Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Shakespeare-Wallah (1965)

"...Made in 1965, Shakespeare Wallah was the second collaboration from Merchant Ivory and the first to really garner some international attention. Written by regular Merchant Ivory scribe Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the film was one of the earliest English-language speaking roles for acclaimed Bollywood actor Shashi Kapoor and marked the screen debut of a teenage Felicity Kendal, who went on to charm a nation of dads and bring about funny feelings in their pre-pubescent sons with her role as the perky and resourceful Barbara Good in the classic 1970s BBC sitcom The Good Life. The film is based on the experiences of Felicity and her parents (who also star) Geoffrey Kendal and Laura Liddell who, as the ‘Shakespeareana Company’, led a nomadic existence touring stage productions of the Bard across post-colonial India..."

Read my full review at The Geek Show

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Out On Blue Six: Level 42

This was on last night's repeat of Top of the Pops on BBC4. It's Level 42 with their sad slow break up number It's Over, featuring Mark King rocking the bricklayer-in-the-sun look

Couple of things strike me about this, apart from King's chosen attire that is. The first is, what was the point of the King of the Bass bringing his bass on? He never really touches it! Secondly, I can only imagine the number of babies conceived on the back seat of XR3i's (complete with furry dice) during this track.

There's actually a lovely comment on this YouTube video. It dates back 5 years ago and it's from Allison Baker;

"I broke up with my first love in the month this was in the UK charts in 1987 and I remember walking into a record shop this was playing I bought it and played it til the needle on my stereo broke"

End Transmission

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Out On Blue Six: Hue & Cry

My English teacher at school Mr Wells used to wear suits like Pat Kane's...

End Transmission

Monday, 22 April 2019

Heat and Dust (1983)

"...There’s an anecdote about Heat and Dust from producer Ismail Merchant in Robert Emmet Long’s 1993 book The Films of Merchant Ivory  that I’ve always liked because I think it says a lot about not only the cultural differences between the British film industry and Hollywood but also the different type of films that both industries make. It relates to the difficult matter of raising finances to make a film, as Merchant says “As usual, I submitted it to all the Hollywood studios, who politely—and not so politely declined—one executive wrote, saying, we are returning Ruth Jhabvala’s Eat my Dust. We knew we must find our financing in Europe”..."

Read my full review at The Geek Show (including a mini-review for the BFI 2 disc Blu-ray release's extra, Merchant Ivory's 1975 short, Autobiography of a Princess)

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

RIP Les Reed

Les Reed, the songwriter behind Tom Jones' classic hits Delilah and It's Not Unusual, has died at the age of 83.

Les Reed, pictured with unlikely Adidas poster boy Tom Jones

Reed had been the pianist with The John Barry Seven and the conductor of his own orchestra but it's his incredible catalogue of 60+ hit songs that he'll perhaps be best remembered for. Here's just a few examples of those chart toppers;

Reed's songs were recorded by artistes ranging from big American stars like Elvis, The Carpenters and Bing Crosby to homegrown talents like Kathy Kirby, Lulu and Des O'Connor. He wrote the scores for the films Girl on a Motorcycle, The Bushbaby, One More Time, George and Mildred, Creepshow 2 and Parting Shots and he was also responsible for co-writing the 1967 novelty song Who's Doctor Who by then Doctor Who actor Frazer Hines and the B-Side to Leeds United's 1972 Cup Final single, Leeds! Leeds! Leeds! Better known as Marching Together, it's a song still sung by supporters of the club on the terraces both home and away to this day.


Theme Time: The Word - 808 State

Ah yes it's time to look at that enfant terrible of Channel 4 in the 1990s, The Word

Love it or hate it, you cannot deny how influential and important The Word was. It's almost twenty-five-years since the last episode aired and yet almost everything The Word pioneered has now become absorbed by other shows and accepted into the mainstream.

Remember 'The Hopefuls' those shameless glory hunters who gave up their dignity by eating worms and sheep testicles (among other more disgusting stunts) because, as they would each gamely say to camera "I'll do anything to be on TV" Remember how offended and disgusted people were? They're all fairly quiet now when watching celebs eat the very same thing as part of an I'm a Celebrity bushtucker trial aren't they?

It wasn't just gross stunts though; The Word provided a platform for some of the best music of the day (often breaking new bands) and some brilliantly candid, off-the-cuff interviews with famous figures from the world of music, acting, sport and the arts, and the kind of through-the-looking-glass exposes of the weird and wonderful life in America that Louis Theroux would later mine with his Weird Weekends. It was The Tube via a kind of X-rated Tiswas - perfect for the laddish, baggy, grungey, britpoppy 1990s.

