On disasters…

Cornford & Cross’s current installation at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, The Lion and the Unicorn, created from 15 tons of locally-sourced  coal as an exploration of topic of fuel, climate change and economic stability. Photo by Paul Ward. Until Jan 31 2009.


In this month’s Wired magazine, columnist Scott Brown takes a hilarious dig at Hollywood’s new obsession with environmental disaster movies.

Actually, no, it’s not that hilarious at all. It’s more just a dig, really, at the forthcoming slew of eco-conscious movies you’ll be seeing next year. There’s The Thaw (deadly parasite unleashed by melting icecaps), 2012 (eco-doom)  and Strays (nuclear meltdown). Then there are the statuatory remakes. The Day The Earth Stood Still (this time around Klaatu has come to tell us off for wrecking the planet) and Creature From The Black Lagoon, in which the seas wreak vengence on us. 

“The dopiness of so-called ecotainment – environmentally virtuous entertainment – rises in direct proportion to its message mongering,” says Scott. “Oh the hilarity!” he chuckles.

This default critical line on “ecotainment” (the neologism itself is a stinker, face it,) is interesting. The standard reaction is that the genre is a joke. Hilarity! My aching sides. Etc.

It’s entirely possible that these films will be stinkers.  Hollywood blockbusters generally are. Probably unintentially funny at times too. But while right-wing Americans believe that Hollywood is trying to foist a liberal agenda on the world, these films are mammoth investments by hard-nosed producers, so it’s interesting that the disaster-movie juggernaut believes that it can profit successfully from exploiting what is presumably a growing public anxiety in this way.

But there is also an assumption on Scott Brown’s part that the very idea of making a film that contains an environmental message is funny. 

Maybe it is.

Yesterday I posted an interview with David Lan on the main RSA Arts & Ecology site. David is a man with a reputation as one of the most remarkably creative and successful people in London theatre. As Artistic Director of the Young Vic his productions have been universally lauded.

Until last weekend. The reviews for Amazonia have been, and it’s no fun to admit this,  pretty wretched. Lyn Gardner – a consistent champion of new work – was scathing. But her review echoed Scott Brown’s default position. “The preachiness makes you long to rush out and lop down a tree,” she says.

In the interview, Lan is still trying to comprehend what triggered such a hostile reaction. He’s one of the theatre’s most experienced figures – a virtuoso of different forms, and he didn’t see it coming, he says. Now he’s wondering, did they contextualise the play well enough? Did they create enough of those subtle cues that control the audience’s expectations? Or is it just very, very, very hard to make art that says meaningful things about the great invisible beast that is the environment? Now that a critical mass of work about ecology is starting to arrive, mabye it’s time to start soul-searching about whether it’s good enough yet.

You wonder too, whether the default critical sneer that greets any work that declares good intentions too loudly is also part of it. And whether that needs rethinking too. But that’s a delicate, possibly dangerous path to go down…