The Medusa Touch – Jack Gold (UK 1978) Richard Burton – Lee Remick

The Medusa Touch – Jack Gold (UK 1978) Richard Burton – Lee Remick

adrin neatrour writes: Jack Gold’s Medusa Touch has a simple enough plot structure. The protagonist John Morlar is a man who believes that he is able to induce catastrophe by actively imagining the event. Like some modern theme parks, certain movies feel like psychic rehearsals for disasters and calamities yet to come. 
The Medusa Touch – Jack Gold  (UK 1978)  Richard Burton – Lee Remick  
Viewed – Star and Shadow Newcastle – ticket price £4-00

Crystal balling
Jack Gold’s Medusa Touch has a simple enough plot structure.  The protagonist John Morlar is a man who  believes that he is able to induce catastrophe by actively imagining the event.  His murder kicks off a police hunt thriller, headed curiously but entertainingly by a Parisian tec on loan from the Deuxieme Bureau. The action is relayed via flashbacks to a series of psychiatric sessions in which Morlar is being treated for his ‘delusions’ by the coolly costumed Lee Remick. 
Like some modern theme parks, certain movies feel like psychic rehearsals for disasters and calamities yet to come.  The Medusa Touch  disguised as a run of the mill thriller anticipates the development of forces already evident in the societal matrix predicting the evolution of their logical spiralling expanding trajectories.  In its connecting of individual alienation from and anger with the prevailing social body Jack Gold  draws forth a thread of understanding that in a sense prepares us for a present lived in atmospheres of fear and insecurity brought about by such ties.  The fictive material of the Medusa Touch  featuring  sabotage of commercial flights and nuclear power stations, and the collapse of  public buildings, prepares the way for its audience to develop  those psychic states necessary for life in the 21st century.    When the technical bases of our civilisation and culture are turned against us and used as the basis to harm and even destroy us a whole new range of predispositions emotions and attitudes are evoked in society.  The Medusa Touch reads as a film that is pre-sensitised to this necessity. 

What is interesting is that the underlying motivation of the main character John Morlar is moral.  Richard Burton morphs from his role as the angry Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger (1958) into the role of John Morlar a middle aged man literally possessed by anger.  Although both performances may be unidimensional, it’s a broad banded dimension and Burton who nursed a clenched fist of fierce anger in his belly makes of his portrayal of anger a real felt thing.  Burton knows rage and how to locate it in his performance. Morlar’s anger is triggered sustained and vented as a coherent statement that indicts what he perceives as a corrupted culture.  Morlar’s response which is intentional but at the same time uncontrollable, is to punish us for our arrogance and smugness: to make us suffer for our overbearing pride and to destroy us should we not see the intolerable nature of our lives.   Wrapped as an individual aberration with the trappings of a paranormal explanation (the telekinetic talents of Ted Serios and Mme Kulagina feature prominently) the Medusa Touch describes a moral revolt against a sick culture.  It portrays an individual and enraged terrorism that has no political agenda, and unlike the hokum of Batman and his ilk or inflated gangster/redemption movies such as the Die Hard series, there is no issue of personal gain.  The issues for John Morlar  are simply a distilled righteous moral rage.  A moral rage of such amplified intensity that he is forced into acts of large scale and widespread destruction without compunction or concern or compassion for any victims. The Mantra:  all are responsible all are guilty all will suffer.

The Medusa Touch of course takes up borrows and develops from contemporary developing responses by individuals to what they saw as the West’s arrogance and deeply inlaid corruption.  The ‘70’s see the rebirth of individual terrorism that legitimises extreme actions in the name of morality.  Bader-Meinhof, the Red Army and  the Angry Brigade all had broad political beliefs and agendas, but the perception of their actions was that they claimed legitimacy and immunity from judgement by appeal to the corruption of society and their own moral purity.  The Medusa Touch understands the tendency of moral issues to push disempowered individuals into extreme purist positions.  It certainly anticipates individual careers taken by many who have espoused the beliefs of the Animal liberation movement and the extreme fundamentalist Christian and Islamist groups such as Al Quaida.  Such groups  premise their existence on the destruction of society or societal traits seen as unclean and pursue a kingdom of the saints, a holy city on earth.  Individuals are not contained within a tight political structure (viz Bolshevism or Nazism) but psychically sustained by an expressive belief system. Adherents are supported and encouraged to pursue the ‘movements’ aims and objectives using whatever means they possess and as they see fit.  To the pure all things are pure.  The cost in life and suffering is irrelevant to  John Morlar: it is the moral lesson that is central.

Although filmically the Medusa Touch is conventionally shot and paced the film does create some powerful tense atmospherics.  This ability to create strong theatrical tensions within film seems to be a constant feature of British film making from Powell and Lean through to productions such as the Medusa Touch.  The crafted merging of cinematography direction editing and acting seem to imply a deeply engrained response in British studios and traditions that was and independent of individual directors and producers and consistent over a considerable period of time.
adrin neatrour

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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