Described by Wikipedia as 'a mayhemic mixture of pop music and teen attitude' The Word was must-see post pub viewing on a Friday night for some 49% of the viewing public at that time. It ran from 1990 to 1995 and featured presenters such as Amanda de Cadenet, Mark Lamarr, Dani Behr, Hufty and Katie Puckrik, the one constant being it's main presenter, Mancunian motormouth Terry Christian whose book, My Word, is an eye-opening, candid and funny read of his time with the show.

The theme tune was entitled Olympic, provided by Madchester's own 808 State.

Some full episodes of The Word are available on YouTube, whilst a series of compilations can be viewed on All 4. They're well worth watching, whether you simply fancy a bit of nostalgia or whether you just want to see some cutting edge tele before it become so diluted. Chris Evans was only just around the corner, and he had obviously been paying attention.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

RIP Sandy Ratcliff

Sandy Ratcliff, the former EastEnders actress and star of Ken Loach's 1971 film Family Life has died at the age of seventy.

Born in London on October 2, 1950, Sandy Ratcliff seemed destined for a troubled and turbulent life. Expelled from Grammar School at the age of 12, Ratcliff began a relationship with drugs as a teenager, smoking and eventually supplying cannabis, which earned her some time in prison. After stints as a waitress, DJ and guitarist in two rock groups, she found some acclaim as a model, touted by photographer Lord Snowden as 'The Face of the 70s'. 

However it was acting that she became famous for. She took the lead role of Janice, a schizophrenic young woman, in Ken Loach's 1971 film Family Life, and went on to appear in films like The Final Programme, Yesterday's Hero, Hussy and Radio Onas well as TV programmes such as ITV soap opera Crossroads. But her biggest role was as one of the original cast members in another soap, the BBC's EastEnders. As Sue Osman, Ratcliff appeared in the very first episode in 1985 and played the part of the cafe owner until 1989 when she was sacked due to her addiction to heroin. In her four years on the soap she took centre stage in big issue-led storylines such as cot death, adultery and mental illness. 

Ill health and personal problems were something that dogged Ratcliff after leaving EastEnders, battling both cancer and drugs and hitting the headlines for providing a false alibi for her boyfriend Michael Shorey, who was subsequently sentenced to two life sentences for the murder of two women. Acting work dried up beyond appearances in Maigret and a couple of TV plays and, at some stage, Ratcliff retrained as a counsellor but had retired by the 2010. It was also revealed by the tabloids that she was living on disability benefit of just £70 per week. In her final years Ratcliff lived in sheltered accommodation and it was here that her body was found on the morning of 7th April, 2019. An inquest at Poplar Coroner's Court has been adjourned, pending tests, until October.


Who Burst the BBC Balloon?

It was, for my money, the best BBC ident they ever had. But the BBC hot air balloon lasted just four years as the station logo from 1997 to 2001.

In TV Years: The Nineties (on sale now) Martin Lambie-Nairn, the graphic designer behind it, as well as the original Channel 4 logo, the BBC1 globe and the sprightly BBC2 idents, reveals all about the balloon and why it was so cruelly shortlived.

Taking inspiration from footage of the Hindenburg airship at the 1936 Olympics, Lambie-Nairn hit upon the idea of creating a balloon and flying it over various parts of the UK to acknowledge how the BBC serves every corner of the land.

However, in 2001 the new channel controller Lorraine Heggessey (who had previously found fame as the head of Children's BBC when she appeared before the cameras to apologise for Blue Peter presenter Richard Bacon's cocaine use in 1998) arrived and demanded sweeping changes. "She walked into the room," Lambie-Nairn recounts, "and said, 'Right, the first thing - get rid of that fucking balloon!' She hadn't read the audience research that said, 'You've got a diamond here.' She wasn't interested in any of that" 

So true, these were an absolute delight and infinitely superior to anything that has followed. I mean, does anyone really like this Oneness nonsense like 'Cavers at Wemyss', 'Swing dancers in County Durham' and 'Skaters in Southwark' that introduces programmes now?

So here's the beautiful balloons in all their glory....

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Noah's Castle (1980)

Mention Britain in the 1970s to anyone and you'll invariably get the same responses of 'winter of discontent', 'Dennis Healey going cap in hand to the IMF', 'streets piled high with rubbish because of council strikes' and 'gravediggers refusing to bury the dead'. These perceptions of the 1970s have become folkloric, leaving many to believe that British society was on the brink of collapse under Jim Callaghan's Labour government. Never mind that economic growth, at 2.4%, would go on to stay at exactly the same level in Thatcher's Britain of the 1980s, the 1970s is considered to be the sick decade.

