesn’t include zombie flicks for various reasons including their general status as apocalyptic rather than post-apocalyptic films (see here for her definitions on this). She also includes a few films that have another type of narrative, but contain a very significant post-apocalyptic aspect in the film (for example, the last third of A.I. is significant for its iconographic and thematic use of a post-apocalyptic setting).
Here, then, is Emma’s complete list of post-apocalyptic films. How many have you already seen…?
On 8th May I gave a large public lecture about The Knowledge at the venerable Royal Institution. Although in a feat of forgetfulness I’d managed to leave my laptop on the tube on the way to the venue, the event went well and involved a number of demonstrations, including EXPLODING UNDERPANTS..! Watch the video of the event below, including the interview with Daily Telegraph journalist Tom Chivers and the Q&A with the audience. The themes of the book were also discussed after the public lecture on Twitter for a #RiChat, which is available on Storify to read through if you missed it. See also this list of upcoming events about The Knowledge.
Here’s a video interview I did with Book Zone TV about The Knowledge and the fundamentals of civilisation, filmed appropriately enough in The World’s End pub in Camden, North London… This interview featured on the Evening Standard and Daily Telegraph websites.
For the launch of the book, we created a series of five short films to showcase different techniques that would be vital for surviving the immediate aftermath and rebuilding the capability of your post-apoclyptic society. This third one in a series of three shows how to make gasifier stove using nothing more than old tin cans. A gasifier stove burns fuel exceedingly efficiently and cleanly, and demonstrates the principle behind wood-powered cars that were common in the Second World War. Also see (1/3) How to open a can without a can opener and (2/3) How to start a fire with everyday items, as well as How To: Electrolysis.
For the launch of the book, we created a series of five short films to showcase different techniques that would be vital for surviving the immediate aftermath and rebuilding the capability of your post-apoclyptic society. This is the second one in a series of three, which demonstrates how to make fire. Once all the matches and gas lighters have gone, here’s how to start a fire with everyday objects (which could be scavenged from the abandoned cities) used together in surprising combinations. Also see (1/3) How to open a can without a can opener and (3/3) How to make a gasifier stove, as well as How To: Electrolysis.