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Mazes and Monsters (1982)
Many posters find this film awful and I must admit to finding it laughable and occasionally dull when I first watched it. However, the central idea in itself is not implausible. Those who damn the film suggest that it is a hysterical piece of scaremongering about the highly unlikely ill effects of role-playing, but it is no less unlikely than the influence of the bible on serial killers. I personally know one teenage fantasy nut who has all the makings of a war-mongering Nazi politician and needs a reality check which this film, if only it had been better researched and scripted, would hopefully provide. Give it a break.
Potty Time (1973)
Madmadmadmadmadmadmad! A genuine classic of British TV
I first discovered Potty Time when it was re-run during the summer holidays when I was 14 years old. At the time I suppose i was too old for children's programmes, but I still enjoyed most of them and Potty Time was shown practically every weekday as I recall. I was attracted to it because Michael Bentine is famously the 'fourth Goon' (The Goon Show is a classic radio comedy show of the 1950s which launched the careers of Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe and was an inspiration to the Monty Python team). Peter Sellers tried in vain for years to recapture the spirit of the Goons on film only to be equally delighted and disappointed when Mel Brooks got there first with The Producers (Clouseau was Goonish, but the world he inhabited was not). Spike Milligan carried the same humour into his books, autobiographies and TV sketch shows, but with a more adult quality that made it less accessible to all age groups. Potty Time, however, succeeded on all fronts in recreating the Goon Show style in a TV format. Bentine's stroke of genius was to make Potty Time a puppet show so that (like its radio predecessor) it had no need to follow logic in characterisation or setting. As well as playing a human reporter interacting with the silly puppets he also provided all their voices, man of which were the same voices as characters in the Goon Show (most notably the dim-witted Eccles). The stories (if you can call them that), while based on well-known fiction or historical events, were played absurdly and had a satirical quality in common with the Goons, for example the Frankenstein monster who behaves like a baby because it's only just been born or the French Foreign Legion and the Arabs fighting a constant stalemate war for fear of losing their funding. My favourite episode is the one where Bentnie interviews Marco Polo, who turns out to be a commercial traveller. He he always trades with "Chianti wine-a, tomato-a sauce and the stinky-a Gorgonzola Cheese"and is responsible for bringing back fireworks and spaghetti from China. Unfortunately he doesn't know which one you light and which one you eat! Unfortunately only season 1 is available on DVD and without subtitles, although there is a nice little voice-over feature in which Bentine's son talks about the genesis of the programme and then has an argument with some Potties. This programme definitely deserves to reach a wider audience. My Polish wife loves it!
Not the Nine O'Clock News (1979)
In defence of Not The Nine O' Clock News
What a pity that the comment that is visible on the front page puts down one of the best sketch shows of the 1980s and completely misses the point. It reminds me of the time when someone wrote to 'Points of View' to complain about the racism in 'Goodness Gracious Me' after the 'Indian teenagers visit Britain' and 'Going for an English' sketches. As the writer of the comment was Scottish I wonder if he finds 'Chewin' the Fat' offensive to people with throat cancer! Not the Nine O' Clock News was equally capable of hilarious comedy and biting satire. I remember Rowan Atkinson's monologue as an alien with a faulty translator being the first thing that ever made me laugh uncontrollably, long after the sketch had ended; The series' songs were clever parodies of such pop stars of the time as Sheena Easton, Blondie, Kate Bush and Motorhead; and the 'Gerald the Gorilla' sketch was superb. There was also excellent satire as well, directed at police racism (the 'Constable Savage' sketch), religious outrage over 'Monty Python's Life of Brian' (the 'Life of Christ' sketch) and patronising Hollywood attitudes to issues in other countries (the 'Hollywood Salutes Lech Walesa' sketch). Perhaps our negative reviewer found the 'Coca Cola' sketch offensive to fat people instead of a comment on the fact that a so-called 'cool' drink is actually fattening and unhealthy. It's a pity that this series is only available on 2 'Best of' DVDs (why the hell do the BBC do that?) as it was the launchpad for the careers of Rowan Atkinson, Mel Smith and Griff Rhys-Jones, all of whom are still entertaining us (to a greater or lesser degree) today. And furthermore it shows us that Pamela Stephenson was a talented comedienne who need not have given up performing (though to her credit she has achieved a great deal in the years since her 'retirement'). A much-missed gem.
Wish I could see it again
The 1980s were full of optimistic TV action series of a kind we just don't see any more. Not that I'm against the high-quality screen writing of such shows as "24", "Buffy" or "Angel"; it's just that I miss the old popcorn dramas which were nothing if not fun and provided ample light relief from stressful schooldays. Recent releases of "The A Team", "Knight Rider" et al on DVD have brought that old pleasure back, but I'm still eagerly anticipating "Airwolf", "Street Hawk" and "Automan". The latter two lasted only one season, but they were certainly enjoyable to me and my school friends. In those days when an American TV show was cancelled it was of too little consequence to become known in the UK, so we never knew why these fun shows disappeared. "Automan" appealed to me because it seemed to be a reverse of "Tron". The hero was rather straight-laced (even compared to Christopher Reeve's Superman!), but the show had plenty of visual treats and action to satisfy kids like me. It's the humour that I would like to re-evaluate as an adult. I'm almost certain I'd enjoy seeing this again!
The Devils (1971)
A shocking work of genius
My opinion of Ken Russell was, like many people, prejudiced before viewing by the many negative reports about his films. Every establishment film critic I read in the 1980s described him as exaggerated, unrealistic, sex-obsessed and vulgar. As a young man I felt these comments to be confirmed when I saw The Music Lovers, which (compared to Amadeus) seemed in my opinion to lack the requisite respectful period drama feel of a composer's biopic (little did I know that Russell had pioneered the composer biopic). However, The Devils blew me away both before and after reading Huxley's excellent history book on which it was based. It is a stunning and vivid recreation of a repressive period in France's religious history which has universal symbolic overtones, and the lack of realism (if it exists) could easily be the critic or viewer's inability to understand another age of history in the way a dedicated filmmaker can. It is a triumph of integrity, scriptwriting, acting, directing, design (by Derek Jarman, no less) and cerebral and visceral entertainment.