Wednesday, May 30, 2007

War Starts At Midnight!

Thinking back to Channel 4’s 50 Films to See before You Die, which included films where I’d actually prefer to die rather than watch, I’m always interested by the responses this sort of list elicits. It also makes me wonder what kind of list I’d propose.

An article in this week’s Radio Times sees a number of directors who learnt their craft on British television asked, amongst other things, what their favourite film is. Terry Gilliam plumped for The Apartment, Martin Campbell – who directed Reilly, Ace of Spies and Edge of Darkness before going on to reboot James Bond – chose Lawrence of Arabia, and Alan Parker picked Raging Bull (after deciding Citizen Kane is too obvious). Ken Loach opted for Bicycle Thieves, Richard Curtis favoured White Christmas, and Peter Webber went for Apocalypse Now.

From that shortlist, I’d go with Campbell. While Lean’s masterpiece is one of my favourites, it is not the favourite. Bicycle Thieves, along with Humphrey Jennings’ Fires Were Started, was screened as part of the Complementary Studies programme at The Esteemed School of Art. Both are admirable films but I can’t say I’d rush to watch them again. The same is true for Raging Bull, which I find uncomfortable viewing to say the least and to this day haven't managed to watch all the way through a second time.

Sometime back in the 1980s, one of the trade magazines ran a regular feature that asked industry figures to pick their Desert Island Movies. The various choices I can’t remember, but in such circumstances it gave a whole new criteria to the choices. I know for a fact there wouldn’t be any Italian Neo-Realism and Chaplin, but I doubt there’d be space for the likes of Citizen Kane, The Godfather or The Godfather, Part II, It’s a Wonderful Life, or even The Third Man.

2001: A Space Odyssey probably wouldn’t get a look in either because, for enjoyment and entertainment value, the Kubrick film I watch more than any other is Dr Strangelove. In a situation where I had only ten films to watch repeatedly – although since Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs allows the “castaway” eight records to chose from there may be less – I’d be looking for films to be enjoyed as well as admired.

Which means there would probably be this (as long as the three films were combined into one, in their extended form):

And especially this:

But there might also be either of these two:

Or maybe even one of these:

But however short the list is, the one film I do know would be there for an absolute certainty, that I’d be happy to sit down and watch time and time again, day in and day out, come rain or come shine, is this:

In the capsule review for Time Out Film Guide, Chris Peachment wrote:

Like much of Powell and Pressburger's work, it is a salute to all that is paradoxical about the English; no one else has so well captured their romanticism banked down beneath emotional reticence and honour. And it is marked by an enormous generosity of spirit: in the history of the British cinema there is nothing to touch it.

It is of course Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s utterly magnificent

If you had to choose your “Desert Island Movies”, which films do you know for certain would be there?

Then, if you had to pick just one from your shortlist that you’d be happy to watch over and over, which one would it be?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Searches And Finds

Wondering what brings new readers to the blog – especially ones unaware of my great charm and sophistication (hah!) – usually results in a pretty good laugh. The most recent Google searches that sent folk my way included:

having a dog is a lot more work than i thought
good comebacks for gingers
"spiderman 3" credits dog puppet
she wore miniskirt zebra
aztec metal blowing
"come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off"
what does andy mcnabs signature look like?
good comebacks for servants
will an mri show my genitals
death by bollock kick
blood on your clown shoes joke (which takes me back)

Obviously, given the name of the blog, some were a little more slanted toward unusual sexual activities like: dry hump wank on ground and chew my cum wad

Recently there was "cute butt" blogspot, which surely should have taken them straight here rather than to me.

That said, of late I did get an email from someone researching the Enzo Ferrari script Michael Mann was at one point going to direct. Google sent them to this entry and they wanted to know more.

I jotted down what I could remember, but called the pal who had introduced me at the bar seeing if he could recall anything further. He couldn’t because if the noise and distractions around us rather than the due to the near empty pint glass in his hand. Call Troy up and ask him he suggested, saying he’d be happy to talk as he searched for his home number.

At his Insider’s Guide to TV Drama class in March, Adrian Mead suggested meeting writers and taking them for a coffee and a chat. I guess, in that respect, Troy Kennedy Martin is as good a person to start with.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Clean And Sobering

Earlier last week I gave Holby Central another shot. Really big of me, I know. Certain plot threads may not have stood up to closer inspection but then it wasn’t the story I was interested in but the production.

It certainly proved to be a drama of two halves. The location work had energy to it, with the camera very much in motion. Then came the police station scenes, obviously filmed in a studio with virtually static cameras, which started to fall flat.

It reminded me of what actress Angela Richards called “standing around acting” when I interviewed both her and Juliet Hammond-Hill about the BBC drama Secret Army. After location filming for the wartime drama took place around Peterborough and Norfolk in the UK, Brussels and the surrounding countryside in Belgium, the interiors were all shot at Television Centre.

On the Restaurant Candide set the members of Lifeline would invariably congregate in the office to discuss their ongoing strategies. With only two bulky studio cameras available for the scenes, the actors simply stood on their marks as the drama unfolded.

“We were always responding to an event,” Juliet explained, “We had to affect poses of interest and I remember a classic one where I had to walk in between Alaine and Angie to make up the shot. Those things were the least favourite aspects because they took away your creative flow.”

Almost three decades later nothing much seems to have changed. Perhaps the problem with Holby Blue is the police station interiors looks like sets where the last lick of paint dried before the cameras rolled and they haven’t fully moved in. In fact I half expected Sarah Beeny to appear and itemise the budget, explaining that they hadn’t set enough money aside for props.

