Sunday, 30 January 2011

Sky (ITV 1975)

HTV for ITV, 7 April 1975-17 May 1975. 7 x 25 min episodes.

Produced by Patrick Dromgoole: executive producer (7 episodes, 1975), Leonard White: producer (7 episodes, 1975). Directed by Patrick Dromgoole (3 episodes, 1975), Derek Clark (2 episodes, 1975), Terry Harding (2 episodes, 1975).

Writing credits: Bob Baker & Dave Martin (7 episodes, 1975). Read more here.

Cast: Marc Harrison (Sky), Richard Speight (Roy Briggs), Stuart Lock (Arby Vennor), Cherrald Butterfield (Jane Vennor), Robert Eddison (Goodchild), Jack Watson (Major Briggs), Thomas Heathcote (Mr Vennor), Frances Cuka (Mrs Vennor).

"Eerie, unsettling and a benchmark production for children's television in the 1970s, Sky was created by Doctor Who stalwarts Bob Baker and Dave Martin as one of the run of outstanding children's dramas HTV produced in that decade. Filmed in such richly atmospheric locations as Avebury, Glastonbury Tor and Stonehenge, Sky is a mixture of ecological fable, science fantasy and good, old-fashioned peril. Marc Harrison stars as Sky - an ethereal boy who materialises on an Earth that is as unprepared for him as he is for it. He soon realises that he's been brought to the wrong time and must seek out the Juganet to return to his correct place in reality. With the help of tearaway Arby Venner, his sister June and friend Roy he must race against time as Nature rejects Sky and the Earth's immune system creates the evil Goodchild, who is out to stop him at all costs..."

Episode titles and original air dates: 1. Burning Bright - 07/04/75. 2. Juganet - 14/04/75. 3. Goodchild - 21/04/75. 4. What Dread Hand - 28/04/75. 5. Evalake - 05/05/75. 6. Lifeforce - 12/05/75. 7. Chariot of Fire - 19/05/75.

Further information here & here. Video content here & here. Images from Time Screen magazine, issues 17.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Tomorrow People (ITV 1973-79)

Teenage children who have reached a new level of evolution, Homo Superior, develop telepathic powers and fight alien evils on behalf of the Galactic Trig...

Thames Television for ITV, 30/4/1973-19/2/1979. 68 episodes in 8 seasons, colour. United Kingdom.

Created by: Roger Price. Writers: Roger Price, Brian Finch and Jon Watkins. Directors include: Paul Bernard, Roger Price, Darrol Blake.

Regular cast: Nicholas Young (John), Peter Vaughan-Clarke (Stephen Jameson), Sammie Winmill (Carol), Stephen Salmon (Kenny), Elizabeth Adare (Elizabeth M'Bondo), Dean Lawrence (Tyso), Mike Holoway (Mike Bell), Misako Koba (Hsui Tai), Nigel Rhodes (Andrew Forbes), Philip Gilbert (Voice of TIM).

Roger Price created this science fiction adventure series, inspired equally by Dr Christopher Evans' mind-expanding psychology book The Mind in Chains and a meeting with David Bowie on a TV pop show. The Tomorrow People were teenagers who had reached the next step in human evolution to become 'Homo Superior' (a phrase taken from the Bowie song 'Oh You Pretty Things'). Such special teenagers went through a painful process known as 'breaking out' - a clear play on puberty - to emerge with powers of telepathy, telekinesis and teleportation as agents of the all-powerful Galactic Trig. Led by senior Tomorrow Person John and bio-computer TIM, numerous appointed teens helped protect Earth from marauding aliens. It was a clever piece of wish-fulfilment by Price on behalf of his constituent audience, one that allowed children to become superior to parents, teachers and all other forms of authority.

This was a broad action-adventure series, with escape and capture routines familiar from Enid Blyton dressed up not only with sci-fi trappings of rayguns and teleport 'jaunting' but 1970s fashions, a glam rock design sense and a dose of liberal casting (the Tomorrow People admitting black and Oriental characters to its London-based team).

The series rarely dabbled with deeper science fiction concepts, though one story, 'The Blue and the Green', about warring factions of schoolchildren, drew parallels with conflicts in Northern Ireland. There was the odd scare (the genuinely creepy 'The Living Skins' saw synthetic fashion garments spearhead an invasion by giant bubble aliens), but also many jaunts into rather camp playing from guest casts. Price revived the series in the 1990s, helped by American finance. It retained the sense of fun and adventure from the original but with inevitably more advanced special effects. Nonetheless it failed to help define the decade as its predecessor had done.

