Archive for Father Ted

Television Festival and Nail Bar

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2008 by dcairns

The Conference Centre in Edinburgh, a sort of METROPOLIS building only a bit smaller, pays host to the TV Festival every year. Unlike the Film Festival, it’s not a public event so I can’t go, but this year I got a day pass through the auspices, if auspices is the word I want, of T.V. sitcom messiah Graham Linehan(Father Ted, The I.T. Crowd), so was not only able to hear Graham dispensing invaluable wisdom on the craft of situation comedy, but I then took in a masterclass/chat with Stephen Moffat, incoming script editor of Dr. Who.

Apparently Whovians were clamouring to gain access to this event, but as they’re not big media people with production companies, they couldn’t, so there were empty seats instead. The people who COULD have attended were presumably off hearing some exec talking about the Future of Television in an Interactive Age or some bollocks. You know you’ve inadvertently crashed a seriously elitist event when you’re in a partially vacant auditorium listening to a fascinating and hugely successful writer with an incredibly important job who could probably sell out the Albert Hall. I felt vaguely indecent being there, although in fact I’m a longterm Whovian myself, so in a way I was striking a mute, useless and limp-knuckled blow for fandom.

Further evidence that I was in a part of Soho that had drifted off and landed in Scotland came when I crossed the road to get a sandwich, and was asked if I wanted a receipt. I should stress: this has never happened to me before in my life. You don’t get OFFERED a receipt with your sandwich. So obviously the poor deli had been serving people all weekend who were on expense accounts.

In the conference centre I felt like the only Scot in the world, but that wasn’t strictly true because Stephen Moffat is a Scot, and I saw Robin McPherson from Screen Academy Scotland and Carole Sheridan from Scottish Screen. I also saw a nail bar in there, which was fascinating and kind of surreal. “We’re hosting television execs — what do they want? Coffee, fruit, little sandwich things, and somewhere to do their nails. Right.”

If this sounds alienating and fish-out-of-watery, it was a bit, but everybody was actually pefectly nice so I resolved to dismiss my prejudice and just enjoy myself. Graham being such a fun person to talk to helped that enormously — there’s nothing elitist about most of the people actually doing T.V. What with Graham being a stranger more or less to Edinburgh, I could show him a very long and actually incorrect way to get to Starbucks after his talk.

His lecture is going online so I don’t want to write down my garbled memories of it here, but a few spectacularly useful tips for writers emerged which I could, perhaps, summarise and elaborate on:

Censorship is Good: working within parameters, including the kind laid down by TV censors, is actually great discipline and can make things better. When I (me, not Graham) wrote for kids’ TV I likened it to juggling in a straitjacket. There were so many things you couldn’t do, and sometimes you felt people were saying “No” just out of fear, rather than out of any genuine risk of upsetting anyone, but very often the funniest stuff came out of being unable to do things the most direct and obvious way. Looking at classic Hollywood comedies kind of confirms this. MY GOD the tight strictures they worked under, and MY GOD the quality of the end product!

Taboo Subjects Are Good, But: you have to find the right way to do it. The examples Graham gave, from DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, Seinfeld, and Malcolm in the Middle, beautifully illustrated how dark and sensitive material can be presented in a way that, as he puts it, “doesn’t force Dad to leave the room to make a cup of tea.” Abusing the disabled, child abduction, and sexual violence were all suggested by the scenes cited, but in such a way that it was safe to laugh. You get the slightly forbidden quality of laughing when you shouldn’t — remember how that felt at school? — but you don’t feel horrible afterwards because there’s a contradictory innocence to the presentation in all three cases. You’re actually NOT laughing at the horror, you’re laughing at something relatively O.K. that bizarrely RELATES to the horror.

It’s kind of dark, but not actually.

(I think a lot of writers and directors like the IDEA of pushing the audience into uncomfortable places and making them feel bad, or awkward, or whatever. But why? As Maurice Chevalier says in LE SILENCE EST D’OR, “Some people think the artist’s job is to give the audience a hard time.” That’s fine, IF THERE’S A REASON. But maybe some of us just like the idea of doing “dark” as a status thing? I think there should always be a little malaise with the pleasure, as a kind of seasoning, but some modern T.V. is JUST UNPLEASANT.)

Traps are Useful: sitcoms depend on traps, both physical and emotional, so that characters are forced to clash together consistently throughout the series. Farce depends on trapping characters in awkward situations. When it doesn’t work is when the audience can see a way out. (Personal taste means some people have problems with this where others don’t: my friend Simon would get frustrated by Laurel & Hardy because it’s so obvious what they’re doing wrong.)

