Black Mirror: Bandersnatch as Techno-Gnostic Parable

Bandersnatch is the new ‘choose your own adventure’ episode of Black Mirror. Like the old Choose Your Own Adventure series of books on which the concept is based, the programme presents the viewer with numerous opportunities to make a choice about what the character should do in a particular situation. Dependent on these choices, a number of different outcomes are possible. Bandersnatch was made possible by Netflix’s development of its Branch Manager software, a tool that allows for branching narratives that can loop round and lead to different endings. From Variety magazine: “Bandersnatch comes with five possible endings. Viewers who choose the quickest path, and decide against any do-overs, can make it through the film in around 40 minutes. The average viewing time is around 90 minutes. Altogether, there are over a trillion unique permutations of the story.”[1]

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LTC Rolt’s Sleep No More

The ghost stories of LTC Rolt are less well known than those of MR James and are in some respects a little derivative of the master but they deserve to be read for the way that they depict a sinister, supernatural presence in the industrialised landscape. Rolt himself was an historian who wrote biographies of some of the leading figures of the industrial revolution and he was also an engineer, classic cars enthusiast and a railways and canal preservationist, so his love of the technics of industry is well attested. In some ways this simply throws the horrors in his stories into a sharper relief because he writes often of malign agencies that haunt the sites of such industry: railways, mines, canals, and so on. It could be argued that Rolt was one of the first edgelands writers, as his stories hone in on those sites where human industry abuts nature. But for Rolt, it is not so much the machinic automatism of the industrial age that gives birth to the horror but rather the disturbance of a prior site of numinous power.3566146 Continue reading “LTC Rolt’s Sleep No More”

Cam: Invasion of the Avatar Snatchers

Cam is a movie about identity and about what identity has come to mean in a posthuman world. It tells the story of Alice who works as a cam girl on the Freelivegirls website. Alice goes by the screen name Lola and is fixated on improving her position in the popularity rankings. In pursuit of popularity she has developed an unusual line in staging odd, spectacular events; we see her slit her throat with a knife in an SFX staging of her on screen suicide. Despite having this particular sort of niche appeal, she is obsessed with her popularity and so breaks one of her performance rules and agrees to perform a show with another cam girl and use a masturbatory device in order to climb the rankings. The next day Alice is unable to log in to her account at Freelivegirls. To her horror she finds that ‘Lola’ is currently performing live and, when she is assured by the unhelpful help line that it isn’t possible for the site to play recordings of Lola’s old performances, it becomes apparent that something has taken over Lola’s Continue reading “Cam: Invasion of the Avatar Snatchers”

Inside No. 9: Dead Line

The live broadcast of BBC 2’s Halloween special of Inside No 9, Dead Line, has already become a classic of creepy, event television that is widely thought to rival Ghostwatch. Of course, the hoax elements of the broadcast, the fact that it successfully fooled viewers into believing that it was beset with technical problems, is what has led to it receiving such attention. But there was more to the episode than good natured trolling of the viewer. Specifically, the content of the episode was a really interesting take on the haunted, even hauntological, nature of television as a medium.

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A Journey to Avebury

I have been refamiliarising myself with Derek Jarman’s 1971 short film, A Journey to Avebury, in a newly remastered version by Phil Barrington. Full details of the remaster and of the soundtrack by Coil can be found in Barrington’s excellent essay on the project here.

A Journey to Avebury was filmed in 1971 and it feels both of its time and timeless simultaneously. The landscape around Avebury is a sort of huge time machine anyway so the sense of temporal dislocation is already present in the land itself. But Jarman’s film brings something else to this ritual landscape. Even so long ago as 1971, Super 8 was an old fashioned, essentially obsolete film medium. Jarman used it often and his particular way of employing Super 8 seemed to be focused on drawing attention to the medium itself. That is to say, his films were never meant to be a window onto a story; he opposed the notion that film could be a neutral medium. He was aware that the medium itself was already deeply implicated in whatever was being communicated. His use of Super 8 would often draw attention to the fact that film always exists within an ideological context which it has itself contributed to, and his oneiric, occult films were interventions in a wider struggle for (and against) control, with all of the connotations that William Burroughs brought to that word. Continue reading “A Journey to Avebury”

Alan Garner: Where Shall We Run To? A Memoir

In a recent counterblast essay Will Self wrestles with the nefarious influence of online technologies on the health of the literary novel. He suggests that the increasing numbers of both readers and writers of novels is not the cause for celebration that it is so often trumpeted as. Instead, he argues that the current state of literature is witness to a deep shift in the way that literature is employed by both reader and writer; that the novel has been subtly influenced by the ubiquity of social media and other online diversions; and that the novel is no longer the supreme medium in which to forge new ideas. Self suggests that the novel has become infected with something of the narcissism of social networking, so that it is no longer the space of solitary, individualistic rumination that it once was (just as, perhaps, poetry is no longer emotion recollected in tranquillity, but emotion performed in public). Questioning whether the growing numbers of novel writers is a good thing, Self writes:

“Maybe it is, but it’s not writing as we knew it; it’s not the carving out of new conceptual and imaginative space, it’s not the boldly solo going but rather a sort of recursive quilting, in which the community of writers enacts solidarity through the reading of one another’s texts.”[1]

Leaving to one side the gendered character of the polarity expressed here (carving versus quilting) it’s a sharply observed and timely comment on a publishing industry that seems to wax fatter and fatter whilst hefting less and less weight. At the very least we can agree that our collective expectations of the literary novel have changed in recent years, as culture (in the Anglophone Western world, at least) has sought to redefine (or destroy) the idea of the canon. Things that were once unsaid are now proclaimed loudly, and that which was once taken for granted is now interrogated and deconstructed. At the heart of Self’s critique hangs the suggestion that the novel’s evolution into new territories comes at the expense of an increasingly formulaic groupthink.

One writer who seems to buck this trend is the English novelist Alan Garner. As his writing career has progressed, his work has become more and more unusual and less and less concerned with contemporary literary trends, and yet his stature as a great novelist has only grown. His latest book, Where Shall We Run To? A Memoir, is a testament to his restive approach to writing. Autobiographical writing has become a lucrative genre of late, filling the shelves of WH Smith with innumerable perfect-gift hardbacks whose contents run the whole gamut of human experience from A to B. Typical of Garner then to deliver a memoir that is wholly atypical of this trend. Where Shall We Run To? tells a series of stories in a child’s register and from the same child’s perspective. But unlike, say, Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, there are no flamboyant markers of this perspective, no sense of forced, infantile language. It is the perspective of a quiet and thoughtful child, and his character and personality are conveyed through the means of his simple and direct words, rather than through retrospective description.

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The House that Bled to Death

The House that Bled to Death is the fifth instalment of the 1980 TV series Hammer House of Horror. It’s an admittedly lurid piece but it ultimately transcends this through a sharp reversal at its conclusion. And, whilst it is at one level a straightforward haunted house thriller, it also has interesting things to say about a particular moment at the beginning of the 1980s when the dream of home ownership was a very live issue. The House that Bled to Death adds a very dark twist to this dream.

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