Alistair McGown.

The Tomorrow People Theme - Dudley Simpson

Further information here, here and here.

Buy the soundtrack here & additional screenshots here.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Häxan – Witchcraft Through The Ages – A film by Benjamin Christensen

Written & Directed by Benjamin Christensen. Music by Launy Grøndahl, Matti Bye (2006), Art Zoyd (1997), Daniel Humair (1968) & Emil Reesen (1941). Cinematography by Johan Ankerstjerne. Film Editing by Edla Hansen. Art Direction by Richard Louw, L. Mathiesen & Helge Norél. Distributed by Svensk Filmindustri (Sweden) & Janus Films (US). Original Release: September 18, 1922 (Sweden). Language: Silent film, Danish intertitles.

Starring: Maren Pedersen, Clara Pontoppidan, Elith Pio, Oscar Stribolt, Tora Teje, John Andersen, Poul Reumert, Karen Winther & Benjamin Christensen.

Born in Denmark in 1879, Benjamin Christensen had a varied career before he entered the Danish film industry as an actor and writer in 1912. The first two films he directed, The Mysterious X (1913) and The Night of Revenge (1915), have a visual sophistication that has led some historians to hail him as an innovator comparable to D. W. Griffith, Louis Feuillade, and Maurice Tourneur.

Häxan (pronounced “hek-sen”), Christensen’s third film, was made in Sweden at the invitation of Svensk Filmindustri and released in 1922. It’s one of those legendary films that many people have heard about but few have seen. It should be better known. With vivid depictions of witch persecutions and medieval sorcery, frank physicality, and fluid and detailed mise-en-scène, Häxan surely has more chance of pleasing contemporary audiences than 95 percent of surviving silent films.

In bringing together witch-finding judges, convent misdeeds, and black magic, Häxan prefigures no less than three cinematic genres that would become popular (for an example of each, see Michael Reeves’ 1968 Witchfinder General, Domenico Paolella’s 1973 The Nuns of Sant’Arcangelo, and Terence Fisher’s 1968 The Devil Rides Out). Häxan also has ties to F. W. Murnau’s Faust and later films based on the Faust legend, to demonic-possession movies like William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), and to the many movies in which the devil comes to Earth in human form, of which George Miller’s The Witches of Eastwick (1987) is a pertinent recent example.

Häxan integrates fact, fiction, objective reality, hallucination, and different levels of representation—all within a first-person discourse. In the intertitles, Christensen addresses us directly, saying “I”.

The mixture of narrative modes in Häxan is astonishing for its freedom and audacity. Early on, Christensen establishes a modern, scientific point of view, stating flatly, “The belief in evil spirits, sorcery, and witchcraft is the result of naïve notions about the mystery of the universe”. After a lecture-with-slideshow-style prologue on ancient and medieval cosmology, diabolism, and sorcery, the first of the film’s narrative recreations unfolds in a sorceress’ underground workshop in 1488. The sequence that follows is, up to a point, objective. But the film soon complicates its logical flow by dissolving from the workshop to a scene in which the sorceress’ client gives a love potion to a monk. The viewer can’t be sure whether the second scene is a flash-forward to an event occurring in the future or, as seems more likely, a representation of the client’s fantasy.

Starting with this ambiguity, the film takes us farther away from a world in which recognized laws of cause and effect hold sway, leading us into a space where the irrational is always ready to intrude in lurid forms. At times, Häxan appears to be a literal depiction of the imaginings of people of medieval Europe—the cinematic equivalent of the medieval woodcuts that illustrate the prologue. Christensen denies us cues indicating the points at which the film jumps from one level of reality to another. As a result, the obscene incursions of the devil (an unforgettable performance by Christensen himself) are consistent with the tonality of the film: the devil belongs to the film’s world even as he disrupts it.

The longest sustained segment of Häxan shows how a printer’s family is destroyed when, after he falls ill, his sister-in-law accuses a beggar woman of having bewitched him. This section of the film contains a devastating, psychologically realistic portrait of witch-hunters.

