Friday, 30 November 2018

The Breaking of Bumbo (1970)

Andrew Sinclair wrote his semi-autobiographical novel The Breaking of Bumbo in 1959. It told the story of a young Guards officer who, whilst undergoing various rites of passage in the regiment, becomes sympathetic towards the peace movement and organised student protest. A decade later, Sinclair formed Timon Films with Jeffrey Selznick with the sole intention of adapting his novel for the big screen. Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo were attached to direct but, following a falling out with the producers, it was left to Sinclair himself to direct the film which received one TV screening by the BBC on Sunday 17th August 1975, before fading into an obscurity that Network DVD have subsequently rescued it from.

Richard Warwick of If...fame stars as young Bumbo Bailey who enlists in the Brigade of Guards and initially seems destined for an orthodox military career - that is until he falls for the beautiful Susie (Joanna Lumley) who is a key player in a subversive agit-prop performance and political demonstrations group. It isn't long before he falls in with the group and begins to see just how unfair the system actually is. Embracing the anti-establishment, counter-culture cause, Bumbo sets out to convince his soldiers to come out in favour of the students protesting for peace (real footage of the anti-Vietnam protest at London’s US embassy in Grosvenor Square from March 1968 is included) in the hope that, united together, students and the military will be able to bring about a real change in the world. 

The scene in which Bumbo first puts his suggestion to the soldiers under his command in a pub after a regimental rugby match is arguably the film's highlight. The politics of the piece - the argument about why orders are followed blindly, especially when it pitches them against their own people - remains deeply valid and strong and there's a great moment where Bumbo's Sergeant Major (the always reliable Derek Newark, a much underappreciated character actor) tries to address the fact that Bumbo, as an officer, has the luxury of an education and class to consider orders and such ideas, whereas he and the ordinary guardsman seated there do not. To make his point that they are different, he remarks that Bumbo is holding his pint glass by the handle, whilst every soldier present (including a young Warren Clarke) grips their pints away from the handle.

Less successful now is the way that the radical politics are depicted. It's the typical swinging '60s idea of peace and love and counter-revolutionaries, with a tubby flak-jacketed John Bird leading the charge with a peculiar accent, melting the wax models of British heroes and dignitaries with a blow torch at Tussauds, and generally invoking stereotypical, colourful anarchy. I haven't read the original novel but I do wonder if it has dated somewhat better given that it presumably explores the beatnik era and the rise of the CND as opposed to the more cartoonish on-screen excess of 60s counter culture. Perhaps most damning for the film was the fact that the original release date was delayed, meaning that by the time it finally hit the cinemas in late 1970, the era of swinging and fashionable London seemed rather passe. It's not a great film and it doesn't really go anywhere until Lumley arrives, but its an interesting time capsule that offers a very touristy view of London at the time, and I found the central notion of a natural-born officer having the kind of change of heart that makes him consider the shifting sands our democracy is built upon an intriguing one. As a result, The Breaking of Bumbo ought to take its place alongside other lesser known or overlooked '60s pictures such as Privilege and The Jokers

Of course Joanna Lumley's career went from strength to strength after this film and she now enjoys national treasure status, but it's Richard Warwick who takes the acting honours here, reminding us that he was taken far too soon during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, leaving behind just a few memorable appearances in the likes of the aforementioned If..., Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, and Derek Jarman's Sebastiane and The Tempest. Also in the cast are a few familiar faces still working to this day such as Jeremy Child, Edward Fox (himself a former Guards officer), Simon Williams and Chris Chittell aka Emmerdale's Eric Pollard. Andrew Sinclair went on to direct the unholy trio of Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O'Toole in 1972's Under Milk Wood, before moving on to another hellraiser in the shape of Oliver Reed in the peculiar Blue Blood a year later. His last film was 1982's Tuxedo Warrior, starring Mancunian hardman Cliff Twemlow!

Just a note about the Network release. It claims to be uncut but that simply isn't true - missing from the film is a sequence featuring Lumley and Warwick in the nude, perhaps the former still has a power of veto to excise such scenes. And speaking of the divine Ms Lumley,I'll just leave this here...

