Month: April 2017

Howards End – tape 1515

This looks like another bit of video piracy, judging by the amount of black screen before the film starts, the lack of any TV idents, and the slightly glitchy quality of the video. I wonder if it’s from the same time I recorded Reservoir Dogs in a hotel?

Howards End always confused me, as I assumed it was based on the Sunday evening BBC serial about yachtmakers.

But no, this is a Merchant Ivory period film about class. Emma Thompson plays Margaret Schlegel, whose younger sister Helen (Helena Bonham Carter) becomes briefly engaged to young Paul Wilcox, whose family owns Howards End. They break it off almost immediately, because the two families aren’t on the same social level.

When the matriarch of the Wilcox family, Ruth, played by Vanessa Redgrave, briefly stays in a flat opposite the Schlegels, Margaret resumes her acquaintance, and Mrs Wilcox is much taken with her (as well she should be, it’s Emma Thompson for heaven’s sake). Margaret tells her that she will soon have to leave her own house, where she has lived since childhood, because the lease runs out in 18 months.

But Ruth is growing ill, and succumbs to her illness.

But she’s written a note, intended to be a will, granting ownership of Howards End to Margaret Schlegel. Hopkins and the rest of the Willcoxes are outraged, and they burn the letter.

Also entering the story is a young man, Leonard Bast (Samuel West) who is a bookkeeper, and rather poorer than the Schlegels. Through a mixup with umbrellas he meets the Schlegels, and they take a shine to him, wanting to help him out. When they meet Mr Wilcox (Hopkins) he gives them the advice that the firm Bast works for is likely to fold before long, so they suggest he finds another post before it happens.

Mr Wilcox has taken a shine to Margaret, and asks her to marry him. His children aren’t happy, especially with the irony that she will, after all, get Howards End herself, as their mother had intended.

Hopkins is truly horrible. On being told that Bast has found another post, at a very reduced salary, he says that his previous employer is actually quite safe now. Young Helen chides him for his poor advice, upset that Bast is now in reduced circumstances because of his advice. Wilcox waves off such sentimentality. “The poor are poor. We feel sorry for them. But there we are.”

At the wedding of Wilcox’s daughter Evie (Jemma Redgrave) Helen Schlegel brings the Basts up from London, having discovered them on the brink of starvation, his new banking position having been downsized.

Things get more embarassing when Mrs Bast recognises Wilcox, having had a fling with him when she was much younger. He’s mortified, and almost breaks off the engagement with Margaret out of shame. But she persuades him it’s in the past.

Helen and Bast become involved, and she then disappears to Europe, losing contact with the family, until she finally returns with the news that she’s pregnant.

The Wilcoxes are the kind of people who demand to know who the father is, so they can sort it out, and when Bast travels to Howards End, where Helen is staying, young Charles Wilcox confronts him, starts beating him with a sword, and drops a bookcase on him. Bast dies, and Charles is convicted of the murder. And the story ends with Mr Wilcox setting his final will, giving Howards End to Margaret on his death, thus she ends up with what she should have had years ago.

This is a fine film, with lots of great performances. Vanessa Redgrave is perfect as the aging matriarch, Emma Thompson is never less than perfect, and Hopkins is born to place these horrendous, puffed up types, consumed with their own importance at the expense of anyone else. I do get frustrated with the appalling lack of humanity of the characters in films like this, but I feel that’s the point of the story. I can’t criticise a film

There’s nothing else on this tape, and definitely no real clues as to the source of this recording. There’s a strange upside down 3 showing faintly in the black that precedes the film, but I’ve no idea what it represents.

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Star Trek – The Next Generation – tape 1505

Back to Sky One for another packed tape of Star Trek The Next Generation.

First up is Aquiel. A landing party visit a space station to find it abandoned. Crusher finds cellular residue, the remains of one of the crew. The only lifeform there is a small dog. We’ve all seen The Thing. Throw it out of the airlock.

The cellular residue matches with the eponymous Aquiel. There was another lieutenant on board, and Aqiel’s logs suggest they didn’t get on, so he’s got to be a prime subspace.

Geordi gets the job of decoding Aquiel’s logs. A seasoned TNG watcher knows what’s coming, and sure enough, as soon as he sees her picture, he goes a bit gooey. Geordi really needs an actual girlfriend.

It’s all a little mysterious. They can’t find the logs of the other lieutenant, and there’s traces of Klingon DNA. But when they contact the Klingons, they are a bit angry at the accusation, and they can prove it – by returning Aquiel to the Enterprise.

Now suspicion falls on Aquiel, and naturally Geordi wants to protect her.

Crusher is still scanning the cellular residue, when suddenly it starts morphing.

