Friday, 30 September 2011
As a child, I used to live next to a railway line. To be honest, it was a lot more fun than 'The Finishing Line', a relentlessly grim educational film produced by British Rail, would suggest. It makes the most impact in the first few minutes, then runs on for another quarter of an hour making the same point in slightly different ways. That said, the relentless monotony of death and dismemberment is its own message - it's like the futile slaughter of the trenches transported to Hertfordshire.
Director John Krish was also responsible for the gut-wrenching 'Last Minute'. He clearly took his responsibilities very seriously.
Thursday, 29 September 2011
Ron Grainer's theme for 'The Prisoner' is a classic, but it could have all been very different. Grainer's music was the third attempt at creating the right feel for the opening of the show, and even that required a major overhaul before being deemed suitable by perfectionist / control freak / egomaniac Patrick McGoohan.
First up was Robert Farnon. Farnon was a popular Canadian composer of 'light music', but his proposed theme sounded more like something from a Western (specifically, the theme to 'The Big Country') and failed to impress anyone, least of all Mr. McGoohan.
Wilfred Josephs was next up. Josephs was a prolific composer who wrote a number of classical works as well as themes for film and telly. Josephs' take was much more atmospheric and urgent but extremely busy and in search of a discernible tune. The composition didn't work as a theme tune, but later appeared as recurring incidental music with a better and slightly tidier arrangement.
Australian composer Ron Grainer proved more successful, of course, although his original conception was far gentler and slower. McGoohan apparently accompanied him to the recording studio and encouraged him to considerably ramp up the music into the loud, driving, unforgettable theme so familiar to fans of the series but, like most legends attached to the series, that's probably a load of rubbish - Grainer was a brilliant and experienced composer, after all - and McGoohan tended to take the credit for pretty much anything not nailed down, the crazy bastard.
Wednesday, 28 September 2011
'Many Happy Returns' was the fifth episode of 'The Prisoner', originally broadcast on the eleventh of November, 1967.
Number Six wakes up one morning to find himself alone. The utilities in The Village are all switched off and the place is utterly deserted. After making sure that it's not all just another trick, he takes lots of photographs and, in typically ingenious fashion, builds a raft and sets sail for freedom.
I'm not going to say anymore, just in case you might want to watch it. It's a classic piece of television drama - wordless for almost half its running time, utterly logical, and with a brilliant and wrenching twist. Genius.
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
Monday, 26 September 2011
Sunday, 25 September 2011
'Legend Of The Werewolf' (1975) was a product of the short lived British production company, Tyburn. Set up by Freddie Francis's producer son, Kevin, they only managed three films under the Tyburn imprint before disappearing, but they're all horror films and will all eventually end up on these virtual pages.
Directed by the brilliant Freddie Francis, 'Legend Of The Werewolf' is a not particularly brilliant film, but it's unpretentious and easy to watch. The tale of a boy raised by wolves who grows up to be a werewolf, it doesn't take itself particularly seriously, and relies on strong performances from old, safe hands Peter Cushing, Hugh Griffith and, in a wig and false teeth that make him look like a cross between old man Steptoe and Barry Gibb, Ron Moody.
The werewolf make up is strongly reminiscent of 'Curse Of The Werewolf' from 14 years earlier (i.e. exactly the same) and the storyline, in which the werewolf revenges himself against people who slighted him and his prostitute girlfriend, is a familiar British horror film device, although they don't really stick to it for long.
Still, I like it.
Hugh Griffith pops up in 'Legend Of The Werewolf' in another rascally character study, this time as Maestro Pamponi, the actor / manager / chief swindler of the pitiful travelling show the wolf boy finds a home with for a while until he bites somebody to death. Which is harder than it looks, believe me.
Saturday, 24 September 2011
For some reason, 'Classic British Horror' tended to steer away from films about werewolves, I don't know why, perhaps the make up is too expensive. It's a shame, as the few examples I can think of are pretty good, particularly 'Curse Of The Werewolf' (1961), which is absolutely terrific.
Set in 19th century Spain, a lengthy prologue shows us exactly how a werewolf is made: a crazy feral tramp rapes a buxom deaf mute and makes her pregnant. Sorry, if that's unnecessarily scientific for you. The result of this unholy union is Leon, a sweet little boy who kills sheep at full moon and grows into a young Oliver Reed. Reed is perfect in the role - likeable, but full of brooding intensity. When he flips, and flip he flipping well does, he makes one angry, bloody, white werewolf.
Excellent stuff, from Terence Fisher's fluid direction to the innovative look of the monster, it's a shame Hammer didn't follow this up with a series of sequels. They made four Mummy films, for instance, and everyone knows a werewolf is better than a mummy. You couldn't make it up.
Friday, 23 September 2011
'Tomorrow Come Someday' isn't the most obvious candidate for a place on The Island, but it was 'suggested' by the previous two posts, with which it shares some interesting points of similarity.