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Hoffman (1970)

"Night thoughts, Saturday October the 3rd. Every girl is a flower garden...with a compost heap at the bottom. And many a noble man has had to drown his dwarf wife in a zinc bath or strangle an idiot girl on a muddy common in order to draw attention to himself. Reality betrays us all"

Hoffman is a 1970 'comedy' about a middle-aged man whose obsession with an attractive young work colleague leads him to blackmail her into spending the week with him. That it proved a box office flop is perhaps no surprise. I don't think it's just because billing it as a comedy was perhaps false advertising either (these days the term dramady would be used and audiences would be more familiar with such a style) I think the reason Hoffman alienated viewers is clear to see; for women it perhaps confirmed their suspicions about men. For men it perhaps spoke a little too truthfully about the things we try to hide.

Its star is Peter Sellers, who has fascinated me since childhood. It was his films as Inspector Clouseau that probably put him on my radar and I find them very funny. From there I discovered The Goon Show (and would get tapes bought for me for Christmas and birthdays) and a raft of other films. I even had a video that was a compilation of his many screen appearances (tellingly, only one brief scene from Hoffman was included; the moment where he teaches his co-star Sinéad Cusack how to play 'Chopsticks' on the piano). But my fascination didn't end there and, because I was a strange child, I became fascinated by his complex personality too and I was soon reading everything I could about him, including biographies by Graham Stark and his son Michael Sellers and eventually Roger Lewis' sobering book, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers

The key to understanding Sellers' chameleon-like talents is the tragic fact that he felt he had no personality or identity of his own, that it had become lost behind the funny voices. Stories such as his emotional breakdown at the end of trip down memory lane with some fellow ex servicemen ("Whatever happened to LAC Sellers?" he is said to have sobbed at the recollections of his pre-fame existence), his fear of stepping onto the stage of the chat show Parkinson as himself, because he claimed there was no Peter Sellers (he opted instead to arrive dressed as a Gestapo officer and perform an impromptu comedy routine before being coaxed into the interview itself), and this comment on (of all things) The Muppet Show, “I could never be myself. You see, there is no me. I do not exist. There used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed.”; a seemingly glib comment that reveals a little too much about the emptiness within him.

This emptiness haunted his private life and was rarely seen on screen, as so many productions relied upon his gifted comic abilities and mimicry. But that's not to say that some of his film performances hinted at the man behind the mask. His decision to play his role in the 1967 spoof Bond adventure Casino Royale dead straight as part of his desire to convince as a romantic comedy lead proved to be a mistake he soon turned tail and ran from - literally, leaving the film mid-shoot and refusing to complete his part - perhaps because it highlighted the vacancy behind his eyes. This was a lesson he failed to learn when, just three years later, he took the titular role here.  So aghast was Sellers at what he believe it revealed about him personally that he fell into a deep depression after filming concluded and petitioned his friend Bryan Forbes, the then head of EMI, to not only ban the film from being released but also to let him buy back the negatives so that he could destroy them to put an end to the film and secure his secrets in one fell swoop. Though Sellers didn't get his wish, Hoffman - which he subsequently dismissed as a disaster to anyone who would listen - wasn't screened in New York for over a decade (and after Sellers' death) which suggests that perhaps he did have some influence in burying the film to some extent.

Rather like those cultures who believe having their photograph taken somehow robs them off their spirit, Sellers was terrified at the thought that the void he believed lay at his core was now captured and committed forever to celluloid. I can certainly understand why Sellers feared what he brought to the screen here, because there's just nowhere for him to hide. Granted his inauthentic, much cultivated RP accent is on display, but the rest of him is arguably the purest Sellers - the emptiness he tried to disguise laid bare. Not only that, there's the fact that, as I alluded to at the start of this review, the misogyny that exists in man is also revealed for all to see and, for someone as self-loathing as Sellers, the repercussions of that must have felt even greater to him. As Hoffman, Sellers is the epitome of misogyny; the kind of man who idolises women, yet hates them too because they destroy his fantasies when they reveal they are human just like him ("Reality betrays us all" indeed). Once the object of his desires, the seemingly porcelain doll like Miss Smith (Cusack - and it's telling that he only ever refers to her as 'Miss Smith' because to use her christian name would, he admits, identify her as a person to him), does just this with her litany of all too common, human ailments and her overall inability to see things his way, he is quick to dismiss them as 'idiots'. He goes on to share caustic, disturbing thoughts about them into his dictaphone (see the quote at the head of this review) and ultimately describes them, as one memorable line puts it, as ''Fallopian tubes with teeth''. It's an ugly, candid display of woman-hating misanthropy, but perhaps not as ugly as his enamoured state; which sees him stalk after Miss Smith like a vampire, proclaiming that her youth is wasted on her, using metaphors that refer to her as something to be devoured, and literally sniffing at her clothes and hair. “Please make yourself look as if you want to be fertilized,” he (would-be) purrs at one point. It's repellent and nakedly lustful behaviour that lays a portentous tone of potential violence upon the proceedings, which is further enhanced by the mystery Miss Smith slowly uncovers surrounding his previous marriage. Whilst the events of Hoffman never actually stray into the realms of horror or thriller, the fear and apprehension that underpins every moment makes it as disturbing a watch as any from those genres. 