It doesn’t have the worn and lived in look of NYPD Blue’s 13th Precinct, Hill Street Station or the squad room in Homicide: Life on the Streets, or even the English locations used back in the days of The Sweeney or Prime Suspect. Maybe the cleaners employed at the Holby station work their butts off tidying everything away to make it look spick-and-span. The characters certainly make sure they come in fleshly laundered, having scrubbed under their nails and behind their ears.

Speaking of NYPD Blue, watching the episode it became clear who the John Kelly character is, especially with his estranged wife causing grief at the station house. When the episode finished with the DCI taking a bung from the sneering Euro-villain in the back of his car it had me thinking Janice Licalsi and Angelo Marino all over again.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the DCI puts a bullet in him next week. Either way I don’t think I’ll be around to see whether it happens or not.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

To Die For

Another Saturday night and once again Channel 4 pads out its evening schedule by stripping in yet another list show. This time it was a repeat of their 50 Films to See before You Die.

I missed this when it was originally shown and missed just over the first half this time around. Compiled by experts and critics rather than throwing it open to the great unwashed, each of the entries was supposed to stand as “a paragon of a particular genre or style.”

It made interesting viewing unless, of course, you hadn’t seen the films on the list. Because as well as presenting an overview of every entry they managed to give away not just major plot plots but each film’s ending virtually every time. Good one.

Still, I suppose that gives everyone more time to do other things before they peg it. If you missed it and want to know what the fifty films are...

01. Apocalypse Now

02. The Apartment
03. City of God
04. Chinatown
05. Sexy Beast
06. 2001: A Space Odyssey

07. North by Northwest
08. A Bout de Souffle
09. Donnie Darko
10. Manhattan

11. Alien
12. Lost in Translation
13. The Shawshank Redemption
14. Lagaan: Once Upon A Time in India
15. Pulp Fiction
16. Touch of Evil
17. Walkabout
18. Black Narcissus

19. Boyz n the Hood
20. The Player
21. Come and See
22. Heavenly Creatures
23. A Night at the Opera

24. Erin Brockovich
25. Trainspotting
26. The Breakfast Club
27. Hero
28. Fanny and Alexander
29. Pink Flamingos
30. All About Eve

31. Scarface
32. Terminator 2
33. Three Colours: Blue
34. The Royal Tenenbaums
35. The Ladykillers

36. Fight Club
37. The Searchers
38. Mulholland Drive
39. The Ipcress File
40. The King of Comedy
41. Manhunter

42. Dawn of the Dead
43. Princess Mononoke
44. Raising Arizona
45. Cabaret
46. This Sporting Life
47. Brazil

48. Aguirre: The Wrath of God
49. Secrets and Lies
50. Badlands

I’ve seen 35 of the 50. How about you?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Thirty Years On

Too busy yesterday to notice that it was the thirtieth anniversary since the release of this:

Of course that was the date it opened in America. It would take a little while longer to arrive in England and my neck of the woods back then. Remarkably it opened on only thirty-two screens. By comparison Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End opened this past week at 4,362 theaters across America.

I remember seeing Star Wars as a kid and really enjoying it. But I can also distinctly remember the feeling on emptiness afterwards. After all the hype, was that it? It didn’t stop me from going to see The Empire Strikes Back a few years later, bunking off from school when I should have been revising for my O-levels. Then came the third film with the teddy bears. Oh dear.

I suppose by then it was already about the merchandising, rather than a good story tell told. It was only browsing the Los Angeles Times’ website today that I found out about the celebrations. Their lead article concentrated on the convention’s 24-hour supermarket selling expensive moulded plastic.

There is a school of thought that Star Wars had a very negative effect on filmmaking, sacrificing story for spectacle. Certainly it’s an idea I’d subscribe to. Made on a budget of $11 million, Star Wars for all its faults had an innocence and exuberance. Twenty-eight years later and made for an inflated $113 million, Revenge of the Sith, bloated with digital wizardry and sparse on story, appeared soulless and calculated.*

* Based on the few clips I managed to sit through.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Tribulations And Trials

A marvellous short film script arrived in my inbox to read and make notes on. It arrived at just the right time of the day and proved to be a very welcome respite from transcribing yesterday’s tape.

Talking about the fun and games and jolly japery that went on, on the film sets was all well and good but for the second sit down with the Actress we concentrated on her family background. Hearing about her father’s childhood in India and his schooling in Shimla, in full view of the Himalayas, was certainly interesting. Eventually returning to England with his parents he studied law at Cambridge before joining up.

After the end of the war, and now a Major, he was one of the lawyers assigned as defence council in the Bergen-Belsen trial held in Luneberg toward the end of 1945. Although in civilised society we believe that everyone deserves a fair trial, it must have been utterly galling to have to prepare a defence for people who systematically tortured and murdered untold thousands of innocent people.

Bergen-Belsen was where Anne Frank and her sister Margot died. Bergen-Belsen was where Irma Grese, one of the most notorious female Nazi war criminals, had lampshades made from the skins of three of the inmates. The Actress’ father had to defend three of the SS women who worked at the camp. Which, as his first ever job as a young lawyer, really was being thrown into the deep end.

After an hour researching the trial, during which time I could feel my skin crawl, I had to stop and watch Ice Age just to clear my head.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

More Talk

Back to Marylebone for the afternoon and my second sit down with the Actress. This time I made sure there was far less of me on the tape to make the transcribing tomorrow easier on my ears.

With her off to America next week I needed to pick up on some of the background she had touched on last time. With her career already documented we concentrated on her parents’ background and her childhood. As a dyslexic, school had been particularly difficult where she was simply thought of as being “slow”.

