First things first, The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968) is not about sex. However, what it is about is even more frightening and disturbing: reality television. Writer Nigel Kneale (The Woman in Black ’89, The Stone Tape and the Quatermass character) could be called a visionary. His sneak peak at the future has turned out to be so true to life it’s a little eerie. In this future, society has become complacent and lives out their fantasies through television. Sound familiar?
In Kneales’ future, society has been divided into the low-drives and the high-drives. The high-drives control the media and run society while the low-drives are the mindless masses spending their lives being told what is good and what is bad. The Sex Olympics is essentially a show full of pornography to ensure the low-drives don’t feel emotion but live vicariously through others engaging in sex. All emotions are referred to as “tensions” and other programs are designed to ease other tensions. For example, there are programs of people eating and throwing food at each other (to tell them what and how to eat). The high-drives can see the audience and realize they are becoming bored. It’s time to liven things up and regain a better control of the masses. Tony Vogel stars as Nat Mender, a high-drive who is ready to challenge the system. An executive friend of Mender’s, Ugo Priest (Leonard Rossiter) comes up with a new challenging program called “The Live Life Show”. The audience will watch as Nat, his partner Deanie and their child begin a new life on an uninhabited island. Enter the psychopathic Lasar Opie, played by Brian Cox (The Bourne Identity and Deadwood). Apparently, it’s time to spice the storyline up a little. The result is frightening.
There are some very obvious comparisons to television shows we have now. We put normal people on an island, watch their survival and see them engage in competitions (Survivor); we watch man eat copious amounts of food (Man Vs. Food); we watch couples swap wives to see how the families interact (Wife Swap); children are forced to believe they really want to compete in beauty pageants that make them look like little streetwalkers (Toddlers in Tiaras). The list can go on and on with no end in sight. It’s cheap programming and many believe, a dumbing down of society. When one of the biggest is a show called Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, you seriously want to weep for the future of mankind. Haven’t heard of it? Count yourself lucky. It’s about a family of self-proclaimed rednecks who are need of a nutritionist, some self-control and swift kick in the behind. They push their daughter into beauty pageants, hype her up on “go-go juice” (Mountain Dew and Red Bull) and live off all the money they are making from allowing their lives to be filmed so people can laugh at them. Harsh description? Perhaps but the fact that this is real-life and not scripted is what is sad. However, it certainly sounds like Kneale’s vision of the future. Personally, I think he should be getting some royalties from Honey Boo Boo.
This BBC production received initial resistance from the notorious Mary Whitehouse. Yes, the same woman who was a thorn in the side of many Doctor Who producers in the 60s and 70s. However, she was overruled and production continued. Color programs were not common yet in the UK but it was broadcast in color. It was filled with bright, vibrant colors, which clearly came into play during the two graphic deaths. Sadly, this movie was soon lost after airing during one of the many purges BBC is notorious for. However, just as lost episodes of Doctor Who have resurfaced, so did a copy of The Year of the Sex Olympics. Unfortunately, only a black and white copy exists today, so the brilliance of the original is lost along with some of the original impact and intent. What we have now highlights the cheap production, wobbly sets and low-budget far more than it would have appeared originally. What survives is the writing and Nigel Kneale knew how to engage the audience. His vision of the future may have been a little off. Thankfully, his fashion sense wasn’t on target and life isn’t quite as bleak…yet. But it did accurately paint part of the picture right.
This is certainly worth watching but you must go in with lower expectations. The production values may bother some people and it does move along at a sometimes slow pace. But the message presented is interesting. It is available on DVD in the UK but for the rest of us, you can check it out on YouTube. Special thanks to Terry Frost over at the Martian Drive-In Podcast for bringing this almost lost film to my attention.