Essentially a two-hander in the main between Sellers and Cusack, Hoffman was adapted by Ernest Gébler from his own novel, Shall I Eat You Now?, which itself had been based on the 1967 TV play Call Me Daddy starring Donald Pleasence and Judy Cornwell. Like that play, the film is directed by Alvin Rakoff and he pitches the battle of wits between his two stars perfectly, all set to a fittingly haunting and intriguing score from Ron Grainer. Whilst the ending is a little unconvincing, especially in relation to Miss Smith's character and motivations, the film remains strong thanks to Sellers' incredible performance in the lead role. Ultimately, it's hard to truly hate Hoffman, but it's just as hard to pity or sympathise with him too. Whilst many will say Sellers only ever really played it straight in films like the Brit Noir Never Let Go and the POW flick The Blockhouse, I actually think he gives his best dramatic performance here - it's just a shame that Sellers himself could not find peace with what it revealed.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Love Is Thicker Than Water (2016)

This is a beautiful film, so I'm really surprised by the negativity that some people have met it with. Yes, I'm looking at you Bradshaw of the Grauniad! Though I really shouldn't be surprised by your ultra short, are-the-pubs-open-yet? piss poor reviews now.

A story which begs the question of whether love can beat familial bonds, Love Is Thicker Than Water has naturally drawn comparisons everywhere with Romeo and Juliet, but writing and directing team Ate de Jong and Emily Harris haven't really updated the tale of star-crossed lovers for our times, this is a story that stands up in its own right. 

The super talented Johnny Flynn stars as Arthur Davies, a boy from Port Talbot up in London with dreams to become an animator but with little practical ambition to achieve them. He meets and quickly falls in love with Vida (Lydia Wilson), a cellist who is hoping to get into the London Philharmonic. Theirs is a believable relationship that could last the distance, providing they come to terms with their differing families; Arthur's is Welsh, working class and passionate despite the unspoken burden the they share regarding the sudden death of Arthur's older brother, whilst Vida's family are Jewish, middle class professionals with haughty humour. The critical point in their relationship comes when tragedy strikes both their families. Jessica Stevenson, Henry Goodman, Ellie Kendrick and Al Weaver play Vida's family, whilst Robert Blythe, Sharon Morgan, Remy Beasley, Jessica Gunning and Ade Lanipekun play Arthur's.

A folksy soundtrack (including Lulu & the Lampshades) some animated intervals and an all round beautiful looking cast may mark this out as a touch hipstery, but fear not; this is a genuine, emotional, engaging and authentic film; a real slice of life with all the odd tonal beats that reality so often comes with but is seldom seen in cinema. Perhaps that's why it alienated some audiences? I dunno. I just really identified with this, especially Arthur's family. There's a scene (I won't give any spoilers) where they are attempting to do something respectful and 'right' by societies conventions, but their natural anxieties, passions, frustrations and failings come to the fore in a way that I know all too well from my own family. And in one beautiful moment, they stop being abrasive to one another, realise the ridiculousness of their attempts to be 'proper' and laugh in a way that I sometimes wish that I and my own family could. That kind of authenticity is rare in film - it's usually reserved for Mike Leigh.

Also Lydia Wilson wearing a Butthole Surfers T-shirt may be the cutest thing I've seen in a long time...surpassed only by her agog expression from behind heavy spectacles as she watches Flynn masturbate in the shower!

On a sad note, the actor playing Arthur's dad Robert Blythe passed away last week at the age of 71. That his character dies in this film, makes it all the more poignant.

Port Talbot born Blythe was best known for playing agoraphobic ex con Fagin in the popular BBC Wales sitcom High Hopes from 2001 to 2008 but, in a career that stretched back to the 1970s, he appeared in a range of films and shows including How Green Was My Valley, The Life and Times of David Lloyd George, Ennal's Point, Crown Court, The District Nurse, Dempsey and Makepeace, Casualty, Preston Front, Boon, Civvies, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, Darklands, The Bill and Doctors. 


