Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Final Programme / Michael Moorcock Q&A (BFI)

Ah, you never forget your first Moorcock...

Spring 1986: You're waiting at the now-lost Gormenghast splendour of Manchester Victoria station, en route from Chorley to an open day at Hull University. It's one of three places that offers Law and Politics, although – if it came to it – you'd probably prefer London or Birmingham.

Anyway, you've got a bit of a journey ahead of you, and the batteries in your Walkman aren't going to last all day, so you nip into WH Smith. Drawn instinctively to the sci-fi and fantasy section, something red and bricklike grabs your attention.

It's an omnibus edition of Michael Moorcock's History of the Runestaff novels. You used to like fantasy, didn't you? Remember all those gamebooks you used to play? And the stories you tried to write a couple of years earlier when you were staying up all night to watch the LA Olympics after your O-levels?

Anyway, the price-per-page ratio seems pretty good, so you stump up the cash and head off for the next stage of your odyssey: Manchester to Leeds.

As you start to read The Jewel in the Skull, the first book in the sequence, you get drawn into the struggle of Dorian Hawkmoon, Duke of Köln, to resist the oppressive Granbretan empire in a baroque world of ornithopters and flame-lances.

Back in Chorley after the open day, you start to keep an eye out for Moorcock at the second-hand book stall on the Flat Iron market. There are always a few there.

Later that year you come across a copy of The Lives and Times of Jerry Cornelius.

By now you've found out about New Worlds magazine and the 60s New Wave of science fiction.

You've been reading a bit of JG Ballard, and the fractured narrative and non-linear storytelling get your brain buzzing.

Channel 4 has also been wiring you up with the pop sensibility of The Prisoner and The Avengers, and suddenly it feels like you've been waiting all your life to meet Jerry Cornelius...

Image by Harry Douthwaite
Anyway, that was a roundabout way of getting to the point that last night we went to a rare screening of Robert Fuest's adaptation of The Final Programme (Moorcock's first Cornelius novel) at the BFI. It was being shown as part of the Flipside strand of neglected 'cult' films from the archives.

The film was fun in a swinging, pop kind of way, but apart from the vague outline and the names of the characters, it didn't have a lot to do with the book.

The real treat was a quick but entertaining Q&A with Michael Moorcock afterwards. He admitted that he disliked the film when it came out, and after he watched it again last night, it was clear that his attitude hadn't mellowed much over time.

Despite his issues with the film, he was very generous about the producers, cast and crew. His real disapproval was reserved for Fuest, who – flush with success from having directed the Dr Phibes films – mangled the material in an attempt to gain his credentials as an auteur.

The author of the Bagotbooks blog has written a report of the Q&A that I can't add much to. Hopefully a bit of video from the event will turn up later on BFI Live.

The two most memorable bits for me were Mike saying that he used to rattle off 15,000 words A DAY when he was at his most productive, and his metaphor that producing a book is like having a crap – you push it out, flush it away and get on with your life.

It was great to see Mike in good form, and I'm looking forward to going back and rediscovering his rich and imaginative body of work in the near future.

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