“If you don’t remember the 80s, just imagine listening to Duran Duran’s ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ playing on a boom box that at any moment could explode, killing you and everyone you know.”
Population: 1 opens with basically a music video, in which a snaggle-toothed chanteuse wonders why nobody loves her, and then dies on a riverbank. She’s glorious–just enough menace, just enough shriek–but what actually is going on here? We cut to an underground bunker where a scrawny degenerate is watching cowboy films and retailing sarcastic pro-American bromides, in rhyme. I started to wonder whether the promise of the opening would be cruelly broken.
But no! Population: 1 is a very short (one hour) catastrophic tour of US history, starting with the Old West and weirdly skipping the ’50s through ’70s (it’s easier to be a superior white punk about dead buffalo than about the Civil Rights Movement, I guess) before showing us a total nuclear war that leads to mad-scientist experiments in a walled-off refuge.
It’s a lot smarter than it needed to be–there are some great lines, like, “It is my dubious privilege to inform you that mankind never made anything he did not, eventually, use.” Or, “We were a people who believed in joy, in fun.” “Nobody before us ever experienced such a visually well-monitored way of dying.” Just dripping with doom. The music is without exception phenomenal, including an only slightly punked-out “Ten Cents a Dance.” To the extent that there’s a message it’s a more romantic and more nihilist version of “Plastic Bag,” or really any song in the X-Ray Spex canon, but you know, I am okay with that.
I found this via the House of Self-Indulgence, and I agree with the House take: “The thought that permeated my mind throughout Population: 1 was: ‘Why hasn’t this film been hailed as a bohemian classic by the demented elite and their midnight movie attending allies?'”