Tuesday, 27 November 2018

RIP Andrew Burt

Another day and another loss within the entertainment industry as it's been announced that the actor Andrew Burt passed away on the 16th of November at the age of 73.

The Yorkshire born actor was best known for being the first person to play the prodigal Jack Sugden in Emmerdale, appearing in the very first episode of the long running soap in October 1972. He stayed with the role for a year, returning for a stint in 1976, but declined a second return in 1980, whereupon the character was recast and played by Clive Hornby. Such was his lasting legacy in the role he helped to create that whenever he appeared on TV for years after in our house someone always said; "The real Jack Sugden", or "Jack Sugden, when he was a novelist" (because it's now a rather forgotten fact that Sugden was originally a best selling author who had escaped his family tradition of working the land, until being forced back following a death in the family in the debut episode) This is a similar phenomenon that my family engage in whenever Alan Rothwell appears in anything.

Burt also provided the voice/jingles of Radio Norwich in I'm Alan Partridge (indeed there's one particular jingle that always makes me crease with laughter and that's "Danny Franchetti's Jazz box!") and even appeared in one episode as Alan's old headmaster 'Sweaty' Raphael. Other memorable roles included Lt. Peek in Warship, King Arthur in 1979's The Legend of King Arthur, Gulliver in Gulliver in Lilliput, Valgard in the 1983 Doctor Who serial Terminus, Mr Farland in Swallows and Amazons Forever!, Chief Inspector Oates in Campion (which saw him reunited with Peter Davison from his time on Doctor Who) and the dual role of brothers Provastian and Ninastian Jackson in Look Around You. He also had guest appearances in all the usual shows including Bergerac (twice, no less), Casualty, London's Burning, Spooks, Heartbeat, New Tricks, Doctors, EastEnders, Tales of the Unexpected, CATS Eyes, Juliet Bravo, The Gentle Touch, Crown Court, Callan and Blake's 7. His last TV appearance was in the serial killer drama Wire in the Blood in 2006 whereupon he seems to have retired to work instead as a counsellor specialising in treating stress.


Monday, 26 November 2018

Georgy Girl (1966)

"...Of course, if it were made now, Georgy needn’t opt for compromise, as single-parent families are much more accepted in modern society, but it’s important to remember that in the 1960s such a life was near impossible. That’s why I cannot agree with the negativity some heap upon this film. I can see why it would be more satisfying to see Georgy defy society by realising her own self-worth and maternal capabilities enough to abandon Joss, jilt Leamington and head off into the sunset with the baby, but around the corner would be the very same social workers who tore the children from Carol White’s arms in Cathy Come Home, because that’s what life was like then. By all means, hate the period, but not the film. Georgy Girl is only ever reflective of its time, an extraordinary moment which – much like the various influences upon it – saw the demise of the old and the birth of the new."

See my full review at The Geek Show

RIP Bernardo Bertolucci

How saddening to lost not one but two cinematic visionaries in the space of just a couple of days. First Nicolas Roeg, and now Bernardo Bertolucci, the two-time Oscar winning Italian director, has died at the age of 77.

Bertolucci was best known for the controversial Last Tango In Paris (1972) starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider, as well as the epic nine Oscar winning The Last Emperor, his biopic of Chinese emperor Pu Yi from 1987. Other films included The Conformist, 1900, The Dreamers, Stealing Beauty and The Sheltering Sky. I have to be honest and say some of those listed have, for far too long, been on my watchlist. I should really get around to seeing them now.


Universal Soldier (1972)

Before I start to wax lyrical, let's put Universal Soldier into some context; On Her Majesty's Secret Service starring George Lazenby as James Bond came out in 1969. Also released that year was Easy Rider and very soon after, based on the advice of his then manager, the Radio Caroline founder Ronan O’Rahilly, Lazenby reached the conclusion that he was seated on the wrong horse. As such, he walked away from the six picture/$1 million upfront deal to continue to star as 007 to instead follow his instincts towards the counter culture. Universal Soldier was arguably his biggest statement; the story of Ryker, a jaded mercenary who comes out of semi-retirement to sign up for a coup against an African dictator, before suffering an existential crisis and welching on a $250,000 deal to turn on, tune in and drop out in London instead, is arguably a meta-textual one. On the one hand, it's a knowing take on Lazenby's own hippie leanings that resulted in his decision to walk away from the lucrative deal Eon offered him to play an establishment gun-for-hire figure, whilst on the other it serves as an irreverent, unofficial sequel to Lazenby's solo adventure as 007, with 'Ryker'/Bond suffering the kind of malaise and dissatisfaction with his violent past that would naturally arise from seeing his bride gunned down before him on their wedding day. That the screenplay includes many nods and winks to his character's 'retirement' and choosiness when it comes to picking jobs ensures that this set-up plays on both these levels. There's even a few scenes in which he becomes 'the man with the golden gun', wielding a gold plated pistol which he chooses to smoke pot from!

