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Archive for the ‘author Allan Fish’ Category

by Allan Fish

(UK 1981 640m) DVD1/2

Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas

p  Derek Granger  d  Charles Sturridge, Michael Lindsay-Hogg  w  John Mortimer  novel  Evelyn Waugh  ph  various  ed  Anthony Ham  m  Geoffrey Burgon  art  Peter Phillips

Jeremy Irons (Charles Ryder), Anthony Andrews (Sebastian Flyte), Diana Quick (Julia Flyte-Mottram), Laurence Olivier (Lord Alex Marchmain), Claire Bloom (Lady Teresa Marchmain), Stéphane Audran (Cara), John Gielgud (Edward Ryder), Phoebe Nicholls (Cordelia Flyte), Simon Jones (Bridey Flyte), Nickolas Grace (Anthony Blanche), Jane Asher (Celia Mulcaster-Ryder), John Grillo (Mr Samgrass), Mona Washbourne (Nanny Hawkins), Bill Owen (Lunt), Charles Keating (Rex Mottram), Jenny Runacre (Brenda Champion), John le Mesurier (Father Mowbray), Stephen Moore (Jasper Ryder), Michael Gough (Dr Grant), Kenneth Cranham (Sgt.Block), Jeremy Sinden (Boy Mulcaster),

It’s difficult now, over 25 years on, to judge the impact of Brideshead on not just British television, but prestige drama in general.  It had long been, as Leslie Halliwell observed, an albatross round the neck of Granada, described as an incredible folly in the long months leading up to its transmission.  The strain of classic TV drama serials had reached both its zenith and its end in the mid seventies with Jennie, Edward the Seventh and I, Claudius.  Yet however superb in terms of their acting and writing those productions may be, there’s nothing cinematic about them.  They look like BBC Shakespeare productions or series shot on left over sets from Upstairs, Downstairs.  Brideshead changed everyone’s conceptions; virtually entirely shot on location, punctiliously adapted from the original source to the extent that any faults it may have had were those of the original.  As with Jesus of Nazareth, two lead actors had changed roles (then Robert Powell and Ian McShane, here Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons), and thank God they did.  For it is no more imaginable that anyone other than Andrews could play the faintly homosexual, hard-drinking and doomed Sebastian than it is for any other tones than Jeremy Irons could provide the soulful commentary provided by Charles Ryder.  Here were actors to their parts born, perfect in every way.  It is a great credit to the other cast members that they don’t get lost, but there are gems everywhere, from Grace’s definitive old queen Anthony Blanche to Bloom’s suffocating Lady Marchmain, Queen Henrietta Maria reincarnated in the 20th century.  Not to forget one time Arthur Dent Simon Jones as the blissfully boring Bridey, John Gielgud as a deliciously supercilious and witty Mr Ryder and Diana Quick as the tortured Julia.  And we haven’t even mentioned Geoffrey Burgon’s truly hauntingly fitting score, at once a theme tune for stately houses nationwide.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1976 652m) DVD1/2

Old King Log

p  Martin Lisemore  d  Herbert Wise  w  Jack Pulman  novels  “I, Claudius” and “Claudius the God” by Robert Graves  m  Wilfrid Josephs  art  Tim Harvey

Derek Jacobi (Claudius), Siân Phillips (Livia), Brian Blessed (Augustus), George Baker (Tiberius), John Hurt (Caligula), Margaret Tyzack (Antonia), Patrick Stewart (Sejanus), Patricia Quinn (Livilla), David Robb (Germanicus), Fiona Walker (Agrippina), Beth Morris (Drusilla), Sheila White (Messalina), James Faulkner (Herod Agrippa), Kevin McNally (Castor), John Castle (Postumus), Frances White (Julia), Ian Ogilvy (Drusus), John Paul (Agrippa), Barbara Young (Agrippinilla), Christopher Biggins (Nero), Bernard Hepton (Pallas), John Cater (Narcissus), John Rhys Davies (Macro), Stratford Johns (Piso), Charles Kay (Gallus), Freda Dowie (The Sibyl/Caesonia), Ashley Knight (Young Claudius), Kevin Stoney (Thrasyllus), Donald Eccles (Pollio), Bernard Hill (Gratus), Charlotte Howard (Scylla), Esmond Knight (Domitius), Moira Redmond (Domitia),

