Wyndham and Kneale

by Harry on June 2, 2008

Youtube is where BBC 4 documentaries go to live, I see. Two lovely documentaries: one on John Wyndham , and another on Nigel Kneale; two of the great creators of British science fiction united by their dependence on utterly sensible and reliable heroes (and in Wyndham’s case, heroines — as the documentary points out, the Midwich Cuckoos aside, he often seems to be a proto-feminist), unmarred by self-absorbed hang-ups and disorderly emotional lives. Kneale founded the British tradition of dark but humane television scinece fiction, with 1984, Quatermass, The Year of the Sex Olympics, and The Stone Tape (which scared me witless as a kid, and which I now realise my mother bought a colour television in order to watch). Many Dr. Who stories are just recycled Kneale stories; I have a special affection for the movie Quatermass and the Pit because I watched it on TV the night of my job interview at Madison.

Wyndham is especially hard to get good information on: he’s almost absent even on the web, so it is great to have an insight into his life, even though a bit too much time is spent on the novels and films. One mystery that is not solved is what happened to all his writings prior to The Day of the Triffids. I’ve managed to get hold of just one of the pre-Triffids books, The Secret People, which is derivative and slow-paced, if readable, but nothing like as good as his 50’s and 60’s novels. (Wyndham fans might want to put pressure on my erstwhile colleague Noel Carroll, who once proposed to write a book about Wyndham’s work, which would be lovely to read if only he’d write it).

This should be Kieran’s thread really, since he came up with the concept. But, having made that acknowledgment, I’ll jump in. His first nomination is the truly awful Chasing Amy: I watched 15 minutes before deciding that there was a perfectly good toilet to clean in the other room. henry (not the famous one) proposes You’ve Got Mail, which sounds plausible. But my nomination is more serious: The House of Sand and Fog. I rarely dislike a movie enough to warn people against it, but this is one of the worst, and most unpleasant, movies I’ve watched. (I see that someone has vandalised the wikipedia entry on this one, saying, hilariously, that it and some of its actors were nominated for awards!)

The premise is implausible. A woman has her house taken from her, by mistake, for failure to pay a business tax that she did not genuinely owe. She had 8 months to correct the mistake and did nothing. Now, the only possible explanation in the circumstances is that she was severely depressed. Whatever plausibility that explanation has is undermined by the fact that, on screen, the actress has no sign at all of being, or ever having been, depressed. She seems bratty, to be sure, but not ill. Now, an exiled Iranian general purchases the house at a steal at an auction from the County. He is, unfortunately, played by Ben Kingsley, who seems to be the only actor in the movie who can act, thus unwittingly preventing it from being hilarious (up to the point at which it turns gratuitously nasty). He is also, understandably given his own circumstances, unwilling to give up the house and the bounty that it represents, so a battle of wills ensues, in which Jennifer Connelly is assisted by the most wooden actor I’ve ever seen in a big movie (he makes Arnold, on a bad day, look like Olivier by comparison — Dolph Lundgren territory), a rogue cop who leaves his happy family for a depressed alcoholic (Connelly) – that part of the story seeming plausible only because Connelly is manifestly not a depressed alcoholic, but looks healthy, happy, and well-made up every time she appears onscreen.

Why did I watch to the end? Well, the box promised a surprising ending, and the only morally acceptable ending seemed to me to be one in which the general kept the house and Jennifer Connelly and her beau descended into the pits of daytime TV. Below the fold is a short spoiler that will save you from wasting your time:

[click to continue…]

An that’s when the dinosaurs attack!

by Henry Farrell on June 2, 2008

It’s nice to have “Fafblog back”:http://fafblog.blogspot.com/2008/06/audacity-of-hope.html.

That is all.

Great Idea #63

by Maria on June 2, 2008

You know when you wake up in the middle of the night, having dreamt of a great idea. And maybe you wake up on a plane, with your chin and a fair bit of drool on your chest, and, waking, you still think it’s a good idea. And then, the next day as you disembark you think to yourself, ‘wow, that’s a good idea’. You’re probably just jetlagged and waiting for your soul to catch up with you, as William Gibson would say.

Here it is; a transitional use of technology until those instantly downloading paper-like tablets intersect with the demand curve.

When you wake up on a plane after your pretend night’s sleep, and you’re eating the rubber omelette or the semi-defrosted muffin, you don’t want Internet connection and crumbs in your laptop (and the expectation that you’ll do work). What you really want is your morning paper.

In Brussels where there’s a big market of expats you can buy a locally printed version of your home newspaper. The publisher sends an electronic version of the day’s paper to a local printer and it gets delivered to the shops along with the national papers. It’s not on newspaper print, but it’s a more or less identical paper version of your daily comfort. It’s kind of an umbilical cord, and a good bit cheaper than the air-mailed version you get the next day.

Well, why not have this on planes? Stick one of those printers somewhere in the galley (where there’s loads of room…) and let passengers pay a premium to order their paper in advance and have it delivered with their rubbery breakfast. Then you get to read something a bit more timely than the in-flight magazine and get off the plane fully up to speed on the markets, international news and celebrity gossip. How cool would that be?