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Showing posts from April, 2012

Max Headroom and Matters of Faith

There are three episodes of the Max Headroom series which deal either directly or indirectly with religion and matters of faith. The first season episode ‘finale,’ “Blanks,”[1] dealt with individuals who have elected to remove themselves from the computer databases of the world.  There is no official record of their existence and they are referred to as the “Blanks” of the episode title.  The plot of the story is one where the political chief executive officer,[2] Simon Peller, has decided to wage a campaign against the Blanks. Because they have no records, they don’t officially exist, and therefore have no rights.  In a later episode where another Blank is arrested,[3] we see that Blanks are matched up by a computer with unsolved crimes regardless of whether or not they actually committed them.  It’s almost as if racial profiling has gone berserk.  In “Blanks,” Simon Peller arrests and imprisons the Blanks because he finds them “untidy” and a threat to his vision of “order.” The Bla…

Characters I'd Like To See Rebooted: Chandu the Magician

Chandu the Magician is another Old Time Radio (OTR) character I'd like to see rebooted. I reviewed the series sometime ago, and it is still at the top of my favorites list. Frank Chandler is an American who goes off to study esoterica at the feet of a yogi in India for about ten years, where he assumes the alternate name of 'Chandu'. He returns to visit his sister, Dorothy Regent and her children. Dorothy's husband, the eminent scientist Robert Regent, was lost at sea before the war (this would be WWII). Frank, displaying a few parlor tricks he picked up in India, entertains the children, but eventually, the family discovers that Robert may be still alive after all. As they travel to Egypt to track down clues to Robert's whereabouts, Dorothy and her children become more and more aware of Frank's occult powers, and his ability the missing scientist. 

The adventure series was dense with secret societies, dark magic, mad science, lost civilizations, mysterio…

Future Tense

The Max Headroom television series almost invariably begins with the tagline “20 minutes into the future.” This is usually seen in a caption at the bottom of the screen superimposed over the establishing shot for the episode.  It is also, not coincidentally, the title of the UK telefilm that served (with a handful of adjustments) as the pilot for the series.
But I see it as more than just a clever indicator of the setting.  In one way, it reveals a sense of immediacy.  That is, it informs us that the society we are witnessing on the screen is right around the corner.  We are not that far off from the passage of laws banning off switches on televisions, the limitation of education for only those who can afford to pay for it, and from television network ratings determining elections.  This future is upon us and we must deal with it, the tagline subtly warns us.
The largest corporate sponsor of Network 23 is the Zik Zak Corporation.  While it maintains offices that are only slightly sma…

Characters I'd Like To See Rebooted: Rocky Jordan

As I pointed out in my review of the OTR series, Rocky Jordan is an American expatriate restaurateur from St. Louis, now the owner and operator of the Cafe Tambourine within the native quarter in Cairo, "within sight of the Mosque Sultan Hassan." The series was highly reminiscent of the film Casablanca, with actor Jack Moyles playing the part of Rocky Jordan, who can be described as perhaps "a poor man's Rick Blaine." But I'm not sure that characterization is actually fair.

 Rocky Jordan, while similar in many respects to Bogart's Rick Blaine, was a different character. The radio series made Rocky a much more well-rounded character than what appeared in Casablanca: we learn that Rocky is from St. Louis, but for some unspecified reason, he cna never go back; at one time, he operated a version of the Cafe Tambourine in Istanbul before settling in Cairo; he has a reputation for somehow being implicated in murder cases; he has a love-hate relationship wi…

Life in the Big City: Max Headroom and Metropolis

The visual similarity between Max Headroom and Blade Runneris not accidental.  Early on, in the development of the UK telefilm and later reshot for the American pilot andsubsequent episodes, the decision was made to emulate the dark, gritty, cold,urban landscape of the Ridley Scott film which has become the standard image ofwhat a cyberpunk dystopia should look like. But what is generally not discussed in the influences for Max Headroom is that this visual look isnot original to Blade Runner. Infact, there are several references that Ridley Scott, the director of Blade Runner was heavily inspired by the1927 film Metropolis.[1]
The establishing shots for Max Headroom always involve a long shot of a city skyline thatseems to be perpetually shrouded in night, or at least, near darkness.  The only lights visible are those of theoccasional streetlamp and the garish neon of the buildings and billboards.  The shot is dominated by the Network 23building, which towers over all the others, and i…

Background Noise

Much has been made of the predictive nature of the Max Headroom series.  The show has been credited with predicting things like hacking, network ‘viruses’, on-line shopping, and many others.[1]  However, some critics have also pointed out that what science fiction does best is not predicting the future so much, but either extrapolating current evens to a logical conclusion, or simply holding up a mirror to contemporary culture.[2]
So, in Max Headroom, we should not be so much looking at the technology it predicts, but the world it is showing us.  So what kind of world does it show us?
For starters, it shows us a media-saturated world.  There are televisions everywhere. And what’s more, off switches on televisions are illegal.  In one episode, a group of ‘Blanks’[3] have essentially cut the networks’ ability to broadcast programs to the masses. This results in riot conditions for the populace.  As an emergency measure, video playback units and recordings of old shows are distributed t…