“In the 1970s there was a curious mini-genre or gathering of doom laden apocalyptic, dystopian science fiction films, which warned of the dangers of ecological collapse, the depletion and battle for vital resources, out of control population growth and related ways citizens might be controlled and manipulated.
You could include Z.P.G. (1972), Soylent Green (1973), Silent Running (1972) and The Omega Man (1971) in amongst these, possibly in a more crowd and eye-pleasing way Logan’s Run (1976) and you could draw a line from them to later British television series along similar lines such as Noah’s Castle (1979), which also dealt with the effects of dwindling resources and the resulting societal breakdown.”
“No Blade of Grass (1970), based on John Christopher’s The Death of Grass novel from 1956, was another such film.
This is a surprisingly bleak, brutal film (admittedly with some inappropriate almost sitcom-like music here and there and longstanding UK sitcom and soap opera actress Wendy Richards as a slightly out-of-place comic female character) about what happens when a new strain of virus kills the world’s grass, related plants and crops.”
“The title frames show a lone group of figures armed and on the run on a parched, cracked landscape, set against images of pollution and decay, which are soon followed by scenes of abundant food and conventional affluent middle class ways of life.”
“In the 1970s it often seemed to be wild gangs of bikers who were the recurring societal bogeymen that would take over when civilisation collapsed (John Christopher’s 1968 novel Pendulum novel takes a similar line, while the 1973 film Psychomania sees the bikers become undead countryside hoodlums).”
“Meanwhile those sometime symbols of bucolic English pastoralism, the good old tweed clad country farmer and the stone farmhouse become almost Deliverance (1972) style hijackers and scenes of troop insurrections.”
“While in the cities the dependable British bobby has become an altogether different gas mask wearing, gun-toting symbol of authority.
The spires of a land forever England now merely act as a backdrop to the chaos.”
“Although in some ways quite a mainstream, possibly even exploitation piece of cinema, throughout the film there are quite non-mainstream moments, presentation and commentary on what has led the world to this place: the action will stop and be replaced by non-narrative sequences and stills that show fields full of carrion, rivers strewn with dead aquatic life, smokestacks framed by leafless nature, rows of discarded cars are pictured on riverbanks, a luxury car is shown abandoned in the countryside as an advertising voice over says “You can do anything in a Rolls-Royce” while the almost unnoticeable specs of citizens fleeing the rioting and looting mobs in the cities can be seen on the hill behind it.”
“Z.P.G. (which stands for Zero Population Growth) is not as overtly apocalyptic, more being a depiction of a dystopian-regulated future. It was inspired by Paul Ehrlich’s factual 1968 book The Population Bomb which warned of the potentially disastrous effects of mass resource depletion due to overpopulation, with a screenplay by Frank De Felitta and Max Ehrlich (the second of whom also published a novel based on the screenplay called The Edict in 1971 prior to the film’s release).”
“The film seems reasonably obscure and overlooked but is somewhat intriguing, not least because of the cast which includes Oliver Reed, past his peak but still full of a glowering, brooding power, Geraldine Chaplin who is the daughter of bagged trousered celluloid tumbler and sometimes dictator botherer Charlie Chaplin and the bewitching, almost otherworldly luminescence of sometime The Wicker Man (1973)/Summerisle inhabitant Diane Cilento.”
“The setting is a massively polluted, smogbound Earth where natural childbirth has been banned for 30 years in order to try and preserve resources, with those who stray from these rules being punished in a particularly draconian manner as it results in execution, which slightly surreally and unsettlingly involves plastic domes printed with the word “Transgressor” being used as traps which are spray painted pink to hide the inhabitants who are then left to run out of air.”
“Couples are offered robot child substitutes, in a way that seems prescient of Japanese electronic Tamagotchi toys where the users had to nurture a digital pet but without giving away too much, not all citizens are obeying the “no children” edict.”
“As a film, it is a good representation of a point in time when downbeat bleakness was often presented as part of mainstream entertainment, possibly reflecting the troubled times of the 1970s and the collapse of post-1960s utopian dreams…
It contains elements of B-movies and action movies but also possesses a certain intelligence and investigation within its genre tropes that put the viewer in mind of Planet of the Apes (1968) and the sense of “What have we as a species done?”.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 28 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside text extracts from the chapter:
Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.