Friday, 31 May 2013

Before Hill Street



Before playing Joyce Davenport in Hill Street Blues, Veronica Hamel had a career in the 60s and 70s as a model, here is just some of her portfolio












Theme Time : Mike Post - NYPD Blue

Yes, more from the prolific Post, specifically his brilliant theme for NYPD Blue 

I love how evocative this piece is of a bustling non stop metropolis like New York. You can feel the tracks of the subway, smell the various cooking aromas of a range of nations co-existing together, see the neon lights and feel the heat of the city all in this piece of music which, in the eye of the storm, has a thread of a reassuring tune that is I imagine meant to symbolise the police protecting the surrounding hubbub of the city.

Cleverly the youtuber has compiled this video to include every regular to appear on the show...



Early Dors


Out On Blue Six : The Damned



End Transmission



Thursday, 30 May 2013

Up The Women

Up The Women the new three part sitcom from BBC4 will go down in history. Specifically because it was the last sitcom to be performed in front of a live studio audience at the now defunct Television Centre, Shepherds Bush.

But for my money the debut episode tonight hinted at another possible history, for it showed a great deal of promise and could may well become a first class largely female ensemble sitcom in the Dad's Army or Blackadder mould, specifically in the way it depicts good intelligent humour with interesting historical fact.



It's written by its star, Jessica Hynes (nee Stevenson) the former star and writer of Spaced and who most recently wowed us with a brilliant comic performance as the vapid PR guru in the Olympics spoof Twenty Twelve. It was a turn that deserved awards, but sadly they were not forthcoming. Indeed I always feel Hynes never seems to get the recognition she actually deserves. It was frankly criminal that Simon Pegg rode the crest of a geekdom wave Stateside into big Hollywood blockbusters as 'the man behind Spaced' whilst Hynes was largely ignored and almost considered little more than a co-star and not an equal creator of the genius sitcom. Who knows, perhaps this unintentional disinterest in her talents as a female helped shape this sitcom, which details a women's craft circle and their growing interest in the burgeoning Suffragette movement?

I've long since felt the Suffragette movement a rich and fascinating chapter in our history that is all too often overlooked and this series looks set to rectify matters. It cannily depicts the fact that not all women wanted the vote - one character played by Rebecca Front is dead against it, although that may be more due to the fact that she didn't consider linking the group to the movement first - places us into a situation where women were told that they were 'too weak' to vote as well as hints that such 'silly old sexism' that these maidens face is sadly still with us to this day. But in navigating the subject matter with a warmly quaint, snug air (much like Dad's Army did with WWII or Blackadder Goes Forth did for WWI) it allows the more weighty serious fact and ridiculous chauvinist mindset and propaganda to slip through almost as if under the wire. The Suffragette movement isn't something to laugh at after all; it was a serious political revolution to combat the outrageous institutionalised inequality of the day, a nation where women were kept in place as second class citizens for economic purposes, allowing cheap or free labour to prosper.It was a dark chapter in history, one in which names like Emily Davison and the plot to assassinate Prime Minister Asquith are skirted over, but the reasons for them are skirted over even more, even to this day.

Hynes brings together an impressive cast of familiar faces at the top of their game; the aforementioned Front from The Thick Of It plays Hynes' nemesis in the group, a woman who feels her nose is put out of joint by the attention from her sudden political interest, a virtually unrecognisable buck toothed Vicki Pepperdine from Getting On and Judy Parfitt from Call The Midwife. There's also the exceptionally pretty Emma Pierson as a girl with more children than sense and Adrian Scarborough as the unintentionally patronising caretaker.

The first episode wasn't laugh out loud fair but it did make for regular chuckles and wry smiles with its mix of somewhat wordy, literate and mature humour with good old fashioned sight gags. It was performed beautifully as a team effort and the sets at TV Centre where clearly lovingly put together and properly excellent. This is an empowering and educational programme in what I feel is currently an oasis of good female role models on TV (because apart from Scandinavian drama, Olivia Colman in the recent Broadchurch and Gillian Anderson in BBC2's The Fall, currently on Mondays at 9pm, women are depicted as little more than catty backstabbing ignorant self gratifying harpies who change their tune with the wind in the name of the dying throes of 'girl power', itself a male marketing ploy) and as such, I'll definitely be tuning in next week.


The Rik, The Lemmy and The Ade

Though Rik puts it a little differently in the caption underneath the photo


Taken from Rik's 'autobiography' Bigger Than Hitler, Better Than Christ

It looked like we were getting a Rik and Ade reunion after their appearance in 2011's Let's Dance For Comic Relief led to a further Bottom series entitled Hooligan's Island get commissioned by the BBC last year. However Ade recently revealed the project has been shelved because he wanted to tour with The Bad Shepherds again rather than return to comedy; a decision which he revealed has - naturally - disappointed Rik. I hope they make up soon and get back together again eventually!

