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An Error of Incredible Magnitude Spoiled This Movie for Me
As a youngster, I read WOTW and was absolutely enthralled by it. I watched Hines' original movie and reviewed it (not entirely unkindly) on this bulletin board, and in doing so I noted that one of the major flaws of movie versions was to remove the setting of the story from the end of the 19th Century to "the present day" - which was one of the saving graces of Hines' WOTW I - keeping the time and place, in theory at least, of the book. My reasoning was that even as far back as the 1950s, when George Pal filmed the book, modern day man has reached a comfortable acceptance of at least the possibility of life elsewhere than on this planet, but to the average man or women of Wells' day, this idea was totally unthinkable, which, when the modern day reader accepted this, gave rise to an insight into the utter terror that would have been felt when his book was published.
In WOTW II, Hines has done a very interesting piece of mental trickery to convince a modern day movie audience that the fear was more than just a simple fear of death - it was the complete overturning of the fabric on the mind. He keeps the viewer in two disparate worlds, that of the 19th Century, while still being addressed by a citizen of the 1960s. Whilst the method has been used before (eg Little Big Man) of using a participant in the events to relay their story directly to the audience, the device of mixing real footage with "re-enactment" is meritorious in this construct.
I watched the movie quite happily until I was struck by an unbelievable error which completely spoiled the entire movie, and that was the episode of the Torpedo Ram "Thunder Child" failing to destroy any enemy. In the book (and indeed in Hines' previous film) this event was absolutely crucial to whole of the story, and indeed much of Wells other literature. Firstly, this gave the reader a burst of hope (as also in the destruction of Sheperton) by showing that as merciless and technologically advanced as the Martians were, they were nevertheless still capable of being destroyed.
Secondly, in the book the ship destroyed two of the Martian fighting machines, once by ramming, and the second as the ship exploded, in a battle of human machine versus Martian machine - the humans and the Martians were present, but invisible, as the mechanical warfare was fought.
Wells is credited with forecasting aerial warfare, the atomic bomb and armoured fighting vehicles ("The Land Ironclads"). He predicted the outbreak of WWII to within a year ("Shape of Things to Come"). In fact, having re-read "The Land Ironclads" after I finished WOTW II, I was astounded to see that when Wells describes how the "soldiers" in the tanks were killing their infantry opponents, they were within an enclosed space with a projected image of the battlefield, and targeted their victim by the seemingly simple action of using a device like engineers dividers and pushing an electric button. If the shot missed, the operator moved his device, re-aimed and fired again. Sounds remarkably similar to robot warfare of today with operators in remote locations operating drone aircraft to destroy their targets.
So in removing the clash of the mechanical Titans in WOTW II, Hines has completely stripped much of Wells' vision of its power by doing what George Pal did (and presumably other film makers, but I've not watched any other versions) and that was to make the Martians supremely indestructible (except for the Shepperton action), thus removing any semblance of hope. "If only the humans could have worked together just a little bit more ... they just might have brought it off." But alas they stumbled almost within reach of the final goal.
Apart from that one huge failure, I actually enjoyed the movie, modestly, and think it at least as good as WOTW I, and probably better.
The Bed Sitting Room (1969)
After MANY years of anxiously searching high and low, I finally managed to get a copy of the DVD of this unique piece of cinema. I rang a couple of my friends, both keen Milliganians, and lovers of British comedy in general to come and watch it.
Credits list the cast in order of height, as a "dig" at some of the people involved in financing the movie wanting to have tight artistic control (including height of the actors.) Rita Tushingham, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe, Jimmy Edwards, Ralph Richardson, Michael Hordern, Marty Feldman and Arthur Lowe are but a few of this constellation.
I saw this 1969 movie in 1972 or thereabouts in Sydney, 4 weekends running.
It's based on a play by Spike Milligan and John Antrobus, and I've been to several live performances in the interim, as well as having a copy of the stageplay, so I'm thoroughly familiar with it.
