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Some of the best articles on the blog. Typically, these have a picture. It's a low entrance requirement, I know.


September 3, 2010

Weird old title sequences: The Prisoner (1967-1968)

Posted on September 3, 2010 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

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Number 6: Where am I?
Number 2: In the Village.
Number 6: What do you want?
Number 2: Information.
Number 6: Whose side are you on?
Number 2: That would be telling. We want information… information… information
Number 6 : You won't get it!
Number 2: By hook or by crook we will.
Number 6: Who are you?
Number 2: The new Number 2.
Number 6: Who is Number 1?
Number 2: You are Number 6.
Number 6: I AM NOT A NUMBER, I AM A FREE MAN!
Number 2: (LAUGHS)

A title sequence can serve many functions. Generally, it's there to give the viewer a flavour of the show: is it action-packed, a comedy, a romance, a drama? It might also be there to introduce the cast.

In olden days - far less than nowadays - it also used tell the story of the show so that viewers could know the format of the show and the backstory, so they could drop in at any point, even if they had missed the first episode.

The Prisoner, one of the most famous and influential TV shows of the 60s and possibly ever, actually used its equally iconic title sequence in place of a first episode. Which you have to admit is weird.

In The Prisoner, a secret agent with no name but who looks and acts suspiciously like John Drake of the earlier international blockbuster TV show Danger Man (Secret Agent in the US) resigns his job. We don't know why - although we do see him do it in the title sequence - and he heads off home. While he's packing his bag for what looks like a holiday, he's gassed through his front door's keyhole by a mysterious man in a hearse.

He falls unconscious and when he wakes up, he's in The Village, an Italianate paradise filled with people who only have numbers. They're all spies and government employees who quit their jobs but whose knowledge was too important to have running around free on the outside, so were brought to The Village to keep their secrets secret.

Bizarre idea concocted by writers? No, it actually happened during World War 2.

Number 6 - as our hero is called in The Village - wants to escape. The people who run The Village - presumably Number 1 but also his deputy, Number 2, who's played each episode by a different, usually very awesome actor such as Peter Wyngarde, Mary Morris or Leo McKern - want to know why Number 6 resigned and they're going to stop him leaving, sometimes using a giant white ball called Rover that emerges from the sea, until he tells them.

For 17 episodes it's a never-ending chess match between the two sides, with 6 using his brains and brawn to fight for his freedom, while the state tries to stop him.

See what happened there? I made the sub-text text. The Prisoner, you see, as well as being marvellous entertainment, is one of the most profound looks at the relationship between the individual and society that British TV has ever produced. Should we be happy to be just numbers and subvert our individuality for the common good, or should the state allow the individual to do as he or she wishes - even if it's to the detriment of others?

It's all good, but The Prisoner has many standout episodes:

  • Free For All: in which Number 6 decides to stand for election as Number 2 and is subverted by the process in a metaphor for politics and the media
  • Schizoid Man: in which a double of Number 6 turns up, claiming to be the real thing. Trouble is everyone thinks the real Number 6 is Number 12 and that he's been hired to make Number 6 doubt himself - which since "Number 6" is a better version of himself than he is, gives 6 a few identity problems of his own
  • The General: a new technology is invented that can imprint knowledge into people's minds through television - a whole degree in just a few minutes. But does it turn out educated people or just drones who can regurgitate facts?
  • Checkmate: Number 6 concocts his most impressive escape plan yet, using the natural arrogance of the guards against them. But an ironic twist spoils everything.
  • Hammer Into Anvil: When another prisoner kills herself thanks to the cruelty of Number 2, Number 6 organises a campaign to make him think he's being undermined by his own staff
  • A Change of Mind: Number 6 is ostracised by the Village
  • The Girl Who Was Death: A left over Danger Man script
  • Fall Out: Number 6 escapes, but finds that society is the real prison, and the Village is everywhere.

That final episode proved to be so complex - and mental - that writer/producer/director/star Patrick McGoohan actually faced death threats and had to leave the country (beat that Lost). But the show has remained engrained on the collective TV mind ever since, with remakes threatened every five minutes (AMC and ITV made one last year and it was pants) and homages in everything from The Simpsons to The Tube. It's certainly left a legacy of catchphrases, some of them oppressive in their Orwellian simplicity:

  • "Be seeing you"
  • "Beautiful day"
  • "Questions are a burden for others, answers are a prisoner for oneself"
  • "Unmutual!"
  • "A still tongue makes for a happy life"
  • "I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own."

