Monday, November 2, 2009

Pandaemonium: A Film Proposal

'From Birmingham to Wolverhampton, a distance of thirteen miles, the country was curious and amusing; though not very pleasing to eyes, ears or taste; for part of it seemed a sort of pandemonium on earth - a region of smoke and fire filling the whole area between earth and heaven; amongst which certain figures of human shape - if shape they had - were seen occasionally to glide from one cauldron of curling-flame to another. The eye could not descry any form or colour indicative of country - of the hues and aspect of nature, or anything human or divine. Although nearly mid-day, in summer, the sun and sky were obscured and discoloured; something like horses, men, women, and children occasionally seemed to move in the midst of the black and yellow smoke and flashes of fire; but were again lost in obscurity. A straggling boy or girl was at times seen in the road, with uncombed, uncut hair, unwashed skin, and naked limbs, which appeared as if smoke-dried, and encased with a compound of that element and soot...the surface of the earth is covered and loaded with its own entrails, which afford employment and livelihood for thousands of the human race'.
John Britton, Autobiography (1850)

There is, rather astoundingly, no great (or, it would seem, even not-so-great) film about the industrial revolution, something which is rather odd, considering what happened in those 50 or so years had more lasting effect on the future development of the human race than practically anything else before or since - so we can only assume the fact it hasn't appeared on screen is because of some strange unconscious prohibition on representing our primal scene. There are countless films about either working industry or what happens to the industrial when it de-industrialises, and several films set in the period (1790s to 1850s, roughly) where it occurs for the first time - all those Jane Austen or Dickens adaptations, they all take place at the same time that the modern world is being created in Cottonopolis, while Bill Douglas' Comrades, about the Tolpuddle Martyrs, might be connected with the birth of the labour movement, but necessarily not in the crucible where 'new-fangled men' were formed (is this a question of expense, I wonder, or based on the lasting English suspicion of the cities we nearly all live in?). So, a proposal for any lurking film producers. The film is called Pandaemonium and is partly based on Humphrey Jennings' book of 'images' of the Coming of the Machine, though intimate knowledge of volume 1 of Capital and Francis Klingender's Art and the Industrial Revolution will be assumed.

It'll be filmed in Cottonopolis, obviously (it can be Rochdale or Stockport or the West Riding if the rent in Manchester is too high), with some scenes in the aforementioned Black Country, but there will, emphatically, be no social realism, no Hovis advert moments, with absolutely nothing picturesque, rather the sublime. It'll be based on contemporary descriptions, which are as far from 'realist' as could be imagined - so there will be small armies of women and children attached to vast power-looms, mills more vast than any building previously imagined (Schinkel sketching 'the architecture of the future' can feature in), there will be rivers and canals dyed satanic colours, the sun blotted out by the accumulated smoke. The main characters will participate in riots and secret societies, and die before they turn 20 (as they would have done). The sets will take an idea from Klingender, that John Martin's illustrations to Milton's Paradise Lost, specifically of Pandaemonium, the palace of the devils, were based on seeing the birth of the industrial world; ie, it will be based on the paintings attached here. There will be lots of CGI fiddling about, lots of imaginary sets, no historically faithful use of original lighting or contemporary technologies - instead, the sheer unprecedented nature of the new world will be stressed. It might be difficult finding actors who don't mind just being the appendages of giant machines, but otherwise this is surely a guaranteed hit, and I'll only require a Monsieur Verdoux-style 'from an idea by' credit at the start...

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