The Sunday Intertitle: Interzone

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I was almost despairing of finding an intertitle in a seventies sci-fi film — because that’s the kind of thing I spend my time worrying about (as opposed to, say nuclear war, overpopulation or the collapse of social order) but then I found Elio Petri’s TODO MODO, a vaguely science-fictional doomsday wallow from 1976. Petri’s THE TENTH VICTIM is a hip and zippy pop-art spree of a film, but this one, despite being set in a reinforced concrete bunker designed by the great Dante Ferreti, or perhaps partly because of that, is a bit turgid and airless. Even exciting actors (Mastroianni, Volonte, Melato) and Petri’s snaky camera moves can’t quite bring it to life. But it earns its place in a mini-entry about the various films I’ve looked at but am not devoting big pieces to.

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Dante Ferretti and Mariangela Melato remind us of the Mike Hodges FLASH GORDON, of course, a film which, like THE BED SITTING ROOM, could be said to sum up everything about the preceding decade while also anticipating everything about the decade to come.

In TODO MODO, officials from church and state are gathered underground as an epidemic begins to spread across the country — we could situate this in our future history books between THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN and TWELVE MONKEYS. Funny how these films can link up.

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This setting in Tarkovsky’s STALKER suggests some connection with PHASE VI — Lynn Frederick must be lurking just under that powdery sand, wearing an enticingly thin top. The heroines in both STALKER and SOLARIS freak out on the floor while wearing similarly revealing garb.

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Bra-less-ness, of course, was a big seventies phenomenon, and it’s understandable that science fiction filmmakers assumed that things would carry on in that general direction. John Boorman, in ZARDOZ, went as far as to imagine Future Man clad in only bandoliers, thigh boots and nappies, a natural extrapolation of seventies fashion.

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Here’s Nigel Davenport, more sensibly dressed. Why is he concealing his hand? It must surely be crawling with ants, as in PHASE IV, but this is THE MIND OF MR SOAMES, made four years earlier. Terence Stamp plays a man whose been in a coma since birth but is brought to consciousness by Robert Vaughan and then educated by the unsympathetic Davenport. Quite an interesting piece, despite its basic impossibility. Stamp’s child-like performance is affecting, and it’s a very unusual piece to have come out of Amicus Productions. A predatory TV camera crew hang around filming the unfolding tragedy (and contributing to it) — reminiscent of Peter Watkins’ glum futuristic mockumentaries THE WAR GAME, PRIVILEGE, THE GLADIATORS and PUNISHMENT PARK, but TV director Alan Cooke doesn’t use them as a narrative device in that way.

One of the TV crew is played by Christopher Timothy, famed for seventies vet show All Creatures Great and Small. His co-star in that, Carol Drinkwater, plays a nurse in CLOCKWORK ORANGE, another film about Bad Education.

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Note also the b&w production design, even in the nursery set — Mike Hodges must have liked this, as he appropriated the look for the haunting THE TERMINAL MAN, a ruthlessly colour-coordinated vision of Los Angeles. Even the operating room looks similar, with its hexagonal viewing gallery. I’d always assumed that, like Boorman, he was under the influence of inveterate park-painter Antonioni. While SOAMES is an intriguing curate’s egg, TERMINAL MAN is a despairing masterwork, and a far more interesting take on Michael Crichton than the JURASSIC PARK series we’re all assailed with today.

(Remember when JP first came out — weren’t we all struck by the fact that the author of WESTWORLD had done it all again only with dinosaurs? Had he lived longer, surely he’d have gotten around to writing a botanical garden where the monkey puzzle trees go on a rampage.)

We watched Red Shift, a TV play written by novelist Alan Garner and directed by Edinburgh man John MacKenzie. A very odd piece of work, shifting about over a thousand years of history in one small geographical spot in Cheshire, and hinting at psychic links across the centuries. And there’s James Hazeldine, star of BBC Scotland’s The Omega Factor, which dealt with psychic phenomena and freaked me out as a kid — saw it again years back, and it’s very disappointing — and there’s Hazeldine again in THE MEDUSA TOUCH, being defended in court by Richard Burton.

Red Shift’s best bit is the first shift, when an oddly-written but basically social-realist family drama is abruptly interrupted by a savage battle between Romans and Britons, the most startling transition I’ve ever seen in a TV play. We were also pleased to see Leslie Dunlop (that nice nurse in THE ELEPHANT MAN) and Stella Tanner, who also turned up in sci-fi kids’ series The Changes, and in Spike Milligan’s unique take on the Daleks ~

The Changes manages a more nuanced take on multicultural Britain, featuring an extended family of Sikhs as major characters. The concept freely adapted from novels by Peter Dickinson, is unique and wondrous — one day, the whole population of Britain starts smashing their machinery, driven by a sudden conviction that the stuff is evil. As if a Luddite meme had been downloaded into every brain. The series then follows the adventures of a teenage girl in an England that’s been sent back to medieval standards.