It's this notion that clearly informed author John Rowe Townsend who, in 1975, wrote a book set in the near future that posits the notion of what could happen should the UK succumb to runaway inflation, critical food shortages and the breakdown of law and order. His book, telling the story of a family whose social conscience is tested to the limit by this situation when their overbearing father begins to hoard provisions in his cellar and hole the family up until they are safely through the crisis, was entitled Noah's Castle and it was subsequently adapted for television five years later.  For children. That's right - Noah's Castle, with its heavy themes of social and economic collapses, is a story children.

Adapted for the screen by Nick McCarty and produced and directed by Colin Nutley, the beauty of this eight-part drama series is that it makes no concessions to being mere children's entertainment, coming as it does from an era that understood that a programme principally featuring children needn't be childish. There's a commitment on display both in front of and behind the camera that would make your average socially aware post watershed drama envious. There's no tipping the wink, no 'it's alright kiddies really, we're only playing' glint in the eye from a cast that includes craggy faced David Neal as the stern patrician and ex-soldier Norman Mortimer (imagine a scrotum with military bearing), future EastEnder Mike Reid as a menacingly softly spoken cockney heavy and black marketeer, Alun Lewis as a charming anarchist, Christopher Fairbank as a morally conscientious food bank organiser and Simon Gipps-Kent as our lead, Mortimer's defiant son, Barry. 

Equally, there's no quarter given in the disturbing, distinctly adult themes that are present in the storyline; when Mortimer takes in his former employer, the snobbish and wily Mr Gerald (the fruity-voiced Jack May), the selfish old bastard not only starts to manipulate Mortimer's forelock-tugging nature by blackmailing him to keep him in the manner in which he's accustomed to, he also makes it very plain that he means to have Mortimer's teenage daughter, Nessie (Annette Ekblom who at the time was married to co-star Alun Lewis who plays her drop-out boyfriend) and expects Mortimer to pimp her out to him - something which Mortimer agrees to do. This theme of sexual bartering in a broken society is also suggested by Michèle Winstanley, who plays a teenage friend of Barry's, who at one point laments that she's not pretty enough to entice shopkeepers to provide her with the food she's so desperate for. 

If watched a couple of years ago, Noah's Castle would have been little more than a fun dystopic runaround that played on the fears of late '70s Britain. Watched now, this story of suspicion and selfishness, of shops and shelves left bare, of food banks facing incredibly high demands they cannot hope to meet, of looting and rioting in the streets and the heavy hand of martial law, feels increasingly like a primer for life in Britain under a hard Brexit.

It has a great theme tune from Jugg Music too.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Out On Blue Six: Scarlet

Derry Girls always has a fabulous '90s soundtrack and this week's episode was no exception. As Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson) waited for her prom date a vaguely familiar tune began to slowly swell on the soundtrack - a tune I'd actually forgot all about. That tune was the 1995 hit Independent Love Song by Hull based girl duo Scarlet. Come and take a trip down memory lane...

Still beautiful.

End Transmission

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Fleabag: The Look

I don't know about you lot, but almost every time Phoebe Waller-Bridge looks to the camera in Fleabag I go a teensy bit weak. Specifically the bit in the current trailer where she's sat outside the changing room waiting for Andrew Scott's Priest character to choose the right robes. 

Monday, 1 April 2019

RIP Tania Mallet

Sad to hear of the death of Goldfinger star and fashion model Tania Mallet at the age of 77.

Born in Blackpool on 19th May in 1941 to a Russian mother and English father, Mallet entered the world of James Bond legend with the role of the ill-fated Tilly Masterson in 1964's Goldfinger. The model had, it is said, previously auditioned for the role of Bond girl Tatiana Romanova the previous year before Cubby Brocolli selected her to play one of Connery's love interests who met her fate thanks to Oddjob's steel-rimmed hat.

But it was the world of modelling that Mallet felt most comfortable in and, despite the fame and prestige of appearing in a Bond movie, she turned her back on acting and returned to the photography studio for the rest of the swinging sixties, leaving performing to her cousin, Helen Mirren, though she did appear in an episode of The New Avengers in 1976.


Resurrection Man (1998)

....Or Clockwork Orangeman as it could almost be called.