And, of course: "I am not a number. I am a free man" - which was always greeted with laughter and only ever appeared in that weird old title sequence:

After the jump, a couple of clips from the remastered Blu-Ray version of the series, including a great scene from my favourite episode, the metaphor-rich, extremely clever, Checkmate. But they all look gorgeous, I have to say.

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September 2, 2010

Review: Rubicon - 1x1-1x6

Posted on September 2, 2010 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

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In the US: Sundays, 9pm/8c, AMC
In the UK: Acquired by BBC4

It used to be that you could rely on AMC for one thing: movies. That's what AMC used to stand for - American Movie Classics. But after it changed its name to AMC in 2003, before you knew it, it could be relied on for another thing: re-runs of The Sopranos.

Mad Men changed all that. Suddenly, AMC was in the business of making TV drama. Excellent TV drama. Slow, excellent TV drama that takes a long time to develop and in which not much happens for a long time.

Then came Breaking Bad, a slow, excellent TV drama that took a long time to develop and in which not much happened for a long time, and The Prisoner, a slow bad TV drama that took a long time to develop and in which not much happened for a long time.

Rubicon, AMC's latest TV drama, is a conspiracy theory show set in the world of American spies that echoes movies like Three Days of the Condor, Parallax View and The Conversation. It stars James Badge Dale (24, The Pacific) as an analyst who begins to see crossword clues take on greater significance - and Miranda Richardson, whose husband commits suicide after he receives a four-leafed clover.

Anyone want to guess what it's like? I'll give you a clue - you'll have to wait until episode five before you're even going to get a hint at what's going on… and it gets good.

Here's a trailer.

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July 30, 2010

Weird old title sequences: Man From Atlantis (1977)

Posted on July 30, 2010 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Man From Atlantis

Back in the 70s, Doctor Who was a ratings juggernaut. If you were ITV, you aired a show opposite it at your own risk, knowing it probably wouldn't survive the ordeal. But some shows did survive and even beat Who in the ratings. Ask many a Whoer, and they'll know that Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was one of those victors, but few realise that Man From Atlantis, a short-lived show that did badly in its native US, actually beat Doctor Who on several occasions.

Could it be a fit man without many clothes on was the reason? If Doctor Who was for the dads, then what were mums watching…?

Man From Atlantis saw Patrick Duffy - best known now as Bobby Ewing in Dallas, in which his character cheated death by revealing an entire season of the show was just a dream - as "Mark Harris", an amnesiac who is possibly the last survivor of the lost continent of Atlantis. In the first of four TV movies that launched the series, "Mark" is washed ashore near a naval research base, where he's nursed back to health by Doctor Elizabeth Merrill (Belinda J. Montgomery - best known now as the mom of Dougie Howser in Dougie Howser MD). "Mark" turns out to be able to breathe underwater, withstand extreme depths and has superhuman strength.

Despite the fact Mark's hands and feet are webbed, Merrill isn't put off and recruits him to join the Foundation For Oceanic Research, a government agency that explores the depths of the ocean in a sophisticated submarine called the Cetacean, doing spy work and fighting aliens - yes, it was that kind of show. There was even some time travel, with Mark going back to the Wild West and Romeo and Juliet's Italy. However, his main enemy is "Mr. Schubert", who in typical Bond villain stylee, has a secret underwater base and plans to take over the world with nuclear missiles, giant jellyfish, melting the polar ice caps - that kind of thing.

Despite the success of the four TV movies, Man From Atlantis only lasted 13 episodes as a TV series - largely because it was pretty dreadful, even by the standards of mid to late 70s US sci-fi. Only the pilot movie has been released on DVD and only in the US. Nevertheless, it was iconic enough that it proved the making of Duffy's career.

Here, though, for your enjoyment is its weird old title sequence, featuring Patrick Duffy without many clothes on, as well as a few clips that show just what a big old pile of pants it was.

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