October 20th, 2011

breaking bad

Holy Flying Circus

The latest BBC drama about the history of television was Holy Flying Circus, on BBC4 last night. This was about the controversy around the release of Monty Python's Life of Brian. I thought it was very clever and funny, and I loved the way it blurred the distinction between imagination and reality, and the way it managed to represent real people in a totally non-realistic but valid way.

For example, John Cleese was portrayed by Darren Boyd pretending to be Basil Fawlty. Now in one way this choice is protective of the real person- viewers realise what they are seeing is not supposed to be the man, it is his persona, so 'John Cleese' in the drama can swear or threaten and nobody thinks the real John Cleese did that. There was a fantasy 'Party Political Broadcast on behalf of John Cleese' half way through where the Basil Fawlty character explained that he was a fictional representation. But let's be honest - we all have a sneaking feeling that Basil Fawlty represents a major part of John Cleese's personality, so it is not as simple as it pretends to be. In a way we are seeing the truth through the fantasy.

Another choice was to represent Michael Palin's wife using the Terry Jones actor got up in ghastly drag, as that oddly sexy-but-disgusting housewife that Jones acts out in some Pythion sketches. This allowed a key real-life character - Palin's wife - to be both present, and yet protected from being represented. Nobody thinks she in any way resembles this figure. In another way this performance illuminates the strange sexual tension that we feel between the Pythons, and I think in particular around Palin, who always seems a sort of magnetic figure (see video link at the end of this post).

The actor who played Palin - Charles Edwards - was phenomenal. Phenomenal. The crux of the show was the strange pivotal moment after Palin and Cleese were ridiculed and attacked by the Bishop of Southwark and Malcolm Muggeridge, on a TV chat show.

Here is a Youtube Clip of that debate.

Palin was extremely angry during and after that debate. In this drama he is seen sitting quietly in a taxi. The single shot stays with his face. A long quiet shot, in an otherwise hyper-manic hour and a half. Gradually his face clears and softens, his anger melting away, and the underlying goodness coming through. I actually said to H as we watched - 'They've brought in the real Michael Palin to play this scene. Look it's turned into his real face'. Of course it hadn't. It was just an incredibly subtle and nuanced performance by Charles Edwards, who is a Shakespearean actor. Might be the best physical performance I have seen on British TV for years.

The show was written by Tony Roche, writer on The Thick of It, and I think it was a brilliant and innovative script. It was directed by Owen Harris from Misfits and I think it shows. The most senior TV folks are stupidly conservative about realism and fantasy. Even fantasy is done in a plodding way. They consistently underestimate the capacity of the audience to understand non-realism, to understand exaggeration and playfulness. But there are people in television with fresher and more creative views - and you know I think Misfits is a wonderful example.

Sam Wollaston's review in the Guardian this morning was ridiculous. He complains that it was 'too clever'. It makes a bleedin' change to have something clever on British television. More please BBC.

I also want to link to the fan video Filthy Gorgeous which is about Michael Palin's various Monty Python characters.
breaking bad

The Ritual

I am always trying to find a good horror novel. I've recently read a couple of good ones that you will know. It by Stephen King and Let the Right One In by Tomas Alfredson. I wish Stephen King would trust his own strength, and not put in a load of unnecessary stuff about skulls and maggots, because it just isn't necessary. The story would be much stronger pared down to its psychology and history. Though who knows, perhaps a substantial part of his audience buy the books for the skulls and maggots, and that's why he's a billionaire. The newer Swedish novel is well written, sadder and gentler than the film, a really good addition to this sparse genre.

And now I am listening to a third good novel - wow this is proving to be a bumper year - which even better is being made into a British horror film. I'm quite hopeful.

The book is The Ritual by Adam Nevill. It is somewhat like Blair Witch Project, and somewhat like Dog Soldiers. It's in two parts and I have only just started onto Part 2, so this is just a quick heads-up, rather than a full account.

It's the story of four guys in their mid-thirties, old University friends, who go for a hiking holiday in northern Sweden in September. They have hopelessly overestimated their fading physical powers, turn back injured, take a short cut and end up being hunted through the forest by something nasty... possibly.

It's thickly written. Nevill (I am just guessing of course) visualises or senses a scene quite vividly, and then conveys it in fairly dense detail. However the action is in contrast both brisk and clear, and dramatically effective. Listening to it on audio I occasionally realised I had zoned out through descriptive passages, but they are not badly written by any means.

I thought there was a class satire not too deeply hidden throughout the book. Collapse )