Christensen delineates the narrative with scrupulous objectivity until the moment when the torturers finally force a long, detailed confession from their pathetic victim. Immediately—as if the film were blurting it all out with her—we’re plunged into the visualization of her fantastic, grotesque imaginings. During one of the most “objective” sequences of the film, the presentation of torture devices used on accused witches, we suddenly see a young woman in modern dress, smiling. “One of my actresses”, Christensen tells us in an intertitle, “insisted on trying on the thumbscrew ... I will not reveal the terrible confessions I forced from the young lady in less than a minute”. Extending the parallel between the cinema and earlier media, Christensen accuses his own activity as filmmaker. The tone of the next behind-the-scenes reference is more serious.

During a break in shooting, according to Christensen, the actress playing the role of the beggar “raised her tired face to me and said: ‘The devil is real. I have seen him sitting by my bedside’”. In the shot of the actress, she appears in her medieval costume. No doubt Christensen was conscious of the analogy between the character’s confession to the inquisitors and the actress’ confession to him, between their torture implements and his camera.

Christensen’s narrative freedom, no less than his anticlericalism, endeared Häxan to the Surrealists (a column called “Some Surrealist Advice,” which can be found in Paul Hammond’s excellent anthology of Surrealist writings on the cinema, The Shadow and Its Shadow, urged readers to see Christensen’s films rather than Dreyer’s). Perhaps the film’s structure inspired Luis Buñuel in making his masterpiece L’âge d’or (1930), which also begins as a documentary, only to switch to a series of more or less coherent and self-contained fictional episodes. Buñuel’s customary insistence on photographing dreams in the same way that he photographs objective reality has a major precedent in Christensen’s practice in Häxan.

Despite its historical importance, Häxan has been available only sporadically, usually retitled Witchcraft Through the Ages.

Its best-known incarnation under this title was in a version prepared in 1967 by British filmmaker and film distributor Antony Balch. This version features a narration by William Burroughs (with whom Balch had previously made Towers Open Fire and other short films) and a score by a jazz group led by percussionist Daniel Humair and featuring violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. Under any title and with any modifications, Häxan endures because of Christensen’s tremendous skill with lighting, staging, and varying of shot scale. The word “painterly” comes to mind in watching Christensen’s ingeniously constructed shots, but it is inadequate to evoke the fascination the film exerts through its patterns of movement and its narrative disjunctions. Christensen is at once painter, historian, social critic, and a highly self-conscious filmmaker. His world comes alive as few attempts to recreate the past on film have.

Chris Fujiwara is the author of Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall (Johns Hopkins University Press). He writes on film for Hermenaut, the Boston Phoenix, and other publications.

Watch Häxan here (William S. Burroughs) & here (original).

Monday, 10 January 2011

John Baker of The Radiophonic Workshop

"John Baker was my hero. When I was a boy, he was the person I most wanted to be. He was clever, talented, witty, fashionable and greatly popular. John Baker was my brother. We were born into an East End working class family, which, since 1780, had earned its living by making fireworks. Early in the twentieth century, the Bakers sold out to Brocks. The next in line, William [Bill], found another way of entertaining people. He took the name, Will Keogh, and became a minor music hall comedian basing his act on the eccentric Billy Bennett, whom he greatly admired. In 1936, he married a hairdresser's model, Violet [Vi], the daughter of a publican in the City of London. On the back of a truck they hired, they sat on two chairs and, with a few other belongings, were driven to their new home, a small terraced house in the former Essex fishing village of Leigh-on-Sea [122 Western Road]. On 12 October 1937, John was born. For the first eight years of his life, he was brought up by Vi as Bill, who was 35 on the outbreak of the Second World War, was called up to serve, first in North Africa and then in Italy..." Read more from Richard Baker here.

Born on October 12, 1937, Baker grew up in the East End of London and displayed musical talent quickly, sight reading and playing the piano skillfully while still in his early teens.

At the Royal Academy of Music, he studied piano and composition, becoming a GRSM (Graduate of the Royal School of Music) and LRAM (Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music).

After graduation, Baker joined the BBC in 1960, beginning as a studio manager and sound mixer, working on radio programs ranging from the news to music shows to broadcasts of plays. Three years later, he transferred to the Radiophonic Workshop, where he crafted distinctive music and sound effects using meticulous tape editing and manipulation and recordings of everyday sounds such as pulling the cork out of a bottle.

