Film 2020: Chariots of Fire

Until the last moment, I intended something different for this weekend’s viewing, but my head wasn’t there for that DVD. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Chariots of Fire, too long in fact when it still shares the record for the film I saw most often in cinemas, and the choice was inspired.

Chariots of Fire – produced by David Puttnam, written by Colin Welland, directed by Hugh Hudson – appeared in 1981 and was voted Best Picture at the Oscars, a deserved award. It’s an historical drama, depicting the efforts of two British Olympic runners who won Gold Medals at the 1924 Paris Olympiad. The film is historically true where it can be but no historical picture ever reflects history with fidelity, and many things were changed, for dramatic effect, for simplification, because figures of the time refused to participate or allow their name to be used (in one instance out of modesty), and due to a complete error.

The film starred a cast of more-or-less unknowns, though Nigel Havers as the fictional Lord Andrew Lindsay, was already familiar from television. But the film’s two principal roles, Ben Cross as Harold Abrahams and Ian Charleson as Eric Liddell, had no great footprint with the public. This was Puttnam’s intention: the senior players are veterans of great skill, such as Ian Holm as the trainer, Sam Mussabini, and Sir John Gielgud and Lyndsay Anderson as two Cambridge Masters, and there are well-established actors like Nigel Davenport (Lord Birkenhead), David Yelland (the Prince of Wales), Peter Egan (the Duke of Sutherland) and Cheryl Campbell (Jennie Liddell, Eric’s sister), but the runners at the centre of things, which include Aubrey Montague (Nicholas Farrell), have no face recognition, no prior associations, making them better able to be these bright, gifted, sometimes privileged young men of that first generation after The Great War, who helped to forge a society severed from its own past by the destruction and death.

The film begins with an awkward device: not just a flashback but a double flashback, which constitutes the majority of the film. Harold Abrahams, who became the elder statesmen of British Athletics, died in early 1978. The film begins at his memorial service, with a laudatory address from the aged Lindsay, referring to himself and Montague, as the only survivors of that running squad, before dissolving back to that iconic scene, accompanied by our first introduction to that extraordinary theme music created by Vangelis Papathanassiou. Twenty or so fresh young men, running in slow-motion along the water’s edge on a curved beach, dressed in the athletic gear of the early Twenties. They are Atheticism in motion (all the runners received three months intense training to make them look authentic and brother, they certainly do), and their heels splash water and wet sands into the faces of those in the rear, as the camera slides back through them, resting on faces we will grow to know.

The spine of the film is real. Aubrey Montague (in real-life he used hids first name, Evelyn) wrote to his mother daily. When Welland was researching the film, his son provided all these letter, and they are read through the film to link the various stages the Cambridge runners go through.

And through Montague’s letters, we pass through our second flashback, to 1919, to the simultaneous arrival at rooms in Cambridge of Montague and Abrahams.

The tone of one part of the film is set instantly. Abrahams, no matter how English he is, even to being an Army Lieutenant, is the son of a Lithuanian Jew. Moreover, he is a Jew. He sees prejudice and anti-Semitism all around him, and is engaged in a constant fight to prove himself, to force them to accept him. Which ‘them’ is that? The film constantly shows, in carefully drawn, bordering upon but not quite overt manners, that Abrahams is looked down, his achievements carefully diminished. In a fictional version of the Collee Dash, Abrahams succeeds in racing round the Quad in the time it takes midday to strike, raced by the last-minute Lindsay: Abrahams succeeds by a whisker, Lindsay fails by the same margin (in real life, Abrahams never did this and Lindsay’s original did, several years later, one of only two people to do the challenge). The Masters, looking one, openly express regret that the ‘wrong’ person has succeeded.

This is Abrahams’ life, the force behind his drive to win, to run them off their feet. He can be their equal, but only by being their better. Cross expresses this intensity, this obsession, even the petulance in the face of failure, the prospect of defeat, to perfection. He is what you imagine Abrahams to be, and you are on his side from his first appearance.