The film is directed by Richard Lester who has such films as "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "Hard Day's Night" to his credit.
The opening is rather disorienting, showing a smoke-dimmed sun, flowing lava, stretches of deserted landscape and a close up of the burning face of a child's dolly.
Through the miracle of the BBC, ie a newsreader whose job is to travel to the various locations and read the last available news bulletin via an empty television set we start to uncover the story. His dress is strange, being utter rags except for a tuxedo jacket and bow-tie which ends at mid chest and upper arms. When he kneels behind the TV set, it makes (a little) sense. He appears as a BBC newsreader SHOULD appear.
The story? Britain has been destroyed in the world's shortest war ("nuclear misunderstanding") which lasted about 2 minutes and something seconds, including the signing of the peace treaty (blotted). We hear that the task of burying the 40 million dead is being undertaken (cut to a shot of Spike Milligan and a shovel, digging a hole, with a pile of false teeth beside it. He looks at a set of teeth, and surreptitiously slips it into his coat pocket.) The characters begin to flesh out. A family, Mum, Dad and Daughter Penelope, pregnant 17 months, live in the carriages of an automatic underground train, sustained by efforts of the breadwinner Father, who leaps out of the carriage at each stop with a tomahawk to smash vending machines to get something to eat ("The last bar of chocolate on the Circle line" he says grimly.) Unbeknownst to Mummy and Daddy, Penelope has a boyfriend in the next (smoking) carriage along, and when she pops out for a smoke, it's into the arms of her lover.
Capt Bules-Martin, a doctor, whose proudest possession is a piece of Hovis bread he has had mounted in an ornate ring, takes his office (a shopfront door and window on wheels) around to treat his patients. Lord Fortnum of Alamein is one such patient who eventually discloses that he fears he is turning into a bedsitting room. Bules-Martin ascribes this to atomic mutation. Fortnum asks "What can I take for it?", to which the medic replies "Three guineas rent, and try to keep out of overdrafts." I could analyse this black and anarchic, yet trenchantly funny, movie for hours, delivering gags, but in the end it would be pointless. Again, after nearly 40 years, I found myself being sucked into the upside-down, inside-outness of this story, accepting that it's perfectly okay to ride up on an escalator that ends in mid-air and be dumped down a hole in the ground.
The characters eventually meet at Lord Fortnum, who is now situated at 29 Cul-de-Sac Place, and a rather tacky looking bedsitter he is, sitting forlornly in what remains of Paddington, when he hoped to be in Belgravia, where the rents are higher. Here the darkness which has been shading the edge of the story comes into sharp focus, as the sirens wail and the warning about radioactive gas blowing in on the wind is heard. Until now, nobody (except the BBC) has dared mention the word "bomb", the cause of their predicament, but when one of them finally blurts out "the word" it drives them into hysterical panic, and they run and try to hide, pray to heaven or whoever will listen, as their situation is finally thrust on them.
I'll not spoil the story (if indeed there is one), but it is a very stinging satirical comment on many levels, from the absurd, where a person can become Prime Minister of England because he has an inside leg measurement of 22 inches, to a very modern 21st Century look at what can happen (as done by we humans) to the environment. Watching one of the characters thrashing around in thigh deep glutinous mud trying to get a drink brought to mind an article on a science program on ABC TV a couple of weeks ago which showed 2 people taking samples of the mud from the bed of the dying Murray-Darling rivers system, but having to wear protective gear such as gloves, goggles and rubber overalls, because the mud was nearly as acidic as battery acid, thanks to the plundering of the water by irrigating farmers further upstream.
A very good movie, and whilst I warned both my companions that it was very black, they laughed heartily throughout, but they both agreed that it was surreal but funny.
Special features on the DVD consists of 3 interviews (1967) with Richard Lester, Peter Cook and Spike Milligan. Milligan was a real eye-opener. At one stage he started discussing the possibility of the American dollar collapsing ... and how it could affect the British pound. In light of the global financial crisis, he was very close to the mark in his assessment.