There are few more beloved BBC serials in history than this immensely detailed adaptation of the two Claudian novels of Robert Graves.  In truth, the second novel is rather sparsely translated, forming barely 20% of the series at its finale, entirely missing out the massive section on the conquest of Britain and the subduing of Caractacus.  But no matter, for as an adaptation of the first book, one could hardly have done a better job than Jack Pulman.  For a long time it seemed as if Claudius would have the last laugh, for everyone recalled the disastrous aborted film of 1937, with Charles Laughton, Alexander Korda and Josef Von Sternberg going together like oil, water and cement.  One mourns its never being completed, if only because of the décor and the promise of the performances of Laughton and Emlyn Williams from the surviving footage, but it was left to the Beeb to finally complete the job nearly forty years later.

Graves’ work is a tapestry, an inside diary so to speak, a novelised history of the Julio-Claudian dynasty from the grandeur of Augustus through the increased depravity of Tiberius, the insanity of Caligula and the temperance of the eponymous Claudius.  It may be liberal with the facts – the real Claudius wasn’t really the gentle soul depicted here, though he undoubtedly was compared to most of his family – but this is hardly the point, for it’s in exaggeration that the best drama lies, as Shakespeare proved so readily in his caricature of Richard III.  The series may indeed be a relic of those thankfully gone days of awful cheap sets and costumes left over from BBC Shakespeare productions, with absolutely no footage shot outdoors, but the quality of the script and the performances make up for it.  It also gained controversy in its time for the nudity and sexual frankness which, though perhaps tame by today’s standards or compared to say Brass’ infamous Caligula, it still adds a bit of realism to proceedings that it lacks visually. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1983-1989 815m) DVD1/2

I have a cunning plan

p  John Lloyd  d  Martin Sharlow, Mandie Fletcher  w  Richard Curtis, Rowan Atkinson, Ben Elton  m  Howard Goodall

Rowan Atkinson (Generations of Edmund Blackadder), Tony Robinson (Generations of Baldrick), Tim McInnerny (Percy/Captain Darling), Stephen Fry (Lord Melchett/ General Melchett), Miranda Richardson (Elizabeth I), Brian Blessed (Richard IV), Elspet Gray, Patsy Byrne, Robert East, Frank Finlay, Miriam Margolyes, Jim Broadbent,

For a series that began life on BBC2 to only lukewarm original praise, the change of co-writer to Ben Elton and move to BBC1 paid unprecedented dividends.  Even those who do not rate the efforts of Curtis and Elton elsewhere have to bite their tongue when ‘the Adder‘ is mentioned, because without them it wouldn’t have existed at all.  Here’s a comedy that lasted four series (and three varying specials) simply because on each occasion it literally reinvented itself by moving forward in time.  The first series, set during the Wars of the Roses, was undoubtedly the weakest, but had numerous cherishable moments.  Then its star took time off from writing duties, a new director was found, and Elton entered the fray.  The second series had been intended to run in autumn 1985, but was held back for release in the new year, and even now I have misty recollections of watching that first episode as a twelve year old schoolboy.  This truly is the all-time peak of British TV comedy in terms of writing and ensemble playing.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

the next in the series of small screen classics

(UK 1969 670m) DVD1/2

Man – the measure of all things

p  Michael Gill, Peter Montagnon  d  Michael Gill, Peter Montagnon, Ann Turner  w  Kenneth Clark

presented by  Kenneth Clark (with Ian Richardson, Patrick Stewart, Ronald Lacey, Eric Porter (voice))