It becomes a perfect replica of Crusher’s hand. Again, we’re definitely in Thing territory.

They realise that there’s a shapeshifting creature at large, and it might be Aquiel, or the Klingon who is also suspected of being involved.

But we all know who it really is, and sure enough, the little dog soon turns into an unconvincing amorphous blob, which Geordi has to kill with a phaser.

The next episode is Face of the Enemy which has a killer teaser, as Troi wakes up to find that she’s suddenly a Romulan.

Carolyn Seymour off of Survivors plays the Romulan Captain.

This is a great episode for Troi. Although I note it does basically kick off with someone putting a roofie in her drink and controlling her body without her consent. But she’s remarkably good at the undercover stuff, presumably her empathy being a big help, so I’ll forgive the dubious setup.

The next episode is called Tapestry. Picard has been seriously injured, so he suffers a near death experience. Of course, it’s Q.

Q takes Picard on a trip through his life, so we get to see cool things, like Picard in one of the classic Trek uniforms.

What is it about ‘futuristic’ versions of games like pool, that they have to be clearly much worse than the originals. Look at the state of this, it looks ridiculous.

Q shows Picard what his life would have been like if he hadn’t been stabbed through the heart as a young cadet. He ends up a junior officer on the Enterprise, not outstanding. Of course, he’s horrified.

The moral of this story appears to be that it’s good to be a hot-headed teenager who gets stabbed through the heart because then you get to be captain of a starship. A lesson we should all learn.

The next episode is a crossover with Deep Space Nine, Birthright part 1. There’s a guest appearance from Dr Bashir.

He hooks up with Data to investigate a piece of equipment found in the Gamma Quadrant, but when they apply power, it zaps Data with an energy burst. Data has hallucinations in which he sees his creator, Dr Soong.

Worf is contacted by an alien who tells him his father is alive, held captive in a Romulan prison camp. Of course, this is appalling to Worf, because no Klingon would allow himself to be captured, it would bring dishonour to his whole family, the usual Klingon bollocks.

But he decides to go to find his father. But the Klingons in the camp tell him his father did actually die at Khitomer, and when he tells them he will rescue them, they refuse, because they are too ashamed to leave.

And he has to stay.

Frankly, I’m not surprised they’re ashamed, having to wear such fluffy dressing gowns.

I’m afraid I pretty much zoned out during this two parter, but you already know my antipathy towards Klingon bollocks.

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Spielberg and the Dinosaurs – Over The Rainbow – tape 1504

First on this tape, Spielberg and the Dinosaurs, a behind the scenes look at Jurassic Park.

This was, according to Genome, from 12th July 1993. According to iMDb the film was released on July 16th.

My memory of that time was that, prior to the film’s release, there were very few glimpses of the CGI dinosaurs. So if I’m correct, there won’t be as much footage of the full motion dinosaurs as in the making of we saw a little while ago, which came out after the film’s release.

Sure enough, we see a few things, like the herd of gallimimus, which were in the trailer, but when they play the classic brachiosaurus scene, we get all the reaction shots, but only the barest hint of the dinosaur. But there’s also a small glimpse of the CGI T-Rex, so it’s a bit more than I remember seeing.

For the second time in two days, here’s Michael Crichton.

We also hear from Laura Dern

Sam Neill

The always wonderful Jeff Goldblum

Sir Richard Attenborough (what on earth are they thinking with the drop shadow on the caption here?)

And, naturally, Steven Spielberg

There’s a lovely moment where he talks about Laura Dern’s character not being a screaming heroine, and refers to his wife Kate Capshaw, who screamed “for almost 90 minutes of the two hours of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It was no way to build a character. I thought it was at the time but I was wrong.” Some refreshing honesty from someone so powerful.

BBC Genome: BBC One – 12th July 1993 – 19:00

After this, recording switches to another programme already in progress, a documentary looking at what the problems would be having a real Jurassic Park, as scientists and zookeepers talk about managing large, dangerous animals.

There’s some interviews from the Jurassic Park crew as well, including this one with Steven Spielberg, where you can see Dennis Muren in the background.

This was a Channel 4 production, but there’s no clue what the title was from what I’ve got here. Could have been Equinox. It was followed by the Tour De France, though.

After this, recording switches to LWT, and a programme I had forgotten even existed, Over The Rainbow. It’s a sitcom starring Angeline Ball and Bronagh Gallagher from The Commitments, and written by that movie’s screenwriters, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.

This episode is called Only The Lonely. It’s set in Brighton. Angeline Ball, as Finnoula, lives over the pub, the rainbow of the title. Her husband Neil has just got out of jail, but finds his best mate Spence living in the flat with Finn, and she asks for a divorce.