Resurrection Man is a 1998 film from director Marc Evans that is based on the 1994 novel of the same name by Eoin McNamee. Like that book, McNamee's screenplay takes inspiration from what is arguably the most notorious sequence of killings to occur in Northern Irish history during the Troubles. Between 1975 and 1977, several Catholic men were picked at random during the hours of darkness by an Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) gang known as The Shankill Butchers. The gang earned their name because of the ferocious and brutal way they tortured, mutilated and dispatched victims who were chosen solely for their religion; cleavers, axes and butcher's knives were the tools of their trade (though they weren't above shootings and bombings in their long-running bloody sectarian campaign either) and their ringleader, described by one detective as 'a ruthless, dedicated terrorist with a sadistic streak, regarded by those who knew him well as a psychopath' was one Lenny Murphy. In 1979 eleven of the gang were given 42 life sentences totaling almost 2,000 years for 100 charges including 19 counts of murder. Murphy himself was already in prison on a lesser charge at this point and, as a result, was never convicted of murder. His violent life and sadistic reign of terror came to an end four years later in 1982 however when, pulling up at his girlfriend's home, he was shot twenty-two times by two IRA gunmen.

Centre-stage in this tale is Stuart Townsend as Victor Kelly, our thinly disguised fictional version of Murphy. A naturally good looking man, Townsend brings a degree of dark glamour and kinky, twisted romanticism to the role despite the abhorrent nature of his character, traits which are a world away from the real Murphy who went by the nickname 'Planet of the Apes' on account of his neanderthal looks. What is carried over from fact to fiction however is the theory that Murphy's murderous zeal stemmed from the fact that this great loyalist terrorist had some Catholic blood himself. This appears to stem from the fact that Murphy is a fairly uncommon name amongst Protestants but it is worth saying that is not an unusual one by any means. Whilst Murphy's commitment may well have been driven by suggestions that he himself was the thing he despised the most, a 'Fenian', the film goes one further by depicting his father as an ineffectual and weak-willed man whom many claim to be Catholic. This slur clearly weighs heavily on both Townsend's Kelly and his overbearing mother (played superbly by Brenda Fricker) who each treat the 'man of the house', their father and husband respectively (George Shane), with utter contempt and disdain. Whilst this is clearly a work of fiction and psychological conjecture (Murphy senior was actually a serving member in the UVF) it helps to bolster that other trademark of gangster movies, namely the oedipal nature of the relationship between kingpin son and his beloved mother which stretches all the way back to Cagney's White Heat, a film that the young Kelly is seen to watch in complete awe at one point. Certainly the behaviour of Fricker when Kelly's blonde haired, doe-eyed and pneumatic moll, Heather (Geraldine O'Rawle) comes round is more in keeping with a bitter love rival than a mother simply wanting the best for her child. Freud is further wheeled out in a suggestion of repressed homosexuality too; Kelly mimics oral sex with his pistol as a way to attract the attention of UVF big-hitters, McClure (Sean McGinley) and Darkie (John Hannah), and is shown to lavish much, pseudo-erotic attention on his victims during torture (he's often naked from the waist up too, presumably to spare this peacock's beloved wardrobe any bloodshed); the final deathstroke often coming to resemble a near-ejaculate like bloodletting and a significant release that leaves Kelly near-catotonically spent. It is also revealed that McClure has shown him photographs of 'English boys in bed together'. This revelation comes during a particularly outrageous, drink and drug-fuelled scene that features the pair embracing and almost kissing whilst Jerusalem plays in the Union Jack bedecked backroom of the bar, with McClure wearing an SS cap!  

It's these little moments of loyalist patriotism that actually gives the film it's sense of place. Indeed, what's interesting about Resurrection Man is how, despite its true-life inspiration, it removes itself from much of the Troubles to simply depict instead the story of a serial killer/gangster. Just take a look at the press release blurb that was subsequently used on the DVD release;

'Victor Kelly is a gangster and ruthless murderer - a 'Scarface' for his generation. He is the leader of a gang of killers known as "Resurrection Men" who target victims in a city where boundaries are marked by blood. Victor's cruelty makes him a ghastly local legend, both feared and venerated. On his trail is Ryan, a journalist, fuelled by an obsessive need to discover the truth about the "Resurrection Man" he is unaware of the risk to his own life. "Resurrection Man" is a chilling and controversial film not for the faint-hearted'

I do wonder if this seeming refusal to acknowledge the political situation inherent in the film, both in this blurb and in the film itself (only slurs of 'Taig' and 'Fenian' indicate just what is going on), has something to do with the climate the film was released in; in 1998 a tentative peace process was being delivered in Northern Ireland which eventually came to a greater fruition at the turn of the 21st century. Whatever the reasons, it works to make Resurrection Man a universal film, riffing on notions as wide-ranging as classic gangster or serial killer films, Bonnie and Clyde romance, violence-for-kicks affairs like the aforementioned A Clockwork Orange, and an almost vampiric thirst for blood. Indeed, the scenes of a malevolent, black-clad Townsend stalking the moonlit streets for victims was enough to ensure that he was subsequently cast as Anne Rice's vampire hero Lestat (previously portrayed in cinema by Tom Cruise in Interview with a Vampire) in the 2002 film, Queen of the Damned.  

