A Fish Called Wanda is great fun. It opens with a title sequence where each character is introduced with the actor’s name on screen – a habit I sometimes wish other films would follow – it makes it much easier to identify them.
The opening music, by Python musical stalwart John Du Prez, is so emblematic of British films of the 70s and 80s. Opening with a fanfare over a shot of Tower Bridge, and John Cleese summing up in court, and switching to a heavy drum-beat ‘crime’ theme for Jamie Lee Curtis which evokes The Sweeney, The Professionals and A Long Good Friday. It’s as if they’ve distilled the essence of 70s crime movies.
Wanda is a very funny film. Cleese does a good job playing the fairly straight hero, possibly as an attempt to distance himself from Basil Fawlty. The main beneficiary of this choice is Kevin Kline, who gets to play the manic Otto, a superb blend of charm and lunacy. He deservedly defied convention when he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, since comedy performances are often overlooked by awards.
A tape full of Soap. But it starts with a pop video, on a show called Raw Power with Phil Alexander and Ann Kirk.
Then, an ITN news bulletin, leading with the news that Margaret Thatcher is to leave the House of Commons at the next election. “She hinted she would like a seat in the Lords.”
Then, we have another episode of Soap. Corinne’s son is possessed, Billy is in love with a member of a strange religious cult, and Burt has seen a UFO. Par for the course.
Before the next episode, another ITN Bulletin, leading with the missing billions from BCCI bank in Luxembourg.
The next episode is the one where Burt is kidnapped by aliens.
Before the next episode, more from Raw Power.
And again, before the next episode. Some forgettable hair band singing “Your Love is like a building on fire” ad nauseam.
Next episode – also preceded by Raw Power. They’re playing a top ten, and now I understand why I don’t recognise any of the bands – this is a dedicated heavy metal music show. What’s very odd is that almost every video is monochrome.
After the final episode, recording continues with Pro Beach Volleyball. There’s five minutes of this before the tape runs out.
Following Films of the Year, recording switches to Channel 4, and a recording not labelled on the tape – The Saw Doctors – Sing a Powerful Song. The Saw Doctors were an Irish band, from Tuam in County Galway, and I heard some of their music on family holidays. They were huge in Ireland, but I don’t think they made as big an impression in the UK. Lots of folky, singalong songs with loads of Irish references.
After the programme, there’s half a trailer for thirtysomething, then the recording finishes.
This is immediately followed by a Moviedrome presentation of Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild.
When I first saw Something Wild I didn’t like it, and for a reason that might be very specific to me. At the start of the movie, Jeff Daniel meets Melanie Griffiths when she catches him walking out of a diner without paying his bill. Then, in short order, Daniel (married with kids, good, traditional job) goes for a ride with her, and ends up in a motel with her, lying to his boss about why he won’t be back that afternoon. Then he phones his wife, making some excuse about why he might not be back that night.
The story gets very wacky after this, but I’d already taken against it, because of his betrayal of his wife. I don’t know why, but men cheating on their wives really bothers me in movies. It happens all the time (hell, it’s even the core of the plot in some movies, *cough* Fatal Attraction *cough*) but it always bothers me. When I watched this movie first time, at this point I had already decided I didn’t like Jeff Daniel’s character because of this, and consequently had trouble enjoying the rest of the movie.
Which is a pity (for me) because towards the end of the movie, we learn that his home life is somewhat different than we had been led to believe, and throws his behaviour at the start of the movie into clear perspective.
In a way, I felt a bit cheated by the filmmakers – I had sat through the movie, disliking their main character for a completely spurious reason, when I could have just had fun following the increasingly bizarre situations he found himself in. But I realise the problem is mine for having such old-fashioned views on fidelity. Looked at now, the film is a lot more enjoyable.
