Saturday, June 21, 2008

Port Talbot: Sci-Fi Central

In my (admittedly 10-year-old) copy of the Rough Guide to Wales there is no entry for Port Talbot. Nothing worth seeing apparently. It is completely off the cultural map. And yet the town's otherworldly industrial landscapes have been inspirational to science-fiction enthusiasts.

Take film director Terry Gilliam for instance. For him a visit to Port Talbot was the starting point for his Kafka-esque dystopian movie Brazil (1985): "Port Talbot is a steel town, where everything is covered with a grey iron ore dust. Even the beach is completely littered with dust, it's just black. The sun was setting, and it was really quite beautiful. The contrast was extraordinary. I had this image of a guy sitting there on this dingy beach with a portable radio, tuning in to these strange Latin escapist songs like Brazil. The music transported him somehow and made his world less grey."

The town is also said to be one of the aesthetic sources for Ridley Scott's futuristic masterpiece Blade Runner (1982), the director having spent part of his childhood in Wales. Another movie director, Richard Stanley, utilised the landscape to film the opening sequences for his apocalyptic flick Hardware (1990) which starred Iggy Pop and Lemmy.

Top Welsh sci-fi writer Alastair Reynolds has also been seduced by Port Talbot's idiosyncratic visual charms. In an interview in 2003 he told me: "Port Talbot steelworks, too, left a big impression. Whenever my parents would drive back from Swansea in the evening, we'd pass this fantastic night-time metropolis of chimneys and furnaces, stretching as far as the eye could see."

Chuck in the fact that local boys Anthony Hopkins (Beowolf) and Richard Burton (1984) have appeared in notable futuristic/fantasy films then at the very least a sci-fi bus tour of Port Talbot is in order. In fact, if I was in charge of Welsh tourism I'd take it further and completely reinvent unlovely and unloved Port Talbot as the science-fiction capital of Wales. I'd make the town a focal-point for sci-fi conferences and book fairs and actively promote the location for film projects. It ain't rocket science - Port Talbot is an extraordinary place.