Achingly Beautiful, Fatally Flawed
When this movie was first released about 12 months ago it had only a very limited distribution along the eastern seaboard, and never came out in Perth. I was annoyed with this because many of the reviews had been quite glowing.
SBS TV, after much fanfare, broadcast Night late yesterday evening. I had waited so long to see this, and when it was over I felt rent asunder.
The pluses. The cinematography was, in some places, so good I couldn't credit that I was seeing it and still be awake. Unlike many overseas movies (of all types) I was looking at locations that I had personally visited, or even grown up in, but looking at them through completely fresh eyes. There were very few BADLY shot interludes. Some were pretty bland and perhaps over-long, but only by seconds.
I thought the most spectacular view was the show with the aerial artists floating under "balloons". A dreamscape if ever there was one.
The music an excellent complement for the most part but there were one or two jarring elements.
Now for the negative, and a BIG negative. The totally irritating interviews and voice overs. These ruined the film for me utterly. Some of the comments were downright inane.
It seemed as if the maker was trying to plough two different furrows simultaneously and succeeding in neither. As a documentary, it lacked depth both in any sort of story and interaction with the characters. But as an "art-flick" it was spoiled by the intrusive interviews.
If this movie is ever released onto DVD could the director PLEASE offer an alternative soundtrack WITHOUT the voice overs.
I don't think I could watch this movie again, at least with the sound on, and that means I would miss the music which was so integral to whole experience.
Cannot recommend it in its present form.
The Andromeda Breakthrough (1962)
The Morality of Science Under the Microscope
(See review for "A for Andromeda")
"Breakthrough" continues where A4A leaves off, although with the delightful Susan Hampshire replacing Julie Christie in the title role of Andromeda, an artificially created girl who is a protoplasmic computer.
After John Fleming (Peter Halliday) and Andromeda destroy the computer which, in A4A, is constructed from an intergalactic(?) radio transmission, Andre apparently drowns in a pool on an island off the Scottish coast. Breakthrough opens with the discovery that Andre has not drowned and John escapes with her.
Pursued by the British government, bent on having revenge for destruction of their chance of world domination, and the business cartel "Intel", personified with shaven head, thin lips, rimless glasses and thin cheroot cigars by Herr Kaufmann (played with utterly satisfying, almost pantomime evil by John Hollis), who seem eager to have Fleming for their own obviously nefarious purpose, John and Andre are first of all captured by the British, then Intel, and the story moves swiftly to Azaran, an impoverished Middle Eastern "oil nation" seeking freedom from British Colonialism.
Meanwhile around the world, the weather continues to deteriorate and whole populations die or are displaced as wild storms rage.
John is horrified to discover 3 things. (1) Andromeda seems to be physically deteriorating. (2) Madelaine Dawnay, the biologist who "created" Andromeda is working for Intel in Azaran. (3) Azaran has built their own computer from plans stolen by John's (dead) mate from "the old days", Denis Bridger and sold to Intel.
Further, Intel is seeking use Azaran as its own base for its shady dealings, as having one's own country to play with would be so convenient.
Here Peter Halliday really shines. John Fleming's character starts to unravel day by day, even hour by hour. He and Madelaine Dawnay are faced with the crushing reality of their choices they made both as scientists and people in the past - possible utter destruction of the world's life. Mary Morris, as Madelaine Dawnay, gives another stellar performance as a genuine caring soul, though with a seemingly gruff exterior, who struggles to right the mistakes, making one agonising decision after another about what to do first, knowing that no matter what she does, someone will die.
