Saturday, 16 June 2018

The Saint: Escape Route and The Avengers: Escape in Time

I'm just rewatching this Saint episode to check, because when I first watched it, at one point its dialogue struck me as very similar to dialogue in Escape in Time.
To be sure the two plots aren't that different if you allow that The Avengers will naturally also have time-travelling weirdness in spades.
I was hoping that the two screenplays would have been written by the same person, so that any similarities in dialogue would be explained by coming out of his own head, but I see Escape Route was written by Michael Winder and Escape in Time by Philip Levene, being broadcast in 1967 and 1968 respectively.
The similarities begin around the 20 minute mark (in The Saint) when a man called Harry is introduced who seems to be some sort of fixer for the escape. He speaks with the same sort of stutter as Thyssen in The Avengers, who fulfills the same role. The nuts and bolts of the escape are actually arranged by a woman in both episodes. I realise the connection is very tenuous but there are similarities. I wonder if Levene watched The Saint, enjoyed the episode and subconsciously reproduced some aspects of it in The Avengers. If anyone has seen both episodes I would be interested to hear whether you catch these echoes or whether you think I'm imagining it!
Incidentally I wouldn't have noticed this myself but now I come to Google Escape in Time I find it is popular with foot fetishists because Mrs Peel is in the stocks with bare feet at one point. There is also a webpage about the suits worn in the episode. And to think people with special interests had to join clubs before the internet!
Another wonder of technology has come to me this week and I must mention it. I'm writing this on my phone at home but at work now have Dragon voice recognition software and can only say I am fanatically keen. My boss is so impressed she's thinking of getting it for everyone because of how efficient and fast it is. My main fear was it wouldn't cope with my flat Midlands accent (Birmingham council once installed a phone system which didn't recognize the local accent) but it's great. I suppose the only reason we use hands to work computers is they evolved from typewriters but using the voice is vastly superior.

Monday, 11 June 2018

The X-Files: Nisei

You thought I'd got distracted from my re-watch of the X-Files, didn't you? Only temporarily because here I'm back with an episode at the heart of the series's mythology. Not only do we see proof of aliens but Scully learns she has been abducted and there is a whole support group. We also learn the international nature of the cover-up. I see that I have already written about the second part of this two-parter here.
This episode ironically references a major topic in 1990s therapy: false memory syndrome. 'You're afraid to remember,' says one of the other abductees to Scully. Outside the world of alien abduction there are all sorts of reasons a person wouldn't remember something, a common one being trauma, and of course the controversy in the 1990s was that people were 'remembering' abuse which probably never happened. The X-Files cleverly gives alien abduction a tangible proof - the scar on the back of the neck and the accompanying implant. This is more than abductees can produce in real life and strangely enough, amongst other things abductees are apparently prone to false memory syndrome ( Source ).
Another real reference is to the experimentation on humans (never tried as war crimes) on human subjects in Unit 731. The show cleverly weaves real history into its own mythology, and unethical medical experimentation is a recurring theme, building up a sense of human collusion in the sort of experiments the aliens do. Here the real history remains subordinate to the series's own mythology.
There are a few fatal flaws in this episode, in my humble opinion. Right at the beginning we see the alien autopsy being interrupted by troops. No. Just no. If the evidence for aliens were as well known to public servants(even ones at the highest levels of secrecy) as the show depicts it to be, it would have been leaked by now. The other huge mistake to my mind is that the autopsy is broadcast via satellite - something asking for the footage to be stolen, as it is in this episode.
The show highlights a difference between US and British English. The police station in Allentown is called a substation, which makes perfect sense as a smaller station dependent on the resources of a bigger one, but here the word is exclusively used for part of the electricity supply system.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