He’s naturally upset, hints at suicide, then, later, is brought back to the pub soaking wet, having been fished from the water.

Hilarity ensues when we learn, at the end of the episode, that he had jumped into the water to save a little boy who had fallen in. Jokes about suicide. They’re always funny.

Still, it’s good to see Clement and LaFrenais aren’t afraid to present diverse lifestyles. Or perhaps they’re just big Morecambe and Wise fans.

Oh, and just to underline how much this is influenced by The Commitments, the girls are in a pub band.

The next episode is I Write The Songs. Spence and Neil are trying to write songs, but they’re rubbish. Spence is even cribbing lyrics from old albums.

Next it’s Red, Red Wine. I detect a trend in the episode titles.

Selina Cadell makes an appearance as Neil’s probation officer.

Next it’s Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood. The band play at a big country house, and Finn gets a fan letter from the house’s owner, or so she thinks.

When she returns the next morning, the two men in her life are horribly jealous. But his Lordship is a little younger than they thought.

That’s the last episode on this tape. I’ll be honest, it’s an LWT sitcom, with all that usually entails. Sadly, it’s no Hot Metal. It has a very Men Behaving Badly vibe – smart, capable women lumbered with ineffectual, barely sentient blokes – but the leads don’t have the charm of Clunes or Morrissey. And I don’t understand the logic behind deciding to make a sitcom with two of the stars of a huge hit movie, then basically sideline both of them in favour of two utterly anonymous men whom we really don’t care about. This is a waste of both Ball and particularly Gallagher, who gets almost nothing to do. A great disappointment from two usually great writers.

After this, recording continues for a time with Kinnock – The Inside Story. It looks like an interesting programme, but there’s only ten minutes of it. Then the recording ends.

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New Nightmares – Robin Williams – Acting Funny – Metropolis – tape 1517

Another in the short season of New Nightmares documentaries, Nature Says No. It shares a lot of contributors from the last episode, but newly featured here are Greg Bear

Brian Aldiss

Michael Crichton

JG Ballard

James Lovelock, who invented the idea of ‘Gaia’, that the Earth is a single self regulating organism.

It’s nice to see him pour scorn on the people who take his theory to mean that the Earth is some kind of sentient being consciously protecting itself.

Here’s the programme.

After this, recording switches to Cinefile and a profile of Robin Williams. Among those interviewed are Terry Gilliam

Steven Wright

Mark Kermode

Robert Altman

After this, another switch, to Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s expressionist masterpiece, in the semi-restored and completely rescored version by pop supremo Giorgio Moroder.

They destroyed the machines. Yet another Brexit metaphor.

I’m slightly surprised that nobody’s tried to remake Metropolis. There was a West End musical starring Brian Blessed, but nobody’s tried to film it again. Maybe because the story’s a bit creepy – a scientist, obsessed with a woman, creates a sex doll who ends up fomenting violent revolution by the underclass.

After this, recording continues briefly with Showtime at the Apollo, before the tape ends.

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Things Change – tape 1508

On this tape, David Mamet’s Things Change.

Don Ameche plays the poor owner of a shoe-shine stand who is summoned to the house of a gangster, and asked to confess to a murder committed by someone he resembles. He reluctantly agrees.

Mamet favourite Ricky Jay plays the mobster’s right hand man, delivering the expositional dialogue in the way he was born to.

Joe Mantegna works for the mobster, and is on probation. He’s ordered to stick with Ameche over the weekend while the evidence for his ‘guilt’ is prepared. He has to coach him on the details of the murder so his testimony will be convincing to the police.

After some coaching, Mantegna wants to give Ameche a nice time before he goes to prison, so they fly to Lake Tahoe. At the airport, he bumps into another Mamet mainstay William H Macy, a limo driver also affiliated to the mob. Macy jokes with him about being on probation, which annoys Mantegna, so Mantegna pretends he’s on an important job, looking after an important person, and Macy just assumes that Ameche must be an important mobster.

He whisks them to the hotel, where manager JT Walsh, who clearly knows who Macy represents, immediately ushers them up to a huge suite, where they are offered absolutely every indulgence.

Things get a bit tense when Mantegna asks the casino operator if he could arrange for Ameche to win a little, so they open a table that guarantees that number 12 wins, and Mantegna tells him to put a few dollars on it. But then Ameche puts the $1000 that the casino had lent on credit on the same number, winning $35K, and he wants to take the money and buy a car. Mantegna persuades him to bet the money elsewhere, so he bets it on a wheel of fortune, which almost pays out, but doesn’t.

