Thursday, 27 July 2017

Out On Blue Six: Paul Weller

You catch me in a very happy mood. The Lionesses have done something that no other England side has done since Ron Greenwood's 1982 male team; they've come top of their round in a major tournament with a 100% success rate. Three games, three wins and only one goal conceded to Portugal in tonight's game. This Jam track, performed live by Weller on Jools Holland's Later, is dedicated to all our wonderful England Ladies, but especially to striker Jodie Taylor

The Birkenhead born Arsenal player shot straight into the record books last week scoring a magnificent hat-trick against Scotland in our opening game which resulted in a 6-0 victory; a fine statement of intention for the tournament. Taylor became the first Englishwoman ever to score a hat-trick in a major competition and can now stand alongside the likes of fellow hat-trickers Gary Lineker and Sir Geoff Hurst. 

Well done to all of them. It's France in the quarter final on Sunday, keep on doing us proud!

End Transmission


I'm currently crushing again. My latest infatuation is zoologist Lucy Cooke, thanks to Wild UK on weekday mornings, BBC1.

Needless to say, she's the one on the left.

Dazzling smile, dark hair, cute dimples and infectious enthusiasm. She looks remarkably similar to my last serious girlfriend actually, so it comes as no surprise I'm so smitten.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

The Tempest (1979)

Derek Jarman's inventive interpretation of what is believed to be Shakespeare's final play wisely understands that the traditional narrative thrust - Prospero's expulsion to his isle of wonder - is over before the play even begins. As a result, Jarman's energies lie in the atmosphere of the piece and his fascination with magic, alchemy and the life and legend of the Elizabethan astrologist John Dee; the man widely believed to have been the inspiration behind Shakespeare's Prospero, who had died in ignominy as James I set about discrediting the Elizabethan preoccupation with magic, and who Jarman had previously included in his film Jubilee.

Jarman's The Tempest really is a film steeped in atmosphere and one in which the traditional theatrics inherent in the text are dispensed with in favour of an acceptance that magic is real. These atmospherics are also helped rather than hindered by the film's tiny budget, with the entire shoot taking place inside Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire, doubling as Prospero's candlelit lair and Bamburgh Beach, Northumberland (shot with an ethereal blue tint to enhance the dream-like qualities of Jarman's telling) as the isle's coastline where the shipwreck washes up. 

Also dispensed with is the sense of imperialist postcolonialism that is often inherent in many adaptations of the text. Here, Jarman cast a white actor to play Prospero's 'savage and deformed slave' in the shape of the regular cohort Jack Birkett, whose Romani roots draw comparison to a possible influence on Shakespeare's character (kaliban or cauliban means black or blackness in Romani) as the first gypsies are said to have arrived in England a century before Shakespeare's era. He also went one further and created a flashback scene featuring Caliban's mother Sycorax played by Claire Davenport, an imposing Junoesque Aryan seen breastfeeding Birkett and pulling the tormented Ariel (Karl Johnson) on a chain in the hope he too will suckle at her large teats! 

Character-wise this is very strong stuff. Birkett's Caliban, using his broad native Leeds accent, is a beguiling mixture of the nauseatingly repellent and wretchedly pitiable. The latter is especially apparent as he naively falls under the spell of the shipwrecked drunkards Stephano and Trinculo (Christopher Biggins, arguably the only luvvie in the cast, and Peter Turner), whilst the former is queasily apparent when it is revealed that he has continually tried to sexually violate Prospero's daughter Miranda, since their arrival to the island and therefore, presumably, when she was just three years old. 

Starring as Miranda is Toyah Willcox, still a relative newcomer to acting and aged just twenty-one, takes to not only her first Shakespearean role but arguably her first proper acting role away from punk stereotypes with aplomb. Indeed, the distance travelled from her performance in Jarman's Jubilee just two years earlier to here is nothing short of incredible. Her Miranda is unmistakably a young woman with neither the understanding or appreciation of her gender or the desires she feels because of her time in exile. As Prospero, the gloomy, thoughtful banshee that is Heathcote Williams is an unforgiving master, reminiscent of an incarnation of Doctor Who deemed too disturbing for the family show. Physically, there's a touch of Tom Baker, but in character he's reminiscent not only of the paternal qualities the grandfatherly William Hartnell possessed, but also the dark, unknowable and quite terrifying qualities Hartnell also originally brought to the show. 

