‘A VERY TASTY WORLD’:
MICHAEL MOORCOCK AND
‘THE FINAL PROGRAMME’
‘The Final Programme’ was the novel that introduced
Michael Moorcock’s multidimensional counterculture
antihero ‘Jerry Cornelius’. It was also made into an
‘THE ULTIMATE COMPUTER, PROGRAMMED BY
THE MOST TERRIFYING EVIL GENIUS
IN ALL OF SCIENCE FICTION!’
Jaunty caper music plays as nomads trek across the moody unfriendly Lapland landscape, almost as though they’re hardly on Earth at all. A Priest reads Latin as the coffin on the pyre they’ve constructed catches fire and begins to burn. This is the funeral of Dr Alexander Cornelius. Jerry leaves by helicopter. He drinks ‘Bells’ cream whisky from a plastic cup as he steers his Rolls through JG Ballard M-way structures back in England. In the Michael Moorcock novel he drives a Cadillac Convertible. In the short story he introduces himself as ‘I am a self-employed fratricidal maniac.’ One of the great character inventions of the Sci-Fi multiverse, Jerry Cornelius is a multidimensional chameleon, beyond race, gender or temporal fix. Here, he’s a foppish Nobel prize-winner, with shirt-ruffles and calf-leather gloves worn over varnished fingernails. Jerry Cornelius, as incarnated by Jon Finch, talks to Professor Hira in the magnificent ruins of the Khmer city Angkor. The Brahmin physicist tells him of Kali Yuga, the ‘eternal cycle’, in which our present long dark age – which began in the afternoon of 18 February 3102BC, is ‘about to end.’ A New Age will follow.
‘Where will you go afterwards?’ he’s asked.
‘Somewhere with a bit of sun’ he muses, ‘Cambodia, I fancy…’
This is a mad nerve-burning film with all the correct style signifiers, from brutalist Shock Art to surrealism. It teeters on the brink of a greatness illuminated by the fading nuclear glow of Swinging London. With a bigger budget, and a more visionary director – a Ken Russell perhaps, maybe it could have achieved yet greater things? For Michael Moorcock, although it was his first novel to feature Eternal Champion Jerry Cornelius, it has a more conventional narrative structure than the deliberately fragmented volumes that will follow. It first featured as a trio of short stories in ‘New Worlds’ magazine, where Moorcock – who was editor too, warned readers of its anarchic approach, ‘all we ask is that you take it in the spirit the author intended and don’t take it too seriously’ (in no.153, August 1965). Not only would the polymorphic Cornelius be reincarnated as an ‘It: International Times’ comic-strip, but other writers would be drawn into the gravitational maw of the growing mythology, with contributions from Norman Spinrad, Brian Aldiss, M John Harrison and Langdon Jones… to myself. There’s also a thesis to be written about the way this first Cornelius book retells the origin-tales of his other great fantasy antihero Elric Of Melnibone, with Jerry as Elric, Catherine as Cymoril, and Miss Brunner as runesword Stormbringer!
Moorcock throws off ideas like an angle-grinder throws out sparks, brief illuminations that detonate, some will survive through multiple rewrites, others are discarded on whim. A paragraph in the original short story, deleted from subsequent versions, suggests that Jerry had joined the Jesuits ‘after his father had found him with Catherine,’ suggesting an incestuous relationship. How readers of those first short stories reacted to their inclusion in Britain’s erstwhile premier SF-magazine must be left to conjecture, but there was certainly confusion and outrage among traditionalists, as well as raw excitement from those more attuned to its innovation. To Brian Aldiss, a co-conspirator in the literary insurrection, Moorcock ‘set out to prove to the world that we had arrived in the future’ (in his ‘The Twinkling Of An Eye’ (Warner Books, 1998). And Moorcock did that. But Aldiss also points out (in his foreword to ‘Space Time And Nathaniel’, 1966, Four Square Books edition), that ‘whatever it may pretend to do, SF is essentially a reflection of its own day.’ And Jerry Cornelius is very much that, too.
