Friday, 21 July 2017

RIP Deborah Watling

The great Deborah Watling has died of cancer at the age of 69. She was most famous for playing Victoria Waterfield, the Victorian companion to Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor in Doctor Who from 1967 to 1968.

Born in Fulmer, Buckinghamshire in 1948, Deborah was the daughter of actors Jack Watling and Patricia Hicks and soon followed in their footsteps into the profession (her siblings, Dilys and Giles - now the Conservative MP for Clacton, also entered the profession) as a child actress with a regular role in 1958's HG Wells' Invisible Man. Her first major role was as the titular Alice in Dennis Potter's 1965 Wednesday Play which explored the relationship between Lewis Carroll and his child muse, Alice Liddell. The production later formed the inspiration for a big screen adaptation, 1985's Dreamchild.

It was her lead in Alice that led to her being cast in Doctor Who as companion Victoria, alongside Patrick Troughton as the Doctor and Frazer Hines as Jamie. It is arguably her most endearing and enduring role, despite the BBC (in their infinite 'wisdom') wiping the vast majority of her work on the series; The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Enemy of the World remain the only two serials that exist in their entirety, with The Web of Fear - in which she her father Jack amxe a guest appearance - still missing one episode. Loved by fans, Deborah was a regular on the convention circuit and reprised the role of Victoria in the Children in Need 1993 special Dimensions in Time and the fan-made 1995 release Downtime, as well as appearing in the Big Finish audio adventure Three's a Crowd, and the 50th anniversary comedy The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot.

Away from Doctor Who, Deborah appeared alongside pop stars David Essex and Ringo Starr in 1973's That'll Be The Day and Cliff Richard in his film Take Me High the following year, as well as a regular role in soap opera The Newcomers in 1969 and guest appearances in shows such as Rising Damp, Doctor in Charge and The Jim Davidson Show. 

With Beth Morris, catching the eye of David Essex and Ringo Starr in That'll Be The Day

With Cliff in the 1974 film Take Me High

Perhaps her other most memorable TV role was as naughty Norma Baker, 'the twin engine type' who got the boys in uniform all a flutter in the 1979 WWII drama series Danger UXB.

A great and beautiful actress and a lovely woman, Deborah Watling will be much missed by Who fans everywhere.


Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Payroll (1961)

The 1961 heist drama Payroll concerns a vicious gang of crooks led by the ruthless, cold blooded Johnny Mellors (Michael Craig) who, with the help of inside man Pearson (William Lucas) raid an armoured van carrying the wages of the local factory. Naturally the wheels come off the job a little as both the driver of the armoured van and one of the gang are killed in the heist. As the gang bide their time waiting for the heat to die off, Jean Parker - Billie Whitelaw's vengeful widow of the slain guard -  turns detective, applying the pressure on the guilt wracked Pearson as the rest of the gang start to come apart from within.

Like the previous year's Hell is a City (which also starred Whitelaw) Payroll marked the start of British cinema's desire to depict a far grittier, more honest realism than previously attempted and to address the fact that the UK was more than just London. Director Sidney Hayers who was a prolific yet unremarkable pair of hands for such drama breaks out of the falsehoods of the studio and the London-centric traditions to depict the industrialised, working class north - in this case the smoking factories, working docks and grimy, cobbled jiggers of Newcastle and Gateshead, all a decade before Get Carter punched a complacent cinema in its soft, flabby guts. 

Unfortunately, just like Hell is a City, this commendable effort is scuppered by the fact that their realism only goes so far; for some scenes Rugby in Warwickshire stands in for the plot's working class Newcastle, and the industrialised North East is populated by far too many middle-class London, cockney or mild north country accents as if to say that although we accept that the time has come for a degree of realism, let's make sure everyone can at least understand what our cast are saying. 

George Baxt's screenplay, based on a novel by Derek Bickerton, offers a grim noirish sensibility that destroys the naive notion of honour among thieves. Each character is depicted as calculating, selfish and without mercy, as they set about a series of double crosses that ensure crime does not pay. The film's strength perhaps lies in the fact that, despite the testosterone normally associated with heist dramas, Payroll offers two genuinely strong and rather meaty roles for women at a time when this was rather lacking across the board. As the widow Parker, Whitelaw has the biggest character journey, going from ordinary housewife and mother to dogged avenger, whilst French actress Françoise Prévost almost steals the film as Pearson's embittered wife; a woman saved by him during WWII and promised a better life, only to find herself unfulfilled in suburbia. She captures the very essence of that kind of woman who has previously had to get by on her wits and now knows no other way of life. She is determined to get what she wants, what she feels she is due, and is happy to do so completely without compunction.