We had planned to set aside an hour but typically we overran. Eventually, armed with a number of old magazines and clippings from her archive, I wandered across Central London ready for Our Pal’s birthday drink.

I lasted three hours. A hot sticky day, I would have preferred to be in tee-shirt and shorts rather than a suit. Running late in the morning – having worked to three in the morning, I slept way past the alarm – I had only managed to scarf down a couple of slices of toast.

The pub selected, while quiet, hadn’t anything close to competent air-conditioning. Hot, tired and hungry, I was wilting fast. I managed to keep to keep it together long enough to talk with a friend who works for Granada and wants Work Buddy and I to send him our scripts.

A football match was playing silently on the television. Luckily there were no supporters on hand this time, save one. The game featured the Republic of Ireland against Ecuador and the woman sitting next to me pointed out her brother playing on the RoI side.

Finding out that she was a voiceover artiste, and looking for new people we could use for the pharma work, I traded business cards with her. Asking what she was currently working on, I learnt that tomorrow morning she was going in to provide ADR for the series finale of Doctor Who. Finishing my drink, I made my exit.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Fall Teasers

Now that the US networks have finally decided which of the many pilots they shelled out for have what it takes to be the next Heroes or House or [insert name of any successful TV series here], has clips of the shows honoured with one of the precious timeslots in the 2007-2008 Primetime Schedule.

Ranging from 30 seconds to five minutes in length, showing single scenes or a short collection, the ones that do it for me are Fox’s K-Ville and CBS’ Viva Laughlin. Which ones give you a nice tingly feeling?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Voice. Over

MIA for the past couple days because, after transcribing the tapes over the weekend, I got sick of the sound of my own voice. Rather, I don’t like the sound of my own voice. (Every other component part is obviously just ace and skill and combines to form a golden god).

Although I’ve gotten to know the Actress over the past couple of years – first in a working environment and then socially – it began more as a conversation to put her at ease, which meant there was more of me on the first tape than in a typical interview situation.

The next time we meet up I’ll say a lot less, for my sake.

In the meantime, when I mentioned the Actress “started out in the last dying gasps of the studio contract days” and mentioned she had just over a decade on me, dear Lara assumed it was a far more bygone age and asked what skin care routine I followed to still “look fantastic”. Obviously looks can be very deceptive.

This morning, towelling myself down, I noticed a streak of white on my chest. Assuming it was split toothpaste I went to rub it off and discovered my first white chest hair. Worse still, over on his blog English Dave passed on the information that the average of viewers of Midsomer Murders, which trounced the opening episode of Holby Blue in the ratings, is 61 years old.

I know, you’re probably reading this with your mouths open, aghast. After all my lip about current British dramas, I watch Midsomer Murders? Absolutely. Why? I’m afraid I'll have to leave that for another time.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

My Eyes!

Obviously we all have a lot of questions in life.

What do you get if you splice Sunshine with Solaris and Event Horizon? is certainly not one that I’ve had festering away inside me for a long time, or even any time for that matter, looking to find release.

Either way, after a day alternating between transcribing Thursday’s interview tapes and writing notes on a short film script, I unwittingly stumbled across the answer.

Next weekend I have to promise myself not to make the same mistake.

Friday, May 18, 2007

In The Hot Seat

Although I finished the temp assignment three weeks back, I’ve still been working for the company the first two days of the week to help them out. On Tuesday, the head of the department took me aside and said that he had arranged an interview with his direct superior at the end of the week.

Having already made it clear that he wanted me working for them, he was close to securing the funds to take me on full time. All very well for him, but I was getting the feeling that I was being forced into it.

When it comes to fait accomplis, I tend to resist. I like helping people out, certainly, but rankle at being manipulated. It was the thing the animation producer was great at and I would kick myself for falling for it every time.

After conducting an interview with the Actress yesterday, today I found myself on the receiving end. Unfortunately, instead of Central London, it was in one of their other offices in Hounslow. Oh, joy.

A blisteringly hot day - which certainly made a change from the previous days of the week - without air conditioning, the office there was blisteringly hot as well. It was only sitting down in the meeting room that I figured out why they couldn’t open the windows and let a little air in.

Five floors up, facing a large window across the room, I could see the lowered undercarriages and the bottom of the fuselages of airliners on their final approach for Heathrow. Closed windows and solid double-glazing that reduced the roar of their engines to a prolonged yawn was obviously better to work to rather than a constant throaty howl.

I had been assured that to get the job all I had to do was turn up. Luckily that wasn’t the case, but knowing that I was in a position where they wanted me much more than I wanted them, it allowed me to speak frankly to the area head manager.

In turn he explained that there were in fact other people to see for the role, which meant that he wasn’t one to simply put all his eggs in one basket. The manager’s admittance that he always takes his time reaching a decision when it comes to recruitment at least affords me some wiggle room.

On the way back home I treated myself to this.

If you haven’t seen it, I can heartily recommend it. Whit Stillman needs to make more films.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Chocolate Cake And Alcohol

Back into Marylebone this afternoon. After one last delay caused by schedule clashes, I finally sat down with the Actress to discuss putting together her autobiography.

We met up at her agent’s apartment. Planned for just the two of us, the agent was feeling a bit under the weather and was working from home. Instead of heading straight there I made a detour to the Patisserie Valerie on Marylebone High Street.

When I got there the Actress was finishing up a telephone interview with an American magazine. On the table was the photograph she was submitting for the new version of Spotlight. For someone who was devastatingly beautiful in her youth and certainly still has it, the picture was remarkably shorn of all hints of vanity.

The gateaux brought a smile to their faces. Even the agent’s cat, which usually steered clear of strangers, came over to say hello and jumped up on the counter to let me scratch it behind the ears.

