A headstrong woman lost in the perilous world of the Internet with only her sister

by John Holbo on October 25, 2004

Over at our other blog, my gnawed lambchop sale has been a considerable success. Cavilling critics may object that I have made almost no money, true, but it has been voyeuristically fascinating to stare in the shopping carts. After a while, all the commercial uncovering starts to make me feel as though I am privy not just to buffies but the Buffy of buffies, as Heidegger might have said. Let us try to make it funnier.

First, let’s set a tractarian ground rule. Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent.

Moving on down bargain lane.

From the $4.99 DVDs bin:

.com for Murder

The Amazon review:

Award-winning actress Nastassja Kinski stars in this superbly crafted psychological thriller as Sondra Brummel, a headstrong woman lost in the perilous world of the Internet with only her sister, Misty (Nicolette Sheridan), as an ally against a cyber killer. Rock legend Roger Daltrey co-stars as Sandra’s suave boyfriend, while ‘80s pop icon Huey Lewis appears as an FBI cyber-crime squad agent. Featuring stunning digital visuals and sound, this nail-biting Hitchcockian suspenser from director Niko Mastroakis will make you think twice the next time you sign on.

Aren’t you $4.99 worth of curious? I’m not. But that’s not including shipping and handling. If you buy, please send a report next time you sign onto the interwebs.

[Belle over my shoulder: “You should get that. Your future craphound self will never forgive you if you don’t.” Me: “But my present craphound self craves things from ten years ago.” Belle: “You’ve earned enough from Amazon Associates already to afford it. So it’s like it’s free.” Me: “But I wanted to buy something good with the money I earned.” Belle: “Think of it as spinning dross into dross, but fluffier.” Oh, very well.]

The Crawling Eye

A classic science fiction terror thriller about a weird creature from outer space which survives in the rarefied atmosphere of the Swiss Alps and terrorizes scientists in a remote high-altitude research station. This hideous monster hides in the fog-shrouded cloud of mist and kills its victims by decapitation. As the mysterious cloud descends on the Swiss village of Trollenberg, United Nations science investigator Allan Brooks (Forrest Tucker), Professor Crevett (Warren Mitchell) and a young woman with psychic powers (Janet Munro) must find a way to stop the monster’s murderous rampage before it’s too late.

What kind of creature could survive in the Swiss Alps? If you are willing to invest $4.99, plus shipping and handling, to find out, please tells us what the secret could possibly be. Before it is too LATE.

Now here’s a genuine classic:

Rocketship X-M

No, really, It’s a genuine classic.

Also – this really is good – you can get several volumes of original Twilight Zone episodes. A buck an episode is a pretty good deal, I think.

Moving up the blowout foodchain we get to the $6.99 titles:

Dark City

That’s about it, unless you think either National Velvet or Cleopatra Jones are worth having. (I’m not going to bother making links, frankly.)

In the $7.99 bin. Quite a bit of good stuff, but I’m getting bored with making links. Except I will point out that you can save a buck on The Crawling Eye by buying it bundled with Invaders From Mars.

Moving on up to the $9.99 DVD blowout, it looks like the best stuff here is a bunch of Mystery Science 3000 episodes, including my all-time favorite: Mitchell!

“The word on the street is you’re a jerk!” Pure seventies gold.

There’s some good, cheap stuff in the classic SF bin. I could tell you a Nietzsche joke about Sean Connery in Zardoz, but what would be the point?

Last and definitely not least, you DO want Sci-Fi Classics Triple Feature, Vol. 1 (Things to Come / Rocketship / Crash of the Moons). Because you want to own Things To Come, which is a fascinating, H.G. Wells scripted, Menzies directed, Korda produced piece of utter filmic peculiarity. From 1936. It was supposed to be the pro-science, modernist answer to Metropolis. I’ll just quote from a letter Wells wrote to the composer, Bliss:

Of all the early part up to and including the establishment of the Air Dictatorship I continue to be confident and delighted. But I am not so sure of the Finale. Perhaps I dream of something superhuman but I do not feel that what you have done so far fully renders all that you can do in the way of human exaltation. It’s good – nothing you do can fail to be good – but it is not yet that exultant should of human resolution that might be there – not the marching song of a new world of conquest among the atoms and stars.

I’ll just quote the dialogue that goes with that bit:

“There they go, that faint gleam of light!”