When you put it like that I suppose it sounds rather good doesn't it? But there's a reason a peacenick James Bond movie would never succeed and Universal Soldier is it, because it's all rather ponderous, dull and lacking in action. Bond had his gadget-filled Aston Martin, a bevy of girls and frenetic action setpieces, whilst Ryker has a bog-standard Reliant Scimitar and a calamitous test-drive on a hovercraft, an underage hippie girlfriend (Chrissie Townson, who would later become Lazenby’s first wife) and a climactic desultory punch-up on a motorway verge. The film may be helmed by none other than Cy Enfield of Zulu fame, but the veteran filmmaker delivers none of the breathtaking action or clear-sighted dramatic impetus of that film, opting instead for an improvisational, arthouse style in keeping with Lazenby's desire for a counterculture anti-Bond movie for the Easy Rider generation. Enfield, blithely unaware that this project would effectively kill off his career, quickly rustled up a conventional, backer-friendly screenplay about gunrunners that neither party had any intention of filming. Once the financing was secured, the production ran wild and free, with the benefit of copious amounts of wacky baccy. As a result, Universal Soldier stands as an experimental and trippy, guerilla-style satire on the arms trade, presenting Lazenby's shaggy haired, Jason King 'tached, leather trench coat wearing former merc as a Christ-like figure stalking the Wimpy bars, pubs and agit-prop political debates of London to find redemption, despite the pull of his comrade-in-arms Jesse (Ben Carruthers) who remains bloodthirsty enough to shoot a dog for no good reason other than to test the firepower of a machine gun.

The film may be incoherent and lacking in direction or engaging plot line, but it is a surprisingly interesting viewing experience and something of a beautiful mess. There's some wonderfully off-the-wall casting on offer; not only does Enfield play Bowden, Ryker's landlord and the father of his love interest, but Germaine Greer, the author of the then bestselling book The Female Eunuch, stars as Mrs Bowden, a politically active lecturer that essentially sees the Aussie feminist playing herself, though she was bizarrely called 'Gumaini Grur' on this poster. 

There's also an appearance from Lazenby's manager, O’Rahilly, as a vociferous peacenick. The film takes its name from Buffy Saint-Marie's 1964 track, but the soundtrack is made up of several melodic songs by Phillip Goodhand-Tait which illustrate the movie's pacifist message. Apparently Jimi Hendrix was slated to score the film, and possibly make a guest appearance too, but his untimely death put paid to his contribution.

Despite it's flaws, you have to hand it Lazenby. Here was an man who was so convinced that this was the way forward that he invested a good deal of his own money to make the movie, rather than take a fee. It didn't work out of course, and he was subsequently sued, along with three others, for £10,000 by some of the backers. That said, his own stubborn arrogance which had so previously infuriated Broccoli and Saltzman came into play here too when he refused to film Enfield's final scene which saw Ryker mown down by his cheated partners; "I didn’t want him to die because he’d done the right thing. So I refused to film it. They had to freeze frame it instead."  It's quite telling of Lazenby's ego at the time that he was happy to play up to the character's Christ-like pacifism but not keen on following it to its logical, downbeat conclusion. Ultimately, Lazenby's reaction to the film's failure saw him sack O’Rahilly and allegedly beg Broccoli for a second chance at Bond after Connery's return in Diamonds Are Forever to no avail. He now views Universal Soldier as ''a silly mistake'' which is a rather savage dismissal of what is at least a well-intentioned film. The truth is that the real silly mistake here was his decision to pass on a second Bond movie in the first place.

Do you wanna watch it? There's a good quality upload on The Tube of You

Sunday, 25 November 2018

RIP George A Cooper

George A Cooper has died at the age of 93.

A familiar and seemingly never aging face on British TV and film for over fifty years, Cooper was perhaps best known to anyone of my generation as the officious Mr Griffiths, caretaker of Grange Hill, a role which he played for seven years from 1985 to 1992. 

