Monday, 29 September 2014

Man in a Suitcase: First Impressions

I have had the box set of Man in a Suitcase for some time: I bought them on spec from ebay, because it's one of the series that's always mentioned in the same breath with all the other TV series that you'll read about here. I have been watching the episodes in a rather desultory fashion on & off, but this series has come up in the cult TV blogosphere recently, & I thought I'd stick my neck out.
There's one thing that I'm finding repeated all over the internet about Richard Bradford, that he is a method actor (for example it comes up on the wikipedia, tv.com & amazon.co.uk pages referring to the show rather than Bradford himself). This is where my problem with this show begins. Method acting refers to a collection of inward techniques, pioneered by Stanislavski, where the actor creates the part within himself, as opposed to the purely external techniques used in classical drama training. And here's the nub: I get suspicious when an actor's technique is talked about too much. The whole point of acting is that the *part* is the thing the viewer sees, & all the great actors can project a part in such a way that you don't notice the acting. I am not sure whether I am referring to Bradford's actual acting or the hype around the show.
Because there is something wrong with Bradford's performance, for me. After much thought, I've concluded that he's not pissed off enough. For a man who is supposed to be scraping a living from his wits after a great injustice by his own country, he is remarkably equable. If you want to think your way into his part you've got to have elements of a grieving process - including anger, & so on.
For some reason Man in a Suitcase reminds me of The Persuaders! I feel this may be the...I suppose it would have been called Pan-Continental at the time - setting of the show (incidentally I remember my mother getting terribly excited about us going over to what she called 'continental quilts' - it is only afterwards I've discovered Terence Conran is credited with the introduction of the duvet to France).
The plots also strike me as somewhat generic. I have watched most of the series now. I'm afraid it has failed to grab me. Many of the TV shows I talk about here grabbed me on first viewing. I'm ashamed to say I can't remember the plots of the episodes I've watched. I have also recently watched through Jason King in the same manner & pace (usually while eating or doing something else), but I can remember the plots of Jason King episodes. The more colourful figure of King has made more of an impression.
None of this manages to square my impression with the rave reviews this series gets on amazon.co.uk. And they really are rave reviews. However I would note that many of them are by people who either watched Man in a Suitcase at the time or would have liked to. I wonder whether it hasn't travelled as well as some of the more outlandish TV series of the time.
Or it may just be me. I certainly *ought* to like it, but I have a feeling this box set will be in the next bag of stuff, along with Hazell, that I sell to Cex.
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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Allegory in The Prisoner: Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling

Right. This is where I really get to go to town on my own theories with allegory in The Prisoner. Of course this is the odd episode out. Of course McGoohan is barely seen, & the wole episode isn't very 'McGoohan' at all. The majority of the episode even takes place outside of The Village. These are all the things that make this episode...I can only use the phrase 'stand out' from the rest, & it is the aspects that make people dislike this episode that must be grasped onto for the meaning here.
The episode opens with a unique opener of men looking at transparencies. Much is made of slide Number 6. I'm not going to labour the wholly obvious point there. The presence of the great & the good & photography introduce the allegorical themes of this episode. It is about intelligence/technology (I suppose what we would now call information technology), & it is about power.
The key intelligence here is the knowledge Selzmann has developed of transferring the psyche from one person to another. The main power play here is that the great & the good are desperate to get the intelligence, & the power that would go with it.
But the nub of that is that the unconsidered discoverer of this intelligence trumps the powerful to win at the end. In a true allegorical way, this story warns against the misuse of power. It is like the hare & the tortoise.
The fact that Number 6 is not 'himself' for much of the episode merely recalls the process in Schizoid Man where Number 6 becomes 'whole' by becoming Number 12. It makes this episode truly the odd one out, but Number 6 is apparently a 'Village man' here. He has actually arrived at what he could be in The Village.
Similarly the fact that the action of the episode deliberately takes place outside The Village reinforces the importance of The Village to the series, the authorities, & Number 6 himself. Remember my personal theory that The Village represents Number 6's dream escape from his workaday life as a secret agent, but one he is at best ambivalent or sometimes doesn't want at all? In this episode his ambivalence swings, causing the other side of his dream world to come to life. He leaves The Village, his supposed dream, to do a work of national importance. His dream escape, which he has himself created & is a reflection of all his own foibles & faults, gives way to the reality. He doesn't really want his dream - it is too painful because it is his own. It is with this episode that I feel the allegory of Village-as-Number-6's-Dream fits better than Village-as-allegory-for-society. The latter view falls down here because of the journey out from the Village, whereas this episode can be explained in the terms of my own theory. Having sung the praises of my theory, I'd have to say I'm not at all sure what I'll do when I get to Living in Harmony!
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Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Avengers: The Outside-In Man