“I feel that what we’ve done is monstrous.”

“What they’ve done is magnificent.”

“Will they come back?”

“Yes. And go again and again, until the landing is made and the moon conquered. This is only the beginning.”

“But if they don’t come back? My son and your daughter. What of that, Cabal?”

“Then presently others will go.”

“Oh, God. Is there never to be any age of happiness? Is there never to be any rest?”

“Rest enough for the individual man, too much and too soon, and we call it death. But for Man, no rest and no ending. He must go on, conquest beyond conquest. First this planet and its winsome ways, and then all the laws of the mind and matter that restrain him … then the planets about him! And at last, out across immensity to the stars! And when he has conquered all the deeps of space, all the mysteries of time, still he will be beginning.”

“But we are such little creatures. Poor humanity. So fragile – so weak.”

“Little animals, eh?”

“Little animals.”

If we are no more than animals—we must snatch at our little scraps of happiness and live and suffer and pass, mattering no more – than all the other animals do – or have done.” [He points out at the stars.] “It is that – or this? All the universe – or nothingness …. Which shall it be, Passworthy?”

CHORUS: “Which shall it BEEEE? Which shall it BEEEEE?”

[When Belle and I were watching, she turned to me and said, ‘You know, the crazy thing is, I agree with all that.”]

The next week I screened Alien in my philosophy and film module. Little creatures, indeed.

The odd thing about the plot, you see, is that all of humanity – having essentially solved all our problems except shoulder-pad chafing – is suddenly divided as to whether we should shoot a space gun containing a couple teenagers at the moon. A poet goes on the vid-radio to denounce the practice. “A time will come when they will want more cannon fodder for their Space Guns – when you in your turn will be forced away to take your chance upon strange planets and in dreary and abominable places beyond the stars.”

Also, there’s a distinctly odd scene – almost an anticipatory parody of the scene in The Matrix in which Morpheus shows Neo ‘the desert of the real’ on the old TV. An old man and his granddaughter, sitting in their all-glass living room, watch pictures of the old New York on their shiny picture screen.

GIRL: “What a funny place New York was – all sticking up and full of windows.”

GRANDFATHER: “They built houses like that in the old days.”

GIRL: “Why?”

GRANDFATHER: “They had no light inside their cities as we have. So they had to stick the houses up into the daylight – what there was of it. They had no properly mixed and conditioned air. Everybody lived half out of doors. And windows of soft brittle glass everywhere. The Age of Windows lasted four centuries. They never seemed to realise that we could light the interiors of our houses with sunshine of our own, so that there would be no need to poke our houses up ever so high into the air.”

This is presented as a genuine ideal, not as some sort of dystopia. As Monty Burns once said: “Since the dawn of time, man has yearned to blot out the sun.”

Later the composer Bliss recalled working with Wells on the picture:


The scene showed the earth being mined, roads made, houses erected, apparently without the aid of manual labour. This was one of the parts of the film in which Wells took a particular interest, watching the ‘rushes’ as they were shown, and caustically commenting. He had expressed a wish to hear my music before the ‘shooting’, so I invited him to come to my house in Hampstead, and there played the music through to him as best I could on the piano. I think at the end his comment was, without doubt, the strangest I have ever heard from any critical listener. ‘Bliss,’ he said, ‘I am sure that all this is very fine music, but I’m afraid you have missed the whole point. You see, the machines of the future will be noiseless!’ Assuring him that I would try to write music that expressed inaudibility I went my own way, and luckily Wells forgot his objections.

Reminds me of this post from a while back. The violent and the voluntary.

I am compelled to note that Things is not really a good film. As Raymond Massey, the star, later wrote: “Wells had deliberately formalized the dialogue, particularly in the later sequences . . . Emotion had no place in Wells’ new world. I had a marathon acting job . . . We were always the puppets of Wells, completely under his control . . . [In the story] a bad dictatorship would be followed by a benevolent one. A benign big brother was bound to be a bore. He was the fellow I played in the futuristic part of the film. I could only act Oswald Cabal as calmly and quietly as possible . . . for six months my skinny legs, bare and knock-kneed, were photographed for posterity on unheated stages and freezing locations.”

