FEATURED ATTRACTION: Science Fiction Theatre screened Cornel Wilde’s NO BLADE OF GRASS (1970) at The Institute of Light — MON 14 AUG 2017.
Last night, Science Fiction Theatre and The Institute of Light projected dark visions of a future food-pocalypse onto the walls of North London. Speaking before the film, Abi Aspen Glencross (Future Farm Lab) cheerfully chilled the auditorium by explaining humanity’s dependence upon a small % of available food stuffs for the bulk of our calories. It seems almost everything we eat is derived from grasses of one kind or another, from the wheaty puffs in our breakfast cereals to the grain we feed our cattle. One pesky pathogen later and we could all be doomed as our food chain collapses swiftly around us. This cheery set up was cue for the evening’s throwback film.
NO BLADE OF GRASS (1970) is one of those titles you probably know about but haven’t seen, at least in a long time. For newer audiences, much of its story and imagery will have been rendered familiar by Danny Boyle’s more fondly regarded 28 DAYS LATER (2002) and its sequel (2007). Just replace the angry undead with hairy bikers – no, not those ones – and you get the same basic set up.
Unlike M. Night Shyamalan’s less than stellar efforts at making plant life terrifying (THE HAPPENING, 2008), Cornel Wilde’s trudge across the countryside makes for provocative viewing. Adapted from John Christopher’s novel, The Death of Grass, the film follows eye-patch wearing architect (Nigel Davenport) and his posh family as they escape food riots in London. Amidst the escalating fallout of the titular catastrophe, they plot a grim journey north in search of horticultural sustainability.
Fashions have changed somewhat since the early dawn of the 1970s. The film’s jumps in tone can be jarring (a detour to pick up a son from private school stretches celluloid to breaking point) and, for a domestic audience, spotting the East End’s matriarch of misery (Wendy Richard) in an early provocative role can be a distraction. It’s one of those films that, despite a strident eco standpoint, didn’t bother dragging its heels in other progressive issues, serving up slices of pure exploitation masquerading as social conscience. Fortunately, genre times have also changed and women in science fiction films can now do more than follow men’s orders or get shot/sidelined as suitable punishment (no, hold on, wait…).
Wilde throws everything at power-punching home his vision of a world in self-destruction. And some of it sticks. Brutal scenes of rape and real childbirth silenced an occasionally uncertain audience (we were warned!) and the growing band’s grim battles mostly command attention. To make things even more uncomfortable, Wilde experiments with story foretelling, environmental montages, frequent flips to negative and freeze frame spins. These in-your-face techniques either amplify the nightmare or compound the headache, depending upon your point of view.
Overall, the film’s tough love intervention in our dietary habits is worthy of repeat viewings and a more affectionate reputation amongst genre enthusiasts. We also left as fans of Science Fiction Theatre and their no-nonsense approach to intelligent programming at an affordable price. Much of their screen content might be available on disc or download but NO BLADE OF GRASS was considerably enhanced by The Institute of Light’s railway arch atmospherics, providing some of the best 4D theatrical effects outside of a Cineworld boom room (or whatever they’re called). We also like our screens to be inherently social and the company here was – unavoidable railway pun alert – first class.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
- NO BLADE OF GRASS streams on Amazon Video for rent or purchase. You can also buy it on DVD, reportedly with a scene missing that’s present on the streamed version (go figure).
- If you liked the movie, why not buy the postcard or poster from online seller and spiritual home of the sci-fi cinema club, The Space Merchants?
- Science Fiction Theatre continues each month. Follow them. They are good people.