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Cold Light of Day

Uncategorised Posted on Wed, November 25, 2020 14:02:37

I’m not a big fan of ‘serial-killer’ movies, but I’ve been astounded by Arrow Films new BluRay release of the 1989 movie Cold Light of Day based on the case of Dennis Nilsen. It was written and directed by the-the 21-year-old Fhiona Louise, and is the only film she’s ever made. Regardless of the subject matter it is technically remarkably accomplished – as someone says on the commentaries says, “I couldn’t have done anything like that when I was 21.”

A highlight of this release is listening to Fhiona Louise explain on one of the commentaries how producer Richard Driscoll ‘blagged’ equipment and resources to make the movie ( most of the interiors were filmed on leftover sets just before the shutdown of Bray studios – possibly from the Denzel Washington movie For Queen and Country. The police interrogations were filmed in the canteen at Bray – apparently the scenes were so intense that Driscoll’s crew forgot to plug the freezer back in when they’d finished with the socket and ruined all the food. ). One irony of the extras is that Louise is filmed in a sunny Lockdown London for the location feature, and yet despite everyone having facemasks, the surroundings look much cheerier than the bleak London of 1989.

The movie stars Bob Flag (Big Brother in the John Hurt version of 1984) as “Jorden March” – an acknowledgement that this is not so much a film about Nilsen as a film inspired by Nilsen. It’s interesting that the main commentary is by Australian academics Dean Bradnum and Andrew Nette who see the film as part of a continuum with the austere Britain glimpsed in sitcoms like On The Buses and Rising Damp. They question the British establishment attitude towards true crime movies such as this and the 1977 film The Black Panther starring Donald Sumpter as Donald Neilson. They accurately identify the commercial risks of such films (neither is a laugh-a-minute) but also note that the mainstream media tended to close ranks against true crime movies. They raise an interesting point when they identify 10 Rillington Place as an exception to the rule – not only because it was made by a Hollywood director, but also because it had the intent to rehabilitate the reputation of Timothy Evans (John Hurt) who had been wrongly executed for Christie’s crimes.

It’s ironic that time seems to lend a distance, and Nilsen’s story was recently dramatised on ITV. Des, starring David Tennant as Nilsen, was the latest in a series of true crime dramas broadcast on the commercial channel. The different approaches of the two productions are interesting. Both movies start out from the moment when detectives arrive at Nilsen’s house to arrest him, but from then on the approach is different. For viewers who complained that the Tennant version didn’t show any murders, or depict what Nilsen had bubbling away in a large saucepan in the kitchen, Cold Light of Day is obviously a must-see. Des benefits from hindsight and making use of the interviews journalist Brian Masters conducted with Nilsen in prison (Masters is a character in the film played by Jason Watkins). Tennant gets to play Nilsen like Hannibal Lecter, teasing police as he tries to remember details of his victims. Daniel Mays also gives a more nuanced performance as the detective Peter Jay, humouring Nilsen in an attempt to identify the victims. This was, again, apparently true-to-life as Jay was a more cerebral, ex-Fraud Squad detective. However, it’s ironic how the facts tally with the current detective drama conventions (the cunning, charming psychopath versus the dogged detective).

By contrast, Cold Light of Day, is very much of its time. Bob Flag portrays “Jorden” as more passive than Tennant, and the extended interrogation scenes with Geoffrey Greenhill as Chief Inspector Simmons are much more aggressive, in line with Sean Connery in The Offence or John Thaw in The Sweeney. In short, it’s (obviously) how we would have imagined things to happen in the 1980’s. In light of the current Des-mania it would be interesting if the BBC could release the award-winning 1990 play Killing Time by Kevin Elyot (adapter of Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky and Poirot) which starred Pip Donaghy as another Nilsen figure. It probably wouldn’t add much to the sum of human understanding, but it would give us another insight into how we view our serial killers.



The Daleks Bookazine 2020

Uncategorised Posted on Sat, November 21, 2020 09:20:41
Original TV21 (left) and bookazine (right)

I did have doubts about reviewing The Daleks bookazine from Panini UK when it’s such a hot item that scalpers are offering it for inflated prices – especially when we’re in the middle of a lockdown and it’s difficult to get out to the supermarkets that are rumoured to have copies. But, on consideration I’m sure enough copies were printed to satisfy demand and that the initial shortfall is just a distribution problem.