In Which I Get Confused Over The Saint

I did start a post recently about Return of the Saint. The gist was that I loved watching repeats of the black and white series of The Saint as a child, and didn’t take to Return of the Saint when I saw it at that time. I do not remember watching colour episodes of The Saint as a child but obviously this is the ever-fallible human memory here. As an adult I have watched the black and white series again and for reasons I can’t put my finger on, not enjoyed it at all. I found Templar's attitude to, well, pretty well everyone, to be arrogant and – ridiculous word I know – ungentlemanly.
So the post I started was to the effect that my views had changed. When I started it I had obtained Return of the Saint again and found that I liked it, certainly more than I did the black and white series as an adult, and definitely more than I did as a child. This new post is to record that my fickle opinion has changed again. I went to Kidderminster today where there is a stall on the market on Saturdays which sells DVDs, by which I mean quality DVDs of the sort of shows you might read about here, and they had a set of the colour episodes of The Saint starring Roger Moore. In other words the ones I don’t remember seeing before.
Of course this is a blog and so I’ve started with me but I would like to pull back at this point to get a sense of the Saint’s chronology.
1928 – 1983: Saint books by Leslie Charteris, written with collaboration towards the end of this time.
1938 – 1962: Film adaptations of the books.
1940 – 1971: Various radio adaptations and newly-written stories for radio in Ireland, the US and South Africa.
1962 – 1969: The Saint TV series starring Roger Moore.
1978 – 1979: Return of the Saint.
I have been surprised to find there have been a few other film and TV adaptations of The Saint which I'm going to ignore for the sake of my own sanity. There have also been comic strips, novellas, a stage get the picture, don't you, that this is a huge franchise which has extended for most of the twentieth century.
Until I started watching Return of The Saint I would have told you that the film adaptations were The Saint for me. This loyalty then transferred to Return of The Saint and has now moved to the colour 1960s TV show. This long preamble is simply to get to the point where I can think why.
For a start, what is Simon Templar? I don’t mean 'who', I'm trying to place him in the society of the time. I feel the 1970s series basically fails by depicting him as one of the European playboys of the time. My feeling is that that crowd were usually too well-connected for one of their number to live the kind of renegade life Templar does. While he does have various associates, being a maverick tends to militate against stable family life. I am particularly interested in the parallels with Robin Hood, and in fact Templar is frequently seen as a criminal.
As to whether he's a gentleman, I would have to say probably not! To use an Avengers parallel, he reminds me much more of Steed in the early series, than respectable later Steed. I also feel that Templar has changed slightly between the black and white and colour series (this is obviously only my own feeling). I feel in the monochrome series he has much more the feeling of an adventurer. If he reminds me of anyone, it would be the sort of people who went to the dying remnants of our colonies and treated it as an adventure: these were usually people who had been unable to settle in a more normal way of life. In the Hollywood movies (I've only seen a couple, and a long time ago, I feel he comes across as too respectable for his maverick character.
Conversely the colour 1960s series feels different and Templar himself feels more business-like. If I had to compare it to anything, it would be Danger Man, and it is only now I commit that thought to writing it strikes me that perhaps John Drake was a similar, possibly dodgy character to Templar. When I wrote about him before I was always aware that his job was literally dangerous in the sense that if he ever got into trouble his employers would deny all knowledge. I do wonder whether Templar's position is better than Drake's, because while Drake may have a pension plan, we have seen that getting to that point requires unquestioning obedience.
So perhaps the Saint gets a better deal in some ways (and worse in others) than a renegade with a contract. Ironically society’s attempts to contain men like Templar are only like what I am trying to do to him in this post – pigeonhole him. Perhaps the reason the various depictions of him differ is precisely that his whole nature can’t easily be grasped. But for my money (and let it be understood that this view is open to revision at short notice) the 1960s colour series is the best. Because...well, if I'm honest, because that is the Templar I would most like to be myself, and that’s part of the magic of television.
For the record the set I have is the Network DVD colour box set. I see that its 14 discs contain all 47 episodes and various film versions and lashings of extras, running to 2550 minutes. The set seems to retail around £35 – although mine was less because I bought it at market prices and it's missing the cardboard sleeve which would go around the boxes containing the discs which are boxed in twos. While I had been assuming that the black and white episodes were series one and the colour ones series 2, now that I have visited the Network DVD site I see that the colour episodes were series 3 and 4. No wonder Roger Moore got typecast as a gentleman adventurer!
On a completely different note, a picture of two peaky blinders together. We're having a nice hot patch here.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Crossing the Atlantic with the X-Files, The Avengers and Some Other Region 1 Matters