More duvet TV, this time going back to Mrs Gale, & with a version of The Avengers that fits more into the 'real' end of my real/unreal TV spectrum. Only two days ago I posted that I didn't have a favourite Avengers girl - well today I'm prepared to scrub that & declare myself for Mrs Gale.
Here's the thing about Mrs Gale - for the time, when people didn't wear leather in the way you can now, it was incredibly sexy. She was going around in fetish gear, well before Mrs Peel was dressed up in A Touch of Brimstone. The show must have been incredibly racy for 1964 - the implication that Steed & Mrs Gale are sleeping together is very clearly there, read with post-sexual revolution eyes. Also the raciness has hit me afresh coming from Tara King-era Avengers - although the only topless women that could be shown on TV are on the wall of the garage.
This is a true precursor of the eccentricity of the later Avengers - I love that Steed's boss works in a butcher's as a cover, a cover worthy of Mother's offices in the final series. The interiors speak the true Avengers language - here PANSAC is the embodiment of tradition. The relentlessly modern, split-level sets of both Steed's apartment & Mrs Rayner's cottage are the kind of 1960s interior designer fantasies that few can actually have lived in. Charters ironically is another embodiment of Tradition, by virtue of belonging to a gentlemen's club, while Steed is the embodiment of modernity. So this Avengers is actually setting Steed's modern grasp of things over Charters's obsessional resolve to follow orders he received years before.
The plot is a straightforward spy-fi au base. I can't criticise it at all. It is decorated - I can't think of a better word - by Avengers touches such as the familiarity Mrs Gale feels with Steed's apartment & his insistence on reading a Tintin book over answering the phone!
These older Avengers *feel* very different to the later ones, more like a more orthodox television play. Visually, however, it remains superb. Butchers, garage, city apartment, it spells sophistication & city living. I can only make my customary complaint of there being too many familiar faces. It is also slightly obvious that there must be a plot twist because of Steed's extraordinary behaviour.
Ultimately, though, this Avengers is a vehicle for Mrs Gale. She gets the majority of scenes requiring any depth of emotion or understanding. Her comment that she does know what it is to be made a widow is particularly effective. In fact, on a deeper level this episode covers the same kind of ground covered by later episodes of Danger Man: how far do you go for your job, country, values? How far do you compromise for the ultimate end? What does it mean to 'bury the hatchet' & is that a viable option? Do we identify with the state, our own views or a campaign?
All in all an excellent early Avengers episode, which manages to hit with its sexiness while also having a deeper meaning under the surface.
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Friday, 19 September 2014

The Avengers: Wish You Were Here

I'm presently suffering from another episode of the depression that has plagued me for the past few years. This time not only am I on fluoxetine (Prozac), which I'm liking better than the antidepressant I've been on before, but I'm trying to work through it. I have, however, hit the point at which you suddenly feel much worse before you feel better so have given myself a duvet day. I get very blokey, irritable depression, & my normal renowned forbearance goes out of the window - not the time to be facing the workplace. I'm interested that I've fallen on The Avengers as duvet television - in my real/unreal dichotomy unreal is definitely better for comfort, I've always loved the Tara King season, & this is one of my favourites.
I say unreal, but I think this episode is only unreal so far as the Avengers characters go - certainly introducing Mother's nephew who is forbidden to call Mother Uncle at work is a genius touch - & the plot is actually worthy of a classic thriller in Agatha Christie or Ngaio Marsh vein. The hotel is of course a staple of the genre as a setting for the group of people who may include a murderer - here changed to be the setting of imprisonment in an apparently ordinary hotel. The apparent ally who turns out to be an enemy is also a staple of the genre.
The programme is not without characteristic Avengers touches. In The Avengers' visual language, it presents an interesting contrast between the modern (the firm for which Tara's uncle works) & the apparently traditional (The Elizabethan Hotel). The fact that the rot has set in at the hotel makes this an Avengers where the enemy is posited as the Establishment gone bad. I see that that would probably chime better with the idea that this show is a send-up of The Prisoner, than the cosy golden age mystery approach I'm taking.
A further Avengers touch is tha apart from the relatively serious subject matter, this one is a lot of fun all the way. It is almost slapstick in the attempts to keep the 'prisoners' imprisoned, & in the prisoners' acts to bring down the facade of a regular hotel at the end.
Visually it's superb. The hotel set is spot on for the British cosy murder milieu. The set for Mother's office, with its cardboard cutouts of suspects, is so visually effective it will stay with the viewer long-term.
It is probably one of the highest accolades I personally can pay a TV programme that even with repeated viewings, at no point have I ever thought there was anything wrong with this. Of course you could pick holes in the plot if you wanted to, but it hangs together remarkably well. My only criticism would be the incredible number of Avengers regulars who can be distracting.
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Saturday, 13 September 2014