Congratulations to Marcus Hearn for convincing his management that this project had a prospect of success. After all, the 1960’s Dalek comic strips from TV Century 21 have been reprinted several times – not least by Marvel/Panini in 1994’s The Dalek Chronicles. But new technology and dogged research has allowed this latest edition to be shot direct from the original artwork. As you can see from the comparison above, this has brought new life to the stories.

Ron Turner TV21
Ron Turner restoration

As Peri Godbold explains in an accompanying restoration feature, a lot of work had to be done to present the artwork in its original condition. The TV21 comics have decomposed after 50 years, but so has the original art, “the boards had darkened from white to something resembling a pale coffee colour.” Digital restoration removed this aging and also tidied up the damage to the artwork, either when the ink had flaked or sections had been amended for subsequent reprints such as the Dalek Annuals. When the original boards could not be located, the designers worked from old copies of TV21, although again a lot of painstaking work needed to be done where the original printed off-register.

To be honest, at first glance, this doesn’t look like a restoration. It looks like something that was written and drawn yesterday. The most obvious difference from the original TV Century 21 is that the original comic was a tabloid (foreseeing newspapers like The i ). It was printed by photogravure, rather than lithography and the paper stock – while glossier than most comics of the 1960’s – was never as bright and glossy as the paper used in this bookazine. So, you lose some, you win some.

The bookazine includes an archive interview with artist Ron Turner and a background article by Marcus Hearn which explains how the comic strip came to be. Much of the script writing was by David Whitaker, the former Dr Who story editor who Terry Nation sub-contracted his Dalek work to. There are a few episodes written by Angus Allan, TV21’s script editor for its first year and freelance scriptwriter for the later years. He later recalled being told by editor Alan Fennell that there was a scheduling problem and asked to write a three week sequence which kept the continuity going without actually advancing the story. Allan did so, and was pleased and surprised to later receive a cheque from Terry Nation (which was at Nation’s normal rate, higher than the going rate for comic strips).

Although the continuity was written for weekly episodes, the stories hang together quite well. Despite Terry Nation’s lack of day-to-day involvement with the strip, the stories have a familiar ring to them. There’s often a traitor lurking in the conflict and there are undertones of resistance against the Nazi’s. The conclusion of the second sequence (in which a bunch of slaves outwit both their slavers and the Daleks) made me think of Blakes Seven , while the Daleks’ struggle against a rust virus seemed to anticipate Survivors.

So, it’s an immaculate restoration and an enjoyable read. What more can you say?



The Meritocracy Trap

Uncategorised Posted on Thu, October 29, 2020 13:14:50

The Meritocracy Trap by Daniel Markovits, is an eye-opening book which answers the burning question, “Why everything is so screwed up”.

It’s essential reading – especially in the wake of the Biden victory and the question of why Donald Trump got such a large slice of the voting cake. It also has lessons for British voters. If you’re not one yourself, don’t assume you know what motivates Trump supporters and Brexiteers. Markovitz argues that our society has been poisoned by the Meritocracy trap.

Daniel Markovits is a Professor of Law at Yale University and it shows: The Meritocracy Trap has 100 pages of twin-columned notes which deepen the argument in the text.

The term “meritocracy’ was coined in 1958 by British sociologist Michael Young in his satire, The Rise of Meritocracy. It was intended as a warning that scientific testing of children would create inequality of opportunity. It would identify talent at an early age and stream children into schooling and training for preordained jobs. Markovits says that Young became appalled that the term was “embraced rather than reviled.” He also says Young could not foresee that the meritocracy would favour nurture rather than nature. Rather than identifying children best equipped to carry out the jobs society valued, it would train the children of the rich to develop desired skills and, “bend the arc of innovation to favour the skills that it produced.”

It’s important to note that Markovitz defines himself as a Meritocrat and says that the system harms the elite themselves. This book was inspired when he was asked to deliver a graduation address at Yale Law School. As he began to think about the graduates he knew, he felt, “a curious amalgam of powerful empathy and sinister foreboding.”

