Now is the time for nothing good

In Quatermass 2, when Lomax goes to the commissioner to share Quatermass' findings (i.e. the secret synthetic food project is a poison/destroy the human race project massive conspiracy), his superior barely looks up and acknowledges him, busy scanning over a document on his desk.  Of course, right before Lomax launches into disclosure, he notices the V-shaped scar on the commissioner's hand, indicating that he too has been infected/penetrated by another organism and is now part of the plot to ruin first Britain, then the the species.  Lomax feints a stupid question about a decision he should make, is reminded that indeed that's his decision to make, and retreats, finally convinced just how far up the corruption goes, and leaves the commissioner to his work.

What, though, is his work?

We don't get a good lingering glimpse in the film, at most a fleeting recognition that whatever he's reading consists of a series of lines of the same length.  If you freeze the film (which, of course, implies a mode of watching entirely counter to the experience available when the film was released, that is to say: a detail not "meant" to be caught), you make out that what he's reading is a repetition of the phrase:


With two exceptions.  The first line reads


which we see the commissioner check off while the camera rests on his scarred hand.

Thirteen lines down, the layout changes and we get, indented, in lower case

         (now is the time for all [here blocked by hand, but we can assume it finishes good men]
         to come to the aid of the [here blocked by wrist, but given what we know, it finishes party or            

Why is he reading this?

The phrase is a typing drill.  Sources, and chronology, are - at least on the basis of what I've found - entirely contradictory.  According to most sources, it was coined by Charles E. Weller, in its original form as "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party," to test the first typewriter in 1867 during "an exciting political campaign," which must be that of Grant's first presidential bid the following year, given its use in that context.  However, elsewhere and impossibly anachronistically, it's claimed to be derived from an October 1939 submission to The Nation by Freda Kirchaway, the relevant text of which reads:

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of democracy. We have not gone to war, and no excuse exists for war-time hysteria. Neither Communists nor even (German-American) Bundists are enemy agents. They deserve to be watched but not to be persecuted. The real danger is that general detestation of Communists and Bundists will lead to acts of outright repression supported not only by reactionaries but by disgusted liberals. Democracy was not invented as a luxury to be indulged in only in times of calm and stability. It is a pliable, tough-fibered technique especially useful when times are hard. Only a weak and distrustful American could today advocate measures of repression and coercion, or encourage a mood of panic. Now is the time to demonstrate the resilience of our institutions. Now is the time to deal with dissent calmly and with full respect for its rights.

In all likelihood, Kirchaway's text is a borrowing - and redeployment - of what was already at that time a commonplace phrase, ground into habit by repetition and clicking keys and sore wrists.  (I found elsewhere a comment thread poster speaking of how her or his mother used to write that phrase without knowing why.  Corporeal remainder, utter evacuation of what sense it might have, a set of words that should mean everything reduced to the speed your fingers can go.)

What it's doing in the film, here, seems quite obvious to me.  The plot required that the commissioner be looking over typed documents, going about his business, and what was typed and on hand on the set and "list-like" for him to look over was, in fact, a typing drill.  Unless you freeze the film, you won't make out the writing, and your attention is supposed to be riveted on the scar.  It's only when you've seen it before, and start looking for other kinds of scars and decorations and details, that your eye wanders, only when you have digital files - or a print of it - that you can freeze it and make out what doesn't matter.

As such, it is, at this level, a diagonal slash from the mode of cinematic production into a finished cinematic production.  A bit of detritus that speaks of the whole apparatus, and surging currents and eddies of money, labor, and training, that underpin the story, the scene, the commodity.

Someone was being tested for the speed of her - given its release in '57, the phantom presence of a female secretary is more than likely - typing, making sure she was up to snuff, that she could grease the wheels of the Hammer machine, just getting going, with adequate velocity and accuracy.  (We see the echo, in the film, of the persistent denigration, and exclusion from the decision-making "men's talk" of the women, who are viciously instructed to go "organize some coffee" or go look at something they already know exists, simply so that they can be out of the room while the men putatively talk important business, but mostly so that they aren't there to witness the baffled incompetence and worry of those men.)

One fragment of a duration of work that does not show itself, that scribes memos and takes letters, that compiles budgets, that organizes and orients the sub-important matter, that costs a low wage and earns a bit of money and perhaps finally takes that and goes to the movies to look at something that is at once the product of her labor and which is not given the flickering instant of screen time to be recognized as such.

