November 06, 2003


Well, it's really fantastic to be able to hear Wiley's 'Ground Zero' (courtesy of Matt). I've had the two versions on constant play since I downloaded them. The drumless version is especially evocative: a kind of aural tableau, a slow dissolve between black and white stills of the exposed, charred skeletons of the twin towers. Fascinating the way the drum programming on the other version oscillates between 2-step offbeat slinky, junglistic scurry and ominous hip hop menace.

What is it that the mournful synth line reminds me of? There's a suggestion, bizzarely enough of the electro-waltzes of the Stranglers' Men In Black . (Haven't thought about the Stranglers since Goldie mentioned them back in the day). Yes, that's close, but I'm sure there's something else...

In any case, Wiley, like sometime collaborator Jammer (thanks to Simon for sending me the Jammer mix CD from Deuce BTW), seems to fit right into k-punk's heart of darkness. Or heart of ice. The abstract neo-electro of 'Ground Zero' is not so much orientalist darkcore bliss as orientalist darkcore dread.

Actually, all of this links to the other big event of this week for me. Seeing Threads repeated on BBC4. Thirtysomething readers will remember being traumatized by this in the early eighties.

The teleplay begins as a simulated documentary about the impact of a nuclear strike on Sheffield, but ends up as a coolly Bergmanesque vision of a literal hell on earth. The early post-blast scenes - with survivors huddling into barricaded-in basements, fearful of and hostile to outsiders - were reminiscent of nothing so much as Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Near-total anomie, society stripped back to its Hobbesian bare minimum.

What Threads brought to unlife was the virtual apocalypse haunting the k-punkconscious. As Kneale's The Road shows, the Bomb haunts the unconscious, not as a spectre from the past, but as a virtual future so terrible its shockwaves echo back through time. Ballard says that there are times - particularly times of great trauma - when the unconscious and the external landscape are flat with one another. This is what nuclear devastation would be like: the raw material of total nightmare, worse than the worst nightmare imaginable, now real. Reality at its most nightmarish even though it is reality in its purest form: no escape, no return, the traumatized population literally cannot live with this, so they don't, auto-numbing themselves into the simulated death of blank-eyed shock.

So many electrifying images, worthy of the most intense film: an almost oneiric scene in which, amidst swirling radioactive dust, a woman - her eyes coalmine black and totally devoid of affect - clings onto the shrouded corpse of a baby. The eyes, the eyes: vaguely questioning but dazed, dazed. This can't be happening, this is happening, the trauma victim's mantra. Soldiers frisking the dead body of freshly shot looter for a packet of crisps. 'Salt n vinegar. It would be. I hate those.' A woman giving birth in a filthy abandoned hangar, with only a chained-up barking dog for company. Hospitals like charnel houses, like that Baconoid facility in Jacob's Ladder.

A decade later. England as a Medieval country again... The massively reduced population hoeing an unyielding earth... Language attenuated, devolved into rough, guttural injunctions, reflecting a new harshness in social relations. No compassion, which is yet another luxury from a bygone age no-one can even remember any more.

Posted by mark at November 6, 2003 11:42 PM | TrackBack

read 'day of the triffids' for the first time recently - remembered the tv series terrifying me when very young. this universal annihilation paranoia seems so remote now, i'm not sure i can access it in any meaningful way. fear of terrorism just isn't the same hey? the people running the war on terror are trying to help us recall some nuclear anxiety (threat to our way of life etc) but it won't work. there were a couple of post-9/11 bbc miniseries about bio-terrorism i think but nothing with the cultural resonance of triffids or threads or whatever...

Posted by: pete at November 7, 2003 10:13 AM

It's one of the best films ever made; I've been meaning to write about it for ages, but I don't need to now. I'm working on the Cold War at the moment, though. There was this thing about Ronald Reagan, in 1983, after his administration poured all this money into defence, intensified the arms race, and led the world to the brink of nuclear war for the first time since the 60s (well, the mid-70s, but that's a different thing, Kissinger playing power politics with DEFCON 3 while Nixon was losing control of his faculties), the penny finally dropped, for a number of reasons, but one reason was this:

A film called The Day After, which was like the American version of Threads, but written from a schamltzy Waltons perspective (children crying "I love you, mom" as the mushroom cloud rises, that sort of thing) - it terrified Reagan, and most of America, and pretty much altered the whole tone of his Cold War administration thereafter (hence the START treaties, Star Wars and everything).

Anyway, there'll be lots about this cheerful subject at Citta Violenta soon!

Posted by: oliver at November 7, 2003 10:52 AM

The moment in Threads that stays with me is in the pub before the strike - everyone is drinking, there's a news report and no one seems to pay much attention. Something extra-ordinary is happening in the corner of the room, and nobody notices.

Posted by: nick.K at November 7, 2003 06:25 PM

from your words Mark, I travelled to the Place of Dead Roads and found this...
'In that modest span, gentlemen,we have come from stone axes and spears to intercontinental missiles with nuclear warheads... the same principle as the spear but rather more efficacious... (laughter). IS it not fefasible that other cultures may have travelled the same road and disappeared without a trace?...'

The one other thing to bear in mind that Burroughs may have had multiple meanings in place behind the idea of that disappearance...

Posted by: al at November 9, 2003 05:20 PM

Probably the most important film ever made I thought as I watched it from behind the sofa. And the most potent spur to activism: I certainly don't want this to happen. I will do ANYTHING to make this not happen.

Posted by: sean at November 10, 2003 01:06 AM