There’s an oft quoted line about Scotland‘s football team how they manage to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory. It’s a line that does in many ways reflect the Scottish character, as we can often appear a nation of heroic failures, rather than an empire building super power.
Cammell was the son of the poet and writer Charles Richard Cammell, who had written the biography of Aleister Crowley. Born in Castlehill, and not Edinburgh Castle as he would later claim, the young Cammell was considered a child prodigy and by the 1960s had established himself with London’s Chelsea set as an artist, illustrator and portrait painter. By luck and connections he started writing movie scripts and soon co-directed his first, and most legendary film ‘Performance‘.
‘Performance‘, which starred Mick Jagger and James Fox, should have made Cammell a major star but the film was quickly disowned by its production company, was considered obscene, violent pornography and described by one critic as “the most completely worthless film I have seen since I began reviewing.” What should have been a victory, was an unmitigated disaster.
It took Cammell seven years to make his next movie, the sci-fi thriller, ‘Demon Seed’ – a highly provocative and intelligent film. Again, it should have established Cammell as one of the world’s great cinematic auteurs, but Fate was to play a damning role.
Based on the best-selling novel by Dean Koontz, ‘Demon Seed‘ speculated on a computer, Proteus IV, impregnating a woman to create a living hybrid of man and machine. A bit like ‘Rosemary’s Baby‘ except with a computer. Cammell had major studio backing and his star was Julie Christie, was at the height of her fame, with a series of film hits including, ‘Shampoo‘, ‘Don’t Look Now‘ and her Oscar nominated performance in ‘McCabe and Mrs Miller‘. He even had Robert Vaughn as the voice of Proteus. With such talent on board, it seemed Cammell was destined to make a brilliant film and at last achieve the success he deserved.
But no. After years of preparation, and just as the film was released in 1977, a new sensation swept all before it, which made ‘Demon Seed’ look cheap, dull and boring. George Lucas‘ ‘Star Wars‘ changed film, cinema, TV and the way an audience responded to entertainment for ever. As Cammell’s film disappeared, ‘Star Wars‘ conquered the world.
The failure of ‘Demon Seed‘ marked a cultural shift in cinema, the end of an era if you like, for Cammell’s movie was the last of the great, intelligent speculative science fiction films. True, there would be the occasional movie like Ridley Scott‘s ‘Bladerunner‘ or, David Cronenberg‘s ‘Videodrome‘, but cinema and its audiences demanded the sensations that ‘Star Wars’ delivered, and the sound and fury of the summer blockbuster was born.