Of the male cast, Michael Craig is surprisingly effective as an out and out villain. Granted one might expect Stanley Baker to occupy such a role, and he'd be perfect of course, but Craig feels just right here and his increasing immorality is all the more surprising given it comes from such a seemingly urbane, civilsed looking man rather than an obvious tough, even if you do feel that Tom Bell's increasingly dissatisfied 'lieutenant' could easily take him. That reminds me - it's always good to see Tom Bell, he was a favourite of my dad's back in the day (his current favourite is another Tom; Tom Hardy) and he's become one of mine since too. He brings the right sense of genuine grit required for the proceedings, especially as he's one of the few on display who has a legitimate northern accent, but you do find yourself yearning for his character to let rip a little more with the insubordination. 

Another familiar face who pops up that you're always happy to see is Kenneth Griffith, who appears here as the gang's liability, turning to drink and running off at the mouth. There's an amusing scene where he's followed from the pub by two young thugs who proceed to roll him in an alleyway - his prone body coming to rest on a sodden newspaper ad proclaiming 'I look my best on a Murphy' - whatever that was! In fact there's a few surprising examples of dark comedy on offer here, such as the factory employee who fearlessly jumps on the back of the getaway car only to wear a look that says 'what the hell am I doing?' before being unceremoniously pushed off by Craig's villain.

Overall, Payroll (which earned a new lease of life thanks to Julien Temple incorporating several clips into his 2009 Dr Feelgood biopic, Oil City Confidential) is a solid if a little unspectacular and overlong example of early 60s British noir. I enjoyed it, but I do think someone should have got Reg Owen to tone down his brassy, jaunty jazz score which borders on the intrusive at times and with a few notes that put me in mind of the opening bars to '80s gameshow Every Second Counts!

Aquarius (2016)

A towering central performance from Sônia Braga and the all too rare chance to see a film centred around a 60-something woman are the main reasons to watch this film which is strong on character study, but ultimately - and at 140 or so minutes - is all too weak on narrative.

For my full review check out The Geek Show

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

RIP Trevor Baxter

After the excitement of the announcement on Sunday that Jodie Whittaker will play the 13th incarnation of the Doctor, comes a sad day for us Doctor Who fans as it was announced that Trevor Baxter has died, aged 84.

Baxter has a special place in the heart of fandom thanks to his appearance in the classic 1977 Robert Holmes penned serial The Talons of Weng-Chiang, a Fourth Doctor story set in Victorian London that is widely regarded as one of the finest stories ever to be made in Doctor Who's history. Alongside regulars Tom Baker and Louise Jameson (Leela), Baxter played Professor George Litefoot essentially playing Dr Watson to the Doctor's Holmes and forming an enjoyable double act with Christopher Benjamin's theatrical MC, Henry Gordon Jago. So endearing was this double act that the Who production team considered giving them their own spin-off series, but the plans initially came to naught. In the intervening years, the popularity of the characters increased in fandom leading them to make many appearances in Doctor Who novelisations before Baxter and Benjamin were at last asked to reprise their roles in a series of audio adventures from Big Finish. This led to them finally getting their own series, Jago & Litefoot, since 2009. 

Away from Doctor Who, Baxter was a prolific performer on stage, TV and film. A member of the RSC, he toured the Bard with Sir Ralph Richardson across South America and also wrote a number of plays himself, including Ripping Them Off. He also adapted Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray and Lord Arthur Saville's Crime for the stage in 2003 and 2005 respectively, and the latter was revived with Lee Mead in the lead role in 2010.

His TV credits include appearances in Adam Adamant Lives!, Maelstrom, The New Avengers, Thriller, The Barchester Chronicles, Jack the Ripper and Doctors, whilst his films include Nutcracker, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj.


Monday, 17 July 2017

Theme Time: Barry Gray - Space 1999, RIP Martin Landau

Sad to hear that the great Martin Landau has died at the age of 89.

In tribute to the Hollywood veteran, here's Barry Gray's bombastic theme for Gerry Anderson's Space: 1999

Starring alongside his then wife Barbara Bain, Space: 1999 ran for two seasons from 1975 to 1977 and as John Koenig remains, certainly on this side of the pond, as one of Landau's most enduring starring roles. Only that of Rollin Hand in TV's Mission Impossible could match it. Landau was, along with Steve McQueen, the only applicants out of 500 to enter the acclaimed Actors Studio in 1955 where he was tutored by Lee Strasburg and Elia Kazan to name but a few and would go on to become an executive director with the Studio. His films include Hitchcock's North by Northwest, Cleopatra, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Nevada Smith alongside Actors Studio contemporary McQueen, Empire State, Francis Ford Coppola's Tucker: The Man and His Dream, for which he earned an Oscar nomination, Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanours, which earned him a second nomination, and Tim Burton's Ed Wood which finally bagged him the Oscar. 


