Archive for Father Ted

Structure

Posted in Comics, FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , on October 29, 2016 by dcairns

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Humbug alert!

The two best treatments for unhappiness, media-wise, might be PG Wodehouse and Community. Assuming you’re well enough to enjoy anything, these two fictional universes seem to offer pleasure within tightly-structured packages, full of dazzling invention. Though Community, as the characters admit, sometimes gets a little dark.

“TV is getting scary-good!” exclaims the Dean in one episode, and he’s right. Impressed as hell by the way Dan Harmon’s show interweaves its plotlines, I wondered if the writer had put down any thoughts on plotting. He has.

But this week David Bordwell linked to a far more inspirational piece, an edition of Archie comics from 1965 which sets out the principles of storytelling in a way that illuminates Community better than its creator. Note the way the collision of plotlines (last page) is always surprising and delightful.

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Where’s Britta?

I first became aware of subplots watching the TV show M*A*S*H as a kid. There, the device seemed formulaic and didn’t provide anything other than variety within an episode, something to cut to. Shows like Fawlty Towers and Father Ted would set up several strands of action and entwine them together to produce surprising developments within a tightly wrought farce structure. Father Ted even makes a great joke out of how contrived and implausible this process is, making set-ups (a perfectly square piece of dirt on a window) into obvious, ludicrous, sign-posted things that are obviously going to pay off later — but how?

But Community amuses partly by (most weeks) setting in motion two unrelated stories (most weeks) involving different subsets of its main cast and then having them intersect (most weeks) towards the climax (most weeks). It’s given me an idea for something I’m working on.

Things that aren’t films: year’s end summary

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2015 by dcairns

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Finished season 2 of The Knick, the historical medical drama. Looks like that one’s finished. Some incredibly strong moments, particularly the death of a major character in the finale, but also a slight sense of a shark being jumped. It was soapier than season 1 — in one episode, a character who was definitely dead showed up again, and a character had a sudden foreign wife appear whom he definitely didn’t have before. The writers also amused themselves with in-jokes: the Laurel & Hardy line “I brought you some hard-boiled eggs and nuts,” and a product called Rough on Rats, which is an really obscure reference to the Winsor McCay cartoon THE PET.

We got hooked on Toast of London, the sitcom starring Matt Berry, written by Berry and Arthur Mathews of Father Ted fame. I’d been missing out on this comedy gold for several seasons, for no good reason. The first episode I watched seemed a bit too harsh for my tastes. It is a big negative at times, but also brilliant, in terms of visual gags, plotting, ideas, performances, and the bizarre story world, a non-period-specific vision of actors’ Soho, theatres, pubs and voice-over recording studios.

It’s interesting to me that while Mathews has gone darker, raunchier and swearier, his Father Ted co-author Graham Linehan has co-authored the BBC1-friendly Count Arthur Strong. which takes a fairly abrasive radio and stand-up character, senile music-hall comedian Count Arthur, and folds him into a gentle, at times sentimental series set in a recognizable real contemporary world (Count Arthur, like Steven Toast, formerly inhabited a timeless universe where he could theoretically have been around since the thirties). Linehan’s genius for farce plotting is still apparent — see an episode where two untrained pilots go up in a two-seater plane, each convinced the other is the pilot, and Count Arthur’s malapropisms are funnier than they have any right to be (“I have written a racist book.” “Racist? What do you mean?” “You know: Ooh, Madam!” He means ‘racy.’) While Linehan’s move is a more radical departure, Matthews’ seems to us the more successful show, tonally solid in its determination not to touch us, not to be endearing, not to mean anything at all.

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Doctor Who gave us two really strong episodes — amazingly strong! — at the end of the series, but seems unable to sustain a quality run longer than that — the Christmas special was an extraordinary misfire, festive only in the sense of including snow, strained laughter, and a lot of frenzied, pointless activity. It was also weirdly mean, which is fine for Toast of London but problematic for a show starring a noble, pacifist hero. But series head Stephen Moffat seems compelled to push at the limits of how dark he can make his lead character, a strategy that seems better suited to practically any other fictional hero in existence. This episode also showed why doing a comedy episode is unlikely to work on Doctor Who: because composer Murray Gold will crap all over it.

My reading seems to have ground to a halt, owing to being in prep for a film, and owing to my having started Lavondyss by Robert Holdstock, a slow-going but fascinating fantasy novel. It’s quite dense — it takes the world of myth and fairy tale seriously, and tries to invent the forgotten mythology of the Ice Age. Into this are plunged characters from our world. A long way from Tolkein, and more serious and interesting than I can make it sound, just a little hard to wade through when you’re distracted by other stuff.