Over coffee and cake we talked about the Actress’ life and career. I already had a fair amount of information collated but it goes without saying that it was just the tip of the iceberg.

The conversation bounced about before we got down to specific areas. In those instances I got her to paint a portrait of her life then. Here was someone who started out in the last dying gasps of the studio contract days and lived and worked through seismic changes in the industry in America, the UK and Europe.

Some of the stories were either absolutely hilarious or simply jaw-dropping. Still trying to figure out where to draw the line when it comes down to how much to reveal about her past, when her agent looked up from her laptop and started to mention one topic that would certainly be borderline I reached forward and turned off the tape recorder.

The first three hours together went well. Next there are all the scrapbooks to go through and put the proposal together for the agent to shop around.

From the apartment I walked to Covent Garden to catch up with a pal working at a publishers in the area. With his birthday next week, and eschewing the usual haunts, he was looking for a place for everyone to meet up. Having spent three years there when I was at The Esteemed School of Art, I had got to know a fair number of the local watering holes quite intimately.

Twenty years on, a lot of them were very different now. They weren’t full of grubby little students for a start. The pub that we had all been thrown out of for “using the place like a common room” wasn’t there anymore. It had always looked very empty once we took our custom elsewhere. I suppose me sicking up on the landlord one night hadn’t helped matters.

Another pub, which had a marvellous back room we used to rest our weary bones in still had the marvellous back room, except they had turned it into a restaurant. We put our heads around the doors of two others but neither were the size he required.

The third was big enough. It turned out to be the second pub we had been barred from back in the day. In that instance the exclusion had come about from me leaving black-paint handprints on the rather pendulous breasts of one of my fellow students which in turn led to her shoving me backwards onto a table filled with glasses. The only problem now was that the size and shape of the interior played merry hell with the acoustics and it sounded like everyone was shouting her heads off, over the noise of the ramped up jukebox.

The next pub was just right, with a quiet upstairs bar that stayed quiet until the volume of the television was turned up and we found ourselves surrounded by footballs supporters cheering on their team. Thank you Sky Sports.

The staff assured him there wasn’t a game scheduled for next week.

As a post script, I should make it clear that we didn't get barred from the first pub until sometime into our third year. By then I had had more than enough of the course and my fellow students and just wanted out.

For a long time then, and a long time since, I've avoided the Friday evening drink like the plague. All people seemed to do there, whether they were art students or - later on - animators, was talk about the events of the week and little more. When they did chew over the past five days I'd nod my head and reply, "I know, I was there!"

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Small Print

A busy weekend just gone and a busy week at the moment, which means that it was only this that I got around to reading Charlie Brooker’s weekly Screen Burn column in The Guardian’s free listing magazine, The Guide, from Saturday. It wasn’t exactly the typical fun read, instead turning out to be a dire portent of the horrors to come.

One of the nasty habits the UK has picked up from the US is to fuck around with end credits on television programmes. Granted it’s not exactly in the same league as conducting into illegal invasions of foreign countries, but the nerd in me loves the end credit sequences to find out who was involved in the making of the programmes. That aside, it’s just nice to have a brief respite to digest what I’ve just watched.

Over the past years the UK channels have begun screwing around with programme end credits more and more. It was bad enough having the continuity announcers with their unusual dialects mouthing off over the end music. Then we had the credits squashed to one side as the screen was invaded by a visual trail for the upcoming programmes.

Of course the real offenders were the independent channels. ITV may do it, but I rarely watch anything they have to offer so I don’t really know and don’t give a shit. Channel 4 is more problematic, ruining the playout of the imported American dramas.

Except now the BBC are seriously getting in on the act. On the BBC website, their Credit Guidelines page spells out how the “end credit architecture” will be applied to programmes, starting from Monday June 4th 2007. A number of mock-ups show how programme end credits, now centred, are going to be reduced by less than 50 percent so that all kinds of other crap can be sprayed over the screen.

So this:

Becomes this:

Or this:

The thing is, I can fucking well read. So before the television is turned on I look through the Radio Times (other listings magazines are available) to find out what’s on rather than automatically flick the box on and simply let the evening pass, staring blankly at whatever the hell is on. Surprisingly I’m also picky about what I watch, which means that I don’t simply stick my snout in the same channel however much they try to convince me.

Which means I don’t need to know – or don’t want to know - what is on next before the programme I’ve actually elected to watch has finished. Especially if it’s cocking Judge John Deed up next.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Small Miracles

There has been a lot of talk bouncing around the blogs about short films. These are my two favourites, both made by the phenomenally talented Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit.

The Monk and the Fish received Academy Award and BAFTA Award Best Short Animated Film nominations in 1995 and won the Cartoon d’Or and César for Best Short Film Animation.

Father and Daughter won both the Academy Award and BAFTA for Best Short Animated Film, three British Animation Awards, the Audience Award and Grand Prix at the 2001 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, and the Cartoon d’Or, amongst the thirty-odd prizes it accrued.

If you ever get the opportunity to watch them, do. And enjoy.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Barcelona Factor

I don’t mean “Barcelona, Like a jewel in the sun!” or some clunky Robert Ludlum espionage doorstop either.

What I mean is this...

Where, through the twelve episodes of Fawlty Towers, every time Manuel fucked up John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty would excuse the Spaniard’s imbecilic mistakes and misinterpretations by simply explaining to the guests: “He’s from Barcelona.”

So The Barcelona Factor comprises the howling great gaffes in television, alongside other forms of media, where the programme makers try to sidestep and gloss over the inherent flaws.

For instance, Doctor Who’s Barcelona Factor is its complete inability to marry characterisation with a coherent story and get out before the deus ex machina comes crashing down with a loud thud.