There are so many reasons to venerate Kenneth Clark’s monumental – in every sense – small screen undertaking.  It was the first of the mammoth documentary series that came to redefine the BBC’s factual programming unit in the seventies.  It was the first major series undertaken in the colour age.  It was the start of a series of three such momentous works – Alistair Cooke’s America and Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man are the others – that still stand as magnificently as the rocks at Stonehenge in British – and thus world – television history.  It is on the foundations laid here, and on those laid by Cooke, Bronowski and later the natural history programmes of David Attenborough (who had a large part to play in persuading Kenneth Clark to do this epic series when a BBC2 administrator in the mid-late sixties) that all the wonders of the digital age documentaries from around the millennium, from The Blue Planet to Auschwitz to A History of Britain, stand fast.  It might be old school, but its targets, modus operandi and intentions are probably more relevant than ever.

Clark’s “personal view” in Civilisation begins at the end of the Dark Ages, a period where civilisation itself was all but extinguished by the fall of the Roman Empire.  In his own words, the title of his first episode, we survived by “the skin of our teeth“, and this phrase seems all the more prescient today.  In a modern world where life itself is hanging in there like a boxer waiting for the bell, staggering like Victor McLaglen’s drunken Gypo Nolan to a place of refuge, society itself is once more under threat.  He discusses in this episode how civilisation is remembered, by words, deeds and art.  All three last, but the most lasting is in art.  And he’s right, for who but scholars remember the campaigns and Renaissance inter-family plotting of the Sforzas, Borgias and Dei Medicis, while who can forget the work of Raphael, Leonardo and Michelangelo?  He covers all forms of art, be it in architecture, sculpture, painting, printing, writing, theology, philosophy, or even music; Beethoven and Mozart rubbing shoulders with Shakespeare, Rembrandt, St Francis of Assisi, Charlemagne, Gislbertus, Dante, Giotto, Botticelli, Erasmus, Luther, Descartes, Vermeer, Wren, Bernini, Handel, Voltaire, Wordsworth, Byron, Delacroix, Rodin, Tolstoy, Brunel, Turner and Constable.  Their works are part of the western consciousness, part of our very fibre.  As man is created equal by the intrinsic belief in God, so art is seen as created equal by Clark. (more…)

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 (UK 1986 415m) DVD1/2

Ten cents a dance, fella

p  John Harris, Kenith Trodd  d  Jon Amiel  w  Dennis Potter  ph  Ken Westbury  ed  Bill Wright, Sue Wyatt  m  Stanley Myers  art  Jim Clay

Michael Gambon (Philip Marlow), Patrick Malahide (Mark Binney), Alison Steadman (Lili), Joanne Whalley (Nurse Mills), David Ryall (Mr Hall), Ron Cook (1st mysterious man), George Rossi (2nd mysterious man), Janet Suzman (Nicola), Leslie French (“Noddy” Tomkey), Bill Paterson (Dr Gibbon), Ken Stott (Uncle John), Jim Carter (Mr Marlow), Gerald Horan (Reginald Gibbs), Sharon Clarke (night nurse), Imelda Staunton (Nurse White), Badi Uzzaman (Ali), Janet Henfrey (schoolteacher), Lyndon Davies (Philip, aged 10), David Thewlis (soldier),

Following the transmission of the first episodes of Dennis Potter’s magnum opus on BBC1, their viewer response show Points of View was bombarded with complaints from the Mary Whitehouse brigade, including a mirthfully Pythonesque response from Colonel R.S.Vine, BSc, MRCS, LRCP, FRC Path, who called it “this extraordinarily obscene production.”  It still amazes me how truly shatteringly narrow-minded the average person is – and was – in the so-called modern age, and I’m sure it left Potter equally aghast.  It was as if sex was the only thing that The Singing Detective was about, when in actual fact it was but one layer of many.  Rather than showcase Potter as having a filthy mind, they were actually uncovering their own shortcomings.

