Friday, 24 April 2020

MICHAEL MOORCOCK: 'The Final Programme' Book And DVD


 ‘The Final Programme’ was the novel that introduced 
Michael Moorcock’s multidimensional counterculture 
antihero ‘Jerry Cornelius’. It was also made into an 
intriguingly-flawed movie…


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.

There are stacks of autowrecked cars in Trafalgar Square. Amsterdam has been accidentally nuked. Jerry enters through metal gates. The chandelier has been lowered to the floor. He strolls across a giant pinball machine where Go-Go Dancers and clowns cavort within transparent bubbles, to a guitar soundtrack. Nuns play the one-armed bandits in a huge Pop Art absurdity. His dead father left a microfilm. Jerry knows that sister Catherine is under the spell of brother Francis – ‘Frank’, both siblings are in his Father’s lavish stronghold. Jerry – Jeremiah, intends to rescue her, and revenge himself on Frank, before he napalms the house.

‘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.

The film more-or-less follows the novel’s strange convolutions. Jon Finch who plays Jerry, had debuted on TV’s crime-drama ‘Z-Cars’, gone on to play Simon King in the BBC-TV SF ‘Counterstrike’ series, then played in two Hammer Horror movies ‘The Vampire Lovers’ (1970) and ‘The Horror Of Frankenstein’ (1970). He also worked with Alfred Hitchcock (in ‘Frenzy’ 1972), as well as on Shakespeare adaptations. Jerry Cornelius is an impossible role to play. To Moorcock, he resembles doomed young fin de siècle poet Algernon Swinburne, a decadent intellectual with a blasphemously ascetic appearance. In the novel he’s ‘a young man, with long, fine black hair that flowed to below his shoulders. He wore a black, double-breasted car coat and dark grey trousers. His tie was of black wool and his white shirt had a high collar. He was slim, with large, dark eyes and large, long-fingered hands.’ Cornelius is an amoral hipster, with vampiric tastes in that he feeds off energies and narcotics as well as confectionary. Faced with such a demanding template, Finch acquits himself reasonably well.

South African-born Jenny Runacre – who is Miss Brunner, had appeared in the original stage production of the controversial ‘Oh! Calcutta!’, she worked with both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in ‘The Creeping Flesh’ (1973), but could also list Pier Paolo Pasolini (‘The Canterbury Tales’, 1972) and Michaelangelo Antonioni (‘The Passenger’, 1975) on her CV. There is a scattering of familiar supporting faces elsewhere, including a scene-stealing cameo from Sandra Dickinson, and they’re all decked out with Ossie Clark and Tommy Nutter design credits. The novel’s music-references to Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band and the Beatles “Baby’s In Black” were ahead-of-the-game in 1965. Although Hawkwind had been Moorcock’s natural choice to furnish the movie’s soundtrack, the director’s preference, the Beaver And Krause duo, had a background in early electronic music, promoting the Moog synthesiser from their stand at the ‘Monterey Pop Festival’, before signing to Warner Brothers for a series of critically well-received albums, including ‘Gandharva’ (1971) with musicians Mike Bloomsfield, and Gerry Mulligan – who plays tasty sax over the end credits here.

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.’

There are pulse-flashing pseudo-epilepsy-inducing stroboscope psychedelic colour-effects as the party approach what the novel specifies as the ‘fake Le Corbusier Château’ off the Normandy coast, which is the Cornelius house (events sketched in the short story “Further Information” (‘New Worlds’ no.157, December 1965. ‘Michelson’s stroboscope (Type 8)’ is credited courtesy W Burroughs and J Colvin – ‘James Colvin’ is another Moorcock alias). It is a house armed with strange weaponry. Jerry’s palm-print scan admits them, and Brunner accompanies him up the lift to the main hall. A chessboard code from a Cornelius-composed music score opens the security door for Mr Smiles and his two colleagues (‘Mr Smiles smiled a satisfied smile’). There are electronic ‘Dr Who’ sound-effects, faintly-yellowish hallucinogenic LSD-gas, and a huge maze like a lethal ‘The Avengers’ puzzle (Robert Fuest had directed ‘Avengers’ TV-episodes, as well as set-designing for the 1971 ‘The Abominable Dr Phibes’ movie). Catherine is a Sleeping Beauty with hypodermic puncture tracks in her arm – ‘she is well turned on,’ as Jerry pursues Frank with his pressurised Sci-Fi needle-pistol. Jerry shoots at a figure glimpsed through a draped curtain, only to discover that he’s shot Catherine in error. ‘Catherine with a dart in her heart.’ Miss Brunner forces Frank to open the safe vault where the microfilm is secured – but he escapes with it. ‘See you in the next time-phase’ mocks Frank.