But I did read The Writer’s Tale, while in early prep. It’s basically Russell T. Davies’ email correspondence with Benjamin Cook, editor of Doctor Who Magazine. It had the effect of making me like Davies more — some of his Who scripts would make me so annoyed, it’s easy to forget there’s an essentially well-meaning person behind it all, trying to entertain us. Davies is so funny and self-excoriating here, you feel he did his best writing in his emails instead of on the show — his best work in TV prior to Who had one foot and a few toes in reality, something the time-traveling adventurer was never going to make easy. It even made me feel sorry for Murray Gold, who was apparently reduced to tears by unsympathetic fan reviews of his music. “I don’t know how to score this show any better!” he declared, helplessly. It could stand being scored LESS, I’d have thought. Less of everything is good advice for this time of year.

At this time of year I like to watch this, obsessively —

I like looking at snow without having to touch it. And I like how the director, after choosing to shoot at dusk in Scandinavia, has made all his other decisions based on that fact — i.e. it’s fucking freezing, how can I shoot all of this with the zoom from a single stationary position so we can get indoors before bits start dropping off?

Also, do they really sing, at about 2.00, “You’ll be dancing once again / Like an angry hen / You will have no time for breathing”?

 

Festival Round-Up/Fatigue

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2009 by dcairns

Edinburgh!

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PAPER SOLDIER: Alexey German Jnr’s intense snapshot of the early Russian space programme. Epically visionary style, like Tarkovsky fed through Fellini and dusted with Jancso. Apple juice with Jonathan Romney beforehand. He says it contains his favourite recent subtitle: “Why did you pour soup on that poor dentist’s head?” He’s right, it does.

INUKSHUK: As recommended by Shadowplayer Zach Rosenau, this short animation has a striking graphic style without losing characterisation, and a beautiful sense of cartoon gravity — it’s not the kind of gravity where Wile E Coyote runs off a cliff and stands in mid-air for a second before realising the problem and plummeting to the canyon floor. It’s new. It’s gravity with a graphic logic behind it — a giant whale vaulting overhead draws a little Inuit kid up into the air by force of its large and dark bulk.

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DAYS AND NIGHTS IN THE FOREST: Mark Cousins has turned a local church hall into a kind of Indian movie temple for a celebration of Bengali cinema. The iconic Sharmila Tagore was there to introduce this movie, which she made forty years ago with Satyajit Ray. Ray phoned up and she said yes without thinking, then realised she was making another feature at the same time. The lesser director had to shoot all her scenes in a studio and match them to his location shots. “He wanted to kill me.” Sharmila is still breathtakingly beautiful.

AN EVENING WITH DON HERZFELDT: Don makes dark and touching and funny short animations. Oh, and terrifying. He’s in town, selling his DVDs. I must have one. You should buy one too. A unique voice! Here’s a single-frame sample.

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Now imagine several thousand of these frames, all different. Some only a little different. Some very different. That’s a Don Herzfeldt film.

FOLLOW THE MASTER: Debut feature from occasional Shadowplayer Matt Hulse. Matt and his girlfriend and their dog go for a walk. It doesn’t sound like much of a narrative, but he packs a lot in. An interweaving of documetary/journal with experimental film.

WIDE OPEN SPACES: Edinburgh’s own Ewen Bremner (Spud in TRAINSPOTTING) stars with Ardal O’Hanlon (Dougal in Father Ted) in a comedy by Ted scribe Arthur Mathews. Two debt-ridden losers take work in an Irish famine theme park. A lot of good jokes and performances, although not everything comes together to make this the new WITHNAIL AND I, which is what it ought to be by rights. Truly awesome performance from Don Wycherley though. I didn’t know him before this.

Sat next to my friend Travis Reeves during the screening. Travis did all the gravel in this film. Next to Travis was the chap who did all the wind. And there is a lot of both those things in this film.

John Cobban, who mixed the sound, wants me to say that the sound system at the Cameo Cinema is inadequate.

Bumped into Sarah Bremner, sister of the film’s star. Sarah was art director on my film CRY FOR BOBO, and is a champion forehead wrestler.

Keep seeing Peter McDougall, whose TV work from the ’70s is being retrospected. McDougall has the world’s most powerful moustache. If he were in the Wild West, strong men would build him a temple.

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SHIRIN: Abbas Kiarostami’s minimalist film of an audience watching an unseen film, had its own audience rapt with attention, even through to the very end of the end credits. I did wonder if it would be more stimulating to turn around and look at my audience watching his audience, but decided against this.

Get home and try to kill spiders in the bathroom at 00.34am.

Fiona: “What are you doing?”

Me: “Trying to kill spiders in the bathroom.”

Fiona: “We’ve got spiders? More than one?”

Me: “Three.”

Fiona: “Three? Are they breeding?”

Me: “Don’t think so. They’re a bit too far apart.”