I have passed up writing about the X-Files episode where all the animals get pregnant without having had intercourse and Mulder explains to the zoo keeper that obviously they have been abducted by aliens. For some reason she is doubtful about this explanation so they ask the gorilla who conveniently knows 100 words in American Sign Language, which it turns out are enough to give a convincing description of being abducted. Oh, and perhaps I should say that the zoo keeper seems to have left professional boundaries far enough behind to become really quite enmeshed with the gorilla in question. Nonetheless this post is about several transatlantic matters.
Some time ago I bought a nearly new laptop. It's a Dell which flips over  to make  a  tablet, and the only thing I don't like about it is the sticky keyboard but I won't be using that. For someone with joint problems it actually turns out to be perfect because obviously I can type using the onscreen keyboard. It has windows 10, which a friend tried to warn me off, but I quite like. I just didn't realise that it wouldn't have software which would play DVDs so I've installed VLC media player for free. The upshot is, with an external DVD player I already had, is I can now play region 1 DVDs.
The one I experimented with was an odd disc from a box set of Flipper that I found in a charity shop. I may still post about this show but I am not sure it's really something I like. Wild animals and me have never really got on. I also thought I'd seen it, so was surprised to find it was new to me. It was some time before I realised that the theme tune I had in my head went, 'Flipper the bush kangaroo', so I was confusing a different show and a different part of the world!
Now that I can play region 1 I have bought a film starring Jon Pertwee called Murder at the Windmill (released in the US as Murder at the Burlesque). I suspect it would have been very racy when first released but is no doubt tame now. Incidentally amazon UK have the monumental cheek to be charging £34 for it, so I have bought the same disc from US Amazon and even with postage it translated to less than £11.
I was interested to read on Grant Goggins's blog that apparently the reason some of the series 5 Avengers episodes are rather less fantastic than others is because US TV asked them to be made that way. He also references Mitchell Hadley posting about a critic of the time bemoaning. the unreality of these shows. I think Mitchell has it bang on, that the Avengers always take it seriously. Batman never did and the men from UNCLE took it seriously to start with and then wobbled.
Another American Avengers thing I have only just discovered is a collection of pirated VHS coversfrom the eighties. Yes they're right that some of them are bloody terrible but you can't criticise the pirates' salesmanship because the covers are clearly designed to loud pedal the sexiness of the show! I don't remember seeing Honor Blackman in bra and pants in Death of a Great Dane!

Sunday, 27 May 2018

The X-Files: Die Hand Die Verletzt

It wasn't intended but this series of posts seems to be becoming a series of posts on religion in the X-Files. This episode is as confused as the one in my last post however I feel that confusion serves a plot purpose here in preventing the viewer knowing what's going on and drawing on the common fears and confusion of the time to press buttons in the viewer.
For a start, what's not to love about the school in this episode? Merely to be able to say that you went to a school where the PTA were Satanists would be enough reward and guarantee that your school reminiscences would beat everyone else's for life.
The question it raises is how to respond to this situation. And the essential difference between the situation in this school and the Imagined situation in many a school at the time, is that it's really happening. The strength of this episode is that it draws upon the Satanic panic of the time, and its weakness is that Mulder will believe any old rubbish he is told.
Scully is of course right that there is no evidence that the sort of Satanism depicted here actually happens. It is a very interesting example of how a belief spreads and people believe it. In the 1980s for example there were bursts of the panic here, on the other side of the world, which social workers believed in. I have read that the damage done to communities by tearing families apart on the basis of no evidence is still being felt today. I would personally expect Mulder to know this, and while it is obviously for the sake of the narrative his belief in this nonsense is not convincing.
The show also draws on the common distaste in English speakers for anything German, although that may only be in English speakers on this side of the Atlantic.
The episode also cleverly muddies the water by making heavy use of words like 'witch' which tend to mean different things to different people, for example to a Wiccan from New York and to a person with a cultural belief in witchcraft in Africa. This is a very difficult subject to deal with at the best of times, and there are points at which the episode feels like it is either skirting around predicted complaints from Wiccans or is actually an apologia for Wicca. Probably the former in my opinion since I can't really see a plot reason even to mention Wicca.
Otherwise the show is on safe ground here - magic is a classic plot device for a show like this and also provides a convenient resolution to the episodes ending. I feel the resolution makes the ending rather weak, myself, but it may have been deliberately inconclusively ended to leave the viewer with the feeling that it is still out there and the magic of Mrs Paddick could appear anywhere.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