All is entropy, collapse, flux, with even the continuity of time itself disintegrating around them. ‘Jerry no longer had any idea whether the world he inhabited was ‘real’ or ‘false’; he had long since given up worrying about it.’ Miss Brunner muses that, for Jerry, ‘it seemed that the mind behind cried forward while the mind in front cried back.’ It’s a vision embedded in the apocalyptical New Age feel pervading the late-Sixties counter-culture, redolent of nuclear ‘Eve Of Destruction’ superpower uncertainty. It did seem to be a time of great impending change, in Pop culture, it was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. There is no new morality. There is no morality. There are no values. But Jerry looks forward to further positive disintegrations of the vanilla norm. He recognises that ‘the true aristocracy who would rule the seventies were out in force: the queers and the lesbians and the bisexuals, already half-aware of their great destiny which would be realized when the central ambivalence of sex would be totally recognised and the terms male and female would become all but meaningless.’

Michael Moorcock as 'James Colvin' reviews Michael Moorcock as EP Bradbury

Following the assault on the chateau, Jerry wakes in the ‘Sunnydales Nursing Home’. He meets Brunner again in a nightclub where he attempts to buy napalm, and there is whitewash mud-wrestling bouts going on in the background (Moorcock himself, with members of Hawkwind can also be glimpsed there), they drink industrial waste from the Beaujolais district – ‘from the right bank?’ enquires connoisseur Jerry. Then they go back to Jerry’s apartment where there’s a ‘Rare Rainbow’ poster on the wall, and a fridge-full of chocolate digestive biscuits, ‘do expect the Spanish Inquisition’ Jerry quips. There’s the louche Mick Jagger ‘Performance’ loutishness as he strides across the couch, although without the novel’s androgyny. ‘I have a plane, and a chopper’ he tells Brunner. ‘Tell me about your plane’ she counters. ‘Sod Frank’ says Jerry. Jenny (Lumley) plays the electrified piano nude, then appears to go down on Brunner. The following morning Jenny is gone. ‘Strange chick. How did you find her?’ he asks. ‘Delicious’ says Brunner.

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.

Moorcock’s writing is at its most effervescent, bubbling with playfully irreverent invention impossible to transfer to the screen. So they don’t try. Jerry seeks ‘The Testament Of Major G Newman, USAF Astronaut’ which consists of 203 neatly-numbered manuscript pages each filled with columns of ‘ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.’ The guest-list of people who attend Jerry’s months-long Holland Park party reads like an absurdist poem, ‘the late great Charlie Parker just in from Mexico under his alias Alan Bird,’ Pop groups Les Coques Sucrés and the Deep Fix (Moorcock’s own group who record the ‘New Worlds Fair’ LP, 1975), plus ‘Turkish and Persian lesbians with huge houri eyes like those of sad, neutered cats’ and on. From ambisexual to multi-sexual. Omitted from the film, the party assumes the same lavishly pointless hedonism found in Moorcock’s later ‘Dancers At The End Of Time’ tales. It’s a narrative that contrives the intricate shock of an Aubrey Beardsley sketch, with the visual assault of a Rick Griffin psychedelic poster. A soft-focus social comedy with only the most tenuous links to SF. As London is abandoned and begins to stink, with power-failures and people mutating into amorphous masses, as the seat of government relocates to Edinburgh, and ‘something is wrong with time,’ the party goes on. ‘This was a gift-wrapped throwaway age’ comments Brunner, ‘now the gift-wrapping is off, it’s being thrown away.’