The next day, Ameche is invited to lunch with another local mobster, Robert Prosky. Again, things get tense when Prosky asks for some names of Ameche’s ‘family’ but once again, because all these people speak only in subtext and innuendo, Ameche styles it out and gets a big hug.

But this new found friendship turns dangerous. when Prosky invites him to stay for the evening, when he’s meeting some friends, who turn out to be the Chicago mobsters who set up Ameche at the start.

I liked this. I don’t like movies about gangsters as a rule, but this one plays with the tropes of the genre a bit. At its heart it’s a bittersweet comedy, but it’s serious enough that you never forget the potential violence bubbling under the surface, even though there’s only a single act of violence in the entire movie.

After the movie, recording continues with part of a documentary called Red Empire, looking a post-war developments in the Soviet Union. Recording stops during this programme.

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Count Dracula – tape 1514

Here’s a repeat of the BBC’s adaptation of Dracula, starring Frank Finlay and Louis Jourdan.

I’ve never been particularly gripped by any direct adaptation of Stoker’s novel. Part of the problem is Jonathan Harker, our audience identification character. He’s so bland, I struggle to care, and he’s an estate agent too, so why should I?

It’s not helped here by Harker being played by a Peter Tork lookalike.

I’m amused by the slight temporal connection between this programme, and my earlier tape of my Whitby holiday because, of course, Count Dracula spends some of his time in Whitby when he arrives in England.

Oh god, we’re deep into the ‘let’s play with video effects’ period of TV drama.

“It’s such a lovely evening, why don’t you and Quincy take a stroll along the promenade?”

BBC Genome: BBC Two – 5th April 1993 – 21:00

Part Two follows, and at last we meet Van Helsing, as played by Frank Finlay. I hope things will perk up now.

At least we actually get some vampire slaying action, as Mina’s sister Lucy, seduced by the Count, becomes a vampire herself and has to be finished off in the usual way.

This show really suffers from the late 70s VT production. The sequences shot on film look fine, but the studio VT sequences are trying desperately hard to be moody and atmospheric, but the technology of the age isn’t up to it, so all the dark shots just look muddy. None of this is helped by the limitations of VHS, either.

Van Helsing is a very hospitable vampire hunter. Here he is making cocoa for his team, on a bunsen burner.

This really is tiresome stuff. Frank Finlay is now fending off the Brides of Dracula by drawing a circle in the ground and holding up two halves of a communion wafer.

Mina gets to do some sharpshooting.

To be fair to this adaptation, most of the problems it has come from the source material, but that’s also a fault of adaptation. If there’s not enough incident to fill two long episodes, don’t try, make it shorter, or make up more, interesting stuff to happen.

BBC Genome: BBC Two – 8th April 1993 – 21:00

After this, there’s a trailer for Bookmark: Philip Larkin

Then, a 10×10 film called The Scotch Guard. It’s about geese.

The recording ends during this programme.

New Nightmares – tape 1510

Over to Channel 4 today, and a Without Walls documentary entitled Them! It’s a look at the horrors of overpopulation, and it immediately grabs the attention by having Kurt Vonnegut as an interview subject.

Also interviewed are Martin Amis

John Brunner

Judge Dredd writer Alan Grant

Michael Moorcock

Critic John Carey

No programme about overpopulation would be complete without Harry Harrison, who literally wrote the book on the subject. His Make Room! Make Room! was the basis of the film Soylent Green.

Here’s cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling, sporting a mullet he probably came to regret.

A rather surprising commentator is Ken Livingstone. He doesn’t mention Hitler by name, but he is there comparing Labour’s infamous Sheffield rally, on the eve of the 1992 election, to the Nuremburg rallies, so he’s basically there.

Here’s SF writer Thomas M Disch

Edward Said of Columbia University is particularly accurate in his assessments of how global geopolitics will move. He talks about using fear, to suggest ‘there are barbarians beating at the door’, the indiscriminate use of the word Terrorist, depersonalise the enemy, and the atmosphere of fear that immediately leads you to the ‘great white father’. Although he didn’t predict that America’s great white father would be orange.

He also talks about recent (then) events, with the end of the cold war, the rise in mentions in the American press of Islam, creating a new threat, a new narrative.

Here’s SF author Lisa Tuttle.

It’s a good documentary, if rather depressing.

After this, recording switches to Sky One, for an episode of The Simpsons. Bart and Milhouse go to see Spinal Tap in concert.

After this, the recording stops, and there’s an older recording underneath. It’s Popeye, a film which defies all logic. A live-action Disney musical, directed by indie maverick Robert Altman, with songs by Harry Nilsson. It didn’t set the world alight.

After this, recording continues for a bit with Red Empire on the rise of Stalin.

The tape ends during this programme.

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