Friday, November 20, 2015

Future tense

Disney has announced that if you were alive to watch the first Star Wars film in 1977 (like I was) – then you probably won't be around to watch all the planned future instalments. In their words, "You will probably not live to see the last one. It's the forever franchise".

The thing about death I'm most afraid of is all the things I'm going to miss out on – not especially just the big news, the toppling of governments or what my daughter's children's children will be like – but the important stuff, like the outcome of the Star Wars franchise or what Bob Dylan's Bootleg Series Volume 74 will consist of (Volume 12 has just come out) or what features the iPhone 27 will have. The world just continues on its axis despite us; stuff happens, life goes on, regardless of death. I'd like the option to pop in on life every hundred years, flick through a newspaper, watch a bit of TV. My guess is it will just get crapper and crapper, that's the way it's been going for a while (culturally, environmentally, politically). I guess when you're dead though, you probably don't care much about anything.

But the future is notoriously hard to predict: we had Back to the Future day last month: October 21, 2015 being the day Marty and 'Doc' arrived from 1985. Whilst it got some things right (flat screen TVs, tablets), it got a lot wrong – fax machines were still being used (and there was no internet), and there's still no hover boards or flying cars, though our skies will doubtless be filling up with drones in the near future. That's the thing about the future, it's always tantalisingly out of reach, until it arrives, then it's just like any other day.

The next big future to look forward to is Blade Runner, set in November 2019. It must have looked an impossible date in 1982 but now it's just round the corner (Luc Besson was wise to set The Fifth Element in the 23rd century) and there's still no sign of those 'spinners' (flying cars) or attractive yet deadly replicants. More on the mark, perhaps, was Rollerball (1975), set in an America of 2018 where global corporations perform the role of government (and libraries have no books!).

Released in 2013 and set in 2025, Spike Jones' Her is set so near in the future it's almost cheating – our ever-increasing reliance on technology is a pretty obvious outcome. Yet Joaquin Phoenix's depiction of a lonely guy falling in love with his operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, is affecting and sensitive, and seems more prescient and inevitable almost every day.

Channel 4's recent Human series, their biggest drama hit in 20 years, was a mix of Her, The Stepford Wives and The Terminator. So badly acted that you weren't sure who were the robots and who were the humans, it stars Gemma Chan as 'synth' Anita employed by the Hawkins family to help around the house. With synths, submissive robots, doing the boring work humans don't want to do, the series is like an allegory for immigrants doing the boring work natives don't want to (and indeed, the synths do act like many a over-trained service industry worker) as well as the impact technology has on our personal lives.

In general, the future in films or TV is depicted as flying cars and robots or post-apolyptic dystopian gloom (Soylent Green is a personal 1970s favorite, set in a 2022 of pollution, overpopulation, dying oceans and depleted resources). Controversial French author Michel Houellebecq's latest novel Submission (the translation of the word Islam) is also set in the year 2022 and imagines a France which has elected a Muslim party government. It was released in France on 7 January this year (though not until September here), the day of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and bookended by the recent Paris massacres to be top of many critic's best of year books. The future is always less scary when it's thousands of years away; when it's a few years ahead and on our doorsteps, it's a bit too real for comfort.

The BFI's 10 Great Films Set in the Next 25 Years

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Overheard #10

"Do all butterflies taste of pancakes?"
"I went from being off-piste to pissed off"
"You're a porn again Christian"
"Josh just bought some brioche"
"Remember there's no 'i' in busking"
"There should be a war on peanuts"
"Did Virginia Woolf drown at Virginia Water?"
"If you shut up, I'd listen to you more"
"Tim Rice and Tim Curry should do a collab
on a Rice and Curry musical" 

FYI – I was doing this way before Time Out magazine.