There was more, much more, and in fact when I overheard Linehan and Moffat chatting together between shows, the insights were flying so thick and fast I wished I could decelerate time so I could jot down all the great stuff being flung out.

The Count.

In the evening Fiona and I swung by Count Arthur Strong’s show at the Assembly Rooms. Count Arthur is a comedy act based on the concept of a raddled old music hall comedian in the final stages of senility, still carrying on his hopeless career and remembering glory days that never were. There have been a few comics patterned on the old-style music hall comedian, from Tommy Cockles to Arthur Atkinson of T.V.’s The Fast Show, but Count Arthur takes things to a new level of grotesquerie, with his hunched back, flushed face and irascible disorientation (wandering aimlessly around the stage, he spots his own image: “Oh, so that’s who that is,” he remarks, senselessly). A favourite moment among many: Arthur strains furiously to recall the name of Cliff Richard’s most famous film, then finally yells in triumph, “SUMMER HOLOCAUST! That’s it!”

A good example, I think, of taboo material done in an acceptable way.

Advertisements

When Lands the Saucer

Posted in Comics, FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2008 by dcairns

Warm up the probulator!

I’m indebted to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for the title of this post. I think it comes from an old copy of The Demon, and it stuck in my mind because I thought it was amusing. (Apparently I’m wrong about the provenance — see comments section.) Any title that seeks grandeur by shuffling the words around (THE RIVER WILD) makes me think of that Dorothy Parker line about “The Play Terrible.”

Let’s be clear — DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS is a B-picture. The opening credit, “Spartan Productions” is hilariously apt.

But D.G.F.M. doesn’t actually fit the “so-bad-it’s-good” paradigm, which is fortunate, because that’s become rather a boring formulation. In fact, bits of the film are genuinely excellent: there’s a really beautiful flying saucer, complete with spinning bit; a smashing robot; a sexy space girl in slinky dominatrix uniform; two more human women of interest to genre fans; and John Laurie, primarily known in Britain for his role in the sitcom Dad’s Army, but familiar to American cineastes for his appearnaces in THE EDGE OF THE WORLD and THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP.

Indeed, considering it’s a sci-fi thriller, there’s more than a whiff of situation comedy about DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS. More on this aspect later.

The bad bits of the film — the lethargic, stay-at-home plot, the indecisive villainess who should be driving the story but keeps dithering, leading man Hugh McDermott’s hideous face — are pretty bad, and sometimes annoying. The combination of good and bad elements is sort of enjoyable and exciting. You never know whether you’re going to be tickled or stabbed, entertainmentwise. It’s like a night out in Glasgow.

The “action” unfolds at a guest house in the Scottish highlands, host to more drama than is typically the case with such establishments, in my experience. A glamorous London fashion model fleeing a doomed relationship is already in residence — this is Hazel Court in her second fantasy film (she’d already done THE GHOST SHIP for Vernon Sewell two years earlier). Then a convicted wife-murderer, escaped from prison, arrives and is sheltered by barmaid Adrienne Corri (another horror/sci-fi regular, best known for being denuded by droogs in CLOCKWORK ORANGE, an Edinburgh-born Scots-Italian beauty who also worked for Preminger, Lean, Renoir…). Challenged to explain why this traveller has no money, she improvises a tale about him bending over to try and catch a salmon, then straightening up to find his wallet gone. The old “fish thief” story — very convincing.

Already we have the tea-obsessed housekeeper and her drunkard husband (John Laurie, natch) and a young nephew from London. Soon, a car-sharing Irish astrophycisist and American journalist turn up. It’s quite a houseful even before the alien invasion begins.

Prof. Hennessey tries to warm his hands on a spaceship.

The American is actually another Edinburgh-born actor, Hugh McDermott, but his accent seems to have taken a transatlantic turn. I have the same trouble myself, actually. Too many Marvel comics as a kid.

Then the saucer lands. And this is the off-season!

Our space vixen informs the residents that she’s come to pilfer our men, replacing the ones who were nuked in the Big Martian Sex War. She does this while ceaselessly, pointlessly walking up and down, like Hamlet’s father’s ghost, which is mildly freaky and kind of effective. Then she tells them they’re surrounded by an invisible barrier and can’t escape — the scientist tries and comes back with a gashed forehead, having walked into it. “I believe what my brain tells me to believe,” he cries, on more than one occasion. He should stop listening, his brain is a fool.

The humes act up, so Mars-Gal shows them her robot, and it’s a beauty. It wantonly discomouferates things, like Gort from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, three years earlier. One of those coincidences, I expect. Fiona and I were delighted by the robots design, pure Japanese tin toy. And his impressive HEFT. “That terrible robot!” cries Corri. “He’s not, he’s smashing!” shouted Fiona back at her.

