Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Strange Encounters: Paranoia and British Science Fiction Cinema #scifi #fantasy

(Partnership event with Café Scientifique)

Jade Verbick writes:

As a fan of everything science fiction, I enjoy nothing more than a scintillating conversation on the relationship between culture and works of science fiction, and the impact they have on each other. The wide-spanning genre is often disregarded or dismissed altogether when discussing culture and the arts, but science fiction is an important way of gauging the fears held in contemporary culture. 

Robert Shail
Robert Shail, Professor of Film and Director of Research at Leeds Beckett University, expanded on this theory in his talk about the unique anxieties that influenced post-WWII British science fiction cinema. Referencing such classics as The Village of the Damned and The Day of the Triffids, Shail discussed the very British fears of children, women, and nice weather. While, disappointingly (and perhaps a slightly bit ironically), we were not able to see a visual representation of the films he mentioned due to technical difficulties, Robert Shail’s discussion on science fiction films of post-war Britain was insightful and animated. 

His passion for science fiction film shone through in his brilliant analysis of classic science fiction film and literature. His talk helped open a wider conversation about the lasting legacy of science fiction and what it might represent in our contemporary society. Robert Shail gave a talk that will likely stick in his audience’s minds for a long time to come.

Tamsin Scott writes:

When headed to Robert Shail’s talk on science fiction, I honestly had no idea what to expect. My only experiences with Science Fiction so far have been my step-dad’s unyielding attempts to make me watch Blade Runner, which, in spite of all his efforts, I have still not seen. Despite not quite being the target audience for Shail’s 1950’s based talk, I was so completely engaged with his ideas that I begun to view myself as an elderly man who had lived through the fears of the post war years. His clear, humorous presentation guided us through both time and place, starting with US films and their focus on the Red Scare, making his way towards UK films and the fears present in suburban Britain.

At multiple points throughout the presentation, I was struck by the relevance to today’s science fiction. As it turns out, women and youth have been universally feared for centuries, which is surprisingly quite an ego boost for a 20 year old woman. Although I hadn’t seen many of the films Shail spoke about, the concepts were easily relatable to the sci-fi films I have seen. Issues such as untrustworthy women and a new generation that can’t be understood are still present in today’s society, and are equally as obvious in modern films. During the question and answer session at the end of the presentation, Shail answered multiple questions about the future of science fiction. He stated that due to Netflix and YouTube, we may see a return of the B movie, and thus realistic, widely representative fears that are not Hollywood giants but instead capture the charm of rural Britain.

YOU'LL NEVER BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS IN THIS TRAILER - for the Hammer Film version of Quatermass and the Pit - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Zoz9MN0-Y4

Audience Comments

Really enjoyed it.  Very interesting guest speaker.

Despite the problem with the projector the talk was illuminating and very interesting

Interesting talk and discussion.  Pity the film clips couldn't be shown

Very illuminating talk

Excellent despite the technology failure. A very good talk in spite of technical hitches – and interesting discussion points

Given the failure of the AV equipment the speaker was excellent

A very interesting talk but it was a pity about the lack of video

Excellent! And despite lack of projector

Very interesting even though let down by technology


Liked the comparisons between British and American SciFi movies - and his assertion that Star Wars changed everything.

And here's the message passed on to its members by Café Scientifique:

Information for Followers of Headingley Cafe Scientifique

Dear All,

Thanks to all of you who attended the last Cafe Sci meeting - "Strange Encounters" by Robert Shail. As will recall, this was put on in conjunction with Headingley LitFest and we had a bit of a technology failure in that the projector refused to work. So, thanks again to Robert for coping with all this and still delivering an interesting and thought provoking discussion.

Robert has kindly passed on his Powerpoint presentation which contains some graphics but also some links to the clips he would have shown but did a great job in explaining everything verbally.

Café Scientifique Headingley is a programme run under the auspices of the Headingley Development Trust

Headingley Development Trust Ltd 


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