But this is only one half of the film. Abrahams and Liddell were both gold-medal winners but they were both, in their differing ways, unusual characters, driven by a force both within and without themselves. Eric Liddell is a gifted sportsman, anationally known Rugby player, a Scottish international. He’s gifted elsewhere, a China-born, Scotland-educated son of a Christian missionary, who has inherited, perhaps in even greater magnitude, his father’s faith, his father’s vocation. He will go back to China, he will be a missionary, he will preach the love and honour of the God in whom he believes so devoutly. He has a purpose.

And his younger sister, Jennie, fears that he will gorget that purpose, that he will ruin himself, by divertig his attention to this meaningless running, this unChristian pursuit of personal glory. (This was a generous consent by Jennie Liddell Somerville who, in real-life, believed in Eric’s running and supported him, allowing herself to be portrayed as a fanatic, the epitome of Scottish Calvinism).

Liddell is faster than Abrahams. Charleson is equally commanding in his part, calm, collected, built around a solid core of unwavering belief. He also did wonders in depicting the real Liddell’s ungainly, ugly running style. His ever word rings of conviction, not an arrogant conviction that because he is a Christian he is right but that honour to his God and a willingness to submit to his lead is right, because God is right.

It’s through Liddell that Abrahams is able to contact Sam Mussabini, a professional trainer, an abhorrance in the face of amateur athletics. Abrahams wants Sam to coach him, to get him two extra yards for the 100m. The rough-cut, Italo-Arabic Sam, sees the potential in Harold, and the two form a partnership despite the warnings of the Masters that it’s not ‘the done thing’. What do they mean? Do they dream of the pure and irreproachable gentleman amateur who contrasts to Abrahams acting like the tradesman, or is their distinction between Christian and Jew? it’s one of the very few times in the film where you could make a case for the former, but the shades are too grey to say that the latter is far from their minds.

Abrahams’ obsession leads to rocky paths in his relationship with Sylvia Gordon, leading soprano with the D’Oyly Carte. Here’s the slip: in real-life, Abrahams didn’t meet Syliva, who he married, until ten yearslater but the film confuses Sybil Gordon with another D’Oyly Carte soprano, Sybil Evers, who Abrahams marries.

In contrast, despite Jennie’s constant onjections, Liddell has the easier path, convincing her with the heartfelt words that ‘God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.’

But this cannot be all. On the gangplank onto the boat to France, Liddell is shocked to hear that the heat for his race will be run on a Sunday: he cannot and will not run on the Sabbath, God’s day. It’s a stance, or rather a conviction he holds to firmly, unflinchingly, even in the face of a committee consisting of Lord Birkenhead (the squad’s mentor), the Duke of Sutherland (President of the British Olympic Committee), Lord Cadogan (Committe Chairman) and Liddell’s future King – though not for as long as everyone would have expected then, the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII.

In real life, Liddell knew months in advance and the solution, running in the 400m instead, was agreed in advance rather than coming as a generous, self-sacrificing suggestion from Lindsay that he take the young Lord’s place.

The events of the Games flash by almost impressionistically. Runners run. Lindsay gets a Silver medal, Abrahams is beaten in the 200m, Montague falls and fails. The American pair, Charlie Paddock and Jackson Scholz, collect medals like gundrops.

But Liddell wins the 400m, and his vindication is the sight of his sister Jennie, whose presence is the blessing he so wants. And Abrahams, coming up to the point that everything his life within this film has pointed to, almost as scared to win as to lose, because he hasn’t looked further than this moment, wins the 100m.

But there’s a third person in this film, one who’s studiously placed himself in a background role throughout, but who’s every bit as much a part in Abrahams’ race as the runner himself and that’s Sam. Mussabini’s a professional, unwelcome in the home of the Games. He has to listen to the crowd roar. We inside the film know Abrahams has won, have already seen his friends crowd him to hug, and cheer and back thump, have seen Liddell come to give his hand too, whilst Charlie Paddock gives him a long stare. But for Sam it’s the long wait, until he hears the Anthem being played shakily, sees the Union jack rising, before he knows that Abrahams has done it, that he’s done it, the thing he’s longed for and for longer that Abrahams has been alive, the thing that can nver be taken away.

