No Blade of Grass-Movie Review

No Blade of Grass Film Review

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No Blade of Grass

Dir Cornel Wilde
UK, 1970
16mm 96 min.

Actor/director Cornel (The Naked Prey) Wilde's adaptation of John Christopher's 1956 novel The Death of Grass is an outstanding component of the ecological catastrophe cycle that colored the first half of the '70s.

Wilde's influences here vary from the post-holocaust survivalist films typified by the likes of Ray Milland's Panic in the Year Zero (1962) to the British SF trend known as catatstrophism, which includes Christopher's original text, John Wyndham's Day of theTriffids and stretches as far as J.G. Ballard (Crash). As in Panic in the Year Zero, a principled man finds himself at the mercy of a new ethic determined by dire circumstances.

Despite his initial misgivings, he soon finds himself condoning the violence of others, and then resorting to it himself. A narrator informs the audience that despite much rhetoric from world governments on the subject, by the late 1970s pollution levels around the planet were out of control, with the result that the population's supply of food, air and water was irretrievably contaminated, leading to the total collapse of social order around the globe.

London is on the verge of being quarantined, and there are rumors that the population will be gassed so as to conserve vital supplies for those 'less expendable'. A biologist, and architect and his family (including John Davenport and Lynne Frederick of Schizo and Four of the Apocalypse) are warned beforehand and make plans to escape the city, rescue the architect's son from boarding school and head North to the safety of the family farm.

Outside, the landscape is atrophied and inhospitable. As with backwoods-horror, the vengeful nature of the lower class forms a pivotal point in the narrative, and the family encounters rapists and looters in their travel who all come complete with indecipherable regional dialects - although Wilde does toy with the cliche for further effect.

Another of Wilde's innovations is his use of documentary footage, and simulations thereof -- including jump-cuts, hand-held camera and improvised dialogue -- a development of the British docu-drama movement of the '60s in which directors like Peter Watkins (Privilege, Punishment Park) rose to great prominence. A very personal project for Wilde, No Blade of Grass is one of the unsung achievements of the post-apocalypse subgenre.

Kier-La Janisse