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

Friday, March 24, 2006

Buy content through ScooptWords "If this is living in the future today... I'm all for it."

I've never really been a fan of Gerry Anderson and his various miniature and not so miniature extravaganzas. There's a horrid air of 'gadget' hanging over them that stifles any interesting ideas they might have. For me they're always like watching a piece of pornography made for a fetish I don't have: Where there should be a shot of an actors reaction there instead is a ponderous sequence involving some spaceships or some such; where there might be a long short of the couple 'doing it' instead there is a lingering close-up of a toe... Wholely unsatisfying to me, but obviously targeted at the taste of someone, somewhere.

I couldn't resist, though, flagging up this little snippet of Sylvia Anderson trying to pass off the clothes that the women wear in 'UFO' as practical fashions. According to the obsessively neat and categorized 'UFO' fansite the clip is from, it comes from a 1970 UK TV programme "Tomorrow Today". It's interesting how much it betrays of Sylvia Anderson's attitude to actors versus puppets. To quote her: "With puppets one could decide what body, what hairstyle a puppet has exactly, how they would dress and so on. You're a little more inhibited with an actor. You can't change a tall man into a short man."

To Sylvia, it seems, all is about appearance. That's the peculiar emptiness of the Anderson canon, I suppose.

In many ways, 'UFO' is the opposite of what I'm trying to connect with on this blog. It sits in isolation, a collection of gadgets and gimmicks that don't go any further than themselves. It doesn't manage to either create an alternative world or comment on this one, it just exists for the length of time an episode lasts then vanishes. From what I remember of watching it, it was like those action comics where a world was erected for the purposes of housing six pages of inky story and then collapsed again, all of the backgrounds hastily drawn and generic, the locations sketched in very quickly. I suppose what I can't see is the point at which the world of 'UFO' jumps off from this one, our 'real' world. I very much like the idea of fictions as 'secondary realities', realities that are like our world but have deviated at certain points.

What is great about this clip, at least, is the seventies future-ness of it. At one point the model in her spangley, stretchy nylon and PVC is seen in a clothes shop not a million miles away from record shop that we see Alex in 'A Clockwork Orange' (see this post for more). What is also great is the job we see our futuristic model at, all whirring tape wheels and grey enameled computer appliances.

It's a good example of the ephemera of something being far more interesting than the thing itself.

Posting up stuff like this wanders very close to what TVCream would call 'the wrong sort of nostalgia', taking the past out of context and applying a sort of cynical jokiness to it all. It's difficult to define the wrong sort of nostalgia but you know it when you see it or hear it. It reduces the past to 'blimey, weren't they all unsophisticated, they must have known how daft this would all look in a few years time'. It is ahistorical, because it assumes that the way things seem now is the way they must have seemed then, applying the notion of ironic knowingness retrospectively. It judges everything against the sophisticated 'now' and finds it wanting.

All that said, there's also a great futuristic car / freezing cold back road sequence to be cherished. A Sylvia says: "Modern design is very practical"...

UFO fansite: http://ufoseries.com/

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Buy content through ScooptWords Worth going to college for?

The British Film Institute is a wondrously arcane institution. Living inside the National Film Theatre on London's Southbank, it fights to save the last remnants of UK moving visual culture from disappearance. Sittings in the shadows, studiously taking notes and archiving things, the BFI only occasionally sharing the fruits of its labour with the rest of us.

A case in point is this site, www.screenonline.org.uk. It's a big database of important film and television, all stuck online for us, the people. Just check out this section on British science fiction television: http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/445256/index.html.

You go in and wow! There's clips and complete episodes from such treasures as Doomwatch, Day of the Triffids, Quatermass and The Pit and the masterful Survivors. You click the link, for example, on the complete first episode of Survivors, salivating at the thought of seeing Peter Bowles cough himself to death in the seventies, and then you find that you can only watch these clips if you are in an educational establishment or public library.

So near and yet so far...

If there's anyone out there who can get Archeology of the Future into their college, library or other educational establishment out of hours to watch this stuff, we'd be over the moon.

Today's photo comes from www.ilike.org.uk, a wonderful blog of lovely ephemera, of which Archeology of the Future are huge fans. The picture's linked to the site. Please go and check it out, there's much to be seen and cherished. If Archeology of the Future could chose its family, www.ilike.org.uk would be the cousin that we thought was so cool we got too embarrassed to talk to them every time we saw them at weddings and birthdays.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Buy content through ScooptWords We've been linked by a Triffid!