Allegory in The Prisoner: A Change of Mind

Image credit: http://v4valentine.tripod.com/SPP/MA0102_Index.htm It's a Soviet propaganda poster about fearing enemies of the people.
I was astonished when I came to watch this episode again, to find I not only had no recollection of my blog post about it earlier this year, but I even had the impression it was the episode borrowed from the projected Series 2, where Number 6 becomes someone else in a job outside of the village. I'm intrigued that I focussed on the sheer pretence of everything that happens in the Village (http://culttvblog.blogspot.de/2014/01/the-prisoner-change-of-mind.html?m=1). I had already started this post with the lengthy quote below, not realising that I'd already used a shorter version of it in my previous post:
'A lot of The Prisoner is about the individual versus the collective. This episode was probably the most Orwellian. Prisoners can't just suffer their imprisonment. They cannot be depressed or in any other way unhappy. They must participate with the activities of the collective, smile and be content, socialize with others, and exercise in the Village gymnasium instead of alone in the woods. (This is starting to sound like high school.)
By refusing to be part of the Village community, our hero became "public enemy Number Six". He was shunned by the pod-people-like Villagers who marched about chanting "unmutual" and "disharmonious." He was bombarded with attempts by the "Appeals Subcommittee" to bully him into submission, and bashed with striped umbrellas. And finally, Six was subjected to "instant social conversion."
'The Committee, with their top hats and striped shirts, looked exactly like the Council in "Free For All." For that matter, the Village bullies who attacked Six were wearing the same type of striped shirt, but instead of black pants, they wore blue jeans (so you'd know they were bullies). Bystanders in the Village were wearing khaki pants with *their* striped shirts. Clones everywhere.
'Denunciation, re-education, and re-integration are something that have been with humans for a very long time (see: Inquisition, Spanish), but they took on whole new meaning in the 20th century with the rise of Communist states. This episode very much mirrored the kind of public conformity exercises typical of the Stalinist era show-trials (where one hoped very much merely to be placed in the Gulag for a few years).
'The thing was that "actually existing Communism" (to use the term of art) was defined by a lot of things, but one of the key ones was that it focused on the creation of a radiant future for which people as they are today were completely unsuitable. When Number Six is declared "unmutual," it means he isn't even trying to be suitable for that sort of future. His fellow citizens who confess and conform to both the letter and spirit of the thing aren't any more ready, but they are worthy to keep building it. In Stalin's day, many Russians released from the Gulag (despite incredible hardship, disease, and psychological torment) desperately wanted to rejoin the Communist party and demonstrate that they might still be ready to work for that future. It's this kind of thinking that allows weak people do some very hard and terrible things, and its fingerprints can be found at the sites of horrendous violence throughout the century.' (http://www.douxreviews.com/2012/06/prisoner-change-of-mind.html?m=1 I've missed out chunks of that post to get the bits I want)
One of the things I'm always banging on about in this blog is how different the world was in the time in which most of the series I talk about here, were made. Europe was firmly divided across the middle & it was relatively simple to decide who the 'others' were. I think the Communism reference is therefore the obvious Occam's razor-style reference for the allegory of this episode.
Given that I'd already referenced the above quote but managed to forget about it completely (perhaps 'they' have taken me by night & made me malleable - anyone who knows me in person would laugh hollowly at that) it therefore comes as a shock to me that I've actually already written about the allegory in this episode, although I wasn't focussing on it then in the way it is now. Yes, this episode is allegorical for the perennial subjects of paternalism, social engineering & peer pressure, but the most obvious allegory is of The Village representing a communist state, & functioning as a warning for us in the West of what could happen if our states became like the ones on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
A warning indeed: most of society's institutions are brought into play here. I commented before on the religious (or moral) overtones of this, of the extraction of confessions. The act of telling the Villagers what to confess & therefore how they have 'sinned' would reference for McGoohan the 'educated conscience' talked about in Scholastic Catholic theology. I talked also before about how The Village functions like a cult - in fact in my personal opinion the majority of even respectable mainstream religions can & do function like cults. The obvious example would be the obsessive secrecy with which Catholic clergy have cheerfully covered up the criminal acts of other clergy.
Nor is psychiatry neglected & this episode functions (in the heady anti-psychiatry milieu of the 1960s) as a terrible warning of what happens when medical psychiatry becomes a tool of social control. The council warns about Government & the way the rules of mutualism are applied warns about the Law.
A relatively simple allegory here, but nonetheless making this one of the more countercultural episodes.
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Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Allegory in The Prisoner: It's Your Funeral

