E Pluribus Funk

I watched some old sci-fi films.

Def-Con 4 (1985) starts with a highly topical framing device.

You speak too soon, my friend. However we first get a long slow introduction to the crew of the Nemesis mission, a US space station armed with nuclear missiles. We see the crew listening to messages from home, from relatives and partners who can’t be told the truth about the mission and are moving on with their lives, though they don’t realise there isn’t going to be much more of that.

The team include tech and comms guy Howe, who also holds military rank but you have to wonder about that after seeing his performance under stress and when conducting field operations and negotiations.

The captain is Walker, who’s a bit of an asshole but does seem to be basically competent at least up until he gets eaten alive by rampaging mutants.

Medical officer Jordan, who thinks Walker is an asshole but is also totally committed to fulfilling the mission of firing missiles when necessary.

An international crisis breaks out due to Libya seizing a shipment of US cruise missiles in the Mediterranean (Libya was top baddie in the mid 80s, and also played a crucial role in the plot of Back To The Future). War breaks out down below, but the Nemesis team decide to hold off firing. They then continue orbiting, thinking about where might be a good place to land. However a signal from the ground abruptly forces them down unexpectedly.

The exact dimensions of Nemesis are unclear, since it is supposed to contain a further 4 months of rations for the crew in addition to its battery of weapons. However there isn’t much time to think about that. Drastic social change has occurred amongst the enclave of survivors in this part of the US. Howe is soon captured by weird survivalist Vinny, who also has another prisoner in his basement.

The other prisoner is JJ, the girlfriend of the leader of the encampment nearby, who has run away and is now in a complex co-dependent relationship with her “captor”, and Howe is baffled by its dynamics.

JJ’s boyfriend was Gideon Hayes, a sleek preppie whose daddy was someone important in the Defense establishment, and that’s how he knows there must be a special survival bunker to get to. He used the electronic communications controlled by daddy’s junior officer Boomer to get the Nemesis to crash down so that he could get access to the computer system which contains the vital location.

This is all jolly good fun and has a sense of its own absurdity. “How very white of you,” snarls Vinny when Howe gets the upper hand and offers him a terrible “deal”. Gideon is marvellously louche, his side-kick is obviously loving the chance to dress up in natty uniforms and twirl about.

The line “OK Boomer” would not have had any special resonance in 1985, and it turns up here innocently. If Stranger Things season 5 goes all-in as a post-apocalyptic storyline (and it seems it is going to) then it could well use this as a template. The scenes in which Hayes displays his power as a populist rabble-rouser amongst the depressed and defeated survivors, getting the astronauts sentenced to death, could be parodic of endless past and present figures. Trump would have been a very unlikely fit at the time.

The set designs are quite good at creating a world improvised out of wreckage. The soundtrack is also fine, and the disc release of this film has an interview with Christopher Young talking about his other movie work, including Hellraiser which he got after first choice Coil were considered to be lacking experience in scoring films.

For a slightly different ruined landscape,

In The Aftermath (1988) is an anime film with a live-action wrapper attached around it. We start under an orange sky, with an abstract plain that strange huge craft descend on to.

Angel is an angel who has a mission to do good in the universe and she is entrusted with a special life-giving egg by her mentor Jonathan.

The world she inhabits is a hazily cartooned cityscape patrolled by uniformed goons and weird spacecraft, but it also somehow intersect with post-apocalyptic Earth. A feather dropped by Angel transforms into a physical counterpart discovered by Frank and Goose, two masked & suited agents exploring the contaminated ruins.

The 2 explorers find dead bodies in offices and installations as they search for useful supplies.

One survivor they locate turns violent and disrupts their mission. However a helpful person turns up to aid the recovery. Meanwhile Angel has been traversing her world that exists orthogonally to this one but she can fade in and out of presence as both a physical girl and her cartoon form.

And so a magical revival of the dead world becomes possible.

“E Pluribus Funk” is the password that Boomer tells Hayes to use to get the secrets from the Nemesis computer. One of many odd details in the film where there seems to have been more invention than was warranted for a straight-to-VHS release.

2 thoughts on “E Pluribus Funk

  1. Thanks for the Def Con 4 tip. Director not only borrows from Kubrick (in the sound design of the spaceship intro), but has clearly watched some Peter Watkins (!) and Tobe Hooper too. Superb straight-to-Betamax 1980s B movie that perhaps only being Canadian allowed them to get away with. Absolutely bleak from the get-go.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Punishment Park” is indeed a masterpiece which sadly never stopped being relevant. Note an early appearance by chap who was married to Sharon Stone in the original “Total Recall”.

    What I didn’t realise when I posted this was that “E Pluribus Funk” was the title of an album by Grand Funk Railroad, which included the track “People, Let’s Stop The War”. Because of course that would be the password.


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