Freelance computer-programmer Miss Brunner (Jenny Runacre) wears long white furs. In the novel she’s an ‘attractive young woman with the look of a predator,’ a programmer ‘of some experience and power.’ She also has cannibalistic tendencies. Cornelius becomes the ‘random factor’ in what she terms the ‘Ultimate Joke’, which is also the Final Programme, ‘the programme for immortality’ that will form the bridge between science and Hinduism. She’s read the self-published and self-destroyed book that Cornelius wrote – ‘Time-Search Through The Declining West’, with its own built-in obsolescence, and she sees him as the ‘New Messiah born out of the Age of Science.’
|Michael Moorcock as 'James Colvin' reviews Michael Moorcock as EP Bradbury|
Brit-Blues guitar plays as Jerry and Brunner locate Frank at a rail-siding, they follow his car in an acid James Bond sequence. Frank intends selling the microfilm to Dr Baxter, but Jerry pursues him through junk and vineyard, stone ruins and along the rocky sea edge, set to brittle drum solos. Jerry shoots him. Frank falls. Gulls cry overhead. Baxter talks to Brunner, ‘of course, the inevitable happened.’ ‘It frequently does’ she agrees. She retrieves the microfilm from Frank’s pocket and screens it from a small projector. ‘Where’s Baxter?’ enquires Jerry. ‘He’s inside’ says Brunner. ‘Inside who?’ says Jerry.
‘I hate long goodbyes’ Jerry tells Brunner ‘so piss off.’ Yet they ascend in a Hot Air Balloon together, and he’s soon munching chocolate digestive biscuits in the film’s closing location, Laplab, North of Uppsala in Sweden, NW of Kvikjokk, a small village beyond Kiruna. ‘Daddy’s Summer Place’ is a lapsed underground wartime bunker complex, complete with rusting submarine, and geodesics in Lapland. Perhaps a relic of Nazi attempts to locate evidence for the Hollow Earth theory? The flip bantering dialogue continues – ‘the twilight of the gods, or humanity?’ And Jerry explains that ‘the third world war has been going on for years, but everyone’s been so busy watching the bleeding commercials they haven’t noticed.’
‘See you around, sweetheart’ the shambling beast that is the fusion of it all lumbers off into the future. ‘The New Messiah? The end of an Age. Time to start building a new one.’
It turns to deliver the final quip to camera, ‘a very tasty world.’
‘THE FINAL PROGRAMME’ (October 1973, US title ‘The Last Days Of Man On Earth’) Goodtimes Enterprises, Gladiole Films. Directed and screenplay written by Robert Fuest, from the novel by Michael Moorcock. Producers John Goldstone and Sandy Lieberson (with Nat Cohen, Roy Baird and David Puttnam). With Jon Finch (as Jerry Cornelius), Jenny Runacre (as Miss Brunner), Derrick O’Connor (as Frank), Sarah Douglas (as Catherine), Hugh Griffith (as Professor Hira), Patrick Magee (as Dr Baxter), Sterling Hayden (as Major Wrongway Lindbergh), Ronald Lacey (as Shades), Harry Andrews (as John, John Gnatbeelson, Jerry’s old servant and mentor), Graham Crowden (as Mr Smiles, the bearded banker), George Coulouris (as Dr Powys, who lives off an inheritance left by his mine-owning great uncle), Basil Henson (as Dr Lucas, casino owner), Sandy Ratcliff (as Jenny Lumley), Julie Edge (as Miss Dazzle, hermaphrodite Pop singer of ‘Big Beat Call’ hit, Mr Crookshank is her agent), Gilles Millinaire (as Dmitri), Sandra Dickinson (as night-club waitress). Music by Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause. (94-minutes). ‘A confused novel… becomes an even more confused movie, as if James Bond had ventured into fantasyland’ says ‘The Ultimate Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction: The Definitive Illustrated Guide’ edited by David Pringle (Carlton Books, 1997)