Antartica. 14 million square miles of cold. 90% of the world’s ice. Blizzards like nowhere else on earth. Land of magnetic attraction to heroes and fools alike. Land of no return: “I am just going outside and may be sometime.” Antartica has no indigenous population – but it does have scientific bases dotted across its vast land mass, staffed at any one time by between 1000 and 5000 thinly spread workers. And there is no government. There are a few treaties of course, a lot of goodwill, and a fair amount of plain hope that none of the temporary inhabitants will go stir buggin crazy in all the white light. And maybe set out about a cabin fever killing spree. Or that in the vast expanse of nothingness, mysterious activities are not afoot. Waiting to catch you. When you’re all alone.
The perfect backdrop, wouldn’t you say, for a psychological thriller. Or even better, a hammy horror. You wouldn’t be the first to think this, of course. B-movie directors worked this out some time ago and gave us, perhaps most notably, The Thing in 1982. You’ve gotta love a bit of John Carpenter.
And then, unfortunately, gave it to us again, in prequel form, in 2011.
Now, it seems some folk with their hands on a movie camera have gone one step further and actually shot a film in Antartica. The first feature set in the great white wilderness to have also been filmed there. The logistics of this would be unthinkable for any ordinary outfit. But this film, South of Sanity, was made entirely by workers on a research base: writer, director, cast and crew alike. Isolated workers on an isolated research base. Playing isolated workers on an isolated research base.
Ok, so it might seem a little amateurish, but I’d like to catch a glimpse of this little work of art anyway. If I was holed up on an Antarctic base right now I might be just a little bit creeped out. I might be looking over my shoulder. Watching. Listening. Waiting. For life to imitate art…
Was anyone else delighted by the opening episode of the Beeb’s latest monster bash, In the Flesh? Feeling somewhat bereft following the ending of Being Human, it was a relief to have the void filled. I’d watched the show grow over the past five seasons, witnessed the complete annihilation of its original cast, and seen it rise up and walk away utterly unscathed. Tom and Hal, in particular, are beautifully written and beautifully performed and, really, they should be given an afterlife. I’ve got all sorts of good ideas brewing if anyone at BBC3 wants to give me a shout. Although series 5 got off to a shonky start, I was gripped by the final two episodes. And gutted at the end. Gutted that it was over. And, to be honest, kind of gutted at its manner of being over. Not that I think it was poorly done or anything, it’s just that really, honestly, who wants to be human? Other than Tom, Hal and Alex of course. The narrative tackles the discordant desires of characters and audience head on. The characters win. Which got me thinking about how Being Human shifted this genre slightly, nudged its perspective just a little, and how In the Flesh seems to have taken up this baton.
Previously, the monster was all about the big bad. Sometimes the big bad was the other, sometimes nearer to home, and yes, occasionally, it was even the self, but the self as taken over by the big bad, or constructed by the big bad. If you know what I mean. Sometimes the big bad existed amongst us, tricked us into thinking it was normal, for its nefarious plans. Sometimes the big bad had human qualities, was searching for love, redemption, peace. But these shows are radical in their quest for Normality. Ordinariness. Quiet Humanity. In these shows the big bad is kind of small and all right really, most of the time. Inner demons tend to be unleashed by the inhumanity of the world at large. Humans are as likely to be monstrous as the monsters; the monsters’ humanity exceeding that of the humans. Angel once had a storyline centered around a prophecy to return a vampire to a human state. But for these newer shows, this misses the point. Being human is a state of mind not of physicality. And being human is all about being ordinary. Ordinary jobs. Ordinary homes. Ordinary friendships. Ordinary decency. And, more importantly, being allowed to be ordinary.
And there’s something delightfully British in the construction of this ordinariness. Being Human was initially set in Bristol, on an ordinary street, which was ordinary enough, but the relocation to Honolulu Heights and Barry was inspired. And the symmetry of Hal’s backstory, holed up in Southend for fifty-five years, added to the humour. There’s an American version, I haven’t seen it but I’ve heard it’s quite good, which is set in Boston. Whatever they’ve done with the US version though, I can’t imagine it much resembling the British one beyond its having a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost. Boston is not Barry. The subtlety is lost. And with it the humour.
