Monday, October 08, 2007
My Teenage Geek Out
A number of years ago, I made an active decision to ‘get into film’. I don’t remember when or where it happened, but at some point I must have definitely decided that that was going to be my ‘thing’. I had the basic induction – to extensively watch Tarantino, Burton and Scorsese, the fun auteurs. Following that was a dive into new Asian cinema – the new wave du jour, meaning that I could understand the most talked about cinema of my generation. This had a kind of ‘I-was-there’ quality to it, a sound investment in my future conversations.
Then came focusing on building my knowledge of ‘proper’ cinema: intellectual directors who were established as worthy of debate. The way I saw it, if I managed to experience ‘real’ directors first, it would give me a head start in other aspects of investigation. Of course, I found my favourites: Kurosawa, Keaton, Kubrick, Kar-Wai… somehow, filmmakers with names beginning with ‘K’ helped validate me as a film fan. This tactic definitely paid off; after tasting films from different places and periods, I quickly became used to judging each film not only as an individual but also in a cinematic context – understanding that each one was part of a whole. What it didn’t do, however, was expose me to much in the way of science fiction. It had no place in what many critics regarded the cinema worth watching.
Eventually I took an increasing interest in genre – the most rigid surviving classification of cinema, and an extension of the ‘individual as part of a whole’ viewpoint. It’s almost impossible for a film to entirely escape genre classification, and when it does it somehow doesn’t sit well with the critics, who generally label it as ‘confused’ or ‘inconsistent’. It’s a prejudice that is used by everyone; I still feel anxious approaching any ‘romantic psychological thriller with horror elements’. This year, Danny Boyle’s latest film, Sunshine, most definitely a sci-fi, was released. For some reason, I got very excited. Why? I’ve never really loved Danny Boyle, and I thought Alex Garland’s other screenplay, 28 Days Later, was a bit rubbish. Then I read an interview with Boyle, where he described what attracted him to the project: “What a great starting point: eight astronauts strapped to the back of this massive bomb, behind a shield, flying towards the sun.” Oh yeah.
The idea was just so cool. Not just any cool, but that special kind of light sabre, flying machines, bicycle-over-the-moon cool. In other words…sci-fi cool. And I loved it. Good lord. In my rush to understand the cinema elite, I had neglected my dormant love for all things shiny and bleepy. I couldn’t get enough. I went back to all the films I had seen and disregarded – Blade Runner, Total Recall, Alien, 2001, Children of Men, Brazil – with renewed interest. There was just something there, something about these films that could attract me like no other genre. It’s not just film, however – sci-fi has even extended into my literary tastes. I’ve indulged in sci-fi both soft (Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut) and hard (Arthur C. Clarke, Stanislaw Lem) and devoured them all. I’ve even been reading actual science. With actual facts.
I should have seen it coming, really. Many of my favourite TV shows – Spaced, Cowboy Bebop, Firefly, The Powerpuff Girls – owed more to sci-fi than anything. Somehow it seemed more acceptable in the television format, due to the medium’s reputation as more accommodating to geeky cults. Also, the episodic format allowed for extensive exploration of far-out ideas, which tend to dominate quality television anyway.
My hunger shows no signs of abating; if anything, it’s getting stronger. I think I’m getting closer to pinning down what attracts me to sci-fi so strongly. Particularly, I’m fascinated by depictions of the future, partly for the social and political implications and partly for the cool and/or retro-futuristic visual styling. The side effect of this has been a growing interest in urban spaces, technology and space. Of course, film is still my ‘thing’ so my brain can’t handle incredibly complex theories surrounding these things. But I’m trying. Whatever happens, there’s one thing I’ve learned from all of this - I’ve been a sci-fi fan my entire life, and never realised before this year.