Before going further, it’s best to start at the back and read the Postscript To The UK Edition first. Markovits argues that in the United States, workers without degrees such as auto workers are included in the definition of middle class, whereas the British would call an auto worker ‘working class’. Conversely, many of those who Markovitz defines as the meritocratically educated professional elite would be called ‘middle class’ in Britain. In this way, Markovitz argues that the privilege of the elite is disguised in Britain. “British meritocrats enjoy the privileges without the responsibilities.”

He says the British left associates meritocracy almost literally with aristocracy and misses the appeal of meritocracy. “By treating meritocrats as skating, rather than grinding their way to the top..it gets the new elite’s back up.”

For Markovits’ argument is that meritocracy excludes the ‘middle class’ and harms the ‘elite. “The young rich today diligently study and doggedly train” for the opportunity to “work with grinding intensity” for absurdly long hours. “No-one need weep for the wealthy. But ignoring how oppressively hard the rich now work is equally misleading.”

Elite schools can demand five hours of homework a night. Once they have achieved an elite job, the meritocratic worker is expected to work long hours. Exploiting their human capital, “they are expected to become an asset manager” of their own skills and knowledge.

Markovitz also tracks how middle-class life has been constrained, saying the idea of moving from production to management as happened in the 20th century is now implausible. A firm like McDonalds which, in the 1960’s, employed 70 to 80 workers at each franchise to make the food they sold now has less than half the workforce – deskilled because food is now pre-packaged. The only skill now lies in developing new systems and equipment. Similarly, at a supermarket chain like Safeway the chance to progress from bag packer to chief executive is now non-existent. Markovitz shows how middle-managers were eliminated by consultants in the 1980’s following leveraged buy-outs in search of the kind of manager who could squeeze further money out of the business in order to pay off the cost of the buy-outs.

Markovitz paints a picture of a society which is poisoning itself – allocating unequal rewards to a self-perpetuating elite which has no chance to really enjoy those rewards – and denying fair reward or fulfilling employment to the deskilled middle class. Markovitz attributes the success of Trump and Brexit to this dispossessed middle class. The elite said Trump could not possibly win in 2015, but Trump, “rode, rather than raised the wave of anger,” from a middle class who saw themselves shut out from the future. Trump won his largest share among voters with some college but no degree, who sympathised with Trump’s rejection of expertise. “When these voters heard the bipartisan elite condemn Trump as boorish and unfit for office, they knew that the elite thought the same of them.”

Markovitz suggests that the seeds of ‘Brexit’ are similar. The winners from globalization tend to be the most skilled, who benefit from cross-border economic activity. And the most skilled tend to be from public schools, “Even pop stars are three times more likely to be privately educated than the general population...the only elite among which (public school) graduates are under-represented is the England men’s football team.”

Geographically, Markovitz notes that skilled and professional jobs have increasingly moved away from Northern and Midlands towns, with a corresponding increase in routine jobs. There is a sense of being looked down upon. As with the rise of Trump, the British ‘left-behind’ know something is wrong and look for a remedy.

The Meritocracy Trap by Daniel Markovitz – Penguin 2019 ISBN 978-0-141-98474-2



Bitter Harvest (1963)

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, October 18, 2020 09:40:17
Janet Munro and John Stride in Bitter Harvest

Bitter Harvest stars Janet Munro and John Stride in a compromised adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky. Updated to the 1960’s, the movie tried to have-its-cake-and-eat-it by promising X Certificate Sex in the advertising while downplaying the grittiness of Hamilton’s novel. It would be 40 years before the BBC could mount a more faithful adaptation.

Bryan Dick and Zoe Tapper in 20,000 Streets Under The Sky

However, the story behind Bitter Harvest is a fascinating one – a story of passion, betrayal and thwarted ambition. You can read more about it here.



UFO Annual 1972

Uncategorised Posted on Mon, September 28, 2020 00:32:17
The UFO Annual 1972

As Personal Assistant to Commander Straker of SHADO and guardian of his cover as head of the Harlington-Straker Film Studios, I am always alert to potential security breaches.

I recently became aware of something called The UFO Annual 1972. Alarm bells rang immediately because until now there has only been one UFO Annual. Published in September 1970 by Polystyle publications to coincide with the first broadcast of UFO, it was re-released the following year to cater for regions like Yorkshire and London which didn’t screen the series until 1971.

