Asteroids from Beyond Time

This is the sight that greeted British cinemagoers in the ’70s. My childhood big screen experiences were all prefigured by this, an ad for an ad company that was responsible for the ads we were about to see before seeing the film we had come to see. And yet, me and everyone else of my age regards this meta-ad with affection and nostalgia (it IS the most ’70s thing ever). Today we all hate the multitude of delays and irritations we’re subjected to before a film starts. Actually, I don’t think we admired this piece until after it was discontinued in the ’80s.

(THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL remake is catching an unusual amount of flack for its product placement — I guess prominently featuring MacDonalds during a film with a supposed eco-friendly message is crossing some kind of line. What next, pop-up ads at the cinema?)

I only feature the P&D ad, not because the company is now based in Scotland (at SMG, home of Scottish Televsion, where the Ladies’ and Gents’ toilets are labelled Pearl and Dean, an appalling cutesy touch), but because I recently got ahold of Anatole Litvak’s last film.

Back up — explain — Litvak’s THE LADY IN THE  CAR WITH GLASSES AND A GUN is a late ’60s thriller with a hep cast — Samantha Eggar, Oliver Reed — from a novel by Sebastien Japrisot (GREAT name!) who also authored the source novel of A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT and lots of other books that have all been filmed.

I saw this film, or most of it, as a tiny child, possibly on a small b&w TV in a holiday cottage my parents had rented. Picture a dimly smouldering log fire and a crackly picture. There was nothing else to do in the country dark except watch this film on a fuzzy screen, and it was very boring to my young mind. The main thing that caught my interest was the credit sequence, which reminded me forcibly of the Pearl & Dean trailer:

Having recently come across the movie again, I’m pleased at how accurate my correlation of the two sequences was. I’m also warmed by the GRINDHOUSE-like poor quality of the print, which seems to start life as a miasma of BAD AIR passing through the projector at speed, “a foul and pestilential congregation of vapours,” gradually gaining substance as a stream of dust, which then assumes solid form as slivers of shredded celluloid, eventually acquiring the shape of a strip of film with sprocketholes and a magnetic soundtrack, at which point we start to see and hear something.

Something lovely!

Although — the fidgety special effects man keeps throwing new effects at us, some more abstract than others, some cheesier than others, and Michel Legrand keeps segueing from track to track as if his needle was skipping, or as if he was trying to dispense with all his soundtracking duties in one swell foop, which gives the whole thing rather a restless, disturbed quality, at odds with the easy-listening vibe otherwise in evidence. It’s like suffering intermittent blackouts while attending a fondue party. A psychegenic fugue in jazz form.

It’s all very apt, since that Pearl and Dean ad, with its pa-pa pa-pa theme tune which years later turned out be be called ASTEROIDS (!), continued to be run through the projectors of my adolescence long after the print had decayed and turned pink and been scratched to buggery and beyond, since in the ’80s nobody could be bothered updating anything about Britain’s smelly and vacant cinemas — so seeing Litvak’s film in such a decomposed form is like a kind of time travel, only legal.


15 Responses to “Asteroids from Beyond Time”

  1. My God. I’m a small child again and can smell hot dogs and somewhere someone is eating a Strawberry Mivvi in the ABC.

  2. Ah, the good old ABC/Cannon/Odeon… actually, you’re right, sentimentality only applies to it when it was the ABC. It’s not the building so much as the name. They should make it illegal to change cinema names.

  3. These things are deeply embedded, NOT ONLY the P&D tune but the UPA style generic cartoon ads in which the Crombie Hatted man drags his friend along the street to “insert your businesses name here”… it was only in post adolescence that I realized that “The Deccan- Mecca for Asian Cuisine, 102 Station Rd, Urmston” hadn’t forked out for the ad but Unskillfully spliced a still & a voiceover to the end of the cartoon link.. The Catch Phrase ” ‘Ere Bert, This is the Place!!” is still common parlance between me and schoolfriend D.A. Thompson to this very day… BaBa BaBa BaBaaBaBaa YAH!!!!!!,

  4. These things are fading from public recollection — in a few years, the reference to these ads in the trailer for Monty Python and the Holy Grail — “Monty Python and the Holy Grail: only 100 yards from this restaurant,” — will be incomprehensible to most audiences.

