Archive for Space 1999

Space Envy

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , on August 4, 2014 by dcairns

YES, it is tatty British TV scifi (TBTVSF for short). Which is, in itself, admirable. But note the date! 1967 — BEFORE 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was in cinemas but undoubtedly WHILE Kubrick was working on it. And watch the space station-space shuttle link-up at the start! Highly reminiscent. What must Kubrick have felt when he saw this?

Well, we need not wonder, since I have here Kubes’ notes, dictated to personal secretary Isadore “Beeves” Krassovitz as he watched the show (Kubrick always had a short-hand typist on hand as he watched television, in case he made any remarkable observations during Crown Court), then recorded onto quarter-inch tape by voice artist Martin Jarvis, attempting a Bronx accent.

solarnaut

0.16 Shit. This is EXACTLY like our first space sequence. Only… so much better! We are dead. DEAD. How do we top this? The music — it’s goddamn magnificent! The majesty of interplanetary travel, and yet, so perky! I’m gonna really have to shuffle through my record collection. It’ll never be as good as this.

0.28 Even their title’s better than ours.

0.35 Special effects by “National Interest Pictures.” Make a note of that. We have to get a spy in there to find out how they’re doing this stuff. We have traveling mattes and Schuftan and slitscan but this is WAY ADVANCED. It’s almost like they have access to alien technology or something.

1.22 The heroes are called Power and Tempo. And what do we got? Dave and Frank. We are boned.

1.36 Note how the stars are twinkling in a realistic fashion even though we’re in space and there’s no atmosphere to make them twinkle. That’s the kind of detail 2001 has got to have.

1.55 Actors are too emotional. But wait — that guy poking an ice cube tray with a pen light is Derek Fowlds, future star of Yes, Minister! I’m gonna have to cast the future star of a rival sitcom to compete. Maybe I can get the guy from Rising Damp? Or the guy from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin? Hell, I’ll get both. That’ll make it really futuristic.

2:06 I like how the TV monitor is in black and white. No way they could afford colo(u)r TV in space. Still, better look into it.

2:13 Their chairs are made of egg cartons. Nice.

solarna

2:48 Look at the size of that TV set! Is that realistic? Why don’t I have one that big?

2:56 Mini-skirts are never, ever, going to go out of style.

3:46 When the Discovery enters the “tunnels of light” it’s gonna have to look every bit as good as this dry ice fog effect they got here or we’re gonna be laughed off the screen.

3.50 Hey, the set’s bouncing up and down as if they were actually moving! How the hell are they doing that?

4.00 A masterstroke. Only now, four minutes in, do they tell us the name of the episode, “CLOUD OF DEATH.” Maybe I could use text on screen to introduce the various “chapters” of my film. Like at the beginning, it could say “DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES” or something. But I know what’ll happen — they’ll say I stole it from Solarnauts.

4.25 Now they’re blowing shit up! How come I never thought of that? We got all these models, and we never thought of doing some kind of space dogfight and blowing them up. First thing tomorrow I’m gonna find Arthur C Clarke in that tree in Ceylon he lives in and smack his stupid face. Even if I have to fly there!

5.00 Those zigzag wipes are awesome. I would never be that bold. I go from a monkey tossing a femur to a nuclear missile station in space and what do I do? I cut! What a goddamn tragic missed opportunity. Still, I guess those wipes might get tiresome over the course of a movie that’s 141 minutes long as mine is destined to be.

5:24 Jesus, that bald guy’s head is coming right out of the TV. What an amazing way to visualize an alien intelligence — a guy with no hair! That’s it, I can’t compete. We’ll just have to keep our aliens offscreen. I was gonna use guys with no beards, but this show has me licked. I don’t think I can watch anymore (sob!)

TAPE ENDS.

solarnau

***

I find Kubrick an irresistible comedy character. He did try to sue the makers of Space 1999 for infringing his title… “That date is only two years away from 2001!” One sees his point, but he does rather miss the crux of the matter, legalistically, that you can’t copyright a title.

 

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The Knack…and how to get it

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2007 by dcairns

Woodfall Films, 1965.

Okay it came out in 1965 but watching it now, November-December, there’s a definite Autumnal Pleasure that comes from the exact time of it’s filming, late ’64. There’s a Christmas tree visible in the fancy shop, and Guy Fawkes fireworks in a closing crane shot on the foggy London Embankment. Dead leaves carpet the park. Director Richard Lester had just come off A Hard Day’s Night and must have been feeling a sense of possibility in the fall air.

The “real London” of that November season bleeds into the film’s Dreaming London. Lester’s London is almost akin to Rivette’s Paris, a place of magical transformations and surprises, the mundane brushing up against the crazy, as in a dream. “This is all a fantasy,” chimes a chorus of disembodied schoolboys on the soundtrack, but it’s a fantasy where milk is delivered to the doorstep in glass bottles.

It begins: John Barry jazz stylings as we move in on a  little comic book panel which contains the house and the film. We spiral down a staircase lined with mannequin-like beauties, identically dressed, all queuing to see sex-god Tolen, dressed in black in his black bedroom. “The guestbook: please restrict your comments to one word.”

Halfway up the stairs lives Colin, lusting insipidly for the parade of dollybirds in their glowing white jumpers and pencil skirts.

SPACE 1999 sci-fi lettering zips in and out, listing the creators as we plunge in ever an faster helix down the stairs past the blur of lovelies arrayed like a TV commercial for impersonal sex, then wrench ourselves free, with screeching brakes, from Colin’s mind’s eye and into “reality”.

Girls girls girls.