I watched this show religiously as a seven-year-old, though it strikes me that the rioting, madness and so on must have been a little disturbing. But somehow I missed the final episode. So I had to ask a friend at school what happened, and this is what he said: “There was a big stone that had been asleep for hundreds of years and then it woke up and there hadn’t been any machines when it went to sleep so it didn’t like them so it told everybody to smash them.”

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I liked the Big Stone Explanation of Everything but was never sure it was true — I also kind of liked the idea that he had just made it up. But it turns out to be EXACTLY TRUE (the BFI have kindly re-released the series). And here I am, forty years later, having entirely forgotten the kid who told me the story, but remembering the story he told. Says something about my priorities.

If women burned their bras in the seventies (which they didn’t — but in the mostly magnificent SLEEPER Woody Allen makes the worst joke of his career on this subject: “As you can see, it’s a very small fire,” a kind of perfect own-goal of a joke, proving that anti-feminist attitudes make you smug, stupid and obnoxious) the men really let it all hang out. Rip Torn allows little Rip to be fondled and addressed in THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (more on that tomorrow), Terence Stamp is seen full-frontal in his coma in MR. SOAMES, and in SHOCK TREATMENT, a sort of Twilight Zone narrative about a predatory health farm, unsustainably extended to feature length, Alain Delon enjoys a nude romp in the sea. A cheerful note to end on.

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13 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Interzone”

  1. I quite like the Rocky Horror sequel — Jessica Harper’s preternaturally deep singing voice is impressive. But the lack of Tim Curry is felt.

  2. True but Shock Treatment was created as the opposite of TRHPS. Instead of an inviting environment to play in we have a cold, antiseptic TV studio which is presented as being the town of “Denton” itself. It’s a kind of socio-political “Balk Hole.” There is nothing outside it. And INSIDE instead of Tim Curry there’s Barry Humphries. Not “Dame Edna” but her creator. Quite different. Kind of like a musical by Peter Watkins.

  3. henryholland666 Says:

    One of the movie channels I watch recently had a mini-Terrence Stamp festival. I watched “The Collector” for the second time and it’ll be the last, that movie creeps me out completely. It’s too bad that Wyler was forced to cut out an hour worth of scenes, including all of Kenneth More’s stuff, I suspect it got destroyed at the time. They also showed “The Mind of Mr. Soames”, which I liked a lot, Stamp does a great job in it. I also watched “Modesty Blaise” again, I enjoyed it more the second time, but oh my does the beach battle at the end go on forever.

    It’s on the DVD extras and I can see why it was cut from the released movie, but they filmed James Wilby going full-frontal in “Maurice”, which made me very happy. Of course, Rupert Grave’s todger was on full view in the finished movie.

  4. Shock Treatment wound up that way because Tim Curry turned it down, and a strike prevented any location shooting, forcing a rewrite that moved the whole thing into the studio — which Richard O’Brien said focused it nicely.

    I liked the happy ending Terry Southern cooked up for The Collector, which would have worked well. And I liked/was creeped out by Terence Stamp’s voice, a sort of nasal John Major thing.

  5. henryholland666 Says:

    Found an interview with Terry Southern from ca. 1996, lots of great stuff in it:

    http://www.altx.com/int2/terry.southern.html

    His ending of “The Collector” is interesting and certainly far less grim than what ended up on screen.

  6. I fell madly in love with Terence Stamp because of The Collector

    About ten years ago I was in the lobby f the Chateau Marmont waiting for Gus Van Sant when the concierge suddenly said “Good afternoon Mr. Stamp.” And there he was in a bathroom coming back from the pool.

    My heart stood still.

  7. Alfredo Garcia Says:

    Sorry to see you don’t know about great Italian writing. Todo modo is an adaptation of the book of the great Leonardo Sciascia. Todo Modo ended the career of Elio Petri because it was a very real film of his time. At that time Aldo Moro was kidnapped and assassinated by Brigata Rossa. And everybody in Italy thought it was a conspiracy of the CIA and the extreme right. It was the beginning of years and years of conspiracies and political violence

  8. Mr. Garcia, that’s very interesting, but I have an aversion to people who use pseudonyms and open discussions with a pissy attitude. You behave like a coward. None of that is necessary. A defense and illumination of the film is very welcome here.

    Anyway,I’m glad to say that after his career “ended” Petri still directed three TV episodes and another feature.

  9. Bravo! (I do LOVE it when you come over all stern!)

  10. The guy’s quite a skilled troll. His reply is blocked and he is not welcome here anymore.

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