Theme Time : Stewart Copeland - The Equalizer

Half Death Wish as populist TV series/half spy thriller, The Equalizer was one of my favourite shows in the 80s, being allowed to stay up late (our local region Granada would often repeat it way past my bedtime) to watch the urbane ageing Edward Woodward kick New York hoodlums 'asses'




The unbelievably rocking and catchy theme tune and incidental music came from Stewart Copeland, the cool guy from The Police (ie not Sting) whose parents had in fact worked for the CIA and the British SIS. His theme was paired with a wonderfully creepy, evocative and explanatory title sequence



Here's a few examples of the incidental music also from Copeland. I love these, they're so wonderfully 80s and distinct in their sound (Copeland also provided the soundtrack to the film Wall Street which is equally distinctive)






I always think the music in the arrangement of this Elbow track High Ideals from their most recent album Build A Rocket Boys! sounds like Copeland's instrumental work from The Equalizer...



It's said that the original choice for the role of Robert McCall in The Equalizer was Hollywood ledge, James Coburn



But Coburn was concerned his then chronic arthritis would hinder his performance and believability in the role.

The other person who claims his hat was in the ring is none other than former star of The Professionals and moody veggie himself, Martin Shaw


But with respect, I think that's bollocks. Sure, it could be argued that show creators Richard Lindheim and Michael Sloan were considering another British TV action star, but I believe one of them has recalled that they were so impressed with Edward Woodward's performance as the weary spy/assassin Callan when they lived in the UK a decade or so earlier, that he was literally their next choice


It's worth recalling that when Woodward had to pull out of the series briefly due to a heart attack, both Richard Jordan and Robert Mitchum filled in playing hastily explained contemporaries of McCall's


Talk of a movie of The Equalizer has been ongoing for the last decade. I personally touted Ciaran Hinds as a likely candidate for McCall over IMDB and was delighted to read that the studio was seriously considering him shortly after. Also in the running were Sean Bean and Liam Neeson with a script from legendary thriller writer Frederick Forsyth. But the project faltered before coming back into the spotlight three years ago with Russell Crowe attached. Since 2011 however the man set to bring the show to the big screen seems to be Denzel Washington in a plot which sees him tangle with the Russian Mafia led by Marton Csokas after he rescues a prostitute from a beating played by crap actress and Kick Ass potty mouth Chloe Grace Moretz. Oh deep joy.

I think I'll stick to my memories of the TV show, thanks.



Vamps








The deliciously creepy partnership of Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers) and Vivian Darkbloom (Marianne Stone) in Stanley Kubrick's 1962 adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's controversial classic Lolita

They're a sinister utterly immoral pair of avant garde playwrights who, intrigued by James Mason's character Humbert's relationship with his 'daughter' Lolita (Sue Lyon) begin to track the pair down, purely so Quilty can indulge in his own child molestation with Lolita too. In that respect, Quilty is Humbert's dark double; the man without scruples who takes advantage of Humbert for his own love and sexual desire for the girl and in turn takes advantage of a disadvantage. 

Darkbloom's role on the other hand is more clear, and like all the best vampires, she's an anagram, an anagram of the author himself Vladimir Nabokov. As Nabokov writes the novel, so too does Darkbloom eventually write the biography of her companion and partner. Played by Stone, she's clearly vampish, a distorted beat girl heavily influenced in terms of look by Vampira herself, Maila Nurmi, who in turn was inspired by Charles Addams' New Yorker cartoon strip The Addams Family. Indeed, there's something of the Gomez and Morticia about Clare and Vivian, albeit something that aims far more for the sinister than for the laughs. 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Out On Blue Six : 1984 Soundtrack - Dominic Muldowney

A trio of doubleplusgood suites from the film adaptation of Orwell's classic novel







End Transmission


Vampirella - Hammer's Lost Movie


Vampirella is a comic strip heroine of some 40+years standing, having first appeared as the above image suggests in Warren Publishing's comic of the same name in Sept 1969.

Vampirella was created by Forrest J Ackerman as a sci fi/horror Barbarella type for the US comic book market. The story was that she was an alien from the planet Drakulon; a world populated by a race of superhuman vampires capable of all the traditional vampire abilities such as morphing into a bat, having super strength etc. On Drakulon, the necessary blood supply flows via natural resources like rivers until the twin suns the planet orbits create a drought causing the near extinction of its inhabitants. One of the few surviving of her kind, Vampirella is sent to investigate when a spaceship crashlands on her planet from Earth. Realising the humans have blood in their veins, Vampirella pilots the ship back to our planet, but becomes a force for good, fighting the evil vampires who stalk the Earth, spawn of Dracula, who also hailed from Drakulon.