It is true one might be forgiven for inferring Wells thought the shape of things to come to be: knee-shaped. Or possibly a frame suitable for hanging towels to dry. (As Wells himself had occasion to muse, some years later, in a somewhat different context: “World peace is assumed, but the atmosphere of security simply makes [the people] rather aimless, fattish and out of training. They are collectively up to nothing – or they are off in a storm of collective hysteria to conquer the moon or some remote nonsense like that. Imaginative starvation. They have apparently made no advances whatever in subtlety, delicacy, simplicity. Rather the reverse. They never say a witty thing; they never do a charming act. The general effect is of very pink, rather absurdly dressed celluloid dolls living on tabloids in a glass lavatory.”)

But it is an interesting film. You can read Wells’ original treatment here. And the novel it is based on is here. A lot didn’t make it from novel, to treatment, and then from treatment to screen. That’s a big part of the problem. One speech that I do regret only made it into the final version in abbreviated form is The Chief’s anti-intellectual rant, just before he is knocked unconscious by the Gas of Peace, the fantasy peace-keeping weapon deployed by the Freemasons of Science, the Brotherhood of Efficiency – Wings Over The World!

BOSS: “Shoot, I say! Shoot. Shoot. We’ve never shot enough yet. We never shot enough. We spared them. These intellectuals! These contrivers! These experts! Now they’ve got us. Our world or theirs. What did a few hundreds of them matter? We’ve been weak – weak. Kill them like vermin! Kill all of them! … Why should I be beaten like this? Weakness! Weakness! Weakness is fatal … Shoot!”

He’s the best character by far.

Another good scene from the original treatment that never made the final cut. The idea is that after a devastating world war – lasting from 1940 to 1966 I think it was – a rational political order of engineers and airmen is established in Iraq, in Basra. The aforementioned ‘wings over the world’. Wells has rather overoptimistic notions of nation building, apparently derived from one scene in The Wizard of Oz, concerning which I fear he has misunderstood his author.

The Airmen’s War. Many aeroplanes of strange and novel shape rising into the air. They fill the sky. A brief air fight between three old normal fighting aeroplanes and one of the new aeroplanes. Over a ruinous landscape, brigands with flags and old military uniforms in flight as the new aeroplanes overhead bomb them. The bombs explode and gas overcomes the brigands.

Sky writing by the new planes: SURRENDER.

Brigands crawl from hiding places and surrender, hands over their heads. Brigands run out from the houses of another town as the aeroplanes approach. They surrender. The sky dotted with the new aeroplanes. Hundreds of men drop from the sky with parachutes. The brigands stand waiting.

A line of prisoners marching. They carry regimental flags. They are the last ragged vestige of the regular armies of the old order. It is the end of organised war at last. A group of the new airmen watch their march-past. Overhead the new aeroplanes are hovering.

In fact, skywriting ‘surrender’ never, never works, I think. (If only the US had such good luck going into Iraq as these fellows had flying out, dropping their ‘gas of peace’ and giving everyone the ‘whiff of civilization’ without shedding a drop of blood.) As Orwell writes in “Wells, Hitler and the World State”: “In novels, Utopias, essays, films, pamphlets, the antithesis crops up, always more or less the same. On the one side science, order, progress, internationalism, aeroplanes, steel, concrete, hygiene: on the other side war, nationalism, religion, monarchy, peasants, Greek professors, poets, horses. History as [Wells] sees it is a series of victories won by the scientific man over the romantic man.”

In Things to Come, there is a Romantic poet of the future, Theotokopolos, who is made to look very petty and impotent as he strives to stop the Space Gun project. Watching the film, which narrates an entire century of world history in about 90 minutes, you are struck by how very odd it is for someone to make an SF film in which the rational scientific man is more or less straightforwardly superior in every way, and in which romantic types are presented as more or less silly and antiquated, small-spirited as well as small-minded. (The novel is more ambiguous, but all that gets flattened out in the film.)

A bargain when bundled with two other films (of admittedly questionable value) for $9.99.

Oh, and you should also order Sci-Fi Classics Triple Feature, Vol. 2 (Devil Girl from Mars / Monster from Green Hell / Rocketship X-M). Like I said, Rocketship is a classic. And I’m willing to bet that one of the other two is worth watching as well. Couldn’t say which.

Under no circumstances should you confuse the 1936 film with the 1979 Jack Palance disco ‘sequel’, Shape of Things To Come.