And it is in this way, and in another way, that this is a center of the film, its buried fulcrum.  Obviously, it is not, and we shouldn't fetishize the minor to the point that we miss the point, shouldn't reorient the whole enterprise at the expense of the structure that is already there, shown to us, all the film's spoken and yet blurred anxieties, about Communists and foreigners, about capital and bureaucracy, about policy and grenades that aren't thrown, bodies that are shoved into air ducts and towns that do collapse, polished domes that hold the unpolished sludge that burns like what will never be nourishment.

In an act of speculation, then, we can still take it as something to be followed, even while knowing very well - and not really caring - that it "wasn't intended," because what matters at the end of the day is so rarely what was intended.  It's there, and it is its very insignificance that makes it the ragged opening that it is.

What to make of it, beyond the unwanted appearance into the paranoid fantasy of the laboring banality it requires?

The film - and above all the look of it, the pauses in conversation, the palpable drunk exhaustion of Donlevy as Quatermass - tells a few stories, some of which run counter to each other.

The brainwashed

Quite simply, you don't know what you're reading.  Your mind is elsewhere, busy with hive mind things.  Or rather, you're well aware that there's nothing that needs to be read, for the real work is being done elsewhere, it is the work that is a chemical and you exist only in order to ward off the possibility interruption of that work's accumulation.

The police do not matter

In both the Quatermass films, the police and state are disconnected, such that you can go to the police, and hope to convince their top man, even when you know that the state is corrupted.

This, however, seems to be known very well by the state and the invaders, a stain of suspicion and a mocking distantiation, such that even when incorporated into the conspiracy, the police are still kept in the dark, still relegated to reading typing drills as if they were of urgent importance.  As if the Commission isn't given anything of more importance and knows this, but can't let on, least of all to his uncorrupted underlings.  Keeping up appearances means hiding the fact that you are relegated to appearances only, at most to making sure that certain things do not appear, that they stay in the dark, a dark then held away from you.

The specificity of guns - or rather, their specific absence in the hands of police - can't but be felt here.  Our first glimpses of the zombies are of them bristling with arms, machine guns as they pop out from trees, guarding empty roads.  Therein the hint toward the broader split, of which the police-state opposition is a weak echo: between state and production, and the protection, by a extra-state armed apparatus, of the production, via state funding, of what will exterminate the bodies who nominally constitute the body of that state.

The scar common to all

The hand that wants to control is still burned, it sears without distinction.  At most, it pretends to be a mark of distinction, of being brought into the fold of those who know what's to come.  But no, it is a commonality of wounding, an accident dictated purely by a passage of a body through space, through proximity to where materials rain down and where they are made.

The mark is the same on all, it does not hide, from barmaid to bourgeois.  The face is disfigured, the sleeve tugged down to hide the unhealing, the mark of heat that also means that something has gone in and won't come out, that you cannot be the same and that the scar is at most an indication of that passage, a glancing reminder that perhaps, it was not always like this.

That's the cut of value as abstraction.  Indiscriminate, a clawing into, a consumption that was not decided.  It forms the other side of the slow burn of the production value, and its corrosive eating of time, energy, material, knowledge, a covering in order to eat away under what's covered, until nothing is left and still it burns, splattered nearby, uncontaining.

In the doubts raised, the film is the inverse of Plague of the Zombies, where the question is: wouldn't it be a lot simpler to just hire them, rather than turn them into zombies?  Here, with the "zombies" of the infected workers alongside the waged laborers, the ones who were brought from elsewhere to this place, we can only wonder why they were not infected, given that such infection is itself means and, to a degree, end of the project of planetary takeover.  And it is here that we start to wonder more about this project, and mark its major difference from other "invaders among/inside us" films.  We're given at first to assume that the meteorites are infection devices, intended to rain down and spring their alien payload onto the faces of the unsuspecting.  But, as it turns out, when the ballistics reconstruction is finished, revealing a mini-rocket, things turns, and it becomes apparent that the explosion of the aliens onto whomever(the organic vessel to be) holds their "inorganic" vessel is at most a convenient way to get a few bodies doing what you'd like them to do, perhaps even an accident, hitting an emergency exit button on the exterior, triggering the hatch from the outside like Quatermass does to his rocket in the first film.  Regardless, the emergent sense is different: "they" don't much care for people and want as little to do with our whole narrative of being taken over or not, our whole desperate last-gasp measure of making sure that even if we go down in flames (or rather, in wracked lungs and corrored skin), it will be because whatever came wanted to take us over.  Needed our bodies, saw us as the good challenge.  Post-history is marked forever more as the embattled vanquishing of us, not the casual shuffling us off to the side while they get down to business.