Born in Leeds in 1925, Cooper trained as an electrical engineer and architect and worked for the Royal Artillery in India as part of his National Service. Upon demob, he joined Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop in Manchester and began life as an actor; using his middle initial (it stood for Alphonsus) to avoid any confusion with an American actor called George Cooper. He made his first TV appearance in 1946 and remained a regular fixture on the small screen for the next fifty years, appearing in shows such as Coronation Street, Doctor Who, Some Mother's Do 'Ave 'Em, Steptoe and Son, The Avengers, The New Avengers, The Saint, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Man in a Suitcase, Z Cars and Dixon of Dock Green. His film credits included The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (in which he played a thinly disguised Harold Wilson, the then Labour Prime Minister), Hell is a City, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, Smashing Time, Life at the Top, Violent Playground and Red Monarch. He made his last appearance in an episode of Casualty in 1995 and passed away in a Hampshire nursing home on Friday, November 16th.


RIP Nicolas Roeg

We've lost a genius. 

Nicolas Roeg has died at the age of 90.

A cinematic visionary, Nicolas Roeg was responsible for some of the most influential and experimental, landmark British films of the twentieth century. Performance, Walkabout,  Don't Look Now, The Man Who Fell To Earth, and Bad Timing. Most filmmakers would kill for just one of those gems in their oeuvre but Roeg had them all. He was a truly distinctive filmmaker, not one for mainstream audiences perhaps, but his unique approach - the jigsaw puzzle-like narrative and imagery and intelligent subject matter - made for enriching, thought provoking works of pure art. 

Born in Marylebone in 1928, Roeg had no formal training in film, starting his career as a tea-boy following his national service in 1947. From that inauspicious start, Roeg rose through the ranks to focus-puller and camera-operator to eventually becoming a distinguished and much sought after cinematographer on films like Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Far From The Madding Crowd and Fahrenheit 451

Roeg continued to be prolific in the 1980s with a atring of interesting movies including Eureka (which, like his first film Performance, seems to have undergone a major re-evaluation to become a sleeper cult hit), Castaway (one of my personal favourites) and Insignificance, but his work since 1990, and his adaption of Roald Dahl's The Witches, proved to be more sporadic. His last film as a director was 2007's Puffball, but he continued to be involved in film right up until his death; executive producing Crowhurst which was released just this year which I reviewed for The Geek Show.

Here's Big Audio Dynamite's 1985 hit e=mc2 which features dialogue from and references to many of Roeg's films.

So here's to Nic Roeg. One thing's for sure, we won't see another like him. 


Saturday, 24 November 2018

The Interrogation of Tony Martin (2018)

It was 20 August 1999 when 55-year-old Norfolk farmer Tony Martin decided to take the law into his own hands. Coming across two burglars in his home, the appropriately named Bleak House, Martin armed himself with a shotgun and proceeded to fire at the intruders, wounding one and killing the other, a 16-year-old boy called Fred Barras. When the police subsequently arrested him for murder, the case understandably took a nation that believes that an Englishman's home is his castle by storm. It was perhaps the last great British cause célèbre of the last century, dominating the media with countless front pages and tabloid editorials, with protests outside court as people leapt to Martin's defence, and politicians weighing in with their two pennies worth both for and against his actions. 

Writer/director David Nath has a solid track record as both a documentarian for Channel 4 and a dramatist. The People Next Door, The Watchman and Unspeakable are examples of the latter, and The Interrogation of Tony Martin is no exception. This is a verbatim drama, scripted from the actual police interview recordings, set almost exclusively within the four grey walls of the interview room. It is also largely a three-hander, focusing on Steve Pemberton as Martin and Daniel Mays and Stuart Graham as his interrogators. 

Fresh off the back of an impressive live broadcast of Inside Number 9 to mark Halloween last month, Pemberton is pitch perfect as Martin, imbuing his grey gammon featured middle aged man with a perceived lifetime of injustice simmering away behind bitter eyes. His performance takes in just a handful of days after the incident; from the bewildering statement of a man arguably in shock to a combative, pompous and remorseless self-appointed defender, not just of his home, but of the letter of the law itself. Through it all Mays and Graham are patient, dogged and painstaking as they attempt to uncover the truth behind these erratic statements.

I suppose enough time has gone by to make the ins and outs of this case less known in some audiences mind, but for those of us who remember it only too well, The Interrogation of Tony Martin does little to alter our view of the events. If you weren't even born or old enough to recall it, then I'm sure you'll be gripped and surprised to see the drama play out. I don't want to spoil it for you, but the fact remains that Martin's version of events were not as clear as he would have the world believe and it was only right (in my view at least) that he was successfully prosecuted for murder.