At the same time, Baker was also providing music for commercials and performing with jazz groups, and that jazz background made his work among the most rhythmically interesting Radiophonic Workshop output. The way he combined electronic music with live performances also set his work apart.

However, his busy working schedule sparked a drinking problem and depression that eventually led to his dismissal from the BBC in 1974, after which he didn't compose or perform in public again. After his mother's death, Baker's health worsened, and he moved in with Daphne Walker, an old acquaintance. They moved from London to the Isle of Man, where Baker contracted cirrhosis of the liver, and to the Isle of Wight, where he developed liver cancer in 1996; he died from it on February 7, 1997.

One of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's most prolific and inventive composers, John Baker helped define the sound of the BBC with his themes and sound effects - Heather Phares.

John Baker - Structures:

John Baker - Tomorrow's World:

Further information here, here & here.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Sapphire & Steel (ITV 1979-82)

"All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned"

[someone knocks on the door] Robert Jardine: "Who is it?" Steel: "Robert Steven Jardine?" Robert Jardine: "Yes?" Steel: "You asked for help" Robert Jardine: "I did, yes!" Steel: "Then unlock the door" Robert Jardine: [unchaining the locks] "That was quick, i'd only just phoned" [Sapphire and Steel enter] Robert Jardine: "I don't know you!" "Only... the policeman at the Point!" Steel: "The policeman at the Point isn't coming" "I contacted him and told him that everything down here is under control" Robert Jardine: "But it isn't!" Steel: "No" "That's why we're here and not him" [He walks off toward the kitchen] Sapphire: [amused] "He's a shade too serious but you'll get used to him" Robert Jardine: "But he's got no right to tell the policeman..." Sapphire: "Your parents have disappeared, right?" Robert Jardine: "Yes!" Sapphire: "And you want them back?" Robert Jardine: "Of course I want them..." Sapphire: "Safely?" Robert Jardine: "Yes" Sapphire: [pleased] "Well then, your policeman at the Point with his idiot notebook and his idiot questions stands no chance of getting them back for you" "But we do"

Created by P.J. Hammond, Sapphire and Steel (ITV, 1979-82) was an exhilarating, frequently bizarre series whose striking originality remains undimmed since its initial screening. Although originally devised as a children's series, what emerged, with its sophisticated and enigmatic storytelling and emphasis on an atmosphere of fear, was clearly aimed at older audiences.

Ever-glamorous Joanna Lumley and a saturnine David McCallum played the mysterious title characters, elementals with special powers who were able to communicate telepathically. Much of the series' strength derived from the interplay between them, their scenes together charged with sexual energy, a factor enhanced in the two stories featuring the flirtatious Silver, played by David Collings.

The second story, set in a deserted railway station, is perhaps the best and best-remembered, due at least partly to the fact that at eight episodes it is by far the longest, and because it was halfway through its run when the 1979 ITV strike hit, keeping the channel off the air between August and October. When transmission was resumed, the story restarted from the beginning, climaxing with a chilling and cruel finale in which Steel sacrifices the innocent and blameless Tully (sensitively played by Gerald James) without the slightest compunction.

Although the third story included some location filming on the roof of a high story building, the series was otherwise wholly studio-bound, which gave the programme its distinctively claustrophobic feel, combining limbo sets, atmospheric lighting and clever use of minimalist music and augmented audio effects.

The fifth story, broadcast in the summer of 1981, was written by Don Houghton and Anthony Read to give Hammond a well-deserved rest and was a neat metaphysical reversal of a standard Agatha Christie scenario, with members of a dinner party killed one by one before vanishing out of existence.

The sixth and final story ended on a cliffhanger, with the protagonists trapped in a window in space, left to wander in time for eternity. Hammond has said that a further story was planned, but by 1982 commissioning company ATV had lost its franchise and interest in the series had waned. Sapphire and Steel, across 34 episodes, brilliantly combined science fiction, horror and fantasy with the time plays of J.B. Priestley and the absurdist work of Beckett and Pinter into a unique melange that in its imaginative writing and obscure plotting is still unrivalled.

Sergio Angelini

Created by Peter J. Hammond. Series Directed by Shaun O'Riordan (24 episodes, 1979-1981) & David Foster (15 episodes, 1979-1982).

Writing credits: Peter J. Hammond (34 episodes, 1979-1982), Don Houghton (6 episodes, 1981), Anthony Read (6 episodes, 1981).