When I got hold of a copy of the new publication, I was relieved to see that it is actually produced by Fanderson, the official Gerry and Sylvia Anderson Appreciation Society. It’s a very convincing pastiche of the annual Polystyle might have published back in 1971. It has eighty-four pages, packed with colour photos and features. There are background interviews with Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and Ed Bishop. There are also detailed features in which SHADO operatives explain how our organisation works. These are balanced out with two text fiction stories, profusely illustrated with stills from the TV show.

I do recall that one of the disappointments expressed by readers of the original UFO Annual was the lack of TV21 style cutaways – and Fanderson has responded to this by including three cutaways by Graham Bleathman – the Markers Universal Transporter, the Lunar Module, and the Interceptor Launch Silo’s. This last cutaway answers a lot of questions that were raised 50 years ago about what happens after the Interceptor Pilots jump into their launch chutes.

Because UFO was set in a future that is now our past, there is also a very useful article looking forward to the technical and political developments that might have been expected for the 1980’s. This puts the whole project in context. It’s a piece of guesswork – what might have been – but no-one can deny that it will be very collectible in its own right. Unfortunately, under the terms of their license with ITC, Fanderson can only sell their products to club members. But you can find out how to join here at https://fanderson.org.uk/



A Kind of Magic – making the original Highlander

Uncategorised Posted on Thu, September 24, 2020 17:08:05

Jonathan Melville’s A Kind of Magic covers the making of the 1986 movie Highlander, from the moment fireman Gregory Widen developed his UCLA screenwriting project ‘Shadow Clan’ to actor Clancy Brown’s return to Scotland for the screening of a 30th anniversary restoration at the Edinburgh Film Festival.

Melville’s book is an entertaining mirror image of the Highlander myth. In the movies and TV shows, the Immortals battle each other, the victor taking his opponents’ head and absorbing their knowledge and experience in a mystic quickening until in the end there can be only one. In real life, Highlander won the prize through collaboration, as an army of creatives brought their expertise and understanding to a common cause.

Screenwriting is about working with others,” Widen’s UCLA teacher advises in the chapter where screenwriters Peter Bellwood and Larry Ferguson explain how they put detail on Gregory Widen’s original draft. Melville outlines that first script of Widen’s which impressed enough to win him an agent and a cash offer from producers Peter Davis and William Panzer. And then he shows what Bellwood and Ferguson added. In a way, it’s a little unfair because we’re looking back at the creation of something we’re already familiar with. Favourites like The Kurgan…The Quickening…There Can Be Only One..come from Bellwood and Ferguson, but it’s building on the concepts Widen has created out of thin air. It’s as if Widen is a sculptor who has created the body of Connor Macleod, and Bellwood and Ferguson are tailors who have created a magnificent costume for him.

The book is written with the pace of a thriller. For a film with an epic span of time and place it’s incredible just how little time it took to get the film to completion. Three days of Sean Connery’s expensive time (expanded to five to do it all again after a camera failure). Fight scenes begun in London and finished in New York. Sometimes – as in the make-up for Macleod’s aging wife played by Beatie Edney – it doesn’t going according to plan. There’s always an ongoing battle to shave time from the schedule and money from the budget. “Can we put subtitles, ” prosthetic designer Nick Maley asks, “I know this isn’t very good but they only gave me three weeks.” And yet, when the completed sequence (with some re-shooting) is screened for Queen it moves Brian May to the extent that he composes Who Wants To Live Forever on the car journey home, singing it into a small tape recorder. “It was the most uncanny thing. It doesn’t happen often in your life.”

At over 300 pages, this is literally Everything You Wanted To Know About Highlander But Were Afraid To Ask. An epic with a cast of thousands. Not just the stars, but the people who were there on the ground winning unique insights. Like Campbell Muirhead, who took on the job of stand-in for Christopher Lambert without knowing who he was (“..about 2.30 in the morning it suddenly dawned on me..”), and make up supervisor Lois Burwell (“Not everyone can say they got rescued..by Sean Connery.”)