John Fleming, confronted by his nightmare from the past, dashes in one direction, then another, wanting Andromeda to live, yet wishing she were dead, to, as he sees it, save the world, wanting to destroy the computer, yet trying to get Andromeda to use it to prevent another catastrophe, but knowing that in using the computer, Andromeda deteriorates more quickly. The deterioration may or may not be an intentional "obsolescence" in her original design, and can possibly be rectified - with time. Above all he utterly fails to convince himself that he's not in love with her, wanting to save her and take her away, yet doing his best not to trust her.
Susan Hampshire has both an easy job and a difficult one. The difficult one? To try and give a performance which matches Christie in her icy implacability, her logicality, as she struggles with her inherited emotions and feelings which eventually led to her demise in the first series. It's easier in the sense that that character ceased to exist with the destruction of the first computer and she (Hampshire) had then to deal with a (as she says) semi-human- semi-zombie, with intelligence but little knowledge, emotions but little experience with them, and living in a world she helped to create but knows little or nothing about, while witnessing her own tragedy, unable to reconcile her own growing love for Fleming with her inbuilt "duty to the computer's logic". (She acknowledges in the interview on the DVD that in hindsight, it would have been better for her to have known more about the first story.) The tragedy could be Shakespearean.
The production itself was in some senses, probably less satisfying than A4A, because there are many more scenes involving "loss of control" eg use of "stock footage", war scenes, tanks, planes, troops advancing in a determined manner, with the clash of film grain and timing, attempt to translate the scene to "the middle East". (I don't read anything other than English but some of the "foreign writing" looked decidedly cheesy.) But these are generally but distractions.
Whilst it tries to end on a "happy note", despite glimpses of sunshine and butterflies and rebirth of nature, I was left with the memory of the massive destruction and death that had been portrayed (which sadly are, even now, being played out, albeit on a reduced scale, in the real world) and the huge losses which will need to be recovered in the coming generation(s).
One of the nicely unresolved questions is who was "wrong"? Was the original message sent with malice, benefice or cold logic unswayed by such petty concerns?
Was Dawnay, with her great-hearted nobility to help humanity, but blinkered by this nobility, drawn down the seductive/destructive path "the Dark Side") by naiveté?
Was it John Fleming, with his anti-establishment attitude, but brilliant mind, ill-informed, bent on egotistical gratification, or was he truly aghast with the future as he saw it, and in fighting to prevent that future, made a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Intel, with its tentacles/claws in every pocket or soul, yet without whom the world WOULD have been destroyed (since they built the second computer)? Immoral or amoral?
Without doubt, it's a morality play. H.G. Wells was very pro-science on occasion and thus wrote some great literature not always hampered by questions of morality and ethics. Writers John Eliot and scientist the late Fred Hoyle, paint here a frightening picture of the results of failure to engage the mind before putting the hands into gear, with perhaps using the heart as the clutch.
Should be compulsory for all science students.
A for Andromeda (1961)
My Life Suddenly Lurched in Another Direction
As a 12 year old, my parents considered it inappropriate for me to watch this nonsense, so I didn't get to see every episode when it first came out, and I had to content myself with reading the novelisation of "A4A" and its sequel "Andromeda Breakthrough". I'd heard that the BBC had destroyed all the prints (of A4A) although some episodes had been recovered, "The Face of the Tiger" (Ep 6) in its entirety.
So imagine my complete and utter amazement when yesterday I saw that the BBC was releasing both serials on DVD. I hied myself down the video shop this morning and lo and behold there they were. Sadly the missing episodes were still missing but using a technique called "Telesnap" which had involved somebody sitting in front of their TV taking a still photograph every time something interesting appeared on screen, and inserting captions taken from the script the entire story was reconstructed. There were also some short excerpts gained from various sources which were inserted.
The last two episodes were virtually complete.
So, I was introduced to (the late) Sir Fred Hoyle and his sometimes eccentric but always entertaining writing by this TV series, and a much wider world, so bless you Sir Fred.
It also inspired me with an almost fanatical dedication to computers that even as a 12 year old I wanted to own one. I bought my first one (Apple II) in 1979, and in 2007 I have them lying all over the floor and hanging on shelves.