(more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1995-1996 579m) DVD1/2

Definitely not something to do to kill time

p  Yutaka Sugiyama  d  Hideaki Anno & Kazuya Tsurumaki, Masayuki, Hiroyuki Ishido, Tsuyoshi Kaga, Tensai Okamura, Keiichi Sugiyama, Masahiko Otsuka  w  Hideaki Anno, Akio Katsukawa, Shinji Haguchi, Yoji Enokido, Hiroshi Yamaguchi  m  Shiro Sagisu

Let’s follow in Hideaki Anno’s footsteps and, just as in episode 25 and 26 he took a detour to an ending at best described as Nietzschean, because he didn’t have room (in this case, the money) to film the ending he had in mind, so I will leave the cast out of this entry.  We’ll save them for overleaf.  Anno’s almost legendary anime series seems the definition of all that makes anime so foreign to the western world.  All those mechas, offspring of so many Saturday morning shows on children’s telly, adolescent protagonists barely old enough to recognise their own sexual awakening let alone save the world.

So a few weeks later I come back to it.  In the interim I have seen the two rebuild films from 2007 and 2009, but they were little more than polished prunings; gorgeous to look at it, but not necessarily offering us anything new.  It’s appropriate watching it now, 15 years after the original run ended, for here was a show that lived 15 years in the past.  It’s set in 2015, but it’s 2000 that is in everyone’s mind.  Then there had been what the cover up told us was a Second Impact from a meteor, wiping out much of civilisation and leaving an apocalyptic wasteland.  From this hell on earth emerge the terrifying Angels, creatures out to take over the world, and their only serious challengers, the saviours of mankind, are three fourteen year old kids operating Evas, giant robots programmed to be piloted with maximum synchronisation.  The whole defence strategy is operated by NERV, but they are part of a darker purpose to bring about a new end of the world and a new beginning.       (more…)

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Note:  “Our Hitler” actually finished nine points ahead of the #79 show, but to avert mass chaos after the results were tabulated and posted, I thought it best to just place the work in the #80 spot.  Considering that many of the voters haven’t seen it, the fact that it placed at all is a welcome miracle.

by Allan Fish

(West Germany 1977 429m) DVD1/2 (Germany only)

Aka. Hitler, ein Film aus Deutschland

You are the executioner of the western world

p  Hans-Jurgen Syberberg  d/w  Hans-Jurgen Syberberg  ph  Dietrich Lohmann  ed  Jutta Brandstaedter  m  Gustav Mahler, W.A.Mozart, L.Van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Joseph Haydn  art  Hans Gailling

Heinz Schübert, Andre Heller, Helmut Lange, Amelie Syberberg, Harry Baer, Peter Kern,

When debating the masters of modern German cinema, most critics would concentrate on the canonical trio, Wenders, Fassbinder and Herzog (with a passing nod to Reitz and Schlöndorff).  And yet arguably the most individual, ingenious and undoubtedly the most demanding, was Hans-Jürgen Syberberg.  His films are hard to see, largely unavailable on DVD anywhere in the English speaking world, but in a film that parallels Arthurian legend, the Grail analogy is a worthy one.  To see your first Syberberg is a life-changing experience, and if his entire oeuvre cannot mean as much as it would to one of his nation, his films remain idiosyncratic treatises of incredible complexity, individual “J’accuse” testimonies to provoke outrage, anger and, occasionally, a nod of acknowledgement.

Syberberg’s masterpiece consists of four parts, and was shown as such on West German television in the seventies; “The Grail”, “A German Dream”, “The End of a Winter’s Tale” and “We Children of Hell.”  Each part probes, examines, and generally performs a post-mortem on the reasons behind the rise and fall of Hitler, his doctrine and iconography, the psyche of the German people and even turns the accusation on the individual viewer.  As the narrator observes, it wasn’t Hitler’s ideals that were beaten but his army.  The ideals stood fast to the very end. (more…)

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