But the icing on the cake comes in the film's final scene. Embracing the themes of forgiveness he so appreciated from the text itself, Jarman reinterpretes the Elizabethan and Jacobean tradition of the masque, the courtly entertainment which bears witness to goddesses of classic mythology for the purposes of magic, to introduce the legendary American singer Elisabeth Welch who performs her rendition of Stormy Weather to the assembled cast and a whole fleet of sailors - a magical, touching, happy-ever-after and gloriously camp high note to close the proceedings.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

RIP John Heard

Surprised and saddened to hear that John Heard has passed away at the age of 71

As a kid of course he was to me the somewhat frazzled father in Home Alone, but as I grew up I began to appreciate the diverse range of work he produced, including his roles in the excellent Cutter's Way, Cat People, and After Hours.


Out On Blue Six: Linkin Park, RIP Chester Bennington

RIP Chester.

End Transmission

Silent Sunday: Poll Tax Kiss

Friday, 21 July 2017

RIP Deborah Watling

The great Deborah Watling has died of cancer at the age of 69. She was most famous for playing Victoria Waterfield, the Victorian companion to Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor in Doctor Who from 1967 to 1968.

Born in Fulmer, Buckinghamshire in 1948, Deborah was the daughter of actors Jack Watling and Patricia Hicks and soon followed in their footsteps into the profession (her siblings, Dilys and Giles - now the Conservative MP for Clacton, also entered the profession) as a child actress with a regular role in 1958's HG Wells' Invisible Man. Her first major role was as the titular Alice in Dennis Potter's 1965 Wednesday Play which explored the relationship between Lewis Carroll and his child muse, Alice Liddell. The production later formed the inspiration for a big screen adaptation, 1985's Dreamchild.

It was her lead in Alice that led to her being cast in Doctor Who as companion Victoria, alongside Patrick Troughton as the Doctor and Frazer Hines as Jamie. It is arguably her most endearing and enduring role, despite the BBC (in their infinite 'wisdom') wiping the vast majority of her work on the series; The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Enemy of the World remain the only two serials that exist in their entirety, with The Web of Fear - in which she her father Jack amxe a guest appearance - still missing one episode. Loved by fans, Deborah was a regular on the convention circuit and reprised the role of Victoria in the Children in Need 1993 special Dimensions in Time and the fan-made 1995 release Downtime, as well as appearing in the Big Finish audio adventure Three's a Crowd, and the 50th anniversary comedy The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot.

Away from Doctor Who, Deborah appeared alongside pop stars David Essex and Ringo Starr in 1973's That'll Be The Day and Cliff Richard in his film Take Me High the following year, as well as a regular role in soap opera The Newcomers in 1969 and guest appearances in shows such as Rising Damp, Doctor in Charge and The Jim Davidson Show. 

With Beth Morris, catching the eye of David Essex and Ringo Starr in That'll Be The Day

With Cliff in the 1974 film Take Me High

Perhaps her other most memorable TV role was as naughty Norma Baker, 'the twin engine type' who got the boys in uniform all a flutter in the 1979 WWII drama series Danger UXB.

A great and beautiful actress and a lovely woman, Deborah Watling will be much missed by Who fans everywhere.


Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Payroll (1961)

The 1961 heist drama Payroll concerns a vicious gang of crooks led by the ruthless, cold blooded Johnny Mellors (Michael Craig) who, with the help of inside man Pearson (William Lucas) raid an armoured van carrying the wages of the local factory. Naturally the wheels come off the job a little as both the driver of the armoured van and one of the gang are killed in the heist. As the gang bide their time waiting for the heat to die off, Jean Parker - Billie Whitelaw's vengeful widow of the slain guard -  turns detective, applying the pressure on the guilt wracked Pearson as the rest of the gang start to come apart from within.

Like the previous year's Hell is a City (which also starred Whitelaw) Payroll marked the start of British cinema's desire to depict a far grittier, more honest realism than previously attempted and to address the fact that the UK was more than just London. Director Sidney Hayers who was a prolific yet unremarkable pair of hands for such drama breaks out of the falsehoods of the studio and the London-centric traditions to depict the industrialised, working class north - in this case the smoking factories, working docks and grimy, cobbled jiggers of Newcastle and Gateshead, all a decade before Get Carter punched a complacent cinema in its soft, flabby guts. 

Unfortunately, just like Hell is a City, this commendable effort is scuppered by the fact that their realism only goes so far; for some scenes Rugby in Warwickshire stands in for the plot's working class Newcastle, and the industrialised North East is populated by far too many middle-class London, cockney or mild north country accents as if to say that although we accept that the time has come for a degree of realism, let's make sure everyone can at least understand what our cast are saying. 