My own personal interest in Vampirella is in the mooted 1976 Hammer film which, despite much advertising, sadly never came to fruition. 


The brain child of studio producer Michael Carreras, the project was subsequently shelved for good in 1978. It remains an extremely tantalising prospect, one which may (or may not) have kept the Hammer flame burning into the 1980s. 

John Hough and/or Gordon Hessler were both earmarked for directing the big screen adaptation on location in London and Vienna. An interesting storyline was drafted by, amongst others, Hammer legend Jimmy Sangster and went thus; Vampirella travels to Earth and sets up home in Chelsea, befriending Pendragon, the wizard. The pair operate as a mind reading and magic act in the London hot spots, but by night Vampirella pledges her allegiance to the Space Operatives for Defence and Security aka SODs (yeah, really!) to defend the Earth from hostile alien life and the legion of vampires who live in our midst. Unfortunately not all humans believe Vampirella's good naturedness, and the descendants of Van Helsing hunt her down as prey - she must stay one step ahead and persuade them of her intentions.


The casting of this lost movie is most intriguing. Hammer legend Peter Cushing was inevitably pencilled in to star but surprisingly not as a Van Helsing, but as Pendragon - the kindly old accident prone wizard Vampirella treats like close family, known to her as 'Pendy dearest'. 





As you can see from the strip likeness above, Cushing would be obvious casting. But weirdly another name was also mooted for this part, primarily to appeal to the mass US box office potential, and that name was none other than Gene Kelly! 



Lending a touch of class to the proceedings, Carreras suggested knight of the realm Sir John Gielgud to portray the Commander of the SODs who would keep the Earth safe, operating from an anonymous office situated in London's Harley Street



But of course the big story was, who was to play Vampirella?

Well, the original choice was Caroline Munro, the only Hammer girl to ever sign a long term contract. That fact alone proved that Carreras et al had BIG plans for Ms Munro so, after impressing them in their previous Dracula AD 1972 and Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter, they offered her this plum role...only for her to turn it down flat.



Why?

Because the film required a good deal of nudity, something that Caroline had qualms about. She had form in this field too, having previously turned down a vast amount of money from Playboy Magazine to disrobe for them too. She could not be swayed or tempted by Mr Hefner, not even when her dear old grandmother advised her to go for it! So naturally she was unmovable re the prize role also

"During my time with Hammer there was talk of me playing the lady herself, Vampirella, and there was a publicity shoot I did for Hammer films with long black boots, large leather belt and a small white tight outfit - very Vampy. They produced a script which was all nudity and not much else, so I declined the part. Shame about all the nudity because what a great character it would have been to play. Kind of my own Modesty Blaise"

- Caroline Munro on Vampirella

The next choice proved to be just as reluctant, the divine Valerie Leon. Valerie had previously been the star of Blood From The Mummy's Tomb, Hammer's adaptation of Dracula author Bram Stoker's story Jewel Of The Seven Stars. It was a role in which Valerie was originally due to star opposite Cushing, but the death of his wife forced him to withdraw to be replaced by Quatermass and The Pit star Andrew Keir. Valerie is on record at expressing her regret to never having starred opposite Cushing, so it's doubly a shame that nothing could be achieved here either.


Valerie opted for a body double for a brief nude scene shot from behind in Blood From The Mummy's Tomb so it's not surprising she turned down the prospect of more on screen nudity from Hammer. However, she has said since that she regretted properly capturing her body for posterity in the film, as it was quite something!!



Finally, Carreras settled on Barbara Leigh, the half Irish Cherokee Native American actress and fashion model. The nudity was no issue for Leigh, she had form (fnar fnar) having bared her 5'7" 35C-22-35 figure for Playboy in 1973. Her breakthrough film role was in Sam Peckinpah's rodeo tale Junior Bonner the previous year, starring opposite her then boyfriend Steve McQueen (The King himself, Elvis Presley, having also been one of her squeezes)


Hammer's hopes were clearly riding high for Vampirella and Leigh was provisionally signed to a 6 picture deal. This was to be their Bond franchise and Leigh was a star in the making. 

She quickly proved to be a great marketing asset for the film, posing as Vampirella on comic book and magazine covers and attending conventions to publicise the forthcoming movie to the delight of fans and would be cinema goers.


