A website about UK Science Fiction, digging through the past to uncover the future.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Buy content through ScooptWords "And a pub right next door to me"... "Oh no you don't."

The National Archives Research, education & online exhibitions Exhibitions Public Information Films

Another Central Office of Information film, or more correctly, cartoon. Entitled 'New Town', it features Charley, a young cockernee gent on a bicycle extolling the virtues of his choice of a New Town to live in over his old home in the city. Made in 1948, this film presumably attempted to drum up demand for relocation from dirty old London to a nice, clean rational New Town. Quite excellently, it represents the growth of the New Town as being something akin to a 1940s version of Sim City, with isometric buildings and roads dropped into place on a pleasing grid pattern. Witness the city as described in this film: It's an almost exact representation of the London that George Orwell wrote about in 1984, completed the same year. It also mentions Community Centres and 'Hostels where the young people can get together'.

Charley complains of the hour it took him to get to work in the city, dragging himself into his office to a funeral dirge. As he puts it:

"Well, one day I was proper fed up with it all. It seemed to me we had made a real mess of things in our town. Still, if you can make a muck-up of things you can put them right. Boy, that's when I had a great idea. But. I wasn't the only one - oh no!"

Charley rises into the air and bursts through the roof of his workplace, to be followed by others across the city. There are obvious visual parallels here with pictorial representations of The Rapture in contemporary evangelical christian literature, with God lifting the chosen out of the strife and trouble of the earth as the apocalypse arrives. The film, therefore, seem to present the City as a kind of hell-on-earth, a mess of structureless and unplanned expansion which can be escaped by reaching the New Town in which Charley has made his home.

A further interesting point: The city and its spread into the countryside is described and represented as the spread of a disease, even going so far as to depict it as a kind of horrid amoeba only being repulsed and/or contained by the greenbelt surrounding it. When one of the characters in the film suggests moving beyond the greenbelt, it is represented on screen as if the release of spores ready to travel outward an contaminate the rest of the land.

Buy content through ScooptWords "Yes, it's over... He's the smaller of the two"

The National Archives Research, education & online exhibitions Exhibitions Public Information Films

A public information film produced by The Central Office of Information and The Observer two weeks before The Festival of Britain buildings were demolished.

There's something downbeat about it, as if it was already known that a brief moment of opportunity, a 'jumping off point' had passed. In the opening moments we see images of the future that would be so familiar later in Britain.

Despite being new and shiny, these buildings are presented as ruins or remnants, the Skylon standing like a totem for a culture already superseded. Somehow, this version of postwar optimism was already obsolete and strangely laughable. In the first thirty seconds there's a great shot of puddle with a sheet of newspaper trapped in it, underneath the canopy of the Dome of Discovery. There are strangely shaped buildings of a purpose made unclear sitting in amongst scrap metal and odd remnants. The figures in this landscape wander as if bewildered.

In the film, Patrick O' Donovan of the Observer describes the Festival, and by extension the possibilities it represents as: "Really, the place was like a gigantic toyshop for adults. It was a series of surprises; now serious, now witty, now rather vulgar, now even a little mad"

It seems to me that there's a message here about the prevailing attitude to the future present in the concrete and aluminum of the Festival, a certain desperate whimsy in the face of actual conditions. The film contrasts the Festival with the London that surrounds it, talking of darkness and drabness and churches put up 'on the cheap'.

Patrick O' Donovan paints a the visitors that seems to sum up Britain and it's relationship to the idea of progress and the future as much as it sums up the Festival:

"In among these unfamiliar shapes, there were the visitors, and they were not dwarfed by the show, they were part of it. There were the thousands of women whose feet hurt and weren´t going to give up. There were clusters of fierce little boys, filled with their secret purposes. There were suspicious housewives who wondered what they´d have to buy the disappointed ones who wanted free samples. There were the militant individualists who weren´t going to take any notice of the officious arrows, and blame the organisers when they got lost. There were the lovers that were indifferent to it all. There were people who began to feel uncomfortable yet hesitated to ask. There were cautious intellectuals who´d seen better in Stockholm and Paris There were the foreigners in un-English clothes who secretly got stared at behind their backs, while they were often amazed at this spectacle of the British at their ease. There were people who wanted tea, and people who wanted a four course dinner with two sorts of wine. And all of them in a special mood, slightly excited, slightly exaggerated. A mood that had been made by the building, the colour and the music."

As he summarises:

"Here at the South Bank there was a blueprint for new towns, light hearted, sensible, not too dear, practical and never boring... There were no resounding proud messages here, no one was taught to hate anything, At a time when nations were becoming assertive and more intolerant, here was a national exhibition that avoided these emotions, and tried to stay rational. In a bad year in the world´s history, it had a spiritual quality that is worth remembering. "

The Festival of Britain is cast as a tentative toe placed into the sea of the future, a possible direction taken where the major factors are lightness, shininess and, overall, fun. Like the Skylon, the film suggests, this future floats in isolation, unattached to the ground, an alien marvel destined never to be integrated into the world as it is rather than the world as it should be.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Buy content through ScooptWords A shaking hand wipes Dean Jagger's pate...

Watched X - The Unknown at the weekend, a phenomenal 1956 Hammer science fiction film.

Here are some preliminary notes for future exploration:

According to Jimmy Sangster, the screenwriter and production manager for the film, Dean Jagger the American actor who plays the Quatermass surrogate Dr Adam Royston, refused to work on the production because the director originally slated to produce had appeared before the House Un-American Activities committee.

There is a wonderful caption in the opening titles thanking the War Office for their kind help.

In the film, which features a hungry blob emerging from beneath the Earth's crust to feed on energy, nuclear research is carried out in what seems to be a garden shed.

Dr Royston is working on developing a way of neutralising radioactive material with a strange meccano contraption involving some panels spinning at the top of towers. He claims that he is trying to find a way of removing the energy without exploding it.

Nuclear research stations behind chainlink fences seem to be the norm in Scotland, where the film is set.

Leo McKern turns up as a kind of semi-governmental police officer who has the job of researching atomic events.

There are at least two pivotal scenes set in a church.

The military feature, with soldiers completing their national service involved in both the initial appearance of the unknown visitor and it's final destruction.

The establishment where the atomic material is seems to be a non-commercial venture, possibly government funded.

These thoughts to be expanded on later.


Buy content through ScooptWords Science Fiction that we like:

The Politics of Space: 1 The Last Astronaut ABCtales.com

An example of the kind of UK science fiction in which we're interested. Contains allusions to various UK science fiction characters and situations alongside Walter Benjamin style meditations on ruins and ruination.