Ahead of Friday's screening and discussion around British science fiction film Quatermass II, Patrick Keiller introduces the film.
The first episode of The Quatermass Experiment, Nigel Kneale's first BBC-TV Quatermass serial, was broadcast on 18 July 1953. As far as anyone knows, only the first two of its six episodes survive, but Quatermass II (1955) and Quatermass and the Pit (1958-9) are each complete. In Quatermass II, Professor Bernard Quatermass, the director of the British Experimental Rocket Group, is played by John Robinson. His project is interrupted by an invading extraterrestrial intelligence that colonises humans in a manner similar to, but seemingly independent of, that in Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers (1955). By the time of Val Guest’s feature-film adaptation Quatermass 2 (1957), the Spadeadam Rocket Establishment was being built on Spadeadam Waste, about 20 miles north-east of Carlisle. In the film, though not in the earlier television series, Quatermass’s rocket research establishment is located somewhere near Carlisle.
Spadeadam was built to test the rocket motors for the Blue Streak medium-range ballistic missile, then the future delivery vehicle for the UK’s strategic nuclear weapons. Blue Streak was cancelled in 1960 and the UK subsequently purchased Polaris, the US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement having been signed in 1958. The Agreement is due for renewal in 2014. My fictional Robinson’s conflation of Quatermass 2 and the story of Blue Streak appears to have led him to believe that the UK’s descent into neoliberalism since the 1950s is the result of colonisation by an invading intelligence like that of the film. It seems to be an intelligence that favours asset-price inflation over industrial production, and has brought us to the dysfunctional housing economy that prompted another film The Dilapidated Dwelling (2000), showing at the ICA on 24 November.
Robinson is wrong. It might be comforting to think that the ideology that underpins the current economic and environmental crisis has been thought up and installed by an extraterrestrial monster, but it is actually the work of people, many of them in England.
Patrick Keiller and Mark Fisher Present: Quatermass 2, Friday 15 November 7pm