Thursday, May 28, 2009

Purple Pose

With so much entertainment to be had from watching all the sponging MPs squirm over the expenses scandal, I’d quite forgotten to follow the goings-on at the Cannes Film Festival. Back when I first became aware of the event the focus always seemed to be on some starlet parading her assets up and down the beach while the slavering press photographers closed in. Nowadays it’s all about which directors can make the biggest tits of themselves at the laudatory press conferences.

This year the winner by a country mile has to be the idiot film thief, Quentin Tarantino, who proclaimed: “I am not an American filmmaker. I make movies for planet Earth...” Could he be an even bigger cock? As for Inglourious Basterds, which seems to have been hastily cobbled together just to show off at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, while Empire magazine unsurprisingly rushed to gobble him off with blind praise, I preferred the much more unbiased review by Peter Bradshaw for The Guardian who declared it was, “achtung-achtung-ach-mein-Gott atrocious”.

After the initial hoopla that had whipped around La Croisette wafted emptily out to sea, all there was left was the hope that this nonsense of his didn’t scoop any of the major awards. Luckily the jury saw sense for once and gave the Palme d’Or to The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke’s parable of fascism set on the eve of The Great War, rather than Tarantino’s nasty and disrespectful wartime fantasy. That aside, after two weeks of the big carnival, the one item of news that stood out for me was Variety announcing that producer Robert Evans has teamed up with ITV Global to make a feature based on the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson television show, UFO.

With their intrepid heroes, secret organisations and high-tech craft involved in futuristic action adventures, the various Anderson-produced shows like Stingray and Thunderbirds and had been a key component of my childhood television viewing. Carrying on in the tradition of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, UFO featured SHADO’s efforts to repel an alien menace, although the big difference was that unlike those earlier puppet shows, famously “Filmed in Supermarionation”, this drama was the Anderson’s first series to be shot in live action.

If UFO stands out in my mind more than their previous shows it was simply because watching an episode was a little victory. All ten series the Andersons made for ITC were never transmitted across the ITV network at the same time. The different regions would choose when they wanted to broadcast it, so while the first run of UFO began on ATV Midlands in September 1970, London Weekend Television didn’t picked it up until a full year later. On Westward Television it was given a Saturday afternoon timeslot opposite the BBC revival Frank Muir and Denis Norden’s public school sitcom Whack-O!, which just happened to be one of my sister’s favourite shows. In the battle of the TV viewing she usually won out.

From the few episodes that I did manage to catch, the highlight of the show was Derek Meddings’ exemplary model work involving the SHADO interceptors taking off from the Moonbase, the Sky One jet fighter launching from the front of the Skydiver submarine, and the SHADO Mobiles rumbling through forests to locate the downed flying saucers. It was only when I caught some of the episodes many years later that I realized the aliens were coming to Earth to harvest human organs while many of the stories, rather than being action-oriented, centred on the psychological effect the secretive work had on the organization's operatives.

This unexpected adult tone, which, over the course of the series, featured SHADO’s Commander Straker’s disintegrating marriage as well as one particular episode where civilians encountered aliens while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, obviously wasn’t the most ideal teatime viewing. Neither perhaps were SHADO’s female Moonbase operatives in their distinctive figure-hugging metallic catsuits, silver boots and purple wigs. If the movie does come together, not only do I hope they make a better fist of it than the recent Thunderbirds movie, but they retain the iconic costumes however batty they were.

Sometime around the early 1990s I had to interview the actor Ed Bishop. We talked about his appearances in Kubrick’s Lolita and 2001: A Space Odyssey, the bit parts in two of the James Bond movies and, having seen him recently at the National Theatre in Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass, his varied stage work. Because The X-Files had just began on the BBC, the topic of conversation obviously got around to UFO and his role of the determined Straker, more intent on blowing aliens out of the skies than skulking around in the dark with a flashlight.

After discussing the uneven tone of the show and how the early evening timeslot was most probably inappropriate, I broached the subject of the Moonbase operatives uniforms. Based on the information I had been able to pull together, the wigs were meant to serve as protection from the ‘migrane-inducing electromagnetic fields’ produced by the equipment in the base’s control sphere, even though the men working there could do without. Taking that onboard, Bishop’s response, if my memory serves, was a look of complete bafflement followed by laughter.


At 10:19 am, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

If I recall correctly, the women's costumes were where Sylvia Anderson got to make her creative contribution. So while the sets and models were almost Kubrickian, the women were dressed like teens in the end-of-term show at a Blackburn School of Dance.

At 8:05 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


I certainly didn’t mind the catsuits on first viewing – they were rather pleasant to look at from a youngster’s point of view – but the whole silver clothing in science fiction was a wrong ‘un, unless, of course, it’s worn by Michael Rennie in The Day The Earth Stood Still. As I recall the Skydiver crew uniforms were rather unusual as well.

It’s a shame that, after being so much more heavily involved in the earlier puppet shows, when it came to their first live action drama Sylvia Anderson was relegated to designing the fashions. A nice lady, though. Earlier in this decade, a friend had to deliver some material up to her HBO office in Pinewood and asked me if I’d like to come along. Times had got screwed up so only her assistant was there, but I finally met her a little while later.

Having previously been called to fill in for a couple of weeks, producing character colour models for his godawful animated series GFI - which was thankfully knocked on the head once the first episode was completed – I was introduced to Gerry Anderson and wasn’t impressed. He was a miserable old goat. (Then again it was around the time Thunderbirds was getting a new lease of life on the BBC and, because he had sold his share of rights some years back, he wasn’t seeing any return from the resurgence of the Supermarionation shows).

But whereas Gerry Anderson gives the impression that the success of those old ITC shows is down to his brilliance, as soon as you talk to Sylvia about the old days she’s immediately off crediting all the various crewmembers who gave it their all to get the work on film.


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