Or Life on Mars’ creators concocting a scenario that set the series in the seventies simply so they could pretend they were making The Sweeney.

In the case of Holby Blue it’s the fact that the pre-watershed drama has to be filmed in the same house style as Casualty, virtually unchanged in pace and tone after 21 years, which has spent the time perfecting the art of motionless motion.

Does that make sense? The idea rattled into my head this afternoon while I was stuck on a dawdling District Line train on the way to deliver some work to a waiting client.

What other shows can you think of that suffer from The Barcelona Factor?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Travel Sick

Just over a couple of weeks back, the day in fact that the first signs of creeping death started to manifest themselves, Work Buddy had to take the Eurostar to Paris for an audio project. With an early departure, and his train line into London shut down over the weekend for “essential maintenance”, he stopped over to get the overground from here.

From here it would take him half an hour to get down to Blackfriars on the mainline, then he could either walk across the bridge and along the South Bank to Waterloo or jump in a cab. With the amount of luggage he had – most of which was recording equipment – the latter option would make more sense.

It’s an easy trip. Unless of course he had to travel on the day of the London Marathon where the whole north side of the Thames is part of the route. Oh, unlucky!

Yesterday morning he had to be at Gatwick for a flight to Toronto, which meant another stop over. During which time we tried to work out which was the best train for him to take that would avoid the rush hour crush. It didn’t help that he needed to change at Kings Cross, staying on the same platform at least for the through train to Brighton that stopped at the airport.

At the station here the platform was filled with glum middle management types in cheap suits and faces like thunder. We let the first train go through. For a while the platform was virtually deserted until the next train through was due. Suddenly the next wave of commuters arrived, knowing exactly where to stand for the compartment doors. None of them had apparently had their Ready Brek.

Work Buddy shoved his way on, then had a hell of a time trying to get aboard the connecting train. Stopping here the night before is convenient, but somehow it always leads to a troubled journey.

Over take-out pizza we discussed me getting around to writing the short film script and whether it was worth trying to bash the whole thing out against the clock. The general consensus was that it would be utter pointless. Get it done, obviously, but get it done right.

With the amount of thought that has already been put into it, which has radically altered the story and structure since the idea was first floated, we’re well over this “five hour limit”. As David Anaxagoras mentions on his Man Bytes Hollywood blog, simply spewing out a vomit draft can be more trouble than it’s worth.

Whoopee, you get to put words down on the page! But if they’re ill-considered and simply wrong, what’s the point? Such a pointless, worthless draft probably takes more time to correct than one that takes longer to write in the first instance but has been properly thought out. Anyway, I promised to get it done while he was away.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Holby Blew

Look, I know they try and drill into us “If you haven’t got anything nice to say –“, but Holby Blue? What the fuck?

Holby Blue – or Holby/Blue as the on-screen titles call it, putting in the same twattishly irritating category as Face/Off – was just the dullest, bog-standard police procedural ever. Actually, instead of a forward slash it was more a massive backward dump.

I mean it was about as exciting as watching an egg boil, on a low heat – but then given that it was a deathly spin-off from the terminally sleep-inducing Casualty and Holby City what else could anyone expect?

The fact that Holby Blue was created by Tony Jordan perhaps makes it all the more disappointing. Especially since that before Hustle and Life on Mars, Jordan created City Central. Broadcast in 1998, it was the first police precinct drama series to be commissioned by BBC television since Troy Kennedy Martin’s Z Cars in 1962.

At the time people thought City Central was a response to The Bill, which went to ITV after the BBC showed no interest in creator Geoff McQueen’s initial pitch about life in a London police station. While The Bill was set at Sun Hill police station, City Central centred around the rozzers plodding the beat at Christmas Street station in an unnamed Northern city.

Obviously attempting a UK version of Hill Street Blues, while The Bill evolved into a soap, City Central simply petered out. Supposed, with Blue in the title, Holby Blue is an attempt at NYPD Blue. If that’s the case it fails spectacularly. Riddled with every flipping cliché in the TV Plod handbook, the first episode of Holby Blue was like a school play version of NYPD Blue put on by special-needs kids.

The only show that came close to having the same verve and energetic style as Steven Bochco and David Milch’s Emmy Award-winning drama was World Productions’ The Cops, which won the BAFTA for Best Drama Series two years on the trot. Broadcast the same year as City Central, The Cops courted controversy in its depiction of the modern police force to such an extent that any technical advice was quickly withdrawn.

Maybe we’re too simply parochial in our police procedurals. Perhaps the English tradition of amateur sleuths and gentleman detectives is too ingrained in our DNA. The only current drama that manages to get it right is Waking the Dead, which takes the elements of deductive reasoning and mixes it with the modern forensic sciences.

After all, investigating old crimes allows them to rattle a few skeletons in the cupboard and dig up people’s dirty little secrets is what it’s all about in this country. Trying to come across all hard and fast simply results in slow and stupid. I’d prefer to have my feet set in a block of concrete then have barbed wire threaded through my arsehole and out the end of my knob with the two ends handed to tug-of-war teams than watch any more of it. Holby Blue? More Holby Bleugh.

Anyway, English Dave has a far more reasoned post about the show over on his blog.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Coming Up Short

May Day Bank Holiday; a whole week late and pouring with rain, which figures. I had meant to sit down and write up the short film script Work Buddy and I had been mulling over for too long now.

Following Dolly’s example I was going to throw myself in and bash the first draft out in the allotted five hours. Typically things got in the way while I skimmed over the notes. By the time I got through The Sunday Times yesterday Prime Suspect 3, Perfect Dark and a few too many chapters of Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys put paid to making any real headway.