A Kind Of Magic: Making The Original Highlander by Jonathan Melville. Polaris Publishing Ltd, September 2020. RRP £16.99 ISBN 9781913538057 For more details go to http://www.polarispublishing.com/book/a-kind-of-magic



Looker (1981)

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, September 20, 2020 17:37:08

Sometimes it seems like a movie has to wait for its time to come – and for Looker (1981) that moment is now. Industrialist James Coburn explains that it’s the politicians who cause all the trouble – “Multinationals want peace and stability. Governments are recklessly out of control.” It’s up to private industry to save society.

In Looker, Albert Finney plays plastic surgeon Larry Roberts. Four of his actress patients have come to him with a shopping list of minor adjustments to their bodies, and when they start dying in mysterious circumstances, Larry has to protect the survivor Cindy Fairmont (Susan Dey – The Partridge Family, LA Law) and convince the police that he’s not killing off his patients.

Written and directed by Michael Crichton, (Westworld, Coma) the movie is a lighthearted thriller in the vein of North By Northwest which deals with concepts that seemed like science fiction in 1981 and seem like science fact now. On initial release, Variety called the movie, “silly and unconvincing”, partly due to the choices made in the original edit. The Blu-Ray currently available from Warner has a deleted scene in the extras which was apparently added to the TV cut, and which makes the plot clearer (while hinting that additional material might have been cut from the cinema version).

Finney discovers that the millimeter-accurate list of plastic surgery corrections have been provided by a firm called Digital Matrix which is involved with the production of TV adverts. Their next step is to ask Cindy to submit to a computer scanner in exchange for a lucrative lifetime contract. The scanner is the size of an electricity sub-station and Cindy has to descend naked on an illuminated platform in the roof. Once inside, the computer scanning effects are a combination of trick lighting and animation, as a digital copy of Cindy is created to serve the company.

When Finney uses a stolen electronic pass to visit Digital Matrix at night, he discovers that the firm has developed a light gun which can both create the illusion of invisibility and put victims into a trance so that an hour can pass in the blink of an eye. The scene in which Finney flicks through the technical manual describing the gun shows just how long ago the movie was made. Today, you’d be able to buy both the gun and the manual as part of the merchandising, whereas in 1981 the camera skims over the detailed schematics in seconds.

The ability to create the illusion of invisibility points to some of the inconsistency detected by critics. The fact that the gun can ‘freeze’ its victims explains some of the early plot points but would make the later extended fight and chase scenes impossible. If you’re in a trance, there’s no way you can resist your assailant.

Albert Finney in Michael Crichton’s tribute to Poe

When I first saw Looker on TV (11 September 1990) I remember I wasn’t paying attention at first and thought during the title sequence that it was a TV movie – the photography has that smeary pastel 1980’s look, combined with a minimalist electronic score. It was only when I realised that Albert Finney was in it that I knew it couldn’t be a TV movie.

Once the titles have finished the movie kicks off with an intriguing, eerie, hallucinatory scene which grabs the attention. Crichton notes in the commentary that he had to keep slowing up the pace of these scenes so that audiences could grasp what was going on. Ironically, one of the themes of the film is that by 1980 audiences were willingly giving their attention up to adverts. Crichton compares the punishment of being forced to sit in a prison cell for most of the day as punishment, with audiences willingly shutting themselves in with a a box for entertainment. In the commentary (which seems to have been recorded in 2006) Crichton notes that audiences could use a Tivo to skip TV adverts. But of course, things have moved on in 15 years and we are subjected to a wider range of adverts and clickbait on our laptops and phones. And during lockdown in 2020 much of the population has alternated between Working From Home and being entertained on the same devices.

As noted, there is an intriguing ‘deleted scene’ on the Blu-Ray which appears to have been reinstated for the TV version of the movie. This is a welcome addition, making clear how James Coburn’s conglomerate intends to use the digital technology to put a President in the White House! But comments made in this scene about the detective played by Dorian Harewood, lead to the suspicion that there are further scenes missing. Finney says he has passed one of the light guns on to Harewood, but there is no point in the existing movie where Finney could have done that. In fact, in the existing cut Harewood seems to be aware that Finney has been set up. Could there be an expanded Looker at some time in the future? Who knows.



And this is me….

Uncategorised Posted on Fri, September 11, 2020 18:25:10
Harry Dobermann

In an attempt to bring a little order to the website, I’ve created a separate index to the non-Patrick Wymark related items (book/film/TV reviews) which you can find at this link



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