Tuesday, October 06, 2020

they practically own south america

My mother, who evidently keeps an eye and ear out for these things, alerts me to a couple of appearances of our mutual relative and science fiction author Olaf Stapledon in popular culture. Firstly, she was watching the 1978 version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (the one featuring Leonard Nimoy, a very young Jeff Goldblum and Donald Sutherland's memorable screechy alien finale) and noticed a brief piece of dialogue featuring Veronica Cartwright's character and one of her mud bath customers, wherein the customer extols the virtues of Immanuel Velikovsky's Worlds In Collision and she recommends that he also read Stapledon's Star Maker

There is an important distinction between the two works, though: Star Maker is explicitly a work of fiction, whereas Worlds In Collision purports to be a work of non-fiction, though in reality it is as much of one as, say, Chariots Of The Gods

I have never read Star Maker, as it happens, although I do have a copy in the to-be-read pile. You may recall that I have read Last And First Men, though - those two books are Stapledon's most celebrated works, although he did write a lot of other stuff.

Last And First Men has its own, more recent, popular culture intersection, it turns out: this film with a voice-over by Tilda Swinton, which premiered in Berlin earlier this year. Rather than being a formal adaptation of the book (Swinton's voice-over is taken exclusively from the last two chapters) it is mainly a vehicle for the music of Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (more famous among mainstream film buffs for his score for the 2014 Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory Of Everything), and features lingering shots of various immense pieces of abstract architecture. The film was largely made in 2017, but was only completed after Jóhannsson's death the following year.

The immense monuments featured in the film are mainly located in the former Yugoslavia and are a fascinating subject in their own right. Known as spomeniks, there are mainly Tito-era memorials to World War II, placed in some bizarrely remote and inhospitable locations which just accentuate their otherworldliness. Many of them still exist, in varying states of disrepair.

Back to Worlds In Collision for a moment: I used to own a work of that name, but it was a copy of the 1991 Pere Ubu album rather than Velikovsky's book. By far its most well-known tune (sung by one of my many namesakes) is I Hear They Smoke The Barbecue, a quirkily catchy pop nugget which references another branch of pseudoscience, the various hollow earth "theories". Coincidence? Or IS IT??!?!?!? I expect you know the answer by now.

[FOOTNOTE] A couple of things I meant to add: firstly that the static black-and-whiteness of the images, the voice-over and the general gloomy elegiac tone of the Last And First Men clips put me strongly in mind of Chris Marker's short film La Jetée, now available in full on YouTube and well worth half an hour of anyone's time. Secondly, the 1978 version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is a pretty good remake, as remakes go, of the original 1956 film (which in turn was an adaptation of Jack Finney's 1955 novel); further remakes from 1993 and 2007 are also available, but since I've never seen them I have no opinion to offer.

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