Tales of Unease: Ride Ride
I am absolutely delighted to make Ride Ride, another episode of Tales of Unease, one of the few episodes I have written about twice here, not least because I don't think I even came close to doing it justice when I talked about it in my series of posts on orphaned episodes. It was orphaned at the time, but Network's glorious release of this series means it can be viewed all restored and sparkling, and I honestly think it comes across quite differently in its restored version.
I note that reviews about this one are strictly mixed, and I honestly wonder whether this is influenced by the poor versions of this show people have had to see up until now. In my humble opinion it is absolutely excellent and the restoration only brings its quality out.
One of the things I didn't say last time, and which I'm now reminded to say by having blogged about The Two Faces of Evil since then, is that the plot is yet another variant on the vanishing hitchhiker urban legend, only (I hope this isn't giving too much away) Ride Ride manages to conclude the legend with one of the fears that carrying a vanishing hitchhiker naturally brings up in us as humans. We are strangely incapable of accepting that some things just happen for absolutely no reason and so we try to attribute meaning and significance to things which have no meaning, while conversely refusing to give meaning to things which clearly do. The legend of the phantom hitchhiker is one of the classic ones that must carry significance to our minds, and Ride Ride gives it the significance we all fear.
On another level if we experience carrying the phantom hitchhiker we could simply be dreaming and there is an excellent dreamlike character to the early part of the episode: particularly in the college dance, where Derek speaks to people but they just blank him. This is also of course a staple of ghost stories, where the protagonist enters a sort of ghostly existence where he isn't real to them.
The dream-like quality is enhanced by the art school setting of this play. I have read a lot of criticism online of the amount of time 'wasted' in this short half-hour play with arty photography and installations. Look, babe, this is the sixties and the whole point is we're in an art school. The art school is very well used to enhance the dream-like setting, particularly with lighting, and many visual effects. I honestly think this is absolutely deliberate, because when you set something among students, you're setting up the expectation in the onlooker that anything that happens could be a trick.
I also don't accept that scenes such as the one where Derek and another student are bouncing around on a big inflatable thing are 'wasting' the short time available. I have been watching several shows of a similar vein to this recently, mainly with a view to blogging about them to eke out the episodes of Tales of Unease as much as possible and not run out of them too quickly. Many of these shows run to an hour and it might just be me, but I'm finding an hour is too long for suspense. Half an hour is just perfect, and there's no reason to think that getting arty about setting the scene is wasting time because that's exactly how you build suspense and, er, unease. In a longer show, that's when you start doing things for no apparent reason, in my opinion. I am unsure whether this is just me, although I don't think I have a short attention span. I can watch films. So there.
There's another way of seeing this show which isn't one you'll see me writing about much here because I lack the vocabulary to talk about it. As you all know, I have rather arranged my life so that I can wear a shirt as little as possible, and when forced to wear clothes, wear shorts or sweat pants as much as possible. I therefore don't have the understanding of fashion necessary to write about it, but I just think that Derek's clothes are dead groovy and trendy. I wish I could describe them, but they are quite frequently contrasted to the more formal and traditional clothes worn by other people (this is especially noticeable in the people who don't respond when he talks to them). I suppose as a symbol this places him firmly in the studenty, non-conformist, arty milieu most feared by the establishment and so this is another morality tale. If you don't wear a tie, you'll pick up a phantom hitchhiker and then something terrible will happen to you, is the implied warning.
I was going to say that his failure to wear a crash helmet on his motorbike further underlined his non-conformity with the law, but I'm astonished to find that wearing one was only required by law under the Motor Cycles (Wearing of Helmets) Regulations of 1973, so after this. I'm most horrified to find that it's only become law during my lifetime.
Incidentally Derek is played by an actor called Anthony Jackson, who I looked up because I was impressed by his accent. It's not the generic 'northern' accent beloved of southern television studios at this time: I'm not good at northern accents but I would guess it's Manchester and it certainly sounds real to me. Imagine my astonishment to find that Jackson was from Birmingham and has obviously learned the accent and it's not native!
I suppose I should have a go at being critical, and if you really pushed me I would have to say that the plot of this is all a bit arty and unfocussed but again I have a getout clause in that I think that is deliberate.
An excellent, suspenseful play and very highly recommended despite a very mixed bag of reviews online. Listen to me, not them. Or you'll find me in the passenger seat one night and you'll be sorry.
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