Thus Spake Horton


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.

12 comments on “Thus Spake Horton

  1. fred says:

    Right, now you’ve done it.
    Pistols, or swords if that’s your choice, at dawn from 10 paces.
    “2001′ is my #1 favourite movie.
    Made in 1968 for dog’s sake!
    Its nearly half a century old and visually far better than say Avatar for example or the dog awful visuals in Star Wars.
    The music!
    The thought that went into the plot by Kubrick and Clarke. Actually makes you think rather than just showing things getting blown up or having monsters crawling in crawl spaces as ‘action’ and Sci-fi films have.
    You’re just a grumpy old man.

    C’mon, admit it, your post was just click bait wasn’t it?


  2. f1retree says:

    Assuming that that you aren’t totally anti sci-fi David perhaps you’d like to give us the names of a couple of sci-fi movies that really cut the mustard for you.
    BTW it wasn’t a computer kaleidoscope program that made all those ‘trip’ colours, it was the slit-scan camera that Douglas Trumbull dreamed up – all done on film, no computers involved.
    The film also introduced some great music, particularly György Ligeti’s, a brilliant and inventive composer.
    I enjoyed 2001, partly for its Kubrick perfection and partly for its Clarke/Kubrick human evolutionary prognostications, it looks dated today, yes, but was a stand-out for me at its first screening.
    I write YA sci-fi, my preferences are for well written work leaning toward literary fiction and place or nature writing, good writing comes first, genre is irrelevant, particularly these days.


    • David Horton says:

      Yes, I do like sc-fi, the remake Battlestar Gallactica, for example. I seem to remember liking Alien. Avatar was ok but not great. The kaleidoscope comment was not meant to be literal. Bit whatever made the colour effects they eent on and on for no discernible reason.


  3. Alan Phillips says:

    I agree with Fred’s last sentence. 2001 was breathtaking in its day, and who has ever correctly predicted the future? People in 2050 will no doubt be laughing at our ideas of the future (including yours David). HG Wells predicted people flying to the moon at the same time as other were flying around on earth in flimsy wood-and-canvas biplanes! Kubrik’s effort was magnificent in its day, and it was fiction for God’s sake!


    • David Horton says:

      Yes, I thought the predictions weren’t bad, really, and that isn’t really the focus of my disappointment. I was really making a contrast between the great praise it received then (yes, as a work of fiction) including by me, and my puzzlement that it really doesn’t seem very good (as a work of fiction and art), viewed again now.


  4. Geoff Andrews says:

    What? Don’t like The Blues Brothers now you’re old and grumpy? I still laugh just thinking about certain scenes; but then, I still laugh at the occasional re-run of Fawlty Towers.


    • David Horton says:

      Not sure what it was (apart from grumpiness). I’d forgotten that the film is just an excuse to string together various musical performances. Which are good of course, but there really isn’t much else when you watch it critically. The funny bits aren’t that funny, and mostly consist of seemingly endless car chases, and there is the running “joke” of Carrie Fisher’s attempts to kill them, and …. Well, that’s about it. Oh, I know it isn’t meant to be great art, but surely a cult following demands a little more substance and, well, humour?


      • f1retree says:

        The interesting thing about cults, cult followings of things like movies, poets etc is that they provoke a following that identifies with things in the movement/cult object. Like Blade Runner, a film I love watching at least once a year, or the poem Howl by Allen Ginsberg. The funny thing about art is that works set in a particular moment or historic setting distil something about that time or part of whatever culture its set in, something that people find valuable, fun, pertinent.
        Avatar took a swing at adventure capitalism, the right didn’t like it at all.
        The Blues Brothers trashed the Nazis and drove The Good Ol’ Boys off the road, it was just plain mad and I loved it, best car chase ever, all those blue prowlers behaving like lemmings.


      • Geoff Andrews says:

        What? What? What? (to borrow a Neddy Seagoon exclamation) … “The funny bits aren’t that funny …” ???
        If you weren’t such a curmudgeon, I’d think you were joking.
        When David & Margaret feature it as one of their classics, David will pontificate, tautologically, that it is an irreligious cock a snoot at American music, film and society in general.
        Even you would have had a wry chuckle at the scene with “The Penguin” where we get some sense of the terror children enjoyed in the care of the church.
        You may have missed the sociological significance of the destruction of the shopping centre: tongue-in-cheek mayhem and it seems you have forgotten the appropriately non-PC denouement to the Carrie Fisher sub-plot.
        I could go on but I should leave some space for Eric to contribute if he has been able to get a message past the gulag censors.


        • David Horton says:

          A cock a snoot? Well, maybe that was intention, except I don’t think it is. The Nun scene is what I most remembered and it seemed funny at time. Now merely strained and rather obvious. Destruction of shopping centre? Well, I suppose, but the point was? And the reason it went on so long? And the Carrie Fisher denouement seemed droll at the time, now sickly and rather silly. Oh, maybe I am just getting old Geoff, but in my memory it shone much more brightly than it does on a revisit.


          • Geoff Andrews says:

            Maybe f1retree’s observation that the personal circumstances of the original viewing can be significant on revisiting a film.
            Fortunately, there’s no accounting for taste – both yours and mine. Otherwise, nobody would have watched that hilarious, thigh-slapping mini-series about Julia Gillard.


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