Not a favourite of the fans, this one, although it is one of my own, except when it comes to trying to be creative about the allegory here! I keep trying to get away from the standard allegorical interpretation of The Prisoner, that The Village is an allegory for what is (or was in the 1960s) becoming of our world, particularly trying to escape into my own cherished theory that The Village is both Number 6's own creation & represents his dream of escape from the high-pressure world of his intelligence or espionage job.
This is also one of the Prisoner episodes which have been rather overtaken by technology, & their warning has become more frightening in the process. The activity prognosis on Number 6 represents an omniscient knowledge of all variants in The Village, to the extent that an unexpected variation can be predicted. This was of course decades before the advertisements on the internet were tailored to our individual shopping habits & everywhere we go online can be tracked. For example, the statistics of this blog will tell me how many hits a particular post has had & where the viewers of the blog come from. The US is always top, followed by the Ukraine for some reason (hello, there, do leave a comment if you wish). But I don't doubt that somebody somewhere has the details of which computers have been here, how often at what time. What The Prisoner warned about has actually come to pass.
There is another, probably more postmodern, approach to this episode that also makes it frightening. If you take The Village as either Number 6's creation (going with the theory that he was John Drake & invented a retirement village for dangerous people) or else that it is his dream of escape from his own world, this puts that blame for what happens in The Village fairly & squarely on Number 6's shoulders. This actually also fits well with the resolution that Number 1 is Number 6 himself, since it makes the series completely reflexive & about Number 6 himself. The Village *is* Number 6 & everything that happens there is his doing: a view which leaves Number 6 not looking very good.
This would actually explain Number 6's act of helping a Number 2. It is an internal conflict - whether in his creation or at a deeper level in Number 6's psyche - & after Number 6 is Number 1!
I both hugely agree & violently disagree with Howard Foy's appraisal of this episode:
'If Appreciation Day itself is nonsensical, so too is the assassination plot itself on which the whole structure of the story is based. Why should No.2 be so concerned - as has been suggested - to gain a public excuse to crack down on Village dissidents? Surely if the Village authorities want to be rid of irksome Villagers they can simply be eliminated? As prisoners, they are already as good as dead as far as the outside world is concerned. Even if they are too valuable to be killed off, couldn't they be transferred to a more conventional prison where such dissident activities would not be tolerated? Why hasn't the Village got its own prison where troublemakers could be incarcerated, perhaps in solitary confinement? It seems strange that a Village with all the appearance of a real-life community - shops, newspaper, town council, graveyard - should lack something so glaringly necessary as a police station with a few cells for people who break the "law". The inconsistencies of "It's Your Funeral" can largely be attributed to the fact that writer Cramoy was given either too much licence, or not enough information, when creating his image of the Village. Nevertheless, it is interesting to speculate on where he got the idea for Appreciation Day, the ceremonial transfer of power between Village leaders, and the assassination plot with which it is inextricably linked.' (http://www.theunmutual.co.uk/article4.htm)
I agree enormously, because of course it is nonsensical. On the other hand nonsensical acts are the bread & butter of totalitarian society (for a slightly later parallel, there is footage of a Pioneers' Day ceremony in Rhodesia in the 1970s on Youtube). Once nonsense is presented as sense, it takes a brave Number to be the one to admit it is nonsensical. Allegorically this can be a warning about society or even a psychological failing in Number 6. I also like Foy's parallels between this episode & the kind of ritual killing of kings described by James Frazer.
There is a further layer of meaning in almost a return to the death-rebirth motif of Dance of the Dead, except that here The Village is the source of death rather than life. So it's closer to the 'I am your world' spoken by Number 2 in that episode.
So all in all a multi-layered episode, which may simply lend itself best to the traditional allegorical meaning, but nonetheless is capable of being explored in different ways.
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Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Baron: First Impressions

