Archive for the Television Category

X?

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , on September 26, 2016 by dcairns

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For some reason we’ve started looking back at The X-Files. Partly this was a result of the revival of the series, which yielded two interesting episodes and a lot of really awful waffle from creator Chris Carter, whose indigestible exposition-dumps of mythos/backstory/conspiracy were the reason we stopped watching in the first place.

CC’s best show was probably the pilot, in which Fox Mulder (that name! that impossible name!) is much more eccentric and interesting, something they stamped on later. Then you had a season of the show being a bit too cheap and a bit too repetitive, before they learned that Dan Scully couldn’t always be skeptical and wrong without learning something (Mulder is always right) and then things started to get better, particularly when Darin Morgan was writing and the show could spoof itself while still being itself.

While Morgan’s latest episode drew fire for being TOO silly (and was cannibalized from an abortive effort to revive Kolchak: The Night Stalker), we rather enjoyed it, and got a lot of pleasure out of revisiting Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (Emmy-winning per by the great Peter Boyle), War of the Coprophages (a plague of killer roaches — but each incident comes with its own debunking, with a real alien invasion lost in the shuffle) and Jose Chung’s From Outer Space (a RASHOMON of nested unreliable narrations).

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Then we moved onto Vince Gilligan’s episodes, all of which happened after we’d moved on, so they were all new to us. Gilligan didn’t bother deconstructing the show on a weekly basis, which probably allowed him to be more prolific. You do get more of a sense of the stories falling into a format which gets predictable, but on the other hand his specific twists usually still surprise even if you know when they’re coming. And here’s Bryan Cranston, showing what he can do as a racist conspiracy nut with an inner ear condition that will make his head explode if he stops driving, in Drive (basically SPEED, but with an actor’s head instead of a bus). And here’s Diana Scarwid being good and scary as a psychic who can make people do whatever she wants, and SEE whatever she wants.

Nice to see Gilligan addressing the kind of characters conspiracy theories actually appeal to — I mean, apart from everybody. The casual anti-Semitism of Cranston’s character is really surprising, and too complex to resolve in a 45-minute essay (or in a few thousand years of human civilisation, apparently).

But at what cost?

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , on September 24, 2016 by dcairns

I was always amused by Terry Gilliam’s animation segment “The Killer Cars” from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, in which — at first — automobiles spring out from alleyways to crush innocent pedestrians. Then, scientists engineer a killer car killer — in the form of a vast, erect, Siamese cat, which devours the homicidal vehicles with alacrity. “But at what cost?” booms the narrator in best William Alland manner*, as the colossal kitty goes on to feast on the metropolis itself, sucking entire tower blocks up like spaghetti.

The cat appears in Terry Gilliam’s illustrated biography, Gilliamesque, an entertaining read, as you’d expect. Turns out the ‘meser was Gilliam’s own, though it never had a name, save for “cat” (unless we count the secret feline name attested to by T.S. Eliot) and the picture of it on hind legs was taken while Gilliam’s dad supported the protesting beast under the armpits. As a Siamese owner or curator myself, I have occasionally had to lift Tasha the Terrible away from danger or valuable treasures, and am always amused by the way her body and back legs go rigid, hanging like a slightly curved hook, like an inverted comma. And I always say “But at what cost?” in a stentorian voice.

*False memory syndrome: watching the clip, I now discover the voice was a plummy, high-pitched squawk, suggestive perhaps of a public information film from the forties, when primitive sound recording colluded with certain voice types to create shrill, honking narrations.

How thrilling! Cat appears in this archive interview at 2.52, licking itself as the interviewer asks “How does the sound work?” in a very BBC manner.

And yes: very sad about the other Terry.

Plasterworks of the cinema

Posted in FILM, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , on September 2, 2016 by dcairns

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Last week I had the great pleasure of interviewing production designer Leslie Dilley on the set of kids’ TV show Teacup Travels. Les designed James Cameron’s THE ABYSS, and as art director worked on Richard Lester’s THE THREE MUSKETEERS/THE FOUR MUSKETEERS, as well as STAR WARS and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, ALIEN, SUPERMAN… not to mention his being one of the whistlers in BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, which is the one that made my jaw drop.

The interview was fun, but the conversation afterwards was even better — of course, I wasn’t recording that. But Les relaxed and told a couple of stories of mishaps, both ironically centered around the craft speciality that was his entrée into the film business — plastering. And both involving Gene Hackman movies.

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On LUCKY LADY (Stanley Donen, 1975), Les was working with his mentor Norman Reynolds, and had the job of preparing sheeted several corpses which had to be flung off the side of a boat. I’m not sure if this scene made it into the movie, as I gather three different endings were shot. Les prepared nine or ten chickenwire frames and plastered them over to make good, realistically heavy corpses. But he was rather worried that the Mexican extras who had to commit these remains to the sea might not by hefty enough to actually get them over the side — they were all quite little fellows.

Donen called action and Les hid below-decks, listening nervously. Splash. Splash. He began to relax — evidently the diminutive Hispanic seamen were managing their task with aplomb. Splash. Splash. Then — disaster — sudden hilarity. Generally the very effect you want to avoid in a funeral at sea.

Rushing on deck, Les learned the cause of the laughter — the plaster corpses were bobbing to the surface, one after the other. Despite being extremely heavy, they all contained enough air to be buoyant, something Les had never learned at school.

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The laws of physics will trip the filmmaker up every time. Les ended up skipping RETURN OF THE JEDI to do EUREKA, since he was very interested in working with Nic Roeg. For this movie, he built a tree that Gene Hackman has to sit under in the Klondyke. The tree was constructed at a studio in Vancouver and shipped up north to the snowy climes for assembly on location. All the branches slotted into the trunk perfectly, according to Les’s prepared diagram, and Les secured them with plaster and scrim, working in progressively colder sub-zero temperatures as the evening wore on. They were absolutely solid when he left.

But then he got a call. Gene Hackman had been filmed at his little prospector’s campfire under the tree, and had narrowly escaped being brained by a falling plaster branch.

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What had happened was that as the temperature got insanely low, the plaster had stopped bonding, since the water content of it would freeze before the plaster was dry. This ice would have still done the job and held the branches in place, probably securely enough for people to climb the tree if they’d wanted, except that the heat from Hackman’s fire had risen up the tree and started them thawing.

The lesson: people on movies are always doing strange things under pressure of time, such as building plaster trees in arctic conditions, and this is exactly how accidents happen… and it’s the things you know perfectly well how to do that will suddenly turn treacherous in these circumstances.