There’s an interesting aspect to this tape (for me). I clearly taped it twice, possibly because the first showing had poor reception, but a fragment of the introduction to the first episode is still there, before the second recording appears, and the two different continuity announcers are clearly using the same script, warning about ‘strong words’ – and no wonder, since it opens with Michael Murray and his entourage jogging, and chanting ‘Fuck that Lenin, Fuck that Marx, Fuck the Workers, Fuck the Bosses’ etc. Definitely post-watershed material.
The first episode here is “Send a Message to Michael”. Tom Georgeson’s shadowy advisor to the left-wing ideologue Melvyn is revealed as an agent provocateur, inciting racial tensions by sending thugs to beat up black and asian men, and leaving police warrant cards near the scene. Seems like the most clumsy frame-up, but this show is nothing if not broad strokes.
After the programme, a trailer for Without Walls. Then, this recording ends, and reveals underneath the same episode, coming to an end, so I had probably recorded over it in order to remove the ad breaks (sorry to anyone who reads these for the advert listings).
After this other programme, recording switches to Right to Reply, Channel 4’s viewer feedback show, hosted by a very serious looking Rory McGrath. This episode, not coincidentally, looks at GBH, and features Derek Hatton, the former deputy leader of Liverpool City Council, who believed that GBH was a personal attack on him.
But before that, they put the boot into Paul Morley and his programme The Thing Is…. It’s not kind.
“And one more thing. Always keep your bottom in shot. After all, how else is the sound recordist going to hear you speak.”
There’s some impressive facial hair from Richard Leighton, complaining about a programme about the M11 link road.
Then, the meat of the show. Derek Hatton face the producer of GBH and complains that people believe it’s based on him and the events at Liverpool council in the 80s. It’s worth seeing if you’ve enjoyed GBH.
I don’t think the producer does a very good job of putting his case. Hatton makes a far better case that the fiction is barely disguised fact. I don’t know if Bleasdale has spoken since about the origins of GBH but I’d be amazed if it didn’t have its roots in Hatton’s council.
After this programme, another recording switch. There’s the tail end of a programme apparently called PoW – a regional TV round-up from Yorkshire TV.
Then, we have an episode of Soap. “We begin this episode shortly after Burt has found out he’s going to die.” It’s with episodes like this that the great sitcoms show themselves. Richard Mulligan gives a great performance.
It’s followed by an ITN bulletin. Then, an ITN World News programme. The lead story is the confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court. There’s also a strange report on barcodes – still relatively new at this time.
They even throw in The Terminator just to make it more scary.
The recording ends after this bulletin.
Air Power – 4 video set about fast planes
American Express – Chris Barrie voices a pompous commercial. “I only knew two words of Hungarian: American Express.”
The next episode starts with the almost ubiquitous Poker game. Geordie, Data, Riker, O’Brien and Pulaski play. Perhaps I was wrong about Klingons. I find Poker to be even more boring than Klingon honor.
Nice to see some of the old models from the movies getting reused.
Picard meets an old flame/nemesis n the space station, so you know she’s going to play a major part in the plot. This episode is The Measure of the Man, one of the best episodes of the second season (although that’s not necessarily high praise).
A Starfleet officer wants to disassemble Data so he can better understand the technology, since Data’s creator died some time ago. Data, and the rest of the command crew, mistrust his competence and grasp of the technology, and have to try to assert Data’s right to refuse to submit to the procedure.
Data is transferred to the command of the officer, Maddox, so his only option is to resign from Starfleet.
Maddox is a bit of a dick. When Picard talks about Data’s right not to submit, Maddox says “Rights, rights, I’m sick to death of hearing about rights. What about my right not to have my life’s work subverted by blind ignorance?” He sounds like he’s be right at home on the internet.
Maddox won’t let Data resign, and claims that he’s the property of Starfleet, and has no rights. Picard has to defend his right to be treated as a sentient being, and Riker, as the next ranking officer, has to represent the case against. Riker goes first, and makes a compelling case that Data is merely a machine that mimics the appearance of sentience. His presentation culminates in him switching Data off.