The Martian, Nyah, is Patricia Laffan, who played Poppaea in QUO VADIS?, so this may have seemed a bit of a come-down, but she throws herself into it with more sneering superiority than anybody’s ever seen. This is the role she’ll be remembered for. Did she have an inkling of this as she slunk around the tiny set in her erotic space-wear? She’s first seen evaporating a balding wee man, a stereotypical “little worm”, in fact, the image of the masochistic bank manager of suburban sexual legend. She’s also reminiscent of another space-domme, the legendary Supreme Commander Servalan from the B.B.C.’s fondly-remembered but slightly crap Blake’s Seven. Interestingly, Servalan was played by another ex-Hammer glamour queen, the unconventionally beautiful Jacqueline Pearce (PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, THE REPTILE). Pearce is still unconventionally beautiful and still acts, while also working in a monkey sanctuary.

Anyway, returning to the monkey sanctuary that is DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS: I felt that Nyah’s power is considerably diminished by her inability to make up her mind. It may be a Martian’s prerogative, but it doesn’t help the dramatic arc…

Prof. Hennessey tries to warm his hands on a spaceship. Again.

Basically, the dramatic part of the story all unfolds while the saucer is being repaired by “Charlie” the robot. (Not a very Martian name, I’d have thought, although maybe it’s actually spelled “Chaghrrl-A” or something.) During the course of this little pit-stop, Nyah first freezes Corri, then un-freezes her, hypnotises the murderer and makes him go all murderous (doesn’t seem like much of an achievement, but still), abducts the small boy, then releases him, takes the scientist aboard her ship for a little tour, allowing him to gather intelligence to use against them, then announces that she will take one of the men as a guide to help her find her way around London. This conjures amusing images of her quietly landing in Camden Town and wandering the streets in her space garb, unnoticed by the general populace.

The film then allows the characters time to furiously debate who should make the supreme sacrifice by going with Nyah and attempting to sabotage her saucer in mid-flight. But this is a pointless scene, since Nyah has just told them SHE will be making the choice. It’s downright weird, this.

Predictably, Bobby Murderer gets selected so he can redeem himself and the Earth is saved and the landlady gets the kettle on. Suddenly I got the feeling I’d been watching A Very Special Episode of Father Ted. The scientist looks a bit like an older Ted. There’s the dissolute drunkard. And the tea-obsessed housekeeper. Admittedly, there are more babes and spacecraft than usual…

“Now I think we all REALLY need a cup of tea!”

The film is also a fine entry in the gather-in-the-pub-as-the-world-ends school of science fiction, a substrain unique to Britain. See also SHAUN OF THE DEAD, THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING, and several of the QUATERMASS films. See them before you see this, actually. But see this anyway.

Shadowplay would like to thank Huckleberry Hound for the word “discomouferate”.

Euphoria #7

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2008 by dcairns

“There are so many bits in ‘Boogie Nights’ that do it for me but

…how about the ‘Modern Love’ bit from ‘Mauvais Sang’?”

This example of Cinema Euphoria comes from Leos Carax’ MAUVAIS SANG and is the suggestion of genius comedy writer Graham Linehan (everybody in the UK knows FATHER TED, and the masses are now catching on to his current hit THE I.T. CROWD, but those of you elsewhere in the world, check ’em out! T.V. Euphoria awaits.)

I.T. the Terror from Beyond Space

Graham was super enough to plug this blog on his blog, with the result that my stats went through the roof. I hope some of you newbies will stick around and maybe even nominate some euphoric moments of your own.

Anyhow, it’s been generations since I saw Carax’s flick, but nobody who has can forget this delirious moment. Graham wrote:

“I love everything Carax has done with the exception of Pola X (or as I call it, ‘Pola eccch’).

MS is pretentious from time to time but it has moments that just make my heart THUMP inside my chest, Modern Love is just one of many. 

No, my official vote is for when the baby comes round the corner with Alex  in the same film.”

Since I don’t have a copy of the movie here, but some thoughtful person had already posted Modern Love on VousTube, that’s the clip I’ve embedded. Time I resaw this film.

Seeing Denis Lavant move about in a celebratory fashion (to use a phrase from Colin McLaren) will doubtless remind many of you of THIS (which is my addition, not Mr. Linehan’s):

Two-for-one Euphoria at Shadowplay!

Striking how many euphoric movie memories involve various forms of dance, a medium modern filmmakers have tended to either neglect or screw up hideously (Lars Von Trier, I’m talking about YOU), but which, addressed properly and with sensitivity, seems to have the greatest capacity for injecting happiness directly into the viewer’s heart, sort of like Travolta does to Uma in PULP FICTION, but in a more caring way.

Keep ’em coming!