The Day The Earth Caught Fire…Is Now
Phew, what a scorcher! The second hottest day in history may become the hottest tonight as the temperature is still rising at currently just over 38C – no, I have no idea what that is in Fahrenheit, a system still clung to by papers like the Mail and Express. I’m not there, mercifully, as it’s usually accompanied by high humidity, and although we’re hotter here in Barcelona it’s a dry heat and they’re adapted to it – the walls of my flat are about two feet thick and the shutters keep it cool even in midsummer.
Only 3% of British homes have air conditioning, compared to 90% of the USA – we don’t particularly like it and think it’s wasteful, and besides we wouldn’t use it for 80% of the year.
Luckily London has always had parks and lidos, although now the city population is up to almost 9 million, they’re becoming overcrowded in summer. That’s the Oasis pool in Holborn in both shots above, still going strong after all these years – I seem to remember it appears in the film version of Joe Orton’s ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’. The pool has cropped up in a number of postwar photographs lately, and the most noticeable thing is that there are no overweight sunbathers – the wartime diet apparently having levelled out the nation’s fatties and skinnies to a single healthy norm.
I was chatting to Christopher Priest about the global emergency and how everyone is powerless to do much about it without global consensus on emissions. He’s been researching the subject and it’s not good news. But we’re over-familiar with worst-case scenarios and have learned to ignore them.It seems utterly incomprehensible that our leaders have walked away from practical solutions.
Meanwhile, the perfect film for this kind of weather is the remastered widescreen BFI version of ‘The Day The Earth Caught Fire’, which shows us a lost world of newsprint and deadlines as Fleet Street’s Daily Express, not so eye-swivellingly rabid back in 1961, tries to keep up with cataclysmic climate events occurring around the planet. Rather like John Wyndham’s ‘The Kraken Wakes’, we see the apocalypse unfold at ground level, as distant events are reported by hacks, barmaids and switchboard operators.
There’s a nice use of London locations too, from the old Battersea funfair to Fleet Streets offices, printing presses and wine bars, although the overhead shots, especially a special-effects fog rolling up the Thames, now look cheap. Still, it’s a thoughtful SF film that boasts an award-winning screenplay, gritty characters and a vision of end-of-days London that really burns. It’s also extraordinarily prescient, foreseeing the approaching disaster, along with floods, food riots and societal breakdown.
It’s also hard not to notice alcoholic reporter Edward Judd’s condescending attitude to stunning Janet Munro, whom he calls ‘dear’, ‘sweetie’ and ‘darling’ before pestering her into bed. Luckily Wolf Mankowitz’s screenplay allows her to get him back; she slaps him until his ears ring and he shapes up.
I saw the film on a cold winter’s day when I was a child, but the end image is the lasting one that haunts me to this day. The two pre-prepared newspaper headlines, WORLD SAVED and WORLD DOOMED – and the searing shot of Edward Judd (a true gentleman I once met at a party and probably bored to death with my fanboy gushing) walking down an orange-tinged Fleet Street, its tarmac melting in the sun, is a true Ballardian moment.
As we shall all see soon enough.