American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
There's something endearingly human about our ability to take the most astonishing ideas and treat them in trivial stories. Take, as today's example, the idea of black holes in outer space and the story of Walt Disney's "The Black Hole."
The concept of black holes has trickled down by now from the ivory towers of Cambridge to the middle ground of Scientific American and finally to the funny pages: There may be special places in the universe where collapsing stars have set up gravity fields so dense that not even light can escape from them. So we have a "hole" in space which by definition we cannot see. Since light (which cannot help moving at the speed of light) cannot climb out of the hole. . . would an object falling into it be accelerated beyond the speed of light? And what would happen then?
The possibilities are mind-boggling. One of them, much favored by science-fiction writers, is that black holes are tunnels in space, and that if we fell into one we might emerge (a bit scorched, perhaps) from a "white hole" some. where else in the universe. Because black holes are "singularities" that do not correspond to models of the universe constructed by Einstein or anybody else, they've also inspired wonderfully apocalyptic notions. My favorite is that they're intergalactic bathtub drains, and that we'll all whirl down them some day and turn up in the sewer system of the universe next door.
That would be preferable to what happens in Disney's "The Black Hole," which takes us all the way to the rim of space only to bog us down in a talky melodrama whipped up out of mad scientists and haunted houses. A space mission to a black hole finds that another ship has arrived earlier: The Cygnus, which disappeared 20 years earlier. The explorers go on board and discover that the entire crew of the Cygnus has disappeared, except for a Dr. Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell), who explains that he's about to try a daring plunge into the hole. The visitors are not enchanted. But one of them (Anthony Perkins) gets caught up in Reinhart's mad vision, and a journalist (Ernest Borgnine) wanders about the gigantic Cygnus and discovers a great deal more than meets the eye. And then Reinhardt turns mean.