Having finished watching the entire "A4A" and one episode of "Breakthrough", despite having had the novels since 1964 or so, I'm amazed how relevant the storyline and its ideas are. Genetic engineering. Human cloning. Climate change. Exploration, subjugation and even destruction of a foreign species by remote means. Tissue regeneration. Computers "taking over everything". Biological warfare. Middle Eastern oil!!! "Third World" nations becoming electronic sweatshops to increase their economic wealth. The list goes on.
The plot? It's almost exactly the same as "Contact" with Jodie Foster (or to be more pedantic, vice-versa). A radio telescope picks up a signal from space, it's decoded into a design for a "super computer", with a program and data. The computer starts working out what makes the earthlings tick. It creates a mass of protoplasm with an eye which enables the computer to see what's going on around it. Eventually the computer kills a girl and reads her DNA, then clones her, but she's actually part of the computer. And then the fun REALLY starts. interstellar/interspecies love story. World domination. Security of one nation's air space from hostile intrusion and threat.
The cast? First and foremost, the absolutely unbelievable Julie Christie in her first appearance in front of the camera. Although deliberately given a very limited emotional range to work within (she plays the protoplasmic computer) she is stunning both in looks, her icy menace and eventual (unintended) human frailty. (Susan Hampshire plays Andromeda in the Breakthrough and has a very difficult job to fill Jules' shoes - but she gives it a damned good go).
Peter Halliday as the rebellious but brilliant (probably unstable) physicist who tries to warn all and sundry of the danger.
Mary Morris as Madelaine Dawnay, the biologist who "creates" Andromeda.
I know almost every word by heart from reading the novels, but this DVD release gives me a refreshing re-view of this timeless classic.
Trivia: Julie Christie's character is created by a computer. In Demon Seed she is impregnated by a computer. Does she have a thing for electronic sex?
'Ullo me Little Luverlies!!!
It's your old Aunty Jack, back for a second season. Having given the first season a fairly comprehensive wrap I'll be brief. John Derum ("Narrator Neville") left the show and was replaced by Gary McDonald ("Kid Eager"). The second season contained material which hadn't been tried out on stage with a live audience and was a different "feel". Still very funny in places. Bond, O'Donoughue and (the delectable) McGregor play their respective roles with their usual flair, although "Kev Kavanagh" gets on the nerves a bit.
McDonald introduces here a character who eventually took Australian TV by storm, Norman Gunston. It was he (Gunston) who had Paul McCartney present him with a "Gold Record", it was he who managed to fight Mohammed Ali to a scoreless (verbal) draw and it was he who reduced Sally Struthers to helpless tears of laughter and a confession of "Oh, Norman I love you".
In the "reunion interview" all the main performers (Bond, O'Donoghue, McGregor, Derum and McDonald) reminisce 30 plus years down the road, and Derum rather ruefully admits he could have played the gormless TV interviewer Gunston "competently" but could never have turned him into an "industry" as McDonald did.
If you have the first series, this second is worth it on a couple of levels - eg visit the University of Bus Driving, the voyage inside Aunty Jack's head, as well as the retrospective interviews.
Episodes in the second series:
Channel Nine; Iron Maiden; Golden Gloves; Ear, Nose and Throat, Little Lovelies and R Certificate.
Further, there is a bonus or two, including Aunty Jack's valiant (but futile) battle to prevent colour taking over black-and-white television.
If you don't have the first series, get it.
Or I'll send Aunty Jack round to rip ya bloody arms orf!!!!
Please Don't Wake Me, No, Don't Shake Me ...
Released in Australia under the much more descriptive (and apt) title "Dream One", this movie has been at my top 3 or 4 since I saw it back in about 1993. So much did I like it I hunted for, and finally found, an ex-rental VHS, which was in not very good condition. I dreaded each time I played it, it would be the last ...
Until, almost by sheer accident I saw the DVD in a shop. Pow.