George Baxt's screenplay, based on a novel by Derek Bickerton, offers a grim noirish sensibility that destroys the naive notion of honour among thieves. Each character is depicted as calculating, selfish and without mercy, as they set about a series of double crosses that ensure crime does not pay. The film's strength perhaps lies in the fact that, despite the testosterone normally associated with heist dramas, Payroll offers two genuinely strong and rather meaty roles for women at a time when this was rather lacking across the board. As the widow Parker, Whitelaw has the biggest character journey, going from ordinary housewife and mother to dogged avenger, whilst French actress Françoise Prévost almost steals the film as Pearson's embittered wife; a woman saved by him during WWII and promised a better life, only to find herself unfulfilled in suburbia. She captures the very essence of that kind of woman who has previously had to get by on her wits and now knows no other way of life. She is determined to get what she wants, what she feels she is due, and is happy to do so completely without compunction.

Of the male cast, Michael Craig is surprisingly effective as an out and out villain. Granted one might expect Stanley Baker to occupy such a role, and he'd be perfect of course, but Craig feels just right here and his increasing immorality is all the more surprising given it comes from such a seemingly urbane, civilsed looking man rather than an obvious tough, even if you do feel that Tom Bell's increasingly dissatisfied 'lieutenant' could easily take him. That reminds me - it's always good to see Tom Bell, he was a favourite of my dad's back in the day (his current favourite is another Tom; Tom Hardy) and he's become one of mine since too. He brings the right sense of genuine grit required for the proceedings, especially as he's one of the few on display who has a legitimate northern accent, but you do find yourself yearning for his character to let rip a little more with the insubordination. 

Another familiar face who pops up that you're always happy to see is Kenneth Griffith, who appears here as the gang's liability, turning to drink and running off at the mouth. There's an amusing scene where he's followed from the pub by two young thugs who proceed to roll him in an alleyway - his prone body coming to rest on a sodden newspaper ad proclaiming 'I look my best on a Murphy' - whatever that was! In fact there's a few surprising examples of dark comedy on offer here, such as the factory employee who fearlessly jumps on the back of the getaway car only to wear a look that says 'what the hell am I doing?' before being unceremoniously pushed off by Craig's villain.

Overall, Payroll (which earned a new lease of life thanks to Julien Temple incorporating several clips into his 2009 Dr Feelgood biopic, Oil City Confidential) is a solid if a little unspectacular and overlong example of early 60s British noir. I enjoyed it, but I do think someone should have got Reg Owen to tone down his brassy, jaunty jazz score which borders on the intrusive at times and with a few notes that put me in mind of the opening bars to '80s gameshow Every Second Counts!

Aquarius (2016)

A towering central performance from Sônia Braga and the all too rare chance to see a film centred around a 60-something woman are the main reasons to watch this film which is strong on character study, but ultimately - and at 140 or so minutes - is all too weak on narrative.

For my full review check out The Geek Show

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

RIP Trevor Baxter

After the excitement of the announcement on Sunday that Jodie Whittaker will play the 13th incarnation of the Doctor, comes a sad day for us Doctor Who fans as it was announced that Trevor Baxter has died, aged 84.

Baxter has a special place in the heart of fandom thanks to his appearance in the classic 1977 Robert Holmes penned serial The Talons of Weng-Chiang, a Fourth Doctor story set in Victorian London that is widely regarded as one of the finest stories ever to be made in Doctor Who's history. Alongside regulars Tom Baker and Louise Jameson (Leela), Baxter played Professor George Litefoot essentially playing Dr Watson to the Doctor's Holmes and forming an enjoyable double act with Christopher Benjamin's theatrical MC, Henry Gordon Jago. So endearing was this double act that the Who production team considered giving them their own spin-off series, but the plans initially came to naught. In the intervening years, the popularity of the characters increased in fandom leading them to make many appearances in Doctor Who novelisations before Baxter and Benjamin were at last asked to reprise their roles in a series of audio adventures from Big Finish. This led to them finally getting their own series, Jago & Litefoot, since 2009. 

Away from Doctor Who, Baxter was a prolific performer on stage, TV and film. A member of the RSC, he toured the Bard with Sir Ralph Richardson across South America and also wrote a number of plays himself, including Ripping Them Off. He also adapted Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray and Lord Arthur Saville's Crime for the stage in 2003 and 2005 respectively, and the latter was revived with Lee Mead in the lead role in 2010.

His TV credits include appearances in Adam Adamant Lives!, Maelstrom, The New Avengers, Thriller, The Barchester Chronicles, Jack the Ripper and Doctors, whilst his films include Nutcracker, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj.


Monday, 17 July 2017

Theme Time: Barry Gray - Space 1999, RIP Martin Landau

Sad to hear that the great Martin Landau has died at the age of 89.

