Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey was a cause célèbre within the sf genre, dividing Old Guard fans, who deplored the film–maker's purported contempt for reason and scientific inquiry, from younger fans aligned with contemporary counterculture, who embraced its trippy imagery, its fusion of science and mysticism, and its tone of apocalyptic transcendence. At the time of its release, 2001 became a kind of litmus test of fan sentiment towards the New Wave movement, a rising sf avant–garde that sought to remake a genre traditionally inclined towards technocratic scientism and conservative narrative style into a more experimental, counterculturally savvy mode of writing whose perspectives on technological modernity had a subversive critical edge. As Golden Age author Lester del Rey fulminated in his review of 2001 for Galaxy magazine, “It's the first of the New Wave–Thing movies, with the usual empty symbolism. The New Thing advocates were exulting over it as a mind–blowing experience. It takes little to blow some minds. But for the rest of us, it's a disaster” (194). On the other side of the generational divide, sf fan Alex Eisenstein proclaimed the film “a prodigious work of art” and “a grand and eloquent message of the spirit” (qtd. in Pohl and Pohl 167, 169), while Earl Evers found the Star Gate sequence a revelation, “one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen” (45). By becoming fodder for this intra–generic debate, the film marked a significant moment of crossover between sf and youth counterculture, a connection long championed by the New Wave's partisans.
In this essay, I want to examine the imbrication of the New Wave with contemporaneous sf cinema, highlighted by 2001, but with a special focus on two low–budget films of the 1970s that have developed a cult reputation and had clear links, textually or tonally, with the movement: Dark Star (1974) and A Boy and His Dog (1975). These two works share not only ideological terrain but also a certain mode of cult reception with New Wave fiction, coming to constitute—along with Kubrick's sf films of the period, 2001 and A Clockwork Orange (1971)—a kind of New Wave cinematic canon.