I was becoming worried recently that this blog had far too much Doctor Who, & thus was becoming too much like many another UK TV blog. But, fickle soul that I am, I've made up for that by my more recent rash of ITC viewing, & The Baron is the latest ITC series that I've never seen before but now have a box set of. In my real/unreal television dichotomy, this is aimed more or less at the real side, featuring an antiques dealer gentleman adventurer, actually, in true ITC style, played by an American. It also has a symbiotic relationship with The Saint (explored at length, & contrasts drawn, at http://doubleosection.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/dvd-review-baron-complete-series.html?m=1).
It's interesting coming to this straight from later shows like Jason King & Hazell, to see how sheerly dated it feels. It was made around the time that Mrs Peel was kicking her way through The Avengers - this reference is also a way in to mention that the street scenes of London therefore look more Avengers upper class, than the gritty council flats of Hazell.
I'm particularly endeared by Mannering's...way with women. Every time he chats up a woman it is so cringemakingly embarrassing by today's standards that it is hilarious. And this can be as simple as telling an airline hostess, who has got rid of an antiques groupie for him, that he would like to show her his gratitude over dinner. She replies, 'Your place or mine?' I mean, this is just unreal! What's also rather unreal, in a less positive way, is his profession as an antiques dealer who is taken on by British intelligence. The first episode shows a ridiculously sophisticated surveillance system in both his home & his shop, which nonetheless fails to prevent a burglary. The gadgetry places this series firmly in the spy-fi genre of the time.
I don't object to Colin Gordon's casting as the archetypal British pin-stripes spymaster, since this role suits him so well. He is the only familiar (to me) face I've identified so far, so it may be that this series isn't plagued by the repetitious casting of some other series.
The show feels to me made with much more of an eye to the American market than here - it looks more like the later series of The Man From UNCLE, than most ITC series. It's interesting, again, to compare it with later series - it moves faster than either Hazell or Jason King, or probably many a British TV series of a good decade later. I'm guessing that this was to conform with American broadcasting of the time, but stand to be corrected.
The plots are - so far - more standard espionage stories of the Cold War era, with none of the bizarreness of some ITC series. It makes a rather porridge & champagne contrast after watching Department S & Jason King recently!
My conclusion so far on The Baron is that several episodes in I haven't found anything to object to, so it must be OK. I like the jet-setting, gadgets, sixties milieu & sophistication elements in particular.
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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Allegory in The Prisoner: Hammer into Anvil

I was wondering how on earth I was going to get a convincing allegorical meaning out of this episode. I was making the mistake of thinking that the plot could be summarised as 'Number 6 sends Number 2 off his head. The End,' & thought that the only allegory I would be able to find was the 'messages' that Number 6 gives to Number 2 - blank paper, false message, cuckoo clock.
Then it struck me that the allegorical point of this episode can be found in what does not happen. Wikipedia characterises this episode as one of the few where Number 6 doesn't make an escape attempt & the authorities don't really try to get any information out of him. I realise that I haven't really been accepting that view & so have missed its significance.
In fact this realisation has made me recall my own pet theory that The Village is allegorical for Number 6's own fantasy escape from his everyday life. His actions in this episode are therefore allegorical for self-sabotaging behaviour, the resistance & sabotage of authority & even possibly 'daddy issues' - or perhaps 'mummy issues' if the successful attempt to get rid of the father figure is seen as akin to an Oedipus complex. Mother in this view would be the Village itself as his fantasy lover. Seen like this this episode is well in the countercultural vein of The Prisoner, & one of the ones with the heaviest, yet so subtle, psychological depth.
Right from the start the issues around sexual relationships & fidelity are reinforced in Number 2's taunting of Number 73 with her husband's supposed infidelity. Her first suicide attempt & subsequent successful one are allegorical of a divided psyche: the fight with father is started when Number 6 tells Number 2 he will pay for Number 73's suicide.
The fight with the roughs abducting Number 6 can be interpreting as defiance of the father figure's authority & position. The mention of sadism & Number 2's threatening of Number 6 with the sword blade develops the existing competitive dynamic while giving it a more kinky edge: from here on, this episode is capable of interpretation in incredibly sado-masochistic terms.
Yet I have some other questions about this that are usually raised for me by the later episodes of Danger Man. Number 2's breaking point - the fact that he will not brook interference or help - is plainly apparent in the scene with the sword. The additional fact that Number 6 breaks him with some very simple techniques to plant doubt - which frankly in a totalitarian regime like The Village should be easily dealt with - indicates that The Village authorities have put in a man who isn't up to the job. It's not really the point in this post that's supposed to focus on allegory, but surely the authorities should have rooted out this Number 2 as vulnerable to the type of simple psychological tricks played on him here.
The other usual allegorical approach to The Prisoner, of course, is that The Village represents society. This episode in that reading shows what one man can do if he puts his mind to upsetting the order of society. I've been tending to avoid this interpretation in this series of posts, since that's the allegory that always appears & I want to think about the series in a new way, but I think that may be the best allegorical approach for this episode.
So in conclusion, an episode that is as usual understandable in several different ways, even possibly as not presenting allegory at all, but which has unfortunately remained obdurate to my attempts to rethink its allegory.
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