Made in the Summer of 1969, 'Tomorrow Come Someday' is a fifty minute amateur film, a musical comedy about a young artist who arrives in a small Sussex village (where they used to grow oaks for warships, see 'Pannage') just in time to fall in love and to help prevent an attempt to drive a motorway (see 'Requiem For A Village') through the heart of her newly found idyll.
Extremely quaint, it's basically a filmed version of an am dram musical with some shouty performances and slightly dodgy dance routines. It must have been great fun to make, with the whole community seemingly involved, and I'll bet the premiere in the village hall was packed out.
The reason that the film is not currently mouldering away in a box in someone's loft is that the soundtrack was written and produced by John Ferdinando and Peter Howell - a multi-talented duo (Howell worked at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop for 25 years) who, between the late sixties and mid seventies, recorded five of the rarest, most sought after albums of the period. I have to be honest and say that, for me, the music on this production is very twee and can get a bit shrill now and again. If, however, you do happen to have one of the seventy or so original copies of the OST, please ignore what I just wrote and send it to me immediately.
The film was released as part of a double disc set with the OST last year. In keeping with the original production, it's charmingly low key and DIY. This is the main menu for the DVD -
That's Britain in a screen grab - they even get the title wrong.
Thursday, 22 September 2011
'Requiem For A Village' was only released on DVD a few months ago, the first time David Gladwell's 1975 film had been available for many years. As usual, there was a bundle of people falling over themselves to proclaim it a groundbreaking work of incredible lost genius and to align it to some zeitgeist or other but, to be honest, a more realistic and less charged assessment is that it's simply a good and interesting film that most people weren't previously aware of.
Gladwell was a film editor by profession, most famously working on 'If....' and 'O Lucky Man'. Whenever possible, however, he liked to make his own films - abstract, low budget things which celebrated his love of the English countryside, his interest in the macabre, and his fascination for a traditional way of life which had been in steady decline since the national catastrophe of World War One. In 'Requiem For A Village' he takes the idea of a bucolic Suffolk hamlet about to be flattened to make way for a road and a new estate and weaves a strange but gossamer light narrative through it to fascinating effect. The 'star' is Vic Smith -born and raised in the village, Vic works in the cemetery, keeping the graves and grounds tidy even though they won't be there for very long.
More than anyone, Smith understands the community and continuity of village life - it's all there on the grave stones in the church yard. In the film's most striking sequence, he watches the dead rise from their graves to attend a wedding, one of several flashbacks to earlier, simpler, but no more easier times. To this, Gladwell also adds documentary film of blacksmiths, ostlers and wheelwrights at work, as well as some strange diversions - a rape, a frog tied to a tree, and a gang of bikers who haunt the village like avenging wraiths and will, ultimately, be the means by which Vic is joyously reunited with his dead wife.
'Requiem For A Village' only runs for 68 minutes, but it's jam packed full of ideas and haunting images. Our society is still eroding / evolving (depending on your point of view and, probably, your age), let's hope someone is currently documenting the progress / ruination as sensitively and imaginatively as Gladwell.
Wednesday, 21 September 2011
We haven't had any 'Out Of Town' for a while, have we? Here's a short film about pannage, i.e. letting pigs out into the woods to snuffle up acorns and eat other interesting things which will, ultimately, make them taste better in a sandwich.
No particular angle on this, it's just an interesting bit of film, and Jack Hargreaves is, as ever, an informative and hairy host. I'm loving his combat jacket in this clip, and imagining an alternate reality where he is starring in 'The Wild Geese' instead of Richard Burton. He'd have shot Richard Harris like that.
Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Monday, 19 September 2011
Sunday, 18 September 2011
‘The Kiss Of The Vampire’ (1963) was Hammer’s second ‘no Dracula’ Dracula sequel, even dispensing this time with the Van Helsing character.
In this film, a honeymooning couple visit romantic Bavaria, only to fall under the baleful influence of a creepy patriarch and his equally odd kids who live in a scary castle. Make no mistake, this family are vampires, but they are also presented as decadents, devil worshippers and sexual perverts – the neck biting seems to have developed as a sideline.
Without Van Helsing, the vanquishing duties fall to the dour Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans), a man who has made a lifetime study of the occult and is part professor, part magus. The scene where he interrupts a funeral to plunge a sharpened shovel into the coffin is brilliant, especially when the blood starts to seep out. It is Zimmer’s arcane knowledge that saves the day when he utters an incantation that turns the castle occupants evil against them and they are immediately engulfed in a cloud (the correct plural term, fact fans) of hungry bats. These bats, poorly animated for long shots, rubber and on strings for close ups, make the film’s climax a pretty silly affair but don’t mar the enjoyment of this minor but rather charming entry in the Hammer catalogue.