Today there were other things on my mind as well. For instance, outside the neighbourhood M&S Food Hall, a MISSING poster was taped to the lamppost. It’s not unusual for families to post pictures of kitties that have gone astray or pooches that have gone walkies all by their lonesome. Which is why I’ve avoided the recently opened Pacific Fusion restaurant up the street.

From a distance the picture looked like a toasted ciabatta. It was only on closer inspection, coming back with the groceries, that I realised it was a missing tortoise. Somewhere in the area a family’s tortoise had gone walkabout. Unless it had gone into hiding and back into hibernation, or been on Benzedrine or had a lit firework lodged in its arse, just how far could it have gone?

I had the beginning of the script and the end. I knew the central character and his motives. Somehow there wasn’t enough connective tissue in my line of sight to join it all together. Trying to picture it all in my mind I absently snacked on the chorizo that was supposed to go into an egg dish saving me from having to nip out for a take away Foo Yung.

Bizarrely it was only when I was in the bath that I came up with a secondary character’s name. Once he was identified it magically all fell into place. By then it was too late to make a start so I scribbled down some notes to plough into it another day.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Three Minute Warning

Bright young things eager to get their foot in the industry door have always seen writing and/or directing a short film as a way in. According to an article in The Times yesterday, from the looks of things the average ten-minute short will soon be considered long form and may well need an intermission.

Blame it on 7 Minute Sopranos, the “whacked out” refresher that condenses the previous 77 episodes of The Sopranos, just prior to the transmission of the drama’s final nine episodes. Loaded on YouTube in March it has been viewed almost 336,000 times.

While certainly tongue-in-cheek, and technically seven minutes and thirty-six seconds for all the pedants out there, it appears to have sparked something of a “TV revolution.” Sony Pictures have already put their minions to work, trawling through the archives. 300 hour-long episodes of dramas, including Starsky and Hutch, Charlie’s Angels and TJ Hooker, have been whittled down to three-and-a-half to five minute (including credits) “minisodes” to be loaded onto the internet.

When the Creative Archive finally becomes available online, the BBC is hoping that viewers will re-edit and reinterpret the hours of comedy, drama, and even documentaries in the vault to produce their own “artistic creations”. Although they are already at pains to point out that the material must not, of course, be used for “derogatory” or “commercial” purposes).

Which means we can now see the infamous 1997 Newsnight interview in which Jeremy Paxman now asks Michael Howard, the Conservative Home Secretary, just the once whether he threatened to overrule Derek Lewis when the then-Director of the Prison Service sacked a prison governor.

But before all that, there’s always the quartet of Die Hard movies reduced to four and a half minutes and set to music. Yipee-ki-yea!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Song Sung Eww

Anyone wanting to make a go of screenwriting must have Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio’s Wordplayer website bookmarked. Virtually a one-stop-shop for everything you ever need to know about story content and screenplay format, in his Points for Style screenwriting column, Terry Rossio talks about Lyrical Style.

People tend to think of screenplays the way they think of novels. In truth writing a script is much more like writing poetry. The form and structure are paramount, and the goal is to convey as much information as possible in as compact a form as possible. Not only does every word count, every syllable counts.

Song lyrics are one form of poetry. I prefer to think of screenwriting as song writing. Consider the following line, for example, as if it were the first line of a screenplay:

The screen door slams. Mary's dress waves.
Like a vision she dances across the porch
as the radio plays.

Springsteen fans will recognize the opening line to Thunder Road. But it reads quite well as a descriptive passage. If a screenplay began with such a simple, evocative line, I'd know I was in good hands; I'd be hooked. It conveys setting, tone, character, situation, with an incredible efficiency.

Not all song lyrics are as poetic. Recently BBC 6 Music launched Taxing Lyrical, their quest to find the worst music lyrics ever committed to song.

People voted in their droves and now the results are in, leading to their Top 10 worst lyrics of all time:

10. Black Sabbath - War Pigs

Generals gathered in their masses,
Just like witches at black masses.

09. Human League - The Lebanon

Before he leaves the camp he stops,
He scans the world outside,
And where there used to be some shops,
Is where the snipers sometimes hide.

08. Duran Duran - Is There Something I Should Know?

And fiery demons all dance when you walk through that door,
Don't say you're easy on me you're about as easy as a nuclear war.

07. Oasis - Champagne Supernova

Slowly walking down the hall,
Faster than a cannonball,
Where were you when we were getting high?

06. Toto - Africa

The wild dogs cry out in the night,
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company,
I know that I must do what's right,
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.

05. U2 - Elevation

I've got no self control,
Been living like a mole now,
Going down, excavation,
High and high in the sky,
You make me feel like I can fly,
So high,

04. ABC - That Was Then But This Is Now

More Sacrifices than an Aztec priest,
Standing here straining at that leash,
All fall down,
Can't complain, mustn't grumble,
Help yourself to another piece of apple crumble.

03. Razorlight - Somewhere Else

And I met a girl,
she asked me my name,
I told her what it was.

02. Snap - Rhythm Is A Dancer

I'm as serious as cancer,
When I say Rhythm is a Dancer.

And the number one choice...

01. Des'ree - Life

I don't want to see a ghost,
It's the sight that I fear most,
I'd rather have a piece of toast,
Watch the evening news.

Did they get it right? Or is there something worse that needs bringing to light?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Sci-Fi 25

The resident journalists for Entertainment Weekly have chosen their 25 greatest science fiction films and television series from the past 25 years. The results are far more intelligent than anything left in the hands of fanboys and girls who vote for their favourites rather than the best.

