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Science Fiction Film: the interesting old stuff by Terry Frost

Part 3
The 1970s -- Crosstime to Planet Porno

Quest for Love (1971)

A good story idea ruined, but it has a few interesting touches. A scientist gets zapped into a parallel universe where he's a successful, drunken playwright. In the second continuum World War II never happened, Kennedy didn't get shot, the League of Nations still exists, nobody's heard of the Vietnam War and he's married to Joan Collins in the days before she had to get her makeup put on by the same guys who create Klingons on Star Trek®.

The film-makers don't do too much with the basic premise, concentrating on the lurve story, but the acting is competent and Denholm Elliot is there as a man whose life is radically different in each world.

The film isn't all bad. In the alternative reality, the clothing styles are twenty to thirty years old fashioned, the cares likewise and the set designs would not be out of place in a late 40s Ealing comedy, giving the understated impression that technology has been retarded without the Second World and Cold Wars to give it a kick.

The Final Programme (1973)

The world's only Jerry Cornelius film, based too loosely on Michael Moorcock (et al)'s 1960s New Wave SF all-purpose protagonist. Visually this one's a feast and Jerry Mulligan's goofy jazz score underlines the absurdities.

Jon Finch is fine as Jerry, trying to rescue his sister and incestuous lover Catherine from his slimy brother Frank, needle gun in hand, or having the shit kicked out of him by Miss Brunner's Russian lover Dimitri. Character actors like Sterling Hayden, George Colouris, Hugh Griffiths and Patrick Magee are around to keep the movie buffs watching as the hero searches for his father's final computer program with which he can create the ultimate human being -- one who can survive the imminent apocalypse.

Jenny Runacre's Miss Brunner is a suitably vulpine vamp who absorbs her bed-partners osmotically with nary a burp. The dialogue is inventive and humorous (mostly thanks to Moorcock) and the scenes in the pinball arcade and the deserted Nazi sub base in Lapland work well.

Flesh Gordon (1974)

I was at the Australian premiere midnight showing of this one at the Academy Twin Cinema in Paddington. They gave me a free poster, which I lost some time in the 1980s.

This R-rated parody of Flash Gordon has acting that's a bit sub par, but there's a great monster, The Great God P*rno who was pinched somewhat from the Ray Harryhausen's Ymir in 40 Million Miles to Earth, some wild special effects and more tits than an English country garden. Most of you will have seen it, but one of the lesser known aspects is that Bjo Trimble did the costuming (such as it was) for this one.

The sequel, Flesh Gordon versus the Cosmic Cheerleaders is also worth a watch, if you can stand the thought of Flash's Mud Men being replaced by beings somewhat more cloacal.

I've wracked my mind and skimmed my reference books for aids to memory and apart from films most sf aficionados have seen, I can't come up with many that have really tickled my fancy.

The ones I've enjoyed but which are familiar to most buffs are Tremors, Wild Palms - the full version, Brainstorm - in spite of its tragic truncation, Scanners, Videodrome, both Bill and Ted movies, anything by the Troma people (Toxic Avenger I, II and III, Biker Chicks in Zombie Town, Class of Nuke Em High II -- Subhumanoid Meltdown et al), - because I like trashy films sometimes, the version of C. L. Moore's story Vintage Season which was released here as Timescape is a strong, true translation of the original and a recent video release called Nemesis which in spite of some grimly crook acting and severe budget limitations at least tried to be a good cyberpunk story and succeeded in some areas.

So what makes a good sf film? It's a bit like asking what makes good ice cream. Ingredients and attention to detail.

Strong internal logic, characters who create the plot rather than serve it (which was Star Wars' greatest weakness -- the Joseph Campbell effect), people involved who know science fictions and its specific disciplines, and an ability by the creators to question their own assumptions about reality on a basic level.

The Incredible Shrinking Man has a rock-solid internal logic. Scott Carey is shrinking and the rest follows inevitably. Dr Xavier in X-the Man with X-Ray Eyes knows that he's endangering his life by experimenting on himself, but the medical possibilities of surgeons who can see into a body directly drives him to do so.

Steve Shorter in Privilege sees what his manipulators are doing and in his rage and frustration takes away one of their tools for social control by socially crucifying himself. He's an icon who gains character, even if in small degree and in an ultimately futile act. Cronenberg in his films (with the possible exception of M. Butterfly), questions all our assumptions about ourselves, physically and psychologically.

But we also have to remember that movies are entertainment. And in remembering this, we don't have to let our critical faculties go comatose for the duration. Brainless, dumb, witless films abound. Troma movies, for all their silliness are made by people who are fully aware of the nature and requirements of exploitation movies and they run with it. They're the Bert I. Gordons, the Roger Cormans, the Albert Zugsmiths of our time and their flicks are drive-in movies that have outlasted the drive-in. Nuke 'Em High II has infinitely more internal logic than Highlander II, which cost at least ten times as much to make and was as stupid, slobberingly bad and moronic as the Victorian government's hospitals policy.

by Terry Frost
June, 1997

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