Nath's film does however provide some context to Martin's actions and his frame of mind. Despite his protestations in the interview that he is 'not strange', all the evidence points to the contrary; he dismantled the top and bottom of his staircase to create a hazard for potential intruders just like the pair who arrived at his home on that fateful night, and he slept fully dressed in work clothes and boots with a shotgun and ammo always close at hand. Tony Martin was a fearful, resentful and indignant man who blamed incidents of attempted sexual abuse as a child as a reason for his behaviour. It was this mindset that was subsequently diagnosed as paranoid personality disorder when his conviction for murder was reduced to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility on appeal.

Unfortunately Nath chooses to conclude his film with a peculiar coda that allows the real Tony Martin to have his say. Returning to Bleak House for the first time since 1999, the 70-something Martin remains as conceited and pugnacious as the investigating officers and the original trial's prosecution proved. It's quite unsavoury to witness his impenitence, his prickly refusal to feel any sympathy for Barras or his family, and the sick anecdote he has from prison that he seemingly finds humourous. It's an odd note for Nath to end on, leaving as bad a taste in the mouth for his film as the one we feel for the incident itself. Still, it proves that the old adage of criminals always returning to the scene of the crime to be true...if only for the TV cameras.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Doctor Who - Happy 55th Anniversary!

Today marks the 55th anniversary of a TV show that has meant a HELL OF A LOT to me for all of my thirty nine years on this spinning rock we call earth.

It is of course, Doctor Who, which first hit our screens on a chilly Saturday evening on the 23rd November, 1963. 55 years and 13 (give or take) Doctors later and it is still going strong.

There are of course those who claim that the show isn't going strong right now. Those who refuse to accept that the ratings are some of the best the show has ever seen and who believe the show has become an SJW feminist ethnically diverse PC disaster simply because the show has dared to cast *gasp* a woman in the role of the Doctor and a black man and an asian woman in the role of companions. Based on some of the absolute tripe I have been reading online on YouTube and the like, these people on the whole appear to be gammon style brexiteers and 'mericans. Basically, people with an agenda and little actual understanding of the show's 55 year history. Doctor Who has always been about social justice, it has always been about politics, about being the best we can be, about fighting injustice and tyranny and demanding equality and fair play, and it has always, always been educational.

So, to those people who don't understand this and who spend their days attacking it online I say this;

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Out On Blue Six: Johnny Marr and Maxine Peake

“D’you want to buy any gear?” I am asked.
“What sort of gear?”
“Skag, smack man.”
“Nah, no thanks – it’s not my thing.”
“What about crack then?”
“Nah, not my thing either,” I reply.
“What about a drink then eh?”
“Nah,” I reply. “I’m not drinking at the minute, got stuff to sort.”
“What!? Are you a fuckin vicar?!”

A short film/music video/art piece with a message, The Priest is a unique collaboration between Johnny Marr and Maxine Peake that is based on the diary of homeless Big Issue seller 'James Campbell' aka Joe Gallagher. Marr's music is superb, and the decision to have Molly Windsor lip sync to Maxine Peake's words is a really good one, suggesting the weary, troubled, old-beyond-her-years nature of the young homeless character known only as 'The Priest'; “I had been on the streets of this city for four days and I had already been tagged. Maybe had a street name: Priest!”

Marr ❤ Peake ❤ Windsor ❤ Manchester ❤ What's not to like?

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Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Among Giants (1998)

Writer Simon Beaufoy had originally intended to make a documentary about a gang of painters tasked with the job of giving a lick of paint to the electric pylons of Pembrokeshire, but when permission was denied he chose to convert his idea to fiction. The idea became Among Giants, but it wasn't picked up by producers until after the success of his screenplay for The Full Monty in 1997.

I've spoken before about how Hollywood trundled into the north of England and busted a gut trying to replicate The Full Monty in the wake of its critical and commercial acclaim in the late 90s (see my review for Blow Dry, a project that Beaufoy subsequently disowned once Miramax got their hands on it) and there's a part of me that finds it darkly humourous to see the inevitable failures such greed-induced productions bring about. It's fair to say that Among Giants was not the film that the money men perhaps expected or indeed hoped for; it possesses none of The Full Monty's rakish, earthy feelgood charm and, as a result, I can see why it proved a disappointment to audiences. But that doesn't mean it's a bad film.