So we get fascist lizards from outer space, parodies, old warhorses brought back to life, time travel, stylish animations, head-fucks, space operas, dystopian nightmares, merciless killing machines, metamorphosing monsters, and bleeding-edge special effects.

One thing that is clear is that as genres go, science fiction, rather than be relegated to escapist fantasies, is a legitimate breeding ground for heartfelt human drama.

The fully illustrated list, with information on each entry, their greatest moment and pop culture legacy, can be found on the Entertainment Weekly website.

If you can’t be arsed to flip through their individual pages and just want to know the results, here they are.

01. The Matrix (1999)

02. Battlestar Galactica (2003-Present)
03. Blade Runner (1982)
04. The X-Files (1993-2002)
05. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
06. Brazil (1985)

07. E.T. (1982)
08. Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994)
09. Aliens (1986)
10. The Thing (1982)
11. Lost (2004-Present)
12. Back to the Future (1985)
13. The Terminator/Terminator 2 (1984/1991)
14. Children of Men (2006)
15. Firefly/Serenity (2002/2005)

16. Total Recall (1990)
17. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
18. Heroes (2006-Present)
19. Starship Troopers (1997)
20. Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003-2005)

21. Futurama (1999-2003)
22. Quantum Leap (1989-1993)
23. Doctor Who (1963-Present)
24. Galaxy Quest (1999)
25. V: The Miniseries (1983)

So, did they get it right?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Cum Down My Thought

Looking for a distraction after spending too long staring blankly at the blank page on the screen, I checked out where visitors to the blog came from and what had brought them here.

People from around the globe seem to have dropped by. Some of them checked in through various links. Others were brought here through a combination of interesting search words.

50 Greatest TV dramas was a common term that would have taken them here or here. Then there were the more unusual ones:

on numb3ers peter left to go to nasa

"hate the new doctor who"

diddly wad

ex girlfriends pictures

cocking girlfriends

Cynthia Nixon sex clip moaning

molasar differences book movie (which would have taken them here)

"between my legs"

best way to set a dog trolley

wad huckleberry finn racist?

dog fuck

jonathan ross cock size

fannying around

tim greg saliva bubbles blogspot

"i hate the new doctor who"

supreme expansion talon

My favourites both came from Canada:

swallow my wad (Ontario)

and the magnificent

cum down my thought (Alberta)

Bless you one and all. You're obviously my kind of people.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Au Revoir

Being out at the party Saturday night gave me the best opportunity for avoiding Doctor Who. Still watching to see whether the show would nose its way past the BELOW AVERAGE mark, last week really was the time to say enough is enough and spent the time more profitably.

The problem with April 21st’s episode – Daleks in Manhattan – was that not only was the fiction appalling but the cockamamie prefix science was, as usual, the sort of witless poppycock put together by a clueless jobbernowl. Humans mutated into pig-men because...? Well, I suppose it came up in a script conference and everyone thought it would be an utterly bonzer idea whether it was relevant or not. What was this The Cold Comfort Farm of Doctor Moreau?

Worse was the “evolution” of the Daleks. Take a human, shake and bake him inside the metal pepperpot to produce a creature with... monocular vision? Surely that’s devolution, right? As we all know, monocular vision means a 25% reduction in the peripheral field of vision from normal stereoscopic binocular vision.

The decreased visual acuity impairs orientation, hand-eye co-ordination, and causes loss of manipulation and balance. Which would make a clumsy fucker, bumping into everything around it. And let’s not even talk about having the brain on the outside of the skull. Who needs a hard cranium to protect soft nervous tissue? Pathetic!

Still, Doctor Who wasn’t the only thing I was happy to avoid. The stinking turd floating in the weekend punchbowl had to be, hands down, The Return of ‘Allo ‘Allo!. Goodness knows what rage would have been unleashed if I had been indoors to catch sight of that.

I never, for one moment, saw the funny side of ‘Allo ‘Allo!. It wasn’t because I considered a WWII-set comedy filled with bumbling Nazi buffoons and the worst cultural national stereotypes to be in horribly bad taste, or even that it was little more than a sketch recycling the same tired and utterly obviously jokes ad infinitum. My bugbear was that it was an incredibly lazy rip off of Secret Army.

In the past producer David Croft had been adamant that ‘Allo ‘Allo!‘s premise was to spoof war-based films and TV dramas. I suppose on Saturday night he was wheeled out once again to gruffly state categorically that the show was in no way based on Secret Army – which is an even bigger porkie than anything that has come out of the mouth of Norman Stanley Archer.

First broadcast in 1977, and running for three series and a total of 42 episodes, Secret Army followed the exploits of Lifeline, an escape line set up by a young nurse, Lisa Colbert, to get downed RAF aircrews safely back to England. Joining her in this perilous endeavour were Brussels café-owner Albert Foiret, whose establishment, the Café Candide, became their base of operations, alongside his waitresses Natalie Chantrens and Monique Duchamps, who was also his mistress.

Carrying out their work meant keeping one step ahead of SS-Sturmbannführer Ludwig Kessler along with Major Erwin Brandt of Brussels’ Luftgau, and his successor, Major Hans Reinhardt. Although Kessler disagreed with Brandt’s methods of putting captured airmen at ease in an effort to garner information, and Reinhardt’s apparently lackadaisical approach to his work, all three were committed to breaking Lifeline and apprehending those responsible.

Such a set-up could easily have led to a rollicking Boys-Own adventure with the brave Belgians outwitting the dreaded Hun to make sure our brave boys got back to Blighty to fly another day. Instead Secret Army went to great pains to show the stress and strain exacted upon the members of Lifeline, forced to live a double life. Though skilled fliers in the air, many of the younger RAF crewmen proved to be a liability on the ground. The drama didn’t shy away from showing failed attempts at getting airmen out, or the compromises made which led to casualties on all sides.

