Monday, 1 September 2014

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS - SOYLENT GREEN

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS

33. SOYLENT GREEN (1973, dir. Richard Fleischer)

01/09/2014


First of all, it should be said that people are still attempting to solve the problem of feeding the world - Layla has already reported on the new drink "Soylent" back in May - see http://hisandhersmovieblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/sci-fi-reality-soylent.html for that - which takes its cue from a film that provided, well, the wrong answer.

Even in 1966 when the novel on which "Soylent Green" is based, "Make Room! Make Room!" by Harry Harrison, was released, there were real, large-scale attempts to solve the problem, one of which already had a background in cinema. Quorn, first on sale in 1985, began as a research project in the 1960s to use starch, the waste product of cereal production, to make a food rich with protein. This research naturally took place, in co-operation with the chemical company ICI, at the bakery behemoth of Rank Hovis McDougall, whose chairman was the third-generation of the Rank family, and owner of a separate, large film company, J. Arthur Rank.

I found reading the story of Quorn to be much more interesting than "Soylent Green". Much like the current blockbuster "Lucy," with Scarlett Johanson and Samuel L. Jackson, uses the discredited fact that people use only 10 per cent of their brain, and attempts to hang an entire story off it, "Soylent Green" uses the proposition that the human race will explode in population like cockroaches, reducing New York CIty, in the year 2022, to a filthy, overcrowded hovel of 40,000,000 people, ground to a halt through high unemployment - in the real world, the 2013 US census puts New York City's population at 8,405,837, similar to that of Greater London. Overpopulation is merely the ability to then tell a story of one way to solve the crisis of food in the city, by getting the proles to eat themselves, like a horror version of "Nineteen Eighty-Four."

However, what led me to even think of writing this article was how "Soylent Green" establishes itself as a story, setting up the theme of overpopulation, and get the audience to watch from the viewpoint required by the story. Charles Braverman's opening montage beings in the pastoral olden days, that were always better, leading into rapid industrialisation, urbanisation, overpopulation, waste, and a man-made horizon of a city in a smog-ridden haze. All the while, the music turns from a leisurely plainsong into Gershwin-like syncopation, and back again, as the machine slows down. It could have been easy to go for a "Star Wars"-like scene-setting paragraph, but you don't go to the cinema to read a book, and the speedy agit-prop introduction here makes as good a job of selling an ideology here as a Sergei Eisenstein production - too bad the rest of the film isn't worth it, but at least the start of it is on YouTube.

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