She even posed with 'her creator'  Forrest J Ackerman, the man behind the comics at the 1975 convention MonsterCon ...



Alas Warren Publishing began to quibble about the merchandising right likely to arise from the movie and Hammer, already struggling with the budget for another planned movie that fell by the wayside -  Euan Lloyd and the Japanese studio Toho's ambitious Loch Ness Monster co-production Nessie - were unable to secure the relevant backing.

By 1978, after two years of fervent marketing,  Vampirella (and Nessie) were officially dropped. Leigh, mortified, firmly believes her career was subsequently thrown off course by the non-realisation of her dream role.

However a film was eventually made, though not be Hammer, in the shape of a 1996 straight to video cheapo, just two years after Carreras' death. It was a decidedly B movie American affair and starred former Licence To Kill Bond girl Talisa Soto as Vampirella (dressed in the most ridiculously cheap outfit possible - seriously it looks like something you could rent for a hen night!) alongside The Who frontman Roger Daltrey as the villain Vlad (his casting must surely have been based on his brief vampire moment in Ken Russell's wonderfully absurd biopic Lisztomania! right?)






Much that is written online claims the movie more or less kept to the general plot outline that Hammer envisioned, but as far as I can see they excised Pendragon so I'm not sure how true that is. I do know that the film will be devoid of any of the wonderful Hammer touches, even though I haven't got around to seeing it, and I'm not sure I can bring myself to do so to be honest! It was naturally mauled by the critics for being ridiculous and despised by the fans who hated the cheap look the film possessed.

Here's a trailer



Shocking eh?

Still, I can't help but thinking what might have been had Hammer got to realise its potential.



Tuesday, 28 May 2013

When In Wales, Drink Brains

I spent a delightful day last Wednesday in Cardiff and Barry Island with some good friends.

One friend 'Bob' (actually her name's Laura but yeah, don't ask!) knowing I was a fan of bitters and real ales suggested to me when we were in this wonderful converted theatre cum Wetherspoons in Cardiff that I should try their Brains

That's the name of the local brewery I hasten to add - I didn't go all zombiefied!



That's one of the pints I enjoyed there, photo taken by another friend Saz, and yep that's my stripey polo shirted gut on the right!

It was a lovely drop, enhanced by the convivial surroundings and splendid company no doubt but still very recommended if you ever find yourself in Wales or in a pub here in England that may happen to stock it. 


Can't believe it's a week tomorrow I was there. Great day but the week has gone by very quickly.

Love To Hate : Jack Palance in Shane

Was there ever a villain more deliciously evil than Jack Palance in Shane?


Billed Walter Jack Palance, his depiction of the hired killer, Jack Wilson earned him his second Oscar nomination for, amazingly, what was only his fourth film.


Wilson is cold blooded, bad to the bone. An unhinged psychopath who giggles at the murders he commits, he is a distinctive and deliberate contrast to the good guy that Shane represents. 

Alan Ladd's Shane is the honest decent and true blue American who believes only in the right to bear arms to defend what is one's own - in this case the defending of the homestead of a family he feels honour bound to protect. His is a very patriotic 1940s hero, indeed his actions are a callback to the same defence against hostile forces that the cinemagoing Americans of the time would recall too well from the recent WWII. 

Palance however seems to suggest the future.

Sure he's wearing the archetypal and stereotypical black hat so familiar to that point, but there's something about the way he embodies the snake hipped, cruel lipped role. Something that suggests everything that the then America was fearful of; Godlessness and dark hearted deviancy in their youth - the threat of communism and the moral panic of the greasers and rebels without a cause. His is a forerunner to a more 'tell it like it really was' depiction of their own history, of the dark revisionist westerns that were to come in the 1960s and '70s, both in the Spaghetti landscape and in the grimy Eastwood Hollywood films. They were there on the horizon. Palance already the shimmering light on the sunrise, the trailblazer.


He's immediately iconic in such a different way to Ladd's hero. There's something cultish about him from the off, something a little unusual which makes his addition in what is such a traditional story all the more entertaining, intriguing and unsettling. He's almost vampiric (further enhanced by Palance's other career in horror, including playing Dracula himself in 1973) in the way he skulks around in the darkness of the saloon, biding his time and just waiting to be let off his leash. Waiting for the call from his master, Ryker played by Emile Meyer, to do his bidding. The script makes a point of Shane and Ryker being relics of the west, doing what they each perceive has to be done. Yet Wilson kills for whoever pays him, and he kills for kicks. 


Make no mistake, Jack Palance's Jack Wilson is one evil black hearted bastard. One of the finest villains in the west.