DVD region 2. Momentum.
Fiction has, over the last few years, developed into one of
the UK’s leading fantasy literature events – a great
gathering of science fiction, fantasy and horror writers that
now takes place over two days at Derby’s impressive Quad
This year, the event had expanded to include film screenings,
organised by Mayhem, and it was
with Mayhem men Chris Cooke and Gareth Howell that I headed over
to Derby at 9am for the start of what promised to be a long, though
After negotiating nightmarish traffic that suggested the entire
population of Derby was fleeing the city and avoiding the exhibition
of police, fire and ambulance services that also gave the city
centre something of an apocalyptic feel, we arrived at Quad, had
a caffeine boost and then settled in to watch the first film show
of the day, the classic BBC ghost story The Signalman.
Of all the BBC’s Ghost Story for Christmas
stories produced throughout the 1970s, this is probably the best
known – it’s certainly the one most often shown –
and rightly so, as the story of a ghostly figure that prophesies
disaster has aged rather well, losing none of its creepy effectiveness.
Shot entirely on film (something rather unusual at the time for
British TV), it also looked good on a cinema screen.
The film was introduced by Ghostwatch writer
Stephen Volk, who also appeared on the only panel I managed to
catch at the event. Throughout the weekend, the festival was host
to assorted panel discussions and reading, on subjects as diverse
as ‘is there anywhere new for science fiction to go?’
and ‘is the ghost story dead?’, but the one that seemed
most interesting to me was the scriptwriting panel, where Volk,
Mark Chadbourn, Paul Finch, Jonathan L Howard and Robert Shearman
discussed the problems of trying to write genre material for British
television, and which included the memorable phrase “it’s
like riding a merry-go-round where the horse is trying to fuck
that panel, it was time to negotiate the streets of Derby in search
of food and beer, before returning to the Quad for more beer and
a screening of Cat People (the 1944 version)
and Curse of the Cat People. At least, that was
the plan for some of our party, which by now had expanded to the
full Mayhem crew. However, I didn’t much fancy either film
and so popped out to a couple of ridiculously huge local pubs
before heading back in time for the much anticipated midnight
preview showing of Hobo with a Shotgun.
The screening of the film got off to an inauspicious start, with
projection difficulties causing the film to be stopped mid-credits
and the audience told to move to screen two, where thankfully
the film played without a hitch.
I feel I should watch this film again to fully make up my mind
about it – but on the basis of this viewing, admittedly
filtered through beer goggles, I was less than impressed. For
all it’s alleged ‘grindhouse’ feel, the film
seems closer to a mid-1980’s, somewhat reactionary and right-wing
action movie that could’ve easily been made by Michael Winner
during his Death Wish sequel period. Now, if
you like that sort of thing, fair enough – but to me, it
seemed too close to the sort of terrible films Rutger Hauer found
himself starring in after the glory days of The Hitcher
and Flesh + Blood began to fade. A shame, because
I really wanted to enjoy this – and who knows, maybe I’ll
reassess it when I see it again. For now though, it feels like
a major letdown.
Alt. Fiction continued the next day (in fact, it's taking place
as I write this), without me – tempting as the rare showings
of Tom Baker reading Nigel Kneale’s The Photograph
on Late Night Story and acclaimed 1972 story
The Exorcism (from the Dead of Night
series) were, a second trip to Derby was not something I really
felt up to.
As an event, Alt. Fiction has much to recommend it – and
the addition of film screenings certainly expanded its horizons.
If I have a criticism, it would be that, like some other literary
events, it feels a little insular – I suspect that most
people attending the events were either fiction writers or wannabe
fiction writers; there’s little evidence to suggest that
there are festival goers who are simply fans, in the way you’d
find at a film event. I’m not sure why this is, or if there
is anything that could be done to change that - perhaps more promotion
outside the writing commity - but as it stands, the festival might
seem a bit intimidating for anyone who doesn’t know anyone
else there. And that's a shame, because I suspect there is much
here to interest the reader who has no ambition to write but is
nonetheless a fan of the genre.
That observation (and it is an observation, not a criticism)
aside, Alt. Fiction actually has plenty to offer, and is certainly
worth a visit next year for any fan of genre literature.
In the interests of fairness - given that I'm not entirely convinced
that my comments of Hobo with a Shotgun are an
entirely valid interpretation of the film - here's what Chris
Cooke had to say:
part of that horrible Grindhouse 'brand' of course,
but the film transends that and is a sincere up-turning of the
very things you criticise it for, in my opinion, and though a
reference of ...80's films it has much to say about inequity and
inequality - while being fun, mental, addled and entertainingly
surreal - The Plague are ace, a mad creation: And Hauer channels
Olmi (Legend of the Holy Drinker, surely his
greatest performance?), while describing what would happen if
you ever hugged a bear. Great film!!