Living under a foreign power, the resistance members had to become calculated and ruthless to keep going. When the Candide was suspected of being used by an escape line, to allay suspicions, Foiret sells out an airman refusing to return to England. Along with serving their Wehrmacht regulars, the incident resulted in the staff accused of being “Boche-lovers!” by locals unaware of the real service they provided. After their London paymasters financed the upmarket Restaurant Candide in the heart of Brussels, which allowed them to operate under the noses of the enemy while listen in on their unguarded conversations, the reprisals for catering to the officer-class nearly proved fatal for the members of Lifeline following the eventual German withdrawal from the city.

Critically acclaimed, with audiences reaching 15 million viewers, Secret Army was created by ex-RAF pilot Gerard Glaister. Having flown Blenheim bombers in the North African Campaign before switching to piloting reconnaissance Spitfires, Glaister retired from the service after the Second World War, and began working for the BBC from the mid-1950s. Becoming a successful television producer of series like The Expert and The Brothers, in the early 1970s Glaister produced the award-winning wartime drama Colditz, which followed the prisoners-of-war’s ingenious escape attempts from the notorious castle.

Running for two years, the drama benefited greatly from the technical expertise of Major Pat Reid, a former inmate whose best-selling memoirs had also inspired the 1954 film The Colditz Story starring John Mills. Wanting to bring the same high level of verisimilitude to Secret Army, Glaister contacted The Royal Air Force Escaping Society, a charitable organisation providing financial assistance to surviving helpers and dependants of those who lost their lives helping airmen escape from occupied territory.

Fortunately for the production, the RAFES’s then-chairman was Group Captain William Randle, CBR AFC DFM. During the post-war years Bill Randle had worked for AI9, the successor to MI9 which had been specifically set up to financially assist escape routes once they proved to be successful. More importantly, he also had first-hand experience of them in action. As Secret Army’s technical advisor, Randle worked closely with script editor John Brason, an ex-merchant seaman who had previously written episodes of Colditz. Lifeline was based on the Comète line and Lisa Colbert modelled on Andrée de Jongh, codename Dédée.

A young Belgian nurse, Andrée de Jongh first started helping British soldiers left behind at Dunkirk. “Then of course we began the big bomber offensive at the start of 1942 and began to lose so many planes. Bless their hearts, the Belgians wanted to help,” explained Bill Randle when I interviewed him a couple of years ago for an article to coincide with the release of Secret Army on DVD. With the help of her schoolmaster father, Frederic, the 24-year-old set up the Comète line, which ran all the way from Belgium down to the Pyrenees. Described by one air gunner as “the best travel agency there ever was,” over 800 of the 3000-plus airmen from Bomber Command that evaded capture, returned via the Comète.

A Wellington bomber pilot during the war, Bill Randle and his crew had been forced to bail out on their way back from a night raid on Essen in the Ruhr Valley – or “Happy Valley” as he called it. After being reunited with his rear-gunner, who was only seventeen at the time, and an RCAF observer at a safe-house in the heart of Brussels, Dédée personally escorted the trio to Southern France and across the mountains into Spain.

In total the journey took a couple of months. Although the Spanish government was in the main anti-British, Randle and his crew were exchanged at Algeseras for a few hundred gallons petrol each and taken to Gibraltar. Back in England, Randle discovered that, having been rescued he couldn’t go back on Ops over Europe for fear of being shot down again, captured by the Germans and revealing the information on the escape lines.

The Belgians civilians would actively search for aircrews shot down over enemy-occupied territory. Instead of facing interrogation by the Luftwaffe Polizei or SS who scoured the countryside for downed terrorfliegers, after surrendering their name, rank and serial number the RAF bomber crewmembers found themselves subjected to further questioning of an unusually personal nature.

Before their journey home could begin, the men had to supply unique information, passed back to London for verification that would confirm they were who they said they were and not an enemy agent in disguise. Determined to break this secret network of escape lines, the Germans regularly attempted to infiltrate their way in. While captured airmen found themselves shipped to prisoner-of-war camps, the Belgians patriots would be interrogated until they betrayed their colleagues and then shot.

When the Comète line was eventually broken by the Germans in 1944, Andrée de Jongh spent the final years of the war first in Ravensbrueck then Maulthausen concentration camps before being liberated. In her absence it was left to Micheline Ugeux, then aged 19 and code-named “Michou”, to re-establish the line and continue getting downed aircrews to safety. The Davuere family from Namur who had helped Bill Randle were not so lucky. Doctor Davuere was shot and his wife and two daughters were sent to Auschwitz, where Madame Davuere went into the gas ovens almost upon arrival. The girls were subjected to medical experiments that killed Mercedes. Only Madelaine, the youngest Davuere daughter, lived through it. She ended up in Belsen after having managed to survive the death march from Auschwitz.

Based upon real people who put their lives at risk as well as actual events, Secret Army was perhaps not the best drama to poke fun of. Actresses Angela Richards and Juliet Hammond-Hill, who played Monique and Natalie, were amongst the Secret Army cast members I talked to who were less than enamoured that a series they were proud of had been usurped in the viewer’s memory by repetitive knee-jerk visual humour and silly accents. Though he still can’t forgive or forget the treatment meted out to the people who had saved him, Bill Randle’s response to ‘Allo ‘Allo! was more sanguine than expected.

“I objected to it because I thought they were taking the mickey out of the Belgians,” he explained, “but thank goodness they took the mickey out of the French. There were no French escape routes because they couldn’t trust each other. All the escape routes that mattered were Belgian.”