Among Giants is an altogether more poetic affair than The Full Monty. On the surface its story of working class Yorkshiremen trying to earn a living painting pylons 'off the books', may bear some comparison to that mega-hit, but it's only really the basic premise that serves to explore the hopes and dreams of its characters - characters whose hopes and dreams aren't perhaps always considered or addressed. At its heart, Among Giants is an age-gap love story between two lost souls; Pete Postlethwaite's foreman and Rachel Griffiths' Australian backpacker and rock climber. 

This story converts into a painful love triangle when you factor in James Thornton's brash youth who looks to Postlethwaite as a father figure and considers himself God's gift to women. It's the latter that is the film's downside for me, but only because I have never really found Thornton to be an engaging or likeable performer. Someone like John Simm would have been really good in the role, but that's just my own opinion of course. The rest of the cast is certainly a strong one, with Andy Serkis, Lennie James, Alan Williams and Rob Jarvis forming the gang.

In conclusion, Among Giants is a film with a strong beating heart, albeit a quirky and lyrical one, that is complimented beautifully by Tim Atack's atmospheric and evocative score. Furthermore it is proof that a film doesn't necessarily have to wear its politics so clearly on its sleeve to explore the hardships of working men left on the scrapheap. We know that the gang are working illegally, without protection or rights and cash-in-hand but it's just the undercoat to the film's overall colour. 

I've seen this film a couple of times now, and it's one that I gain a greater appreciation of each time I see At the very least, next time you pass an electric pylon or two, I swear you'll look at them in a new light.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

RIP John Bluthal

Saddened to hear about the death of John Bluthal last week at the age of 89.

It would be easier to say what the Polish born actor hadn't been in, rather than what he had been in, so extensive was his acting career which stretched back to the early '60s. He's probably best remembered for his role as Frank Pickle in The Vicar of Dibley, but Bluthal was also the star of the sitcom Never Mind The Quality, Feel The Width, appeared in Carry On films, Pink Panther films as well as A Hard Day's Night and Help! alongside The Beatles. Most recently, he appeared in the Coen Brothers movie Hail, Caesar! But, for this tribute, I'm recalling his role as Spike Milligan's stooge in the excellent and eccentric Q series - specifically this moment of comedy gold... 

Bluthal passed away on November 15th, in New South Wales, Australia.


Monday, 19 November 2018

The Blood of Hussain (and Towers of Silence)

The Blood of Hussain:

Jamil Dehlavi mixes the political with the mystical to create a symbolic and lyrical landmark in the Third Cinema movement of the 1970s. The closest comparison I can conjure up is the work of Tarkovsky, and indeed the tale of peasants against a corrupt and tyrannical ruling class is one that resonates greatly in Russian literature. Alongside his cinematographer Walter Lassally, Dehlavi creates images that burn themselves into your retina in much the same way as the Soviet auteur managed. Take, for instance, the sight of a beautiful white stallion, rising up seemingly from beneath the dusty arid earth, or the masochistic fervour of the Muharram ritual of self-flagellation that occur on the teeming city streets. There’s a poetic and surreal quality to how Dehlavi chooses to visualise his narrative that makes what is, on the surface at least, a traditional tale of good versus evil a striking and metaphorical arthouse production.

Towers of Silence:

Dehlavi delivers an avant garde semi-autobiographical reading of the contradictory relationship of the Zoroastrian and Muslim faiths. It tells the abstract story of a Western woman's relationship with a murdered revolutionary and her concerns for their infant child. At its heart is the Zoroastrian funeral rite which sees corpses laid to rest atop the titular towers, where their bones are picked clean by vultures, just one example of a menagerie of animals who appear throughout and have various contrasting meanings across both religions. Shot in black and white, Towers of Silence possesses an experimental and hazy dreamlike style that lingers long in the memory.

See my full review at The Geek Show

Sunday, 18 November 2018

RIP William Goldman

William Goldman, arguably the finest screenwriter of the late twentieth century has died at the age of 87.

Goldman was responsible for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All The President's Men, Marathon Man, A Bridge Too Far, The Stepford Wives, Misery and of course The Princess Bride, which he adapted from the novel he wrote for his daughter Jenny.


Saturday, 17 November 2018

Out On Blue Six: Frank Sidebottom

Yesterday I amended my previous Out On Blue Six post to tell readers that I was unable to bring you the other track that I had completely forgotten about until watching an edition of Frank's Fantastic Shed Show, because YT doesn't have it. So instead of The Adventures and Marianne (for that was the track) I'm sharing a bit of Frank himself. He's been on Match of the Day y'know

End Transmission