It's not every day that you can say that you've been highly commended for your efforts by an extra-terrestrial plant, but that's exactly what happened earlier today.

Wyndham The Triffid has posted a glowing recommendation of this blog here.

Wyndham himself seems to be a rum old Triffid, more concerned with the worries of growing old, the toll that journalism takes on the soul and the way that films are never as good as you think they're going to be than wandering menacingly through deserted suburban streets and attacking people with his poisoned tongue.

Check out the thoughts of this most unconventional murderous vegetable invader here.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Buy content through ScooptWords There's nothing better than an apocalypse on your doorstep

There's a brilliant scene in 'The Quatermass Xperiment' (Buy it at amazon.co.uk here) where Victor Caroon, the last surviving member of the first British mission into space and in the process of transforming into a plant creature, is awoken from his sleep in a river barge by a seven year old Jane Asher playing with her doll. Framed by the wildness and decay of the riverbank at what is supposed to be Deptford, they are two isolated figures in a landscape, as alone as if they were the last people on earth. What you can't see in the colourised photo of this scene is the sheer sense of disarray and an area having been forgotten about. Despite being near to the centre of London, this scene seems to take place in another, more lawless and less structured country. Being the sad fantasist that I am, I couldn’t resist going down to the riverside where Deptford Creek (The River Ravensbourne) meets the Thames. It's changed out of all recognition in the eight or so years since I arrived in London, never mind since the 1950s when they were shooting Quatermass. Even when I arrived there was decaying warehouses, dark moorings and piles of rubble where the scrub pushed through. There's a small amount of the wildness left now, but enough to give me that fantasist’s thrill. Here I was, standing where the scene was supposed to have been (or near enough), early on a Saturday morning, close enough to the location and close enough to sleep to feel myself on the border between this world and the other world of spacemen and rocketships and silent dignified astronauts fighting to retain their humanity. It was the same when I lived in Surrey and read ‘War of The Worlds’ by H.G. Wells. Walking the quiet lanes and looking out over the green valleys I could almost see the great tripods striding towards London, the smell of burning flesh catching on the warm breeze and falling to the street with the ashes. There is nothing better than seeing the apocalypse on your doorstep.

'The Quatermass Xperiment' contains one of the most poignant and potent images of what I'm trying to capture in this blog. A sleek and beautiful rocket, a sister to the Skylon, sticks into the soil of an English meadow at almost a forty-five degree angle. There is no cordon, no helicopters, no quarantine. A van, with five men is all that is sent to retrieve it. Locals take cover in memory of the war when they hear it overhead, and then look on with an almost casual interest. There is a feeling that, for these people, a rocketship seems almost commonplace, as if they are thinking 'of course there's a rocketship'. These are people who have never had it so good. The presentation of technological marvels is an everyday occurrence to them. They are almost certain that they are living in the future. There is no reason not to expect that they belong to country who, having won the war, will go on to beat the world in whatsoever it chooses. The government and it's scientists are, in this world, working away to make the future British.

In this incarnation of Quatermass, Quatermass himself reflects this. Rather than the avuncular, donnish figure he is portrayed as elsewhere, in this film he is driven. When he succeeds in dispensing with the monstrous creature that Caroon eventually becomes, he walks from Westminster Abbey, the site of Carroon's final stand, and does not stop walking. He ignores those around him, determined and hard-headed; he brushes aside questions and pleas for information. He is literally the relentless march of science. He is on the way to carry on with preparations for the next launch. Nothing will stand in his way. Compassion, celebration, sadness, and guilt: all are alien to this Quatermass. He is science as destroyer, as over-reacher. Here is the steely callousness that presents more and more technology as the answer to unreliable humanity. Ruthless scientific advancement.

Interestingly, this Quatermass, played by American Brian Donlevy, is an accident of circumstance. Nigel Kneale had intended that his first Quatermass serial would be a check to the cheery post-war optimism he saw around him in the country, but it was the Quatermass of the television serial that was the motor for that. It was only in the making of the film, which Kneale didn't have direct involvement with, that it was Quatermass that became the chilling figure he is here. Donlevy, partial to the drink and used to playing hard-nosed characters made his Quatermass inflexible and unpleasant. This has the effect of shifting the anxiety away from the sympathetic Caroon whom we see suffer and fight his transmogrification, and onto the figure of Quatermass as scientist as authoritarian.