I first saw Resurrection Man not long after its release, buying it on VHS. I was interested to watch it for a number of reasons; not least my interest in the Troubles, but also my appreciation of actors such as James Nesbitt, who stars here as Ryan, the journalist on Kelly's trail, and who was at the time riding high with his success in ITV's Cold Feet  - this film affording him the opportunity to move away from comedy and light drama play the kind of heavy dramatic role he has subsequently proved just as adept at - and Derek Thompson who, since 1986, is best known for playing Charlie Fairhead in Casualty, but whose career prior to this (at present) thirty-three-year role included several Troubles-related films. Thompson took a break from Casualty, then in it's eleventh year, to play the role of Herbie Ferguson, the detective investigating the brutal murders - the last original role he has played in his career as the past twenty odd years has seen him continue in the role of nurse Fairhead. There's a reunion, of sorts, between him and his old friend Brenda Fricker, who played Megan Roach in the first five years of Casualty, though they share no actual scenes on film together. Amongst the other familiar Irish faces, there's also a fine supporting turn from the great James Ellis as a veteran seen-it-all reporter and mentor to Nesbitt, though sadly he disappears from the film once the action ramps up.

I remember watching Resurrection Man at the time and thinking 'my God, but Belfast is a bleak place', so imagine my surprise when the credits rolled around to reveal that the film had actually been shot on my own doorstep, in Warrington, Liverpool and Manchester! Indeed, plenty of scenes are shot on streets I actually know, including Legh Street in Warrington, which once housed the now demolished grand Victorian bath house that proves central to the film in its latter stages, whilst its exterior is also featured specifically in a scene in which Nesbitt questions some workers from a Chinese takeaway. The location work, aided by some good cinematography (that late 90s look, before digital colour grading took hold) all help to create a grim, desolate sense of place, with the former (so resolutely not being Belfast) helping to give that sense of near-dystopic hinterland that compliments the film's refusal to be too tied down to the reality of the setting.

As you can tell, I like Resurrection Man enough to still keep returning to it twenty-one-years after its release, though it's not a masterpiece by any means. Structurally it's somewhat unsound; what may have worked well on the page struggles to make much of an impact on the screen, specifically the implication that Kelly represents the dark side of Ryan's nature he struggles to keep in check, as evinced by his drunken beating of his wife, the local casualty doctor (Zara Turner) and his overall fascination with Kelly's violence which suggests he does what Ryan can only dream of. Both men even fall for the same woman; O'Rawle's Heather. The issue here being of course that neither man is truly likeable, which can be a stumbling block for some audiences, though Ryan does at least relinquish the grip his demons has on him thanks to his experience of the unrepentant, unreconstructed Kelly and returns to his wife, in reconciliatory mood. Director Marc Evans aims for a sort of Scorsese style in his eclectic use of '70s rock music to score scenes of revelry and violence (infamously, Mud's 'Tiger Feet' is used over the savage kicking of a Catholic in Kelly's local, whilst more satisfyingly, The Walker Brothers' 'No Regrets' plays as Herbie comes to arrest Kelly, with Heather offering her lover her best Bonnie Parker smile) but the freeze frames he often employs during such music-laden sequences are distinctly Guy Ritchie, himself no stranger to the positives of a good magpie-like soundtrack. Viewed at the time, these tricks may seem like stealing but, watched now with some distance between it, it serves as an interesting museum piece of the stylings from the turn of the century British cinema.   

Produced by Andrew Eaton and executive produced by Michael Winterbottom, Resurrection Man is a dark and unprepossessingly dour and dank psychological thriller that some audiences may find hard to stomach. Whilst it's nowhere near as gratuitously violent as any number of grimy American torture-porn horrors you can name that subsequently rose to the surface in the years after its release, it often reviles simply by what is implied or what is *just about* seen or suggested, though the real root of revulsion of course stems from the fact that what you witness is based on actual events.

Plus Size Bond Girls: April