The next scene is the heart of this episode. It is a scene between Picard and Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg in a recurring role as the Enterprise’s wise bartender and old friend of Picard). It’s a beautifully written and delicately played scene, as they talk about the implications of judging Data as property, and then, of making more of him. “You don’t have to think about their welfare, you don’t think about how they feel. Whole generations of disposable people.”
Picard’s defense of Data is no less brilliant. The casting of Patrick Stewart in the role pays off in spades, but the writing is also top-notch. In many ways it’s a superb example of what Star Trek is specially good at – taking philosophical questions with contemporary relevance and examining them through a science fiction metaphor. It’s always better when it’s about people.
The next episode isn’t quite as much of a classic. It’s The Dauphin, in which a young girl Salia, the future ruler of a planet, and her governess, join the Enterprise so she can return to her planet and (it is hoped) bring peace to a long warring planet. Her governess seems to be a shapeshifter, occasionally becoming some kind of ewok.
However, she’s distracted from her noble purpose because she met Ensign Wesley in a corridor, and now he’s all she can think about. And the same is true of Wesley.
Yes, Wesley’s in love, so we have scenes of Wesley asking the crew how he should approach the girl, and he gets advice with varying levels of cringe.
And her governess is roaming the ship looking for threats against her charge. She discovers a sick man in sickbay, determines there’s a miniscule chance of infection, so demands he is killed. When Doctor Pulaski demurs, she goes crazy-mad-humongous ewok.
And it also turns out Salia is also a shapeshifter. Wesley is upset at first, but in the end he must still be in love, because he brings her chocolate to say goodbye. She changes into her true form before transporting to her planet.
The opening shot of Used Cars should be a big clue to the director of this movie. It starts out on the windshield of an old car, pulls away and drops down to reveal that car is mounted high up as part of a display in a dusty used car lot. The camera cranes down and forward towards another used car, this one at ground level. We can see someone on his back, with his head under the dashboard doing something. The camera tracks slowly closer and closer to the car, and the man, as he reaches up for different tools in order to fix something. Closer and closer in one smooth track until we’re on an extreme closeup of the car’s mileometer, then suddenly the mileage numbers spin round to a much lower figure.
Used Cars was written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, produced by Gale and directed by Zemeckis, and that first shot was a prototypical example of the kind of shot Zemeckis loves to put in his movies. On one of the commentaries on Contact, the Special Effects supervisor called this kind of shot a ‘blorf’ shot. By that time, Zemeckis could call upon some very sophisticated effects techniques to create continuous shots which would be impossible to shoot practically – in one famous shot the young Ellie runs up the stairs, along her landing to the bathroom, then reaches out to open the medicine cabinet, at which point the shot suddenly (and seamlessly) becomes the reflection in the cabinet.
Used Cars doesn’t have that kind of technology available to it, but even with a traditional crane, Zemeckis is clearly in love with using the moving camera to tell his story.
Used Cars tells the story of a not-very-successful used car lot. Kurt Russell is the head salesman, who has ambitions to run for US Senate, but needs to raise money quickly. Jack warden plays two brothers, one who own’s Russell’s car lot, an affable chap with a heart condition, and the other, rather more malevolent one who owns the competing car lot across the street, and wants to get his hands on his brother’s business so the county can build a freeway exit straight to his door.
Cue a lot of schemes, shenanigans and complications, especially when Nice Warden’s long lost daughter turns up. There’s a surprising amount of gratuitous female nudity, though perhaps not surprising given the time.
It’s still a bit frenetic – echoes of Zemeckis & Gale’s screenplay for Spielberg’s 1941, but the plot is more controlled. It’s a solid farce, with some nice touches. Russell needs a lot of money to run for Senate, not to pay off a gambling debt or something else. And the climax pays off multiple tiny plot points seeded throughout the film.
After the movie, a trailer for Brubaker. After the ads, a trailer for Selling Hitler.