Colin (Michael Crawford), “I am a schoolteacher and I have to concentrate,” lives with Tolen (Ray Brooks), “I have no first name, I never use my first name,” in this tall, narrow, odd-but-real house. Driven to frustrated discombobulation by the onslaught of glamour calling on Tolen, Colin conceives the idea to let the spare room to a “steadying influence,” possibly a monk. “There must be monks!”

And there are, a busload, bound for Lovely London, but as the coach’s headlights go full beam, Colin’s bedroom is illuminated by a brilliant idea awakening him from his narrow bachelor bed: “Or some young lady…”

And next to the monks is Nancy (Rita Tushingham), flicking through the pages of Honey.

But Tolen has other ideas. He suggests letting the room to his friend, Rory McBride, offscreen Lothario and Tolen’s near-equal in the bedroom stakes. “Share our women.”

Rendering discussion moot, Tom, a stray Irish plot function, (“small, vigorous, balanced, sensitive in his movements” — a line of dialogue taken straight from the character description in Ann Jellicoe’s original play) moves in and procedes to paint the entire front room white, including windows.

Now Tolen (black), Colin (grey grey grey) and Tom (white) will compete over Nancy, until she rebels and asserts her autonomy with a cry of “Rape!”

This turns out to be the abracadabra that disassembles all male authority, causing the boys to recede into the distance in a series of jumpcuts, or cavort off in reverse motion, while a middle-aged ZOO AUDIENCE admires their antics politely. (Best line reading in history, from one random matron: “They do look so funny.”)

This chorus of the middle-aged/classed is a constant feature of the film, as if the chattering classes have flocked into the dubbing studio and voiced their incoherent disapproval all over the soundtrack: “A bed’s place is definitely in the home, definitely,” and “I’m bound,” and “Mods and Rockers!” and “She’ll regret she didn’t wear a safety device,” a grumbling barrage of non sequiteurs and double entendres, “the heartbeat of a great nation.” This vox populi accompaniment is screenwriter Charles Wood’s finest contribution of the many he made in “exploding” the original play and gaffer-taping it together again.

These actors!

Michael Crawford, half agonized repressive, half comedy turn. His character is just a couple of year’s enforced celibacy away from becoming a gurning Carry On lecher, but he’s so shy he prefers to enter his home by the window rather than say “Excuse me,” to the flash bird in the doorway, even though he’s armed with an axe at the time.

Ray Brooks is amazing here. Posed and composed and quietly nailing every line, he could have come across as mannered if he weren’t so true underneath. There’s a real sensitivity in everything he does. He’s not obvious casting as a loverboy, but he embodies confidence and success and total self-belief, until the sexual edifice crumbles and he’s yesterday’s man, joining the grumblers as he looks on enviously at those with actual relationships. Brooks should have been bigger than Brando, but hey, it’s not too late.

Donal Donnelly brings charm and a sort of relaxed crispness to Tom, a character who was always basically the playwright talking to her audience, but none the worse for it.

Rita Tushingham is the amazing extraterrestrial presence at the heart of the film, incapable of a false note, and utterly fascinating to watch. Her face pulls a fast one on you from every angle, alternately beautiful and just weird. Her eyes dazzle, her teeth have been frozen in the act of fleeing in all directions. She is just utterly, marvellously alive at all times, and brings a uniquely feminine brand of behavioural comedy to what could be a slightly laddish film. Lester and ace cinematographer David Watkin design some astonishing shots around her freakish beauty. Reflected light supposedly isn’t flattering, but Watkin caught the most beautiful ever images of Tushingham, here, and Faye Dunaway in Lester’s MUSKETEER films.

Lester was still tracking in those days — he ditched the travelling shot later, using it less than anyone bar Bresson, but this is like his RASHOMON, and we glide with him through reality-shifts, into ambiguous POVs, and down grey and grainy London streets, where a fashion photographer plies his trade, getting in shape for BLOW-UP. (Antonioni borrowed production designer Asshetton Gorton, and quite a lot of Lester’s Pop-Art London, for his later epic of Swinging Existentialism).

Impossible to describe how dreamlike this film is…

…as Crawford walks down a school corridor, we see through a window an array of camp beds on a lawn — the sleeping children. “Kip, milk and biscuits, is it any wonder they’re screaming out for roughage?” complains the ghost of Dandy Nichols on the soundtrack.

…Colin and Tom chase Tolen and Nancy into a street composed only of doors. Most open onto an abstracted backyard space, but one leads to a narrow working class home, concealed entirely behind the single entrance.

…attempting to turbocharge his sex life with an enlarged bed, Colin buys a cast-iron sleep-armature from a scrapyard and wheels it through Unconscious London with Tom and Nancy, teleporting from street to street to Albert Hall (a recurring reference, this film’s answer to the Chinatown of Polanski), eventually sailing it down the Thames like Bohemian Huck Finns.

Lindsay Anderson was once mooted to direct this film, and comparing it to THE WHITE BUS, say, it’s easy to see how he could have brought his own, more sombre, brand of absurdism to bear on it. He thought the Lester version embodied the shift from sixties idealism to seventies cynicism, which seems a bit early and a bit harsh. The movie is affectionate, cruel, smart, silly, insistently specific about its time and place, and universal and otherworldly all at once. There’s a tight theatrical structure bound round a loose assortment of gags and blackout sketches, and if we enter this Film London (through that little comic book panel/window at the start) and walk about in it for a bit, we can emerge with some Strange Thoughts about the unexplored possibilities of film storytelling.

Buy here:

The Knack And How To Get It [DVD] [1965]