A couple of short old novels randomly plucked from boxes where they’ve languished unread for decades suddenly have things to say about social distancing, contact and the legacy of these pandemic times.
From Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair (1951):
She stood up abruptly and said, ‘Let’s go,’ and was suddenly taken with a fit of coughing. It seemed to big a cough for her small bdy: her forehead sweated with its expulsion. […] I moved towards her […]. ‘Sarah,’ I said. She turned her head sharply away, as though she were looking to see if anyone were coming, to see if there was time . . . but when she turned again the cough took her. She doubled up in the doorway and coughed and coughed. Her eyes were red with it. In her fur coat she looked like a small animal cornered.
I said with bitterness, as though I had been robbed of something, ‘That needs attending to.’
‘It’s only a cough.’ She held her hand out and said ‘Good-bye – Maurice.’ The name was like an insult. I said ‘Good-bye’, but didn’t take her hand.
Some 700 years later, on human-colonised Venus, in Henry Kuttner’s Fury (1950, co-written with uncredited CL Moore):
He clasped his hands before him and bowed slightly in the semi-oriental gesture of greeting that had for so long replaced the handshake.
and so anyway it turns out that the best thing about Paul Wegener’s Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920) is not the stunning 4K restoration, which makes it look like a completely different film to the one that’s only been available in shitty prints and ropey transfers for decades, nor is it sniggering at the subtitle, which I am told by a German friend would nowadays mean ‘and how he ejaculated into the world’ , no, the very best thing about this film about a creature fashioned from clay and brought to life through mystical powers, is the way it it loses all credibility the moment Fabian (Lothar Muthel, below right, shirt-cocking, full-Winnie-the-Pooh) starts to express an interst in, well, girls…
I am no fan of Martin Amis, but kudos for the truly incredible piece of confessional writing that is his 2011 intro to Ballard’s THE DROWNED WORLD, which goes: I don’t understand sf, I don’t understand Ballard, I don’t understand this novel, I don’t understand climate science, I don’t understand DeLillo (but I do have a crush on him), I don’t understand introductions, and I’m less than 100% on the placement of commas, but I do understand I get paid the same if I pad this out with long quotes, and I do understand spoilers – and to prove it I’ll end with a really big one:
and so anyway it turns out that the best thing about Sir Diddley Squat’s latest xenomorph instalment is that after the prologue – and if you overlook the clunky dialogue, indistinguishability of the ‘characters’, poor grasp of physics, idiot plotting and general boring-ness of it all – most of the first hour is nowhere near as bad as Prometheus (Scott 2012) or, indeed, as the second half of Alien: Covenant, even if the second half is the half in which we get to see Michael Fassbender in a dopey hat, Michael Fassbender play Kurtz as Hannibal Lecter, Michael “you blow into it and I’ll do the fingering” Fassbender finally have a queer romance with Michael Fassbender, and, in the very final shot, Michael Fassbender show off his enormous feet in clown shoes…
and so anyway it turns out the best thing about Overlord (2018) is, as any sane person would expect, the always awesome Bokeem Woodbine, though the second best thing about this very silly film featuring a mission behind German lines in Normandy in the early hours of 6 June 1944 discovering mad scientists manufacturing a Nazi zombie army is the way it poses a mystery every bit as big as how Bokeem “Okay I’ll Be In It, And The Best Thing In It, But Only For 5 minutes” Woodbine makes a living, namely, how in the hell was this film not called D-Day of the Dead
Here’s an interview I did at the fabulous Worlding SF conference in Graz last December:
The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)
Blimey, the idiocy of rural life.
Blimey, the misogyny of rural life.
Blimey, Tom Bombadil. What a twat.
Blimey, this is pedestrian. And I don’t just mean all the walking.
Blimey, these elves are even more insufferable than I remembered.
Blimey, Gandalf’s dead. Or is he?
Blimey, these elves are even more insufferable than the last lot.
So Rivendell is Granta and Lorién The New Yorker?
Blimey, Orcs shoot bows the way Imperial Stormtroopers fire blasters.
Blimey, that Boromir’s a wrong ’un.
Well, that whole fellowship thing didn’t last long, did it?
(For my last adventure in rereading Tolkien, start here, though this is the best of those posts.)
and so anyway it turns out that the best thing about The Girl with All the Gifts (2016) is not the absence of Sean Pertwee in a scenery-chewing Sean Pertwee role, because if there is one thing this movie needs it is Sean Pertwee in a scenery-chewing Sean Pertwee role, no, the best thing about this movie is one or other of these two slowly dawning realisations: either a) that Gemma Arterton is gradually transmuting into Mads Mikkelsen, who, by the way, was fabulous in his unexpected turns as Tamara Drewe and Gemma Bovery; or b) that what people actually mean when they say that The Girl with All the Gifts is unlike any other zombie movie is that The Girl with All the Gifts is, more than any other zombie movie, almost precisely identical to an underdeveloped, poorly plotted, British ‘not actually sf’ sf drama mini-series…
My essay ‘Dulltopia’ from the ‘Global Dystopias’ issue of Boston Review is now available online – it questions the claims made by Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Zizek about how boring contemporary dystopias are, then imagines these luminaries are right about how boring contemporary dystopias are, and then turns to slow cinema and the examples of Peter B. Hutton’s At Sea (2007) and Mauro Herce’s Dead Slow Ahead (2015), the latter of which I adore.
The essay ends with an allusion to Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus, every Marxist’s favourite angel thanks to Walter Benjamin, but in this context dismisses it in favour of an angel every bit as cool from Albrecht Durer’s Melencolia 1 – she is soooooooo bored and really pissed off and her dog is kinda funny looking.
and so anyway it turns out that the best thing about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) is not the presence and performance of The Rock, who is, as pretty much always, the main attraction of a film you can’t quite believe you’re paying to see (though more on this below), nor is it the absence of Robin Williams, who just as often was really fucking irritating, even more so than Jack Black, who here is surprisingly – and thankfully – kept largely in check, nor is it the interesting spectacle of the excellent Karen Gillan, who insists on wearing a coat, playing a three-dimensional rendition of a two-dimensional avatar who nonetheless much more closely resembles an actual character than the one she gets to play in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies (even if Jake Kasdan and his chums were too lazy to choreograph ‘dance fighting’, one of her ‘strengths’, reducing it instead to ‘dancing then fighting’), nor was it waving my debit card too close to the machine just as they were changing the seat reservations for us, thus locking the system in a loop that meant they had to reboot it, which meant we would miss the start of the movie, which meant they instead waved us in without us actually having to pay, no, the best thing about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is the opportunity to see the reproduction of dominant ideology engineered with such precision, transforming Judith Butler’s arguments about the performativity of gender into tips on how to pick up guys, and throwing two actors of colour centre stage so as to pretend the colonial imagery and ideology underpinning it all has disappeared or is somehow magically no longer racist, cos seriously guys you really do need more than a little Hart and a big Johnson…