Then, ITV Night Time starts with an ITN bulletin, leading with Ethiopian rebels. Then, Sportsworld Extra, with football and boxing.
Following this, a trailer for an Imedla Staunton sit-com Up The Garden Path. Then, another ITN bulletin, leading with an Austrian 747 which exploded over Thailand.
Then, the beginning of Stella Dallas starring Barbara Stanwyck. About 5 minutes in, the tape ends.
Boots Natural Collection
Shredded Wheat – Brian Clough
Pilot V5 pen
Hamlet – shamelessly stealing Del-Boy’s falling through the bar stunt
Here’s the original 1958 version of The Fly, starring David Hedison (who’s credited as ‘Al Hedison’ here for some reason) and Vincent Price.
The screenplay was by James Clavell, the same one who writes huge epic historical novels like Shogun.
It’s made in Cinemascope, but the BBC show it heavily Pan&Scanned, with some egregious squashing of the 20th Century Fox logo.
And, as if to add insult to injury, they also squash up the CinemaScope title card.
It has a brilliant opening – as long as you don’t mind the ‘start at the end, then flash back’ trope.
In a French factory, the nightwatchman is doing his rounds when he hears machinery being operated. He flips on the lights in the factory to see what’s happening, and sees a woman at a press of some kind, who runs off on being discovered.
When the man looks more closely at the press, he makes a grisly discovery…
Although the horror of the scene is immediately undercut by the actor’s reaction.
Strangely, he’s not screaming – perhaps they forgot to add the scream sound effect.
The film is set in France, for no appreciable reason (except for the source material, I presume). I can’t see any narrative reason it had to be set in France, and virtually everyone has American accents (although some give the impression they’re hinting at a gallic twang).
There’s very little menace here. And the directorial choices are strange. The key accident that causes the man/fly mix-up takes place offstage. Hedison spends most of his time with a black cloth over his head, in order not to alarm his wife, and the cast seem to spend an inordinate amount of time searching for the fly with the white head. A very dull amount of time.
Also, this film uses that tiredest of SF tropes – “There are things man should never experiment with.” Many of the classic SF and horror films take this as a theme, which really annoys me, as I’m firmly in the “It would probably have all been great if that one unlucky accident hadn’t happened.”
It’s fully 70 minutes into this 90 minute film before we get to see Hedison in his full glory.
Now, this isn’t terrible. It looks like the head of a fly, sort of. But dumped on the otherwise mostly normal human body, it’ll always look a bit silly. You can see why Cronenberg went for a more gradual genetic transformation in his version, despite that being almost as scientifically ludicrous.
Hedison’s fight against his fly half is occasionally reminiscent of Peter Sellers’ Doctor Strangelove’s involuntary nazi salute, which adds an unintentionally absurd note to what should be moving or dramatic.
And, of course, there’s that shocking ending, where the fly with the white head is finally discovered, trapped in a web with a spider advancing on it.
Both Vincent Price, as Hedison’s brother, and the police detective investigating Mrs Hedison’s story, watch as the spider draws closer and closer until it finally attacks the poor manfly. Neither think to stop the spider, and then the policeman crushes both with a big rock. So now the policeman is equally culpable for Hedison’s death, and the men in white coats can leave without taking Mrs Hedison away.
After the movie, a very boring trailer for Paramount City which consists only of text flashing on a bright coloured background. Then a look ahead at Saturday’s programmes, then BBC1 closes down, complete with the National Anthem. There’s nothing else on the tape.
After a brief sojourn on the edge of the federation with Deep Space Nine, we’re back to the one true ship, with Star Trek The Next Generation.
The first episode doesn’t start well (for me). Worf and Riker are fighting for their lives in some strange environment, being attacked by various random aliens. it turns out it’s Worf’s Calisthenics program on the holodeck. More Klingon bollocks.