    The late-lamented Odeon, Clerk St, had an ad for the nearby Science Fiction Bookshop, which I thought was pretty good going. And it helped me discover said bookshop, so that was actually useful too. A big influence on my development, that place.

  5. The moviegoing touchstone that has the most repsonance for me are the soundtracks played on the sound system before the films at the Bleeker Street Cinema in New York in the 60’s. Les 400 coups, Tirez sur le pianist, “Le Tourbillion” from Jules at Jim, and “Sans Toi” from Cleo de 5 a 7

  6. A science fiction bookshop!!!! imagine it? an entire bookshop with ONLY sci-fi!! if you are ever down here in the North West ( well more like the midlands geographically to you ) I can drive you to 2 particularly grotty 2nd hand bookshops that have stacks and stacks of used sci-fi… 6 for a fiver style.. it’ll take a good 3 or 4 hours to scan thru but, I promise you, you won’t leave with less than 20 paperbacks… I’ve already got my next 5 years reading piled up…

  7. The Sci-Fi Bookshop basically became Forbidden Planet. I like the idea of a bookshop-trawl of the midlands! Now to make some money.

  8. My late friend John Brown was a big fan of Sebastian Japrisot, and after tracking down some of his pulps, so am I – he inherited the Boileau-Narcejac niche, coming up with pulp novels that had insanely complicated mysteries at their heart, but his way of telling his back-assward stories was always so wonderfully cool and dreamlike that you loved them for the sensation of reading them, rather than impatiently waiting for the cleverness to start revealing itself. The Lady In The Car With the Glasses and the Gun is far better than its title, and I used to have, but have misplaced, a paperback edition of a script he wrote called Goodbye, Friend – later filmed with Charles Bronson and Alain Delon in the leading roles – that seemed on the page to be the perfect Jean-Pierre Melville film that never was.

    A Very Long Engagement is the heartbreaking and brilliant story of a crippled girl searching for her missing, presumed dead, soldier-boy lover, through the wreckage of post-WW1 France, and I can’t bring myself to see what Mr Jeunet has done with it (giving the main character a limp when in the book she was wheelchair-bound exemplifies what I fear).

  9. Well, there’s a fair bit of that kind of sweetening in the Jeunet, of the kind you note, but mercifully he allows some harshness too, and the ending is bittersweet rather than over-sugared. So it’s not as bad as it could be, and bits are great, but Jeunet clearly couldn’t cope with all the book’s dark side.

    Japrisot sounds great. I’ll watch the Litvak movie soon and report back.

  10. Here are his credits

    Rider in the Rain and L’ete meurtirer were gigantic hits.

  11. Everything he’s done has been filmed, I think. Rider in the Rain didn’t look too great, but then I have a crappy dubbed DVD. It’s Rene Clement so it should be of some interest.

    So he’s the missing link between Jeunet, Clement, Litvak and Costa-Gavras!

  12. I didn’t really enjoy Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement. A film I did enjoy was Cédric Kahn’s Feux rouges, based on Simenon. Apropos Simenon, has anyone seen Béla Tarr’s The Man from London?

  13. With Tilda Swinton. I saw a trailer for it on another blog, but I don’t think it’s been available in any way, shape or form here in the States.

    The poster from the film I’d actually like to own, it looks like something John Alton would’ve shot back in the ’40s.

  14. It’s only just opened here, although I may have missed a festival screening. The combination of Tarr and Simenon ought to be at least worth a look. Sounds like Tarr has stripped out anything that behaves like a thriller, but then Simenon is more lugubrious and pensive than thrilling anyway.

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