Series Produced by Shaun O'Riordan (34 episodes, 1979-1982). Executive Producer: David Reid (34 episodes, 1979-1982). Original Music by Cyril Ornadel (34 episodes, 1979-1982). Film Editing by John Hawkins (21 episodes, 1979-1982), Glen Cardno (4 episodes, 1981) & Al Pigden (4 episodes, 1981).

Cast: David McCallum – Steel (34 episodes, 1979-1982), Joanna Lumley – Sapphire (34 episodes, 1979-1982), David Collings – Silver (10 episodes, 1981-1982), Val Pringle – Lead (3 episodes, 1979).

Further information here, here & here.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

The Arts and Crafts Movement

"You must either make a tool of the creature, or a man of him. You cannot make both. Men were not intended to work with the accuracy of tools, to be precise and perfect in all their actions. If you will have that precision out of them, and make their fingers measure degrees like cog-wheels and their arms strike curves like compasses, you must unhumanise them.... -- a heap of sawdust, so far its intellectual work in this world is concurred: saved only by its Heart, which cannot go into the forms of cogs and compasses, but expands, after the ten years are over, into fireside humanity" – John Ruskin

The Arts and Crafts Movement was one of the most influential, profound and far-reaching design movements of modern times. It began in Britain around 1880 and quickly spread across America and Europe before emerging finally as the Mingei movement in Japan. It was a movement born of ideals. It grew out of a concern for the effects of industrialisation: on design, on traditional skills and on the lives of ordinary people. In response, it established a new set of principles for living and working. It advocated the reform of art at every level and across a broad social spectrum, and it turned the home into a work of art.

The movement took its name from the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, founded in 1887, but it encompassed a very wide range of like-minded societies, workshops and manufacturers. Other countries adapted Arts and Crafts philosophies according to their own needs. While the work may be visually very different, it is united by the ideals that lie behind it. This was a movement unlike any that had gone before. It's pioneering spirit of reform, and the value it placed on the quality of materials and design, as well as life, shaped the world we live in today.

The Guild of Handicraft, The Glasgow School and the Cotswold School are among the best known Arts and Crafts branches in Britian, but there were others. As well branches in the form of Guilds or Schools there were other smaller artistic communities such as Newlyn and Keswick which specialised in metalwork which also made a significant contribution. Other branches of the movement can be identified with individual designers, Archibald Knox is perhaps the most revered at the moment, but there are others such as Leonard Wyburd who, like Knox designed for Liberty and Ambrose Heal who designed for Heal and Son. In ceramic design William De Morgan, the Martin Brothers and William Moorcroft are perhaps the best known and there is enormous interest from collectors for their work.

Further information here, here and here.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

The Golden Bough, A Study in Magic and Religion - A book by Sir James Frazer

Ever since its first edition in 1890, The Golden Bough has been considered a major influence in the development of western thought.

In this book, Sir James G. Frazer, a Cambridge researcher trained in classical literature, outlines ancient myths and folk legends, proposing that all civilizations go through three stages of development: belief in magic leads to organized religion, which eventually leads to faith in the powers of science.

Frazer’s literary style raised interest in the ideas of other world cultures at a time when western societies considered the peoples of Africa and Asia to be the products of ‘‘primitive’’ thought. In addition, his attempts to identify the basic story motifs to which all human beings respond was carried forth in the twentieth century by psychologists such as Carl Jung, who developed the idea of the collective unconscious, and by such literary masters as James Joyce and T. S. Eliot.

Frazer went on to expand the original book, first to a two-volume set and then to a total of thirteen volumes, before editing it down to one concise volume, which is the one that is most commonly read today.

Over time, the book’s reputation has changed. While it was once considered to be an important study in comparative anthropology, many social scientists later found fault with the methods that Frazer used in collecting materials: he never spoke directly to people of the cultures about which he wrote, but instead he relied on other researchers’ findings and on questionnaires that he gave to people who traveled to other lands.

Frazer’s conclusions are generally considered unreliable because he did not follow sound scientific procedures, but The Golden Bough is still revered as a well-written introduction to the subject of comparative religion.

Source: Nonfiction Classics for Students, ©2012 Gale Cengage.

Read it here.

Further information here, here and here.

Thanks to Paul Bareham. Without whom.