Like a really good dream, it all seems to make some kind of sense at the time, but in the cold light of day, there is nothing left but bewilderment, and a longing to "go back" into that safe and secure land, where there are no questions, only comforting answers.
A type of "coming of age" experience where the man-child Nemo (Seth Kibel) is precipitated, via a faulty elevator in his home skyscraper, into a nether world where in the daytime, it is always twilight, and at night you can hear the stars roar. No sunshine, just red and blue light, outlining without necessarily illuminating. (In a nod to "The Wizard of Oz" the film format changes from blue and white to amazing colour.)
He discovers, as every boy would dream, a submarine beached and apparently deserted. He meets Cunegond (Charlie Boorman), a rather graceless young twerp who is just as lost as Nemo but won't admit to any weakness, and has a "pet" human sized monkey named ... "Monkey" (Dominique Pinon). Nemo rescues a beautiful young woman named Alice (Mathilda May), Princess of Yonderland, from the ocean, and falls in love with her (as any man-child would).
In the ensuing adventures he encounters the Magician, Mr Rip (Nipsy Russell), Legend (Harvey Kietel) a Zorro-like hero, and eventually a rocket ship, piloted by the mysterious Rals-Akrai (the aethereal Carole Bouquet). He is so much in love with Alice he tries to grow up and eventually become the child-man (Jason Connery).
Other characters, fusions of Nemo's real world and this dream unter-land come and go, in an almost ballet-masque fashion (Observe Rals-Akrai as she converses with world-weary Count Danilov (Michel Blanc) on the steps of the rocket ship.)
Unlike a dream, this movie can be returned to at any time, and even after a decade of viewing (usually every 2-3 months) it still induces a delicious sense of languorous ease.
The soundtrack (Gabriel Yared) is a perfect complement.
Don't try and understand this frankly surreal movie, just allow it to wash gently over you, and enjoy the sensual and sensuous experience, with its erotic undertones.
Mathilda May, you can enter into my dreams any time.
The War of the Worlds (2005)
A 19th Century Movie
One gripe I have about "Hollywood" is their habit of taking a classic book title and adding a fairly distantly related story to it and calling it "based on the novel ... " trying to pretend this movie is the book.
In the last 12 months there were THREE versions of this book released to the big screen. This one is by Tim Hines.
Hines' tagline is "The first authentic movie adaptation of the 1898 H.G. Wells classic novel." Clashing with Tom Cruise, Hines' movie was never even released to DVD, in Australia so I took a punt and imported a copy.
Keeping close to the original - Hines is almost pathological in this. Example: The small scene about confronting Lord Hilton to erect a "light railing" to keep the crowds back could easily have been left out without affecting anything subsequent.
Such is the closeness to the book one could enter the theatre with a blindfold on. It was almost like a radio play, but with pictures. (The "Thunderchild" is an exception. Pity, one of the pivotal scenes in the book.) At that level this movie could be classed as a success.
As to cinematic art - Hines' stated purpose was to make a movie which appeared to have been made in the late 19th Century - "Why bother?" The expression "Ars Gratia Artis" ("Art for Art's Sake") is the motto for a different studio. But is evidently the thought which was in Hines' mind. The book was written at a time when reading was a means of relaxation. So if the book was written then, why not make the movie then? The verity to this tenet carries to the minimal "Special Features" section, with a written analysis of the story by the HG Wells Society. Read it. It makes what follows more comprehensible, because Wells, the philosopher, was at his height, pointing out Man's view of the world is not the only one to consider.
Another reason for setting the movie in "the period" is to give some validity for the terror that the characters may have felt. In the opening paragraphs/Scene "With infinite complacency men went to and fro ... dreaming themselves the highest creatures in the whole vast universe". In the 21st Century, it's generally accepted that Earth is probably only one such repository of life among many. Why should the very thought of life off this planet be terrifying per se? But to 19th Century Man, that would be utter devastation of firmly held belief.
