Saturday 20 May 2023

Utopia, the 1964 New York World’s Fair and The Dialectics of Oblivion


To mark the launch of the recent release, Utopia or Oblivion (CN5) Constructive Music have created a website ‘which will serve as a focal point for a series of essays, articles, artists work and information resources that will be derived from the same broad remit offered to the musicians’ who have contributed to the project, inspired by the writings of R Buckminster Fuller.


Their website announcement continues:


‘Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment. Humanity is in a final exam as to whether or not it might qualify for continuance in the Universe.’ (Utopia Or Oblivion: The Prospects for Humanity R. Buckminster Fuller) Constructive are pleased to announce a compilation of work by 10 artists inspired by and in response to the work of R. Buckminster Fuller, specifically from the essays Utopia Or Oblivion first published in 1963.


In response to their request, I have written an essay on the theme on Utopia and the Dialectics of Oblivion, inspired by the 1964 New York World’s Fair. This global event, better known for the US corporations drawn to it rather the nation states it sought to represent, has always fascinated me. It opened the same year that Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man and McLuhan’s Understanding Media were published. It was also the year that Jonny Quest and Bewitched first appeared on American TV. ‘The Trip that’s Worth the Trip’ is a tribute to this unique moment in the history of progress. It is another in my series of occasional essays that take their structure directly from Walter Benjamin’s ‘On the Concept of History’.  I follow the same numbering and divisions of his original text and retain all of the extracted quotes with which he begins and ends some of the sections. I also try and keep the relative length of each entry to approximately the same proportions as those used by Benjamin, even though the overall length of the text itself might vary. I first used this approach in the essay ‘On The Concept of History, Brexit, Covid and the Paradise of Sovereignty: A fable in eighteen parts with two addenda and seven supporting quotations’ - which you can find in its entirety here


You can find The Trip That’s Worth the Trip: Utopia – the Dialectics of Oblivion on the Constructive website by clicking here.  


The Constructive album release details are as follows: CN5 Various Artists Utopia or Oblivion 2023 LP / DL


Pictured above:

The Pop Up New York World’s Fair

The General Motors Futurama pavilion

Jonny Quest gets his jetpack

From the Bewitched opening animation sequence

Wednesday 3 May 2023

Let Me Die a Monster @ Camden Art Centre


To celebrate the publication of the long-awaited Strange Attractor Journal 5, my publishers hosted a special launch event at Camden Arts Centre on Thursday April 27, which included the staging of a couple of scenes from Let Me Die a Monster, an exploitation movie script I had cowritten with ‘the Truffaut of smut’ (BBC Radio 3) David McGillivray at the distant start of 1997.


The experience took me back nearly 25 years to the end of the previous century and the start of the new millennium. There were two things that struck me about this unique period. The first was a sense of looming catastrophe. It was a very apocalyptic time: one of mass suicides, technological terrors, potential alien invasions and the collapse of civilization itself. The message was in the mainstream media, out on the streets and in the air: everything must end. The second and more encouraging thing about this period was the sense of frivolity that went with the apocalyptic mood – if the whole thing was about to come crashing down, people’s attitude seemed to say, let’s at least have a party while it’s happening.


Living on the edge of a disaster that hadn’t happened yet produced a strange kind of gallows humour – and the screenplay that David McGillivray and I worked on together back in 1997 remains a good example of it. I have written a short account of how the project came about as a preface to the published version of the screenplay in Strange Attractor Journal 5 for those who wish to learn more. Perhaps a better introduction to the script might be to consider some of the forces driving it. At the time it seemed perfectly normal that the production company who had initially approached me and then later brought David and I together to write Let Me Die a Monster should be called Trash 2000 – it suited the times, or at least it suited how I understood those times. Trash 2000 had been making videos for Stereolab, Cornershop and Leftfield, which were using a lot of the imagery and attitudes that appealed to me, so when filmmaker Nick Abrahams approached me on behalf of Trash 2000 to ask if I had any ideas, I was ready.


So, did I have any ideas? Well, no – I didn’t. It was only after the initial meeting that I recalled that there was a story I was very interested in writing – and that was the one about the American movie actor Nick Adams. He was one of a small bunch of Hollywood stars, including Russ Tamblyn and Joseph Cotton, who had made monster movies for Toho films in Japan. At the time, I’d been a consultant for a BBC2 history of the horror movie, dealing specifically with the kaiju phenomenon in general and Godzilla in particular. Nick Adams had appeared in one extraordinary Godzilla movie, known in the West as Monster Zero AKA Invasion of Astro Monster


As far as I was concerned, Godzilla was the apocalypse incarnate. What made the Nick Adams connection so fascinating was not only that Adams died relatively young, overdosing on pills, but he had also been close friends with two other mythically self-destructive figures: Elvis Presley and James Dean. This connection was the starting point for Let Me Die a Monster. I developed a story that begins with Adams’ suicide – the pills producing a powerful hallucination in which Nick sees himself back in Tokyo making one last kaiju movie; but things are not going so well for him. His part keeps being rewritten, and he’s gradually being upstaged by a second American actor, who’s clearly after the starring role. Adams starts cracking up. The script for Let Me Die a Monster concerns itself with the flashbacks and fantasies unfolding in the dying actor’s brain.


For the Camden Art Centre reading David McGillivray selected two scenes and assembled a wonderful cast to interpret them. I am particularly indebted to him, Kamura Atusko, Iain Stirland, Daryl Crick and Henry Galvan for such an extraordinarily special event.


Pictured above:

Strange Attractor Journal 5

David McGillivray and KH posing for the camera

Stirland and Crick in character

The cast and the writers from right to left: Henry Galvan, Daryl Crick, Iain Stirland, Kamura Atsuko, David McGillivray and KH