The X-Files: Red Museum

I feel the show doesn't really get into its stride until series 2, when it really ramps up the weird and layers the elements of the shoe's mythology to confuse the viewer.
This episode manages to include many of the popular fears of the nineties - dodgy inoculations, new age stuff, paedophilia and so on - which can make the episode seem rather dated.
I have mentioned the role of religion in the X-Files before and in fact commented that it is frequently contextualised within American society and often used as an element in what I like to think of as the 'American dream' episodes. Of course in the X-Files the point is either to use the American dream as the bedrock of stability within which religion is enshrined or else the religion portrayed is seen as kooky and a dangerous intrusion (as is the case in this episode). The irony is that in a country with guaranteed freedom of religion you can only expect to get some colourful new religious movements. So the members of the church of the Red Museum better enshrine the American dream than do the frankly rather scary inhabitants of Delta Glen.
I do like this episode enormously and my criticisms are basically the ones everyone makes, that the episode is way too complicated and there are way too many themes incorporated. It is so confusing that I had to read the plot summary on Wikipedia and remain convinced that at one point Scully tells Mulder the kids are being injected with alien DNA, which really made me sit up and pay attention!
However this episode does have some gaping holes. The wandering around in pants with s/he is one carved on their back is spectacularly unlikely. If you're doing something that bad you try not to draw attention to it - to be honest I'm still not sure whether that was explained I'm afraid. The actor Bob Frazer who played Gary, was 22 or 23 at the time this was made, and looks too old to be at school.
Perhaps it is best to watch this episode with disbelief suspended, because despite its failings this episode does a very important thing. It implants the whole mythology of the X-Files firmly into American society, bringing home to the (American) viewer the possibility that this could be happening in their town, and that is the real power of the X-Files. There are people who believe the stranger things which happen in the show and it merges 'fact' and fiction to suggest it could really happen.

Friday, 25 May 2018

The X-Files: Duane Barry and Ascension

Back to bulletpoint blogging! I haven't veered off from the X-Files yet and have just watched the episodes Duane Barry and Ascension - the latter being the continuation of the first.
I found them profoundly dissatisfying on this viewing - primarily because I feel that it's as if too much material has been used in one go.
1. The alien abductee who goes off on one would be enough.
2. I do like very much that Mulder believes him, and of course it's typical that the sceptical Scully is the one who gets abducted!
3. I love the introduction of the mountain which reappears in the series.
4. What the hell was Mulder playing at when interrogating Barry? Rewatching this show at this length of time brings out the sheer unprofessionalism of much of what happens, which rather lets it down.
5. I do love that Barry was also FBI.
6. I can't remember whether he is actually mentioned in the episode but the name of Phineas Gage is often mentioned in connection with this episode. It is interesting that Gage's case was the first to suggest that brain injury would cause personality change. It may seem obvious to us now. To me what it means is that it reinforces that the empirical scientific method which the X-Files places in opposition to belief in little green men, is incredibly recent.
7. The scenes of alien experimentation on Barry and Scully are incredibly effective and reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange.
Nonetheless of course, despite my criticism I continue to love the X-Files and am greatly enjoying my rewatch of the series.