I saw Alain Robbe-Grillet's Eden and After in the cinema a few years back, and I left in a kind of ecstatic trance, and ever after wondered if I was going to have an experience like that in the cinema again. The Final Programme hit the same spot, despite a quite ludicrous ending Bogart quote that seemed almost like an act of self-deprecating sabotage. I walked out of the film gasping and crooning.
The Final Programme is one beautiful puppy. The story is from a Michael Moorcock novel, it's about a young man, Jerry Cornelius who, following the death of his genius plutocrat father goes off in search of a microfilm, jealously guarded by his insane brother, in a mansion full of high tech traps and also sought by colleagues. Don't take the plot too seriously though, it's something that you aren't meant to subject to too much scrutiny.
The film is an utter masterpiece of atmosphere. I have an interest in British pop art, which has been a shamefully under-recognised movement. I was just astonished to discover that this movie had a lot of the elements from it. For example the walls of Miss Brunner's house are decorated with it, including perhaps the most famous piece of the whole movement, Peter Blake's "Babe Rainbow". I had a sort of pilgrimage last year to Pallant House art gallery in Chichester where a lot of this stuff is stored. There was a Colin Self exhibition on at the time to supplement their permanent collection of British pop art (a movement that predated the American equivalent and is easily as good). His work carries this nuclear apocalyptic beauty/malaise, that you also catch in The Final Programme where characters just offhandedly mention that Rome doesn't look so good without the Vatican, or how miscellaneous other erasures have just happened. You even get Sterling Hayden making an appearance reprising his Buck Turgidson role from Dr Strangelove, only he's better here as Major Wrongway Lindbergh, and wearing lovely orange shooting glasses and (perversely) an ankh medallion!
Yup the film sure is one hell of an aesthetic treat, and apparently the design is by Fuest himself, a painter in a previous life who had exhibited at the Royal Academy (excellent preparation for a filmmaker). An example of the outstanding production design that I will mention in a moment is Miss Brunner's nightie. Miss Brunner is a wet dream of a character that you can hardly believe, tapped firmly enough into male sexual fantasy she bears comparison with Kathleen Turner's China Blue in Ken Russell's film of the same name. She is a totally sexually confident woman, absolutely gorgeously dressed and coiffured at all times, in control, who leaves the shooting to the guys, as if they were just being silly little boys. I would call her a black widow, but she's like a golden widow spider (whatever that is), she is destructive, like a Kali (Indian mysticism plays a part in the movie too), playfully sadistic and just utterly mesmerising. She appears at one point wearing a pleated white nightie, that has a crocheted openwork top with the word LOVE in the centre, with scrolls and hearts. There's no way they got that off a hanger somewhere, it's got to have been made by a pop artist, quite the most glorious thing I've seen in a hundred years. She mentions at one point that she always gets the best out of people, well she manages to convince a gorgeous associate to tinkle the ivories with baroque music whilst naked, so I can quite see her point! She has these gorgeous red curls, pink lipstick, gold eye shadow, covered in pink ruffles over a starred white tunic. Sorry to obsess, but well, she obsesses me.
The movie stars Jon Finch as Jerry Cornelius, he's like a more sprightly Oliver Reed, extremely charismatic, and I've no idea why his career didn't take off after this movie, but it doesn't seem to have. He's just hilarious as well, he walks up to a spike with some blood on it at one point, touches it and says "ah rhesus negative", ludicrous yet he carries it perfectly. He spends half of the movie eating chocolate digestive biscuits, just crazy. The movie also contains half of my favourite character actors ever, including Patrick Magee (Mr Alexander in A Clockwork Orange - the guy whose wife is raped) and Hugh Griffith (sheikh in Ben-Hur). I just can't believe what I was watching. Unusually for sci-fi the technobabble and philosophobabble actually seemed to be pitch perfect! Truly a strange experience for me, saw Dmitri at one point reading the Larousse Encyclopedia of World Mythology, one of the most splendid books in existence, something that hypnotised me as a child. It almost appeared like Fuest had made this film for me personally, even though at the time I hadn't been born.
Best of all, this appears to be on DVD!