(As with its obvious heir They Live!, we don't ultimately get the sense that what infected us or walks undetected amongst us really needs us to get rid of us.  In both cases, the superior level of technology - i.e. that very functional space station - implies that they certainly could come down here and do this all themselves.  It's just that we're already so good at dominating one another that they may as well let us just keep doing that, albeit with a slight acceleration in the rate at which we bring about the end of the species.)

Now is the time to have joined

The sense of the meaningless phrase - the declaration that now is the time for those good on their own to to become or join or a collective organization - hangs heavy over the film.  And is ultimately brushed off as lightly as its typed version, as the camera sweeps elsewhere.  The injunction to make of the present an exceptional time, an event to happen, an emergency situation in which all good men, or just all men, join together is a moment missed, just as the camera sweeps away to other concerns of plot and nation.

But unlike that page, we do catch it before its gone, as the workers march down the road to the plant they will ultimately destroy, a torch-bearing mob with an uncertain monster and not a torch in sight.

They move steady and slow down the road, not in rage, not in exhaustion, half uncertain, checking with each other, steady.  They don't go for any reasons that would normally be designated "political", just those too familiar with the normal fuckedness of work, with the "overshot" meteors that miss the landing spot and crash through the roof, to be picked up by the woman whose face it will burn.  There's no Marxist rhetoric, no union, the word "proletariat" nowhere in sight.  They pull off an Eisenstein moment without class consciousness, and all in slow motion.  And their triumph comes not with a continued collective push, but in a time of fragmentation, members of the group who made it to the control room splitting off, believing the conciliatory lies of the bosses/management/aliens, believing that there were still jobs that could be kept rather than air ducts to be clogged.  After this moment, those who remained win the day with a spontaneous action movie stunt, bravado, plenty of infighting and accusations, and hastiness.  In short, par for the class war course.

This mob without a monster are villagers without a village, or rather, with a facsimile of a village, a cardboard factory town, to house those pulled from the slums into this new wasteland which stands just down the road from the literal ruins of the previous town.  Built in a night, holding its tongue, they work at the factory, produce food that is not food, and ask no questions.  Yet still, they can the peasant farming tools they never had in the first place when the time comes to storm the metal-domed castle.  Because if you've never been a cohesive political force ready to tear your workplace apart piece by piece, if you've never seen that film, then a piecemeal approximation of those films, becoming those whose daughters are killed, who will burn windmills and throw a body on the pyre, is the best you can muster.

And what else is possible in the face of what collectivity really looks like here, intestinal, seething, disconsolate, teetering?

Or, conversely, what the story of brainwashing, obedience, "joining the party" is supposed to look like, those "zombies" who bare and hide their scars.  Those zombies who, for all we can tell, lack a hive mind, who can't coordinate their efforts, who may succeed at speaking little when working together but who succeed at nothing else, always missing with their machine guns, always losing their guests on the plant tour, always letting the rag-tag mob get past the gate, always losing the day, always going on with it still.

For they too, like Quatermass himself, like the toppling tower of wriggling jumbles of alien life, are broken, like everyone they persist, sheerly, like that phrase itself, the worn finger exhaustion of forging ahead because the page is not full and the sentence has not come to mean anything.

The sludge

The typed page is that waste.  Ink spaced evenly enough down to make it unusable, having served the opposite of its supposed purpose: paper exists to have written on it something to be read, something to be communicated.  The typing exercise makes of paper only a record of time spent and calories burned, caught directly halfway between a practice for the fingers (which needs no paper) and a sheet to be examined for correctness (but which will not be read).

It is a production of waste, meting out the ribbon's fading, the slowly shredding and brittle tendons.

The sludge that burns, that is no food, may as well be the spill of these pages, piles of shuffled dried pulp, vats of the irrecoverable that wasn't precious to start to finish.  A churning base of economy, making what no one needs to guarantee making continue to achieve the status of need.


After all, the phrase may have been NOW IT IS THE TIME FOR ALL GOOD MEN TO COME TO THE AID OF THE PARTY.

But things are different here, common only in its shoving women to the side of the now.

For there's no time for anyone, insofar as that could mean an us.

Just a time when party means infected, inept, and driven from without.

When country means bureaucracy off the rails and a population stumbling, burning, ahead and down.

When men means only those who produce what will kill them all.

When good means all of these things and nothing more.

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