And after he’s called his charge Mr Abrahams throughout, decent, respectable, man to master, he sits on his bed and half-whispers, ‘Harold’. He punches out the crown of his ubiquitous straw boater. And says, ‘My son. My son.’

I’m going to mention one last piece of historical distortion. Just before he races in the 400m final, Liddell receives a folded note, given to him by his rival, Jackson Scholz. It contains a quote from the bible: “In the old book it says: ‘He that honours me I will honour.’ Wishing you the best of success always.” In real life that came from his team-mates and was delivered by a masseur.

And we slide out of our long flashback, that has long since swallowed the earlier one, back to Harold Abrahams’ funeral, as a choir sings Jersualem, and in which we hear the words, ‘Bring me my Chariots of Fire’. The aged Lindsay and Montague leave the Church, Montague who, in real-life, died in 1948 and who went to Oxford, not Cambridge. And Lindsay delivers the final line: “He did it. he ran them off their feet”, as captions record the futures of our runners: for Harold, marriage, success, a commitment to his sport: for Eric, his mission in China, to death in a Japanese Internment Camp in 1945, and Scotland’s mourning.

Then we flashback once again, to the beach and the runners, the young men in the height of their power and glory, captions provided as we pass the faces we now know, withheld to the end so that the athletes could only be the athletes, and Vangelis’ theme, that extraordinary yet strangely perfect intrusion of 1980s electronic music into the lovingly created world of sixty years before, swells again before fading into silence and the dark.

Looking at the film overall, and withut detracting from the fact that I still enjoy it immensely, I couldn’t avoid noticing how musch the early part of the film relied upon exposition. There was a tremendous amount of telling, to establish who these unfamiliar people are, where they are and what background to come from. It was scene after scene of Tell, not Show, with characters explaining themselves for the audience. In Abrahams’ case, it had the effect of sealing Montague’s role in the picture: first he listens to Harold, then he listens to everyone else, and rarely does he get to do more than nod, smile or look grave. Farrell has to go through every expression in his locker, and return for a repeat cycle. I felt sorry for him.

And it can’t help but be mentioned that the Cambridge elite is an elite, and that whilst Liddell is a humble highland Scot, the closest the film comes to including a ‘working class’ viewpoint, his sporting prowess has already drawn him into the elite.

Throughout this review, I’ve gone on about the points at which the film retreats from absolute fidelity to the history. There is a purpose to mentioning these, I’ve not just parroted the details from Wikipedia, you know. There are a considerable number of them, some of them quite fundamental to events. Some are enforced by restrictions: Lord Burghley, Lindsay’s original, refused use of his name, as did another survivor of that Running Squad, whilst the New Zealander, ‘Tom Watson’, was portrayed accurately, but the real Olympian begged the film not to use his real name as he did not wish to be picked out among his countrymen, as being above them. An honourable wish, honoured gracefully.

But go back through those times the film distorts the history. Every single one is dramatically superior, makes the film tighter, heightens the emotion of the scene. The most egregious one is Liddell’s supposed ‘last minute’ discovery of the Sunday heat. Portrayed as such, it deepens Liddell, makes his belief al the more deep and admirable, and effecting, maintaining it in the face of pressure from Peers and Princes, who cannot make him compromise.

That never happened, but it is a better film for it to happen. All the changes do that. The note coming from Scholz, on the track itself, held as he races, makes the emotion of the scene stronger: it is an enemy, an opponent, who steps out of that opposition to signal his understanding and appreciation of Liddell’s belief, not his own team-mates. The dramatic core and the film’s truth are thus enhanced, and the film we watch is so much more noving for these things. Dramatic Licence is not such a bad thing when deployed sympathetically.

On a Sunday morning of August sun, I would read the true story with admiration and enjoyment. But to translate that into a film on the same day, I want the proper emphasis, no matter how ‘fake’ it might be.