Oh, and I got some of the quotes for this post from a nice little BFI book about Things To Come, by a man named Frayling. Can’t quite remember.

{ 11 comments }

1

HP 10.25.04 at 5:23 pm

Have you then not seen The Crawling Eye? That’s the sensationalistic title for American audiences. The original title is The Trollenberg Terror, and it’s a British film, with more in common with Dr. Who or Quatermass than Roger Corman. Yes, the eye monsters are pretty silly looking, but it’s in the way that British BEMs are theatrical and cheap rather than just plain cheap. Thoughtful science fiction, with a graphic beheading and some sexual content to go along with the original British X rating. A BEM movie for grownups. Invaders from Mars is fun if you go for the set, but the ending (no spoilers) will … ahem … elicit strong reactions in the viewer.

I agree with you that Things to Come is more interesting than good. Personally, though, I think the dystopian second act is good, with an impossibly young Ralph Richardson as the boss. And many of the special effects (the conventional war, especially) were not surpassed (IMO) until Kubrick’s 2001.

2

Kip Manley 10.25.04 at 5:32 pm

Once you get into the Things to Come stuff, it made for interesting reading with this morning’s post from pop star Momus. Which is not to say the rest wasn’t worthwhile. (How do you measure, I wonder, the difference between rock legend and pop icon?)

3

jholbo 10.25.04 at 5:32 pm

Ah, thanks, hp, I did forget to mention it’s Richardson shouting ‘Shoot!’ He really does brighten the scene. “Clean ME up?”

And now that I think about it, it’s anachronistic to accuse Wells of stealing from Wizard of Oz, which wasn’t released until later.

4

Russell Arben Fox 10.25.04 at 6:18 pm

“Watching the film, which narrates an entire century of world history in about 90 minutes, you are struck by how very odd it is for someone to make an SF film in which the rational scientific man is more or less straightforwardly superior in every way, and in which romantic types are presented as more or less silly and antiquated, small-spirited as well as small-minded.”

As best as I can tell, the whole body of “science fiction”–or at least the better part of it–is inseparable from a kind of wonderous tension. Science is awesome, space is huge, the power of man inconceivable, etc., etc., leading to creeping fears and terrifying conclusions. Frankenstein’s monster, for example. The sci-fi authors who genuinely, simple-mindedly, celebrated science–or, worse yet, simply assumed its superiority, rather than exploring what it might or will do to individual human beings–wrote, for the most part, crummy stuff; the real heart of that literature is a not a self-satisfied feeling of progress and conquest, but an amazement which also incorporates the frisson of doubt or fear.

5

Greg 10.25.04 at 7:15 pm

Dark City for $7.99 is a steal. You should snap that up. It’s an excellent movie, and not even in an ironic, too-cool-for-the-room way. Ebert called it the best film of 1998. The villains are really creepy. If you can get it in time for Halloween, I recommend you make an evening of it.

6

abb1 10.25.04 at 7:15 pm

What kind of creature could survive in the Swiss Alps?

Only the loaded kind.

7

Ken Houghton 10.25.04 at 7:33 pm

_Dark City_ is at Best Buy for $5.99–an even better steal.

And, yeah, finally a copy of the Canadian _Blind Date_; just what to give the TNGer in your life.

8

HP 10.25.04 at 7:45 pm

BTW, if you enjoy of retro sci-fi and early live TV, my local brick-and-mortar bargain bin had a DVD of kinescopes from Tales of Tomorrow, the original (1952) American sci-fi anthology series. Including teleplays by Theodore Sturgeon and A.C. Clarke. 12 half-hour episodes on two discs. I’ve only watch the first three, but I like them so much I’ve decided to ration out my viewing over several weeks for maximum enjoyment. Oh, and live commercials (for watchbands!) for added camp value. I believe it’s on Image.

9

abb1 10.25.04 at 8:11 pm

Someone should make a movie based on Mindswap by Robert Sheckley. It’s a shame that there is no film.

10

Buck 10.25.04 at 8:13 pm

Man, I forgot all about The Simpsons Season 1 sale — too late now.

Thanks for the tip on the MST3K, though.

11

John 10.26.04 at 5:31 pm

“Assuring him that I would try to write music that expressed inaudibility…”

Too bad he didn’t — it would have forestalled the lawsuit-mad John Cage.

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