‘Moorcock’s liquid-tongued epic of a world camping towards apocalypse becomes a fatally stiff SF tale’ says ‘Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia’ edited by John Clute (Dorling Kindersley, 1995). It goes on to note that ‘the film is glossily done. But the story is almost incomprehensible on screen,’ in which ‘Jerry Cornelius meets Miss Brunner, they quarrel over an Earth-threatening computer programme, have sex, and give birth to a smirking ape creature that inherits the Earth.’ John Brosnan calls the film ‘an example of style triumphant over content,’ with the multi-faced multi-purpose ambiguity and ironies of the characters reduced to ‘a series of knowing winks’ (in ‘The Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction’ edited by Peter Nicholls, Granada Publishing).

‘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.’

In the novel the setting is more elaborate, in a way that only digital imaging technology could do justice to. But in all versions, ‘DUEL’ is the ultimate computer, the most complex computer in the world, because it is fed on ‘the best brains in Europe’ which are suspended in liquid tanks. A brain-drain. The intention is to feed that ‘sum total of human knowledge’ back into a single – or dual human brain. A ‘G-Day’ process powered by solar energy stored during Lapland’s long six-week day, for what is – as Brunner explains it, a scheme to create ‘an all-purpose human being, a human-being equipped with total knowledge, hermaphrodite in every respect, self-fertilising, and thus self-regenerating, and thus immortal, re-creating itself over and over again, retaining its knowledge and adding to it.’ The Cornelius microfilm forms the enabling link.

Experimental subject Dimitri, who has a more prominent role in the novel, is the man in the isolation cube reading ‘World Mythology’. ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness’ says Brunner, ‘but the two should never be confused’, before she scrawls ‘Goodbye’ in lipstick on the transparent curve of his chamber. She first attempts to kill Dimitri in his incubator, and then she shoots him. Because Cornelius will be the preferred choice. A fusion of diaphanously-dressed Brunner and naked Cornelius. ‘Can’t you feel our bodies merging?’ says Brunner as their naked bodies roll together, devoured by yellow rippling colour-drenched effects. The movie does its best to portray consciousness-expanding supra-dimensional events on an inadequate two-dimensional screen. The equipment shatters. The scientists and suspended brains are dead. There are choral voices over the distorted visions. The original short story – which is a kind of compressed version of the novel, ends with the same fusion, ‘a tall, naked, graceful being stepped out. It had Miss Brunner’s hair and Mr Cornelius’s eyes. Miss Brunner’s predatory jaw softened by Jerry’s aesthetic mouth. It was hermaphrodite and beautiful.’ The movie also loses its nerve in failing to portray the vast lemming horde of celebrants who sweep across Europe to their own suicidal destruction, as in the ‘Acid Head War’ stories of Brian Aldiss’ ‘Barefoot In The Head’ (Faber, 1969).

‘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)

The novel ‘THE FINAL PROGRAMME’ by Michael Moorcock (March 1968, Avon Books (USA, a censored version), then October 1969, Allison And Busby hardback (UK), then 1973 Mayflower Books paperback, ISBN 0-583-11822-4, with cover art by Bob Haberfield and interior art by Mal ‘Malcolm’ Dean. ‘Preliminary Data’ originally a short story in ‘New Worlds’ no.153, August 1965, in which Jerry has a Swedish wife called Maj-Britt, the story voted no.4 best in issue. ‘Further Information’ in ‘New Worlds’ no.157, December 1965, edited by Michael Moorcock, illustrated by Douthwaite ‘The conflicting time-streams of the twentieth-century were mirrored in Jerry Cornelius’ in the assault on the Cornelius chateau. ‘Phase Three’ originally a short story in ‘New Worlds’ no.160, March 1966 in which Jerry and Brunner first travel to the Lapland caves – the issue’s lead story is ‘The Evil That Men Do’ by John Brunner (!). The short stories include sequences that are not included in the novel.


James Goddard said...

An interesting article, Andrew, thanks for pointing me to it.

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