The Year of the Sex Olympics

Damn you, London 2012! Since you’ve started the amount of visitors has severely decreased, I noticed the other day – right after posting my Hunger Games review. Another ‘discovery’ was that in the previous week, the movies with the less innocent titles were looked at most (along with anything to do with Marina and the Diamonds). So by way of comeuppance, here’s my review of The Year of the Sex Olympics.

“This is the year of the Sex Olympics. Sex Olympics year.” In a nondescript but nevertheless bleak future, TV is the new King – or rather God. Thus spoke Nigel Kneale, for it is he who has written this feature. Movie might’ve been the wrong word as Sex Olympics was written for “Theatre 625”, a series of feature-length one-offs and movielike plays made for BBC2. I can’t help but wonder how the announcer in 1968 must have sounded when introducing this particular programme. Anyway, don’t get too excited: there’s no nudity and the sex is hinted at, but never much “on screen”. Some sounds and images may look erotic, but that’s mainly your dirty mind at work. We do get a look at the shows “Artsex” and “Sportsex” being made. The former looks very much like the tamer movies of Betty Page, the latter is a competition wherein couples take part. They are the Sex Olympics.

According to Kneale, Sex Olympics was a comment on both recent developments in television and a change in sexual morals. “At the time, the population explosion was a very hot topic and it was also the time when hair was on and people were saying ‘let’s put porn on stage’. So I put these ideas together and took them to their logical conclusion, using porn as a socially beneficial element that turns people into the ultimate passive audience by hooking them on a substitute for sex rather than the real thing and so keeping the population down.” (Video Watchdog n°47)
Eerily enough, what Kneale described looks surprisingly a lot like Big Brother – and don’t forget that in almost each country this “reality” show had at least one edition where one or two contestants stepped over sexual lines. In a way, the ‘sick’ thing is that I wanted to get past the sex olympics scenes to get to the couple that decides to get away from the real world to survive on a remote island – so very much like Survivor thenbecause that part of the feature seemed (and proved to be) ‘meatier’. That the couple does so is because an incident proves the test audience (which is always keenly monitored by the tv producers) reacts more to the incident than the actual show. They believed that this was because there was something hard-wired in their brains that triggered the impulses, something “emotional”. Emotions and impulses and all the words relating to them have been abandoned in this society and therefore almost forgotten in favour of some “new speak” (a yuppie-like language). But if emotions spark the viewers’ interest, then let’s bring them back. In a way, the title of “Sex Olympics” isn’t too odd: this past fortnight, there’s a good chance you’ve been glued to your television (or computer), watching a sport you’d never heard of and that won’t get any more broadcasts until Rio 2016.

The biggest drawback of the DVD is that the original footage of the show has been lost and all that remains is a B&W master. At the time, it wouldn’t have mattered much as most viewers didn’t have a colour set, but especially the outfits of Misch (Vickery Turner) seem to lack some colourfulness in their fifty shades of grey. (I believe this pun grants me an internship on Bargain Hunt.) Now this feature looks a bit like the episodes of The Avengers, not the Emma Peel era but the Cathy Gale episodes – a very peculiar B&W combination that instantly makes you pinpoint it as “1960s television”. I even spotted the occasional reflection of a camera during the show.

Never mind all that, this was all written by the same pen as Quatermass (the movies as well as the tv series) and a couple of cult movies. At the time, The Year of the Sex Olympics was well received and it’s not hard to guess why. This is a take on an Orwellian tv society set in another “Brave New World”. (That book was also sparked by questions on sexuality, but the main difference is that Huxley wrote his work at the end of the pre-code movies whereas Kneale wrote his script at a time the flower power generation was very much alive.)

Speaking of the script, that is included as an extra on the BFI release. It also features a feature commentary by Brian Cox (who played one of the producers) and an introduction by Kim Newman. If you wonder why a horror lover introduces The Year of the Sex Olympics, then stop wondering: once Ugo (Leonard Rossiter) and Deanie (Suzanne Neve) are on the island, it soon dawns upon them that the producers didn’t keep their promises (no suprises for us, 21st century connaisseurs of reality tv) and that living on their own (accompanied by a little girl) brings back a lot of emotions, which are quite frightening if you’re not used to them. (“I think that’s called despair,” a tv producer notes while observing the footage.) It wouldn’t be a dystopian tale if it was gearing towards a happy end, so expect none. Sex Olympics may start with some playful cuddling, but ends with something on the other side of the scale.

The bad news is that the DVD seems to be out of print, but that may be one of the reasons you can watch this on YouTube. Look up the title and watch it. I’ve already seen it, so I can go back to London 2012. Women’s handball and men’s 10m platform diving are up next!

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