South Park Self

down in space it's always 1982

I can't say that it was official Movie Club, because Rule 1 of Movie Club is that we compare two movies, however tenuously connected. However, Sunday night's spontaneous movie-watching with jo&stv did fulfil one of the secondary functions of Movie Club, which is to make us watch movies we otherwise wouldn't. I have randomly and without justification re-watched both Star Trek reboots in the last couple of weeks, in an outbreak possibly not unrelated to randomly and without justification reading rather nicely-characterised slow-burn Kirk/Bones slash I happened randomly upon, but there is nonetheless no real way I would have seen Space Station 76 unprompted. However, now I have. And I have Thoughts.

This is billed as comedy, but it's only really comedy in the blackest, most parodic sense; it's satire, verging at times on allegory, and what it most resembles is a dastardly fusion of Star Trek and The Ice Storm, supposing you'd allowed the resulting horrific miscegenation to be scripted by Chekhov, or possibly Kurt Vonnegut. (It also shares some distant, cousinly DNA with both Galaxy Quest and Pigs In Space). It's a 2014 film set on a space station in a future imagined from the vantage point of the 70s. This of course means tacky special effects, plastic asteroids, Tupperware spaceships, sexual liberation, cigarettes, and mad outbreaks of 70s boots and mini-dresses. However, it also allows for the actually quite powerful essentialising of issues - primarily sexuality and gender - through the exaggeration which inevitably happens when you view 70s caricatures through a contemporary lens. The space setting strips away extraneous detail, leaving the deeply dysfunctional relationships to enact themselves starkly against the pastel plastic of the background and the isolation of space. The film was developed from a stage play, and you can see it in its scale, its minimalism, its horrible intimacy.

Space Station 76 is quite often funny, but one seldom laughs without wincing - the humour is close to the bone, frequently productive more of discomfort than amusement. (Some of the few places where both Jo and I unabashedly laughed were the therapist-bot sequences, which are both horrendously cynical and irresistibly funny to anyone who's ever been in therapy). The cast is generally very good, despite representing archetypes rather than actual personalities (the Sad Captain, the Unfulfilled Career Woman, the Monstrous Mother); the whole thing is played with a sort of deliberate, tongue-in-cheek self-awareness which never quite allows you to immerse yourself in the characters. I say "allegory" because the whole thing is so self-consciously artificial that it positions the viewer very interestingly in a space which denies the possibility of willing suspension of disbelief: you are poised in a critical space outside the events, ejected equally by discomfort and unreality.

I wouldn't say this is a great movie, and its black humour at times is deeply unsettling, but it's an interesting one, and one I'm glad I've seen. It's really doing things that are far more sophisticated than they appear at first glance. Also, clearly, sexual liberation does not equal happiness, and in fact exaggerates unhappiness with resentment that pressing sex button A does not produce happiness at the vending machine slot as it clearly ought to. Which is clearly true today, and clearly the point.

(My subject line is David Bowie, because that's where I am in the Great Car Sound System Alphabetical Trek. Arcade Fire, Bed On Bricks, Belle and Sebastian, Crowded House, David Bowie. (Apparently all my Clash is under The rather than Clash). We're going to be here for a while. The quote is from "Slip Away", quite my favourite track on Heathen, which is sort of early late-period-Bowie. The alphabetical order of album is disconcerting me slightly as I do prefer listening chronologically, particularly with Bowie; as it is, we've gone Aladdin Sane (later early-period rock(ish) with jazz bits) to Diamond Dogs (early middle-period apocalyptic glam rock, Black Tie White Noise isn't on this mp3 player because it annoys me) to Heathen (early late-period, lord I don't know, regressive alt-rock with an electronica element?) to Heroes (late middle-period Brian-Eno-shaped Berlin Years) to Hunky Dory (early early-period folk/rock/pop/who the hell knows, at any rate I've wandered around the department all day singing "Quicksand", as one does because it's a bloody earworm of note). As whiplash goes it's rather enjoyable, in fact. Weirdly enough, I'd forgotten how much I enjoy Bowie.)