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Edward II (1991)

"Is it not QUEER that he is thus bewitched?"

Based on the Renaissance play by Christoper Marlowe of the same name (though in fact the proper title of the first publication in 1593 is the rather unwieldy 'The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer' - try fitting that on the front of the Odeon!) Derek Jarman's 1991 film is a joyous, dark and bloody postmodern take on Marlowe's text, full of the kind of anachronisms and flamboyancy that he had previously toyed with in Caravaggio.

Marlowe's play was unusual for its time in that it portrayed the homosexuality of King Edward II and his infatuation with the nobleman Piers Gaveston quite openly. But this theme is brought even further to the fore with Jarman's take, which claims that it was the gay relationship the king enjoyed with Gaveston that sparked the bloody coup against Edward by his own wife, Queen Isabella, and her political and romantic ally Roger Mortimer, and which ultimately brought about Edward's downfall. Historically of course, Edward's reign was doomed for several reasons, including the heavy losses he endured in Scotland to Robert the Bruce, but Jarman specifically chooses the sexuality angle and the strange yet delicious mishmash of styles - England of the 1300s (as represented in the language used) and England of 1991 (as represented in the many modern touches throughout the film, the contemporary fashions, riot police and Outrage gay rights protesters)  - to address the theme of institutionalised homophobia and  the oppression of gay people throughout history.

This is a sublime example of the New Queer Cinema school of filmmaking that was prolific at the tail end of the 1980s and the start of the '90s. Jarman delivers an assured and accomplished production that is bolstered by its anachronistic playfulness and its committed cast. Steven Waddington and Andrew Tiernan work so well together and are excellent as the doomed Edward and Gaveston; dressed at times like Soho toughs in their black suits, hanging out with similarly sharp Jerome Flynn and John Lynch, whilst at others they are the epitome of gay couple cuteness in their silk pyjamas. Tilda Swinton's Isabella is an elegant Eva Peron style courtly goddess, possessing real demonic fire beneath her icy exterior, whilst Nigel Terry is the very model of the modern Major General as Mortimer; all bristly 'tache, military jumper and beret, and some clear sadomasochistic tendencies.

Whilst Jarman fully embraces the mixture of  mixture of contemporary and medieval props and styles far more so here than he did with Caravaggio, I do feel that it was the earlier film that is perhaps overall the better production in terms of story and narrative. However, it is in Edward II's acceptance of these anachronisms, that the film succeeds far more with some utterly stunning and memorable, wholly cinematic setpieces that linger long in the memory; The sailors casually fucking on Gaveston's bed as the film commences; Gaveston, cast out of court and clad in jeans and a leather jacket, spat upon by row upon row of disapproving, venomous clergy (only Bronski Beat's Smalltown Boy can evoke a time and feeling as well as this key moment); Swinton's Isabella showing her teeth, literally, in a gory scene featuring Jerome Flynn as her brother-in-law;  Edward's army of gay rights protesters confronting the shield beating, helmeted riot police with placards proclaiming that 'Gay Desire Is Not A Crime'; Edward's horrific premonition of the legend of his violent demise - a red hot poker inserted into his rectum by his gaoler, Lightborn (the anglicised name for Lucifer) But perhaps best and most sweetest of all is the scene when Annie Lennox pops up to serenade Edward and Gaveston on the eve of the latter's exile,with her beautiful rendition of Cole Porter's 1944 song Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye.

Edward II is recommended for admirers of historical tragedy handled with a bit of experimentation and innovation, and for fans of LGBT cinema, because it is so refreshingly out and proud. As such it is also the perfect antidote to Mel Gibson's Braveheart which, on it release just four years later, would depict Edward II in a deeply unpleasant homophobic manner as well as tie history up in knots with its claim that William Wallace somehow wooed, bedded and ultimately altered the royal bloodline by having an affair with Queen Isabella who was actually still an infant when Wallace was alive.

The New Doctor Is...

Jodie Whittaker

Much will be said now about Jodie being the first woman to play the role, but for me it's all about this being one of my crushes playing the role - something I've never experienced before, obviously!

As long as she gets to keep her gorgeous Huddersfield accent I guess I'll be happy. In fact, if she plays the role more or less like she played in Anna in last year's beautiful Adult Life Skills I'll be happy!

Silent Sunday: Shoot!

Friday, 14 July 2017

Camera Buff (Amator) 1979

A clever metaphor for censorship and personal repression in Communist Poland, Krzysztof Kieślowski's Camera Buff (Amator in the native Polish) tells the story of factory worker Filip Mosz (Jerzy Stuhr) who purchases an 8mm film camera to record for posterity the homecoming and the first days of life of his newborn daughter. On hearing that an employee possesses such a camera, the local Communist Party director asks Filip to film the upcoming jubilee celebration of the factory. Viewed a success, Filip's employers encourage him to start an amateur film club based at the plant where they are expected to record the happy and contented daily life of its workers. Filip's latent skills and newfound fascination with film sees him attract the attentions of the wider film community and lead to him pushing the boundaries of what is expected of him by his employers. His passion quickly becomes all-consuming, to the detriment of his previous, simple life as an ordinary worker and family man - a life that he starts to view as restrictive and uninteresting. 

