CHRIS COOPER'S BLOG - infrequent forays into fun, freedom, fysics and filosophy...

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005  

No, I am not obsessed

A favourite line from Quatermass and the Pit: when Col. Breen tells Quatermass he should think about the effects on his career before he opposes the militarization of his research projects, Quatermass replies: "I don't have a career; I have my work."

I recalled this when I saw this in 'The Roots of Omnology' by Howard Bloom, in the latest Entelechy :

“Omnology,” a field for those with a gaggle of curiosities and with the potential to use their multiple intellectual and artistic hungers to provide unusual perspectives to the scientific community. …

… My hope is that those who have a taste for big-picture syntheses will be added to the community of legitimate scientists, given their own dignity, given their own budgets, given their own made-to-order, cross-disciplinary degree programs and will be recognized for their contributions.
Should omnologists be equipped with a regularized career path? Wouldn't that divert them from their work?

9:22 AM

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Saturday, April 16, 2005  

The patriarchal boffin

Found some comments on the Quatermass recreation at this BBC site. (Am I sounding obsessed?) This one, made ahead of the show, resonated with me:

I'm enormously excited by the prospect of a FAIL SAFE-style restaging of the original scripts as written, but made anxious by the suggestion that the material will be 'adapted and updated' -- Quatermass is a thing very much of its time, and its science and social context are its very fabric. The patriarchal boffin, a London emerging from the shadow of war and standing on the threshold of a new era of technology... treat these core elements as 'up for grabs' and a major TV event becomes a minor exercise.

How right Monkeyboy was to be concerned. The fear that ran through the whole original production was fear of what might lie beyond our atmosphere – a fear that made sense when no human being had yet travelled there. It makes no sense when repositioned in the world of today, after 44 years of manned spaceflight. Yes, Quatermass became a minor exercise.

If anyone were ever insane enough to entrust me with directing any science-fiction classic, I wouldn't update it by one minute. The War of the Worlds, for example, would again be fought in the late Victorian Home Counties – just as Quatermass's rocket would again crash into the postwar London of bombsites and rationing.


I have to confess that when I first peered through 405 lines of black-and-white murk at The Quatermass Experiment, I completely failed to notice the patriarchal nature of Quatermass. But I was only an eight-year-old boy, it was the 1950s, and that other incredible monster, Andrea Dworkin, had not yet come and gone.

I love the lead review of The Quatermass Collection (the Prof on DVD) at

These are (semi-)live, black and white British television productions, they are not to be marvelled at visually and they will never win any awards for editing. To be polite, the acting is sometimes as determined as the characters need to be, but in honesty it's all slightly too wooden. Never mind, as the real stars here are Nigel Kneale's screenplays and Rudolph Cartier's realisation.

… "Quatermass 2" is the crowning glory. Relentless, shocking, unnerving, this atypical "Invasion of the Body-Snatchers" forgoes the "who are you?" tedium of its siblings for violent revelation, death and apocalypse. The atmosphere in this production is tremendous: the horrors of Episode 3: "The Food" have never left me.

Nor me. "It's some kind of … corrosive acid … " – this said of the gunk drenching an unfortunate MP or civil servant whose agonized death we see in close-up. Quatermass and the Pit had the cleverest ideas, but Quatermass II was the most horrific of all the shows.

If you have seen, and are familiar with, the otherwise excellent Hammer films of the same names, buy this set and be pleasantly surprised at the incident and depth which the films unfortunately lack.

Altogether too kind to Hammer, I'm afraid.

8:50 PM

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Sunday, April 03, 2005  

An unsuccessful Experiment

In the end, BBC4's Quatermass Experiment disappointed. It was brave to air it live - the first live drama on BBC TV in over 20 years, according to the trail - but it just served to remind me how right we were to turn our backs on live TV. There were only a couple of times when actors visibly forgot their lines, but these were enough to cut my disbelief down from its suspension and breathe air into its lungs.

I'm puzzled by my own response. I love theatre, and it has a far greater impact on me than film or TV.

It was too clever by half to try to raise the terror level by not showing us the full-grown monster. The soldiers preparing to save the human race by blasting Tate Modern - I expect Brian Sewell had volunteered to lead the charge - could see the thing clearly: they had orders to concentrate their fire on 'the dark patches'. So why couldn't we see it?

There was some pathetic hand-waving about the monster 'interfusing the very fabric of the building' to explain away the fact that we had a good view of the interior of the building and there was nothing there. Nigel Kneale and his wife are still alive, and they've still got the original rubber gloves with bits of plant attached; I'm sure they'd have been willing to waggle these if asked, just as they did in the very first production.

It was a shame; the show was growing on me earlier. The shot of the returning space capsule manoeuvring above the Earth as cloud fields streamed past below was beautiful. The infected Victor Carroon [spelling?] looked terrifyingly rabid as he advanced on the hapless cactus that was to be his first meal; I really thought his wife wasn't going to get out of the way in time.

This production stuck pretty close to the original script, as far as I could tell. The fall of the returning craft had been brought not very up to date by having it occur right next to a car that was rocking because of the copulating couple inside. (It must have a very spongy suspension to do that, I reckon.) This cliche fortunately didn't prove to be a bad omen.

I well remember the scholar who in the original blithered on about "Must we destroy beauty just for the sake of our own survival?" I found it tedious even then, when the beauty in question was Westminster Abbey. The answer is so obviously: "Yes, and be quick about it!" When it's Tate Modern that's going to get zapped, the question seems even sillier.

One scene in the chemical lab that had been looted by Carroon ended with the sound of a huge crash from somewhere out of shot, unexplained and unconnected to the action. Something like that could almost reconcile me to live drama. In the age of the Internet, the truth about that crash must soon be public knowledge. I'll keep trawling for it.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to getting the DVDs of the almost complete originals of the Quatermass shows. I don't think the fluffs and muddles of live productions will seem so bothersome seen through the murk of an ancient telerecording.

10:07 PM

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