UK, 105 min
The Year of the Sex Olympics is a surprisingly prescient 1968 television play written by Nigel Kneale (Quatermass, The Stone Tape).
Influenced by concerns about overpopulation, the counterculture of the 1960s, and the societal effects of television, the play depicts a world of the future where a small elite control the media, keeping the lower classes docile by serving them an endless diet of lowest common denominator programming and pornography. The play concentrates on an idea the programme controllers have for a new programme which will follow the trials and tribulations of a group of people left to fend for themselves on a remote island. In this respect, the play is often cited as having anticipated the craze for reality television.
Kneale had fourteen years earlier adapted George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four as a classic and controversial BBC broadcast and the play reflects much of Kneale’s assimilation of Orwell’s concern about the power of the media and Kneale’s experience of the evolving media industry.
Considering its salacious title, followed by the Olympics’ interlocked rings transforming into male and female symbols, you might think this is just some weird sex flick.
But with Nigel Kneale’s name on the teleplay, you can only wonder what the Quatermass creator has up his sleeve. Made for British-TV, with production values that make DR. WHO look like DR. ZHIVAGO, Kneale and director Michael Elliott bombard their audience with a sci-fi scenario that’s less lascivious than prophetic, and offers radically original ideas. In the future (“Sooner than you think…”), the live-telecast Sex Olympics are a major draw, since the passive public would rather watch handsome couples screwing on TV than do it in real life — and thus save the planet from overpopulation. Leonard Rossiter (2001, BARRY LYNDON) turns up as pony-tailed TV-executive Ugo Priest, who remembers the early days of unacceptable pornography, long before this enlightened age of televised fuck-fests, which are specifically designed to placate the zombified masses. Hell, even their “Auto-Chess” machines don’t play against a human opponent — instead, it simply plays both sides of the board, as onlookers mindlessly watch. As their audience’s attention begins to wan, Rossiter gets a fresh idea when an actual death is caught on camera and the viewers love it! So in one of the most prescient plot twists, a couple (Tony Bogel and Suzanne Neve) volunteer for a daring new pilot, “The Live-Life Show.” This SURVIVOR meets BIG BROTHER reality-based program strands this pampered pair on a deserted island, minus all modern technology, with 24-7 cameras watching them hunt, plant, love, and face such previously-unheard-of concepts as fire, cold, fresh air, and even death. But while the viewers eat it up (and consider their primitive plight funny!), devious TV-exec Lasar Opie plans to manipulate the show into ever more dramatic territory. Co-starring Brian Cox (MANHUNTER’s Hannibal Lecter) as Opie and Martin Potter as an angst-packed artist who brings “tension” to the stupefied masses, what begins like a simple satire of modern sexual openness turns into a powerful dystopian vision of modern voyeurism and inhumanity, with a surprisingly emotional pay-off. Its sci-fi trappings are often crude, with characters talking into plastic wristbands, eating from toothpaste-like tubes, sporting outlandish hairdos, and resembling an Ed Wood production of THE JETSONS. What it lacks in production values, it makes up for in admirably straight-faced performances and bold conceits, in what has to be one of Kneale’s most unpredictably provocative works.
— Shock Cinema