Kieślowski's film accurately emphasises the power of film and the responsibility of the filmmaker, and never more so than in Filip's desire to capture the story of a dwarf whose anniversary at the plant coincides with the jubilee. This project is met with disapproval from the CP director who claims Filip is only interested in 'making fun of a cripple', but in reality is concerned that his plant will be laughed at for employing such a worker. Undeterred, Filip digs his heels in and makes the movie, attracting the interest of the local TV company who broadcast it.On seeing the result, the diminutive factory worker is overcome with emotion at Filip's ability to convey a life he had viewed as unexceptional and to give him a voice. However, in going against the wishes of his employer and the party with his increasingly truthful filmed observations, Filip finds that his talent and ability is something that can destroy the lives of others, losing one of his key supporters his job.

Ultimately, the film ends with Filip realising how his prized camera can be both a tool for creation and for destruction. Like a gun, he turns the 'weapon' onto himself and begins to relate the story of his life since undertaking this hobby. A year has passed and he has gone from a married man with a new baby and an ordinary role at the plant to an estranged husband and father and filmmaker. In the end, Filip perhaps recalls all too late that the camera was supposed to capture nothing more than his own home life and not the lives of others.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Out On Blue Six: The Style Council

I've been having fun flashback watching 1984 repeats of Top of the Popson BBC4 these past couple of weeks, as they've been showing The Style Council's wonderful cycling based video for their hit My Ever Changing Moods

Who would have thought that that video (discussed so beautifully and amusingly by this blogger) would become something of a rarity on the net thanks to Vevo being a dick and blocking it in the UK? If only I'd knew that back in the late '90s when I would routinely record onto VHS videos that took my fancy on VH1. I had a load of Style Council vids - along with many other '80s vids - interspersed with channel presenters such as Julia 'Jules' Carling (phwoar!) Richard Allinson, Bob Mills and King (yes, of Love & Pride fame). As it stands, if you're looking for the track on YouTube here in the UK at least all you'll see are 'live' performances on TOTP and Saturday Superstore or straight uploads of the track such as this one...

However, you can see the video in all its glory on Vimeo 

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Away (2016)

Can Hayley Squires stop going through hell in films please? She had to endure it in I, Daniel Blake and she endures it again here in Away. So, in her next role, can she have some happiness for a change?

I was sold on this by the cast and the setting of Blackpool, the northern seaside resort that's approximately an hour away from me and the place I stayed for many a holiday as a child. I wasn't totally sure what to expect from Away beyond a spring and autumn odd couple style story. That's certainly what's being sold in the poster(shown above), which sees a tux-wearing Timothy Spall next to a sullen looking Juno Temple appearing somewhat out of her comfort zone in a ballgown. That image suggests something quirky and heartfelt in its notion of two worlds colliding and some of the traction around Away saw it being likened to Lost In Translation, which perhaps served to perpetuate that initial expectation. However in reality this is a gritty, grubby and dark essay on the old Chinese wisdom of the life debt a person is owed if they save another's life. If it's reminiscent of any film, it's Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa or Paul Andrew Williams' London to Brighton.

Spall is a grizzled and grieving alcoholic intent on taking his life in an off-season Blackpool that proves the irony of the 'Vegas of the North' tag. He's saved by Juno Temple, a former junkie on the run from vengeful Matt Ryan who's determined to be reunited with her 'sister' (Squires). From their initially abrasive yet grudging and weird relationship, a platonic and believable love story gradually takes shape between the two lost souls that is truly affecting thanks to the excellent playing from Spall and Temple.

And it's those performances and how well they create the chemistry between their characters that I'm rating this four out of five stars. Truth be told, it's actually probably only a three and a half star film, maybe even a three, and that's down to Roger Hadfield's script and how the story is told. You see, in an effort to be different, the narrative is like a jigsaw; constantly jumping between the present and back in a way that is really disorientating. I get that Hadfield and the filmmakers clearly wanted to reveal certain things slowly to preserve an air of mystery, but I'm not convinced that jumbling the sequence of events up does anything to help the film, in fact I actually think it hinders it. 

Nonetheless, director David Blair - a reliable hand who gave us something similar with Best Laid Plans - delivers a small, relatively non commercial film that boasts a big heart, and I defy anyone not to feel something for this story of hope amongst desolation, fear and tragedy.