This episode is Where Silence Has Lease and it’s written by Jack B Sowards, who has ‘screenplay by’ credit for Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan, but whose screenplay was reportedly heavily rewritten by director Nicholas Meyer.
The Enterprise is approaching a mysterious empty section of space where nothing exists, no matter or energy. They enter it, and are unable to leave. They are plagued by various illusions, like enemy ships, friendly ships devoid of crew. Given that this is Season 2, with Roddenberry still partly in charge, how much do you want to bet it’s an omnipotent space being running experiments on the crew?
Yup, and to their credit, the crew work it out for themselves. When the lifeform is revealed, its clear his true representation is taxing the state of TV special effects to its very limit.
He goes through a namecheck of crewmembers on the bridge. Data. Picard. Riker. Geordie. Haskell.
Uh oh. Let’s do the checklist.
Bridge crew member we’ve never seen before? CHECK
Bridge crew member named in dialogue? CHECK
Red shirt? CHECK!
I think we all know what’s coming. After a brief moment where he makes Doctor Pulaski pirouette unconvincingly across the bridge because the idea of male and female confuses him, he muses on the mystery of why they have a limited lifespan. Now, let’s leave aside why an omnipotent being of pure mental energy (or whatever he is) doesn’t understand how regular life works, despite presumably having lived for eons. But even given his curiosity, of course he has to demonstrate the process to the bridge crew. Sorry, Haskell.
I guess we’re lucky Ensign Crusher wasn’t sitting at that station for this shift, despite him having been there moments earlier.
But, it seems this demonstration wasn’t enough for the alien (whose name is Nagila). He wants to run a few tests on different ways of dying, and it’ll only take about a third of the crew.
Picard takes the only action left available to him, and orders the destruction of the ship. Ensign Crusher is back at the helm all of a sudden. After a pathetic attempt to persuade Picard to stop the destruction by pretending to be Troi and Data, Nagila releases the ship from the void, and the countdown to destruction is halted with seconds to spare (of course).
As the episode ends, let’s have a shout-out to Charles Douglass who played the ill-fated Haskell. We thank you for your service and your sacrifice.
Next episode is Elementary, Dear Data. One of the few outstanding episodes of Season 2, Data and Geordi play at being Holmes and Watson on the holodeck, but Geordi is bored because Data knows the solution to every Holmes story in the canon. So he immediately knows how the story will go before it starts. Doctor Pulaski seems to hate Data, and says he can never have true inspiration, so Geordi asks the computer to create a mystery, and a foe who can defeat Holmes.
In doing so, it gives the holodeck Professor Moriarty sentience, and he kidnaps Doctor Pulaski, giving Data a true mystery to solve. They soon meet, and Data realises Moriarty is aware of the existence of the Enterprise, meaning Pulaski is in real danger. Even Picard and Worf have to suit up and join the game.
In the end, Moriarty accepts that he can’t leave the holodeck, and agrees to be saved into the ship’s comuter memory, until someone can figure out a way of letting him exist outside the holodeck.
If I’m not imagining things, when the true mystery gets going, the music quotes a theme from Young Sherlock Holmes.
The third episode on the tape is The Outrageous Okona, which always annoyed me, as I think his name should be spelled ‘O’Connor’.
My recollection of this is that I didn’t think much of it, but I couldn’t remember why until the credit ‘And Featuring Joe Piscopo as the Comic’ appeared.
Okona is ‘a rogue’, which you know not only because Troi read out his character description at the start of the episode, but also because he flirts with everyone he meets, accompanied by twinkly music. Chief O’Brien isn’t on duty, and in his place is a young Teri Hatcher, who is immediately hit upon.
Between the cringy ‘Data learning about humour’ story and Okona’s soap opera antics between two low-tech planets, this is a pretty woeful episode. Why did Star Trek insist on using contemporary references? Piscopo makes a joke about Tip O’Neill – not only a reference with a very short half-life, but also meaningless to anyone outside the US. It did this all the time, and these are the moments it really feels dated.