Sometimes deja vu jumps out and hits you unexpectedly. The kerfuffle this week about one of the new Australian ministers choosing to take his oath on a book about one imaginary friend instead of the other one about, well, the same imaginary friend the others were using, caused an uproar from all the supporters of the second book who love to vent their hatreds on talkback radio. So it goes.
But the whole storm in a communion cup reminded one of my twitter friends of something I had written four years ago about the Prime Ministerial Oath of Office and totally forgotten (so it often goes, these days!). Anyway, read it again, and thought that whoever this young fellow was who wrote this had a few good ideas, and since many of you will not have seen the piece originally you might like a look now. Surprise the ABC with a rush of traffic to one of their former Drum authors.
The second remembrance of blog times past was the Shakespearian tragedy – complete with betrayals, stabbings, deceit, lies, witch’s prophecies, revenge, ghosts from the past – of the destruction of Prime Minister Gillard by once and, it turned out, future, Prime Minister Rudd. But even more sickening than that day of betrayal was the subsequent washing of hands by the media, determined to remove any spot suggesting they had played any part in the downfall of the Queen by all their vicious and personal attacks on her and her partner. Turns out they had all thought, all along, what a good job she was doing, what wonderful achievements, what a great strong person she was etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. One comment was that she had been the “greatest reforming prime minister since Whitlam”, a phrase which must have caused some giggling in News Limited offices. But it reminded me of my estimation of her, just a few months ago, as arguably our best Prime Minister since the Second World War. Nothing that has happened since changes the opinion I expressed then.
The other adventure into times past I have been having, thanks to that gem of 21st century technology the DVD, is to revisit old and fondly remembered movies and tv series of years gone by. Sometimes the fond memories are found to be justified and reinforced, as was the case with High Noon, written about previously, and Boys from the Blackstuff. In other cases, such as The Blues Brothers and The Lotus Eaters, the revisited experiences have been something of a disappointment.
My most recent exploration of the culture of the distant past was to watch, for the first time since its release, “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Keen anticipation as the strains of Thus Spake Zarathustra filled the room, followed by Strauss, but then a growing sense of dismay. What on earth had my Twenty-Something self (and a lot of other Twenty-Somethings) seen in this?
The acting was abysmal, the script worse, the directing self-indulgent, the “plot” a bizarre and incomprehensible mish mash, the message non-existent (“What would you give it David?” “Well, once upon a time Margaret I’d have given it a whole galaxy, but tonight I’m afraid it is just 2 stars from me”).
To be fair it was all an astonishingly long time ago. When it was made the year 2001 was still 33 years ahead, time for all kinds of space marvels, it seemed, and, it must be remembered, still a year before the real life Moon Landing. Now of course 2001 is 12 years on the past, and a year symbolic not of marvels but of monsters. But granted that this is a movie approaching half a century old, it is still astonishingly bad considering the praise it was once given and the reverence in which it is still held.
The stuff with the apes at the start is laughable, and just a slightly more sophisticated version of mad-brained von Daniken (also unaccountably popular at the time). A giant revolving space station? Well, I suppose it seemed plausible in 1968, but looks silly against the 2013 reality of the ISS. And the conceit that space travel was so commonplace as to look just like airline travel with pilots, hostesses, airline food, airports? Well, ok, Richard Branson has plans, but have another look at the movie. “Regular commercial space travel”, but the flight only has two passengers, the only passengers in fact appear to be scientists doing space research, and in any case, the only destination appears to be the incomplete space station which only houses scientists. Richard Branson is not making any money in space in 1968, in fact he’s losing billions it seems. Advances in technology? Well, apart from the space vessels, the only advance seems to be an early version of Skype. And all that slow motion movement of space shuttles and capsules set to music that seemed so clever and artistic at the time? Now the viewer just wants to scream “For gods sake get on with it and land the fucking capsule already!”.
So a monolith is found buried on the moon? It is, presumably, buried there as a tripwire – when humankind has advanced from hitting zebras on the head with bovine tibia (probably not very effective in reality, you’d think) to inventing fire and then flying to the Moon, our mysterious alien benefactors, teaching us it seems rather in the way that learning tapes “teach” gullible people, while they sleep, that a fool and his money is soon parted, want to know what their proteges are up to. Because…? Anyway, the thing sends a signal to Jupiter (Jupiter? Why on earth…?) and within 18 months (18 months!) a fully-manned (yes, this is 1968, remember, women still have two years to wait before reading The Female Eunuch) space expedition (including crew in hibernation for no good reason except to get killed later) is on its way to Jupiter.
To no apparent purpose that we can discern, except to run this whole ridiculous and pointless subplot about a computer so advanced it can, so close is it to being human, have emotions of fear, anger, sadness, and can carry out a plot to kill all the crew, one of who, good old human ingenuity, manages to escape his fate. There is absolutely no point, in the context of the movie, of any of this, no matter how realistically scary it seemed in 1968 (oo-er, rogue computers, taking over the world, killing people). Anyhoo, having defeated the rogue Hal, good old Dave manages to singlehandedly, and without the help of the formerly essential-to-the-mission computer (whose memory alone seem to take up half the space ship, an amount of memory these days probably fitting in a mobile phone), flies on to “Jupiter”.
At this point you crave a combination of CGI and the photographs from the Pioneer (still 5 years away in 1968), Voyager, Galileo, Cassini space craft. The images of Jupiter and its moons are crap, and static. But wait, here is the next monolith, what will Dave do? Dunno, still don’t. Does he (still totally single-handed remember) land the capsule ON the monolith? Who knows, because all we get for the next several hours are flashing colours of the sophistication of an early computer kaleidoscope program. Then, finally they thankfully end and Dave is in some house (?!) where his older self, eating his dinner, almost hears Dave, and then he is a very old man dying (?) in bed, and then, bless Kubrick’s Deep and Meaningful Director’s heart, he is a newborn baby suddenly transported from Jupiter to approach Earth’s atmosphere.
If you can make any sense whatsoever of any of that then you will become my favourite Martian (finished 2 years earlier) very quickly. It is just pretentious rubbish, admit it, full of lights and colours signifying nothing.
But still, a lot about the future in 1968 couldn’t possibly have been guessed. The reality would have seemed incredibly far-fetched, fanciful, a dystopian nightmare compared to the clean, orderly, vision of Kubrick.
And you have to say, given all that has happened since, including the events of the real year 2001, the idea that a strange alien monolith radiated our ape ancestors and turned them into blood-thirsty murderers doesn’t seem so far-fetched after all. Shakespearian really. Or perhaps Nietzschian.