This "19th Century feel" was achieved in several ways. The first, and initially most irritating was to occasionally have the movie "jump" as if there was a splice in the film stock, and the sound go out of sync.
Secondly, camera work sometimes used the "proscenium arch" approach of (very) early silent movies (George Melie's(?) for example). The Writer and his Wife are discussing the colour of the planet Mars shows a "split screen" with the lower half being in broad daylight, while the upper part is night. It's like sitting in a theatre watching a "live" performance where a "drop" is lowered to indicate a change in locale or time, with a small lighting variation. By this simple expedient, the suspension of disbelief is aided, not a technique which modern day audiences are going to find easy to come to terms with. Unfortunately the majority of film makers believe that an audience should not be troubled by having to think.
Colour. Very strange. This changed without rhyme or reason, and had me confused a bit.
The acting, by "modern" standards, was extremely stilted and/or wooden, with characters declaiming their lines with (occasional) devastatingly humorous seriousness, especially Ogilvy.
Since this movie was made on a TINY budget, actors were recycled. However, in one case, this was almost a stroke of genius, in that the story covers several points of view, including "the Writer" at Woking and his brother in London. Hines just used the same actor (Anthony Piana) to play the brother, but without the obviously false moustache.
The less said about the animation and special effects the better, except that they would certainly pass for 19th Century products. They moved the story along, but I think this was one area where Hines could have taken a more "modern" view without detracting from the "Olde Worlde" feel.
The movie is not ALL bad by any means. The scenes with the Curate in the collapsed house were, to me, full of genuine suspense, and such was the power of the thing that when the writer finally "snapped" it generated a palpable sense of relief.
A couple of other distractions were lack of care in background -modern electric tram, stainless steel buildings. Lack of feel of "England" in both buildings and woodlands. While acknowledging that the budget was VERY small, costuming and weaponry were not helpful in maintenance of suspension of belief.
So on the one hand the movie was a success in that it keeps close to the original source.
On the other, as 21st Century cinema, it's struggling to connect with "standard" modern audiences, but I suspect it wasn't really made for them anyway. A small group of people will lap it up, despite its glaring flaws, and I think personally grabbing a copy while it's still available will be a minor investment success, because in years to come, this "small group" will be wanting to relive the experience.
It would be fair to say this movie could be described as "incomparable", as there is little, if anything, to compare it against.
Any viewer should be prepared to be challenged on several levels, and should try and put themselves in the place of the putative 19th Century reader/viewer.
The Aunty Jack Show (1972)
Aunty's on VDV - Sorry, DVD - Series 1
Yesterday, I spent 290 minutes reliving my youth. ABC TV (Australia) has released the first series of The Aunty Jack Show on DVD. Bliss.
Who - or what - is an Aunty Jack? As the name implies, a bit of a mixture. Massive of girth, with glasses, moustache, football boots and socks and sporting a golden boxing glove this monsterpiece of anarchy stalked across the screen of Australian TV in the very early 70s. The first series starred Grahame Bond (Aunty Jack), Rory O'Donoghue (Thin Arthur), John Derum (Narrator Neville) and Sandra MacGregor (Flange Desire). Whilst there are elements of both the Goon show and Monty Python, (although it predated Python) it is uniquely Australian humour, which fails attempts to translate it onto paper. (But that won't stop me from trying!!!)
Attacking the establishment. Sure, why not? Whilst Australia was still mired in Vietnam, Aunty Jack takes a stinging swipe at war by showing how World War I wasn't really the hell it was supposed to be with a performance by Colonel Passionfruit and his "Dancing Diggers" singing and choreographing their way across a nasty old minefield.