In tribute to the Hollywood veteran, here's Barry Gray's bombastic theme for Gerry Anderson's Space: 1999

Starring alongside his then wife Barbara Bain, Space: 1999 ran for two seasons from 1975 to 1977 and as John Koenig remains, certainly on this side of the pond, as one of Landau's most enduring starring roles. Only that of Rollin Hand in TV's Mission Impossible could match it. Landau was, along with Steve McQueen, the only applicants out of 500 to enter the acclaimed Actors Studio in 1955 where he was tutored by Lee Strasburg and Elia Kazan to name but a few and would go on to become an executive director with the Studio. His films include Hitchcock's North by Northwest, Cleopatra, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Nevada Smith alongside Actors Studio contemporary McQueen, Empire State, Francis Ford Coppola's Tucker: The Man and His Dream, for which he earned an Oscar nomination, Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanours, which earned him a second nomination, and Tim Burton's Ed Wood which finally bagged him the Oscar. 


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Edward II (1991)

"Is it not QUEER that he is thus bewitched?"

Based on the Renaissance play by Christoper Marlowe of the same name (though in fact the proper title of the first publication in 1593 is the rather unwieldy 'The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer' - try fitting that on the front of the Odeon!) Derek Jarman's 1991 film is a joyous, dark and bloody postmodern take on Marlowe's text, full of the kind of anachronisms and flamboyancy that he had previously toyed with in Caravaggio.

Marlowe's play was unusual for its time in that it portrayed the homosexuality of King Edward II and his infatuation with the nobleman Piers Gaveston quite openly. But this theme is brought even further to the fore with Jarman's take, which claims that it was the gay relationship the king enjoyed with Gaveston that sparked the bloody coup against Edward by his own wife, Queen Isabella, and her political and romantic ally Roger Mortimer, and which ultimately brought about Edward's downfall. Historically of course, Edward's reign was doomed for several reasons, including the heavy losses he endured in Scotland to Robert the Bruce, but Jarman specifically chooses the sexuality angle and the strange yet delicious mishmash of styles - England of the 1300s (as represented in the language used) and England of 1991 (as represented in the many modern touches throughout the film, the contemporary fashions, riot police and Outrage gay rights protesters)  - to address the theme of institutionalised homophobia and  the oppression of gay people throughout history.

This is a sublime example of the New Queer Cinema school of filmmaking that was prolific at the tail end of the 1980s and the start of the '90s. Jarman delivers an assured and accomplished production that is bolstered by its anachronistic playfulness and its committed cast. Steven Waddington and Andrew Tiernan work so well together and are excellent as the doomed Edward and Gaveston; dressed at times like Soho toughs in their black suits, hanging out with similarly sharp Jerome Flynn and John Lynch, whilst at others they are the epitome of gay couple cuteness in their silk pyjamas. Tilda Swinton's Isabella is an elegant Eva Peron style courtly goddess, possessing real demonic fire beneath her icy exterior, whilst Nigel Terry is the very model of the modern Major General as Mortimer; all bristly 'tache, military jumper and beret, and some clear sadomasochistic tendencies.

Whilst Jarman fully embraces the mixture of  mixture of contemporary and medieval props and styles far more so here than he did with Caravaggio, I do feel that it was the earlier film that is perhaps overall the better production in terms of story and narrative. However, it is in Edward II's acceptance of these anachronisms, that the film succeeds far more with some utterly stunning and memorable, wholly cinematic setpieces that linger long in the memory; The sailors casually fucking on Gaveston's bed as the film commences; Gaveston, cast out of court and clad in jeans and a leather jacket, spat upon by row upon row of disapproving, venomous clergy (only Bronski Beat's Smalltown Boy can evoke a time and feeling as well as this key moment); Swinton's Isabella showing her teeth, literally, in a gory scene featuring Jerome Flynn as her brother-in-law;  Edward's army of gay rights protesters confronting the shield beating, helmeted riot police with placards proclaiming that 'Gay Desire Is Not A Crime'; Edward's horrific premonition of the legend of his violent demise - a red hot poker inserted into his rectum by his gaoler, Lightborn (the anglicised name for Lucifer) But perhaps best and most sweetest of all is the scene when Annie Lennox pops up to serenade Edward and Gaveston on the eve of the latter's exile,with her beautiful rendition of Cole Porter's 1944 song Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye.

Edward II is recommended for admirers of historical tragedy handled with a bit of experimentation and innovation, and for fans of LGBT cinema, because it is so refreshingly out and proud. As such it is also the perfect antidote to Mel Gibson's Braveheart which, on it release just four years later, would depict Edward II in a deeply unpleasant homophobic manner as well as tie history up in knots with its claim that William Wallace somehow wooed, bedded and ultimately altered the royal bloodline by having an affair with Queen Isabella who was actually still an infant when Wallace was alive.