In the Flesh has taken up the ordinary with aplomb. Roarton, a kind of fictionalised Yorkshire town, is as ordinary as it gets. Right down to the railway station. And the accents. And the family that our hero, Kieren, who exudes innocence and vulnerability, returns to, post suicide, post zombie, in his newly medicated state. These shows refuse us closed narratives of good and evil, right and wrong. Boundaries blur, distinctions fade, our own humanity is put under the microscope. This is TV for the modern age. War and guilt, the demonisation of difference, and the tyranny of moral absolutes are already emerging as themes. I look forward to seeing how this tale pans out.
Update 04.04.2013: unfortunately the tale panned out poorly. The second episode was entirely plot driven and lacked depth, nuance or character development. Despite a strong central performance, and the final episode recovering a little, this was not enough to save what could have been a great show. What a shame.
Ok, I can’t quite believe that I’m going to attempt this. Perhaps I should start with a disclaimer. I love Gothic fiction. I’m a big fan of the horror genre in film. I particularly love vampire flicks, and I like my vampires to have fangs. I’m interested in film. Interesting film. I’m interested in literature. Interesting literature. I consider myself a feminist. I say all this, and I could say so much more, as a kind of begging for forgiveness in advance. Because, what I’m about to do, and I can’t quite believe it myself, is offer a kind of apology for The Twilight Saga. No. More than that, offer a reason for its popularity. And more than that, suggest that, despite its deeply suspect ideology, it’s not so bad really. Bear with me, readers.
I ought to make it clear, I haven’t read a single word of a single one of the Twilight books. I don’t intend to. I probably wouldn’t like them. Which is fine. I’m fairly certain I’m not the target audience anyway. I have, however, over the past couple of weeks, watched all five of the films. I thought it was about time to have a look at just what it is, precisely, that has been preoccupying the kidz over the past few years. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself. My initial reaction was one of horror. The wrong kind of horror. I watched the films in the wrong order, starting with Breaking Dawn: part 1, which with its unflinching pro-life subtext (actually not so much of the ‘sub’) left me fearing for the ideological hearts, not to mention the psychological, and indeed physical, well-being of our teenagers. And then there’s the stalking, controlling, coercive boyfriend. And the mind games. And the ‘no sex before marriage’ clause. And the heroine seemingly free from any agency at all. And Wolfy (sorry, Jacob) imprinting on a new born babe – I’ve tried like mad to rationalise this one, but really, whichever way you look at it, it’s just creepy. And. And. And…
And what about adding to the body of Vampire mythology? Harmless ‘vegetarians’? Repeating high school ad infinitum? Driving around in Volvos and Mercedes? Living in (unaccountably affluent) peace in a Scandinavian style lodge? It’s not that this is all a bit off canon, so much as this is all a bit lame. And then there’s the sparkling. Sparkling, I tell you. Vampires don’t sparkle. They chow down on your neck with bloody great fangs. They exist as a metaphor for sex, repression, fear, desire. They offer a safe space for transgression. They explore the other. They explore the id. They DON’T BLOODY WELL SPARKLE.
But then maybe that’s the point. Maybe Edward, in all his toothless, sparkling glory is so non-threatening that the sinister undercurrents of his behaviour are rendered utterly meaningless. Maybe the adolescent and the pre-pubescent fans buy into the unreconstructed gender fantasy because it so clearly is fantasy, and requires so little exertion on their part. Maybe, surrounded as they are by a hyper-sexual, disposable culture, the innate conservatism of The Twilight Saga offers some breathing space. Maybe they just fancy Robert Pattinson. Or Kristen Stewart. Maybe they’re frightened of growing up, and they find something reassuring in Bella and Edward achieving a state of stasis while still teenagers. Or maybe they like waiting ’til the final film for Bella to actually get some muscles – a kind of delayed gratification.
Or maybe I should give up the ghost and direct you to this biting Buffy/Twilight mashup instead…
Thanks for the reminder that Real Slayers Stake Vampires. Especially if they sparkle.
Google ‘real vampires don’t sparkle’ and click on images. Go on, it’s fun.
Many thanks to Shannon for the lightbulb moment. Cheers.