Sex? Well, check out "Stella the Starlet", the moustachio-ed (and completely armless) siren whose agent tries to win over a hard bitten movie director by showing that whilst Stella may not have arms, her rather ample bust is up to most tasks. Director: "But she'll have to climb a tree". Agent: "She can do it, she can do it." And for those brave folk who live in lovely Wollongong (an industrial city south of Sydney) there is a heartfelt rendition of the classic song "I've been everywhere man ... Wollongong Wollongong Wollongong ... " etc.
But truly the most bizarre memory I have from the original days of broadcast, and today proved to be as funny as I remember it, was Thin Arthur conducting a four piece chorus - in an elevator - and as the doors close, having to grab his music stand and run up to the next floor and wait for the doors to open to conduct the next musical passage - in a 10 storey building.
Not forgetting the original "origami opera" based on superhero Tarzan. (According to the interview with four of the original cast members/writers on the DVD, such was the enthusiasm of the cast that one young lady's role required her to leap from a fair height into a rather deep pool of water - she never told anyone she couldn't swim, but thought she'd "ad lib" once she got there.) The episodes on this double DVD include the pilot, Radio, War, Kulture, Anonymous, Family, Sex and Horror, as well as a retrospective "History of Aunty Jack" interview.
This isn't uniformly great stuff, but it was groundbreaking, and the entire cast, but particularly Bond and O'Donoghue, are extremely talented, wrote most of their own music and performed it live - which you don't get too much of these days.
I'd give it 3 1/2 out of 5, just on historical value alone.
And to give Aunty the last word: "Buy the VDV and watch it, or I'll come round to your house and rip your bloody arms off."
PS It's also fun trying to spot some of the very young faces of future stars of film and television.
The Sentimental Bloke (1919)
The Spirit of "Den" is Not Dead
After waiting many months, I saw the restored version of "The Sentimental Bloke" for the first time at the Perth International Arts Festival last night. Worth it? My oath. "I dips me lid" to the blokes and tarts wot worked on this "Aussie Icon". The story of the restoration is a tale in itself - the only existing prints were "not the best" and through a "mislabelling" it turned out that an almost pristine copy had been filed in a United States film archive as "The Sentimental Blonde", and was apparently an original negative. I'll let the reader research this story further.
C.J. Dennis ("Den") is one of Australia's best loved poets, and "(Songs of) The Sentimenal Bloke" one of his most enduring and endearing collections of the Australian Idiom ever published. (Apparently the US version of the film had "American" inter titles - WHAT the Americans would have made of it is thoroughly beyond me. I think if would have come out as completely foreign language).
In brief, this film traces the life of "The Kid" or "Bill" in his transition from street tough (read gang member) to husband to "Doreen" (his "bit of fluff") and loving father, but done with humour and tear jerking sentiment - as it should be. Schmaltz with a capital "S".
Highlight of the movie for me was a fairly thorough airing of one of Den's most popular poems, "The Play", which describes how Bill and Doreen go to see "Romeo and Juliet"
- "The drama's writ be Shakespeare, many years ago, About a barmy goat called Romeo".
" .... wiv a yell, plunks Tyball through the gizzard wiv 'is sword,
'Ow I ongcored!
"Put in the boot!" I sez. "Put in the boot!"
"Ush!" sez Doreen ... "Shame! sez some silly coot."
As a bonus, the performance I attended had a live three piece "bush band" ("The Larrikins") playing a musical accompaniment, specially composed for the event.
I was slightly confused at first, since the original poem was set in Melbourne, but the film was shot in Sydney, and I found myself looking at Central Railways Station when I should have been looking at Flinders Street station. Artistic licence.
Considering the prodigious output of "Den's" pen, the movie could only skim the surface, but this was sufficient for me to be able look and see "Bill" and "Doreen" (not to mention his best cobber "Ginger Mick") made flesh and blood with a lashing of the original humour and pathos.
Whilst the film characters did not follow Hal Gye's original illustrations very closely (a wise move since Gye's little "Cherubs" all appeared "sans culottes") I had no trouble recognising them.
I think "Den" would'a been proud of it fit to bust his vest.