Film 2020: The Stone Tape

For a second time I’m turning to the BBC to prolong this Sunday morning series, but whereas Penda’s Fen was a Play for Today shot entirely on film that had the look of a film, Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape, commissioned and shot for broadcast on Xmas Day 1972 as the forerunner of the Corporation’s popular A Ghost Story for Christmas series, is shot entirely on videotape. Between the look of the thing and several other elements of the story, this one is incontrovertibly a play rather than a film.

As I said, it was originally broadcast on Xmas Day, 1972 and, despite the acclaim it received, was repeated only once, the following year. I suspect I saw only the repeat, but I was massively impressed with it, as was my mate Alan. A few years ago, I found the DVD in Vinyl Exchange in Manchester, and seized it gleefully.

The Stone Tape is a ghost story, but at the same time it presents a scientific approach to ghost-hunting that successfully balances the opposing demands of the two forms. Writer Nigel Kneale, as you shouldn’t need reminding was the creator of the tremendously successful Quatermass serials and films in the Fifties, not to metion the BBC’s ground-breaking adaptation of 1984. The cobination of horror and modern science was a running theme in Kneale’s work and his story proved to be not only successful but highly influential, leanding its name to a theory as to the nature of ghosts and other supernatural manifestations that’s grown in strength since.

The play stars Michael Bryant as Peter Brock and Jane Asher as Jill Greeley, with Iaian Cuthbertson as Collinson and Michael Bates (in the same year he had played Cyril Blamire in the Comedy Playhouse pilot that became Last of the Summer Wine) as Eddie Moore. Peter is a dynamic head of a research division of Ryan Electrics, charged with and eager to beat the Japanese by discovering a new recording medium. His team has just moved into Taskerlands, an old, deserted, decaying house but for an inexplicable reason, the computer storage room is empty and hasn’t even been started upon. This is because it is haunted.

The ghost is that of a nineteenth century underhousemaid, Louisa, who fell to her death from a short flight of stairs, since concealed by now-rotted panelling. Jill, the chief computer programmer, and a woman with some psychic sensitivity, sees the ghost climb the stairs and fall to her death,screaming, but others on site, including the hard-headed estate manager, Colly, have heard her steps and scream multiple times.

Peter is fascinated by this. At first, it’s the effects on his plans, which are all that matters, but his interest intensifies when, in the course of folding his entire team around the problem of recording, scanning, interpreting and defining what this ‘ghost’ is, he becomes convinced that the girl is a recording, and the room a natural recording medium, the breakthrough they’re looking for.

Peter’s intensity drives everyone exhaustingly but none of their tests and measures record anything. Jill’s concerns over what they are doing grow: she is the only one in the project with the empathy to regard Louisa as a person, a 19 year old girl of whom all that remains is the moment of her greatest terror.

The effort fails. Worse still, it erases Louisa. Embittered at his failure, Peter wants it shut down completely, silenced, erased like Louisa. Jill however has developed her theory further, that the room is a recording but that Louisa was onlyy the most recent, the sharpest and clearest, covering deeper and more terrifying incidents. The angry, self-centred Peter, tells her she’s cracking up, sends her away on two months leave. But Jill stays at her post.

Her discoveries through computer analysis send her back to the room one last time. Trying to leave, she is assailed by deeper memories, lights, shapes, colours, swooping around her, forcing her back. To try to escape them, she climbs the stairs, higher than they physically exist, until she falls to her death, calling for Peter. He and Colly find her.

Everything has crumbled around Peter’s ears. He slanders Jill to the inquest, claiming she was mentally ill, destroys her research unread, provoking Colly to smash him in the throat. His in-company rival is taking over Taskerlands. Peter visits the room again. It has had preservation orders slapped on it, he is being summonsed for concealing it. But he hears footsteps and screams again, only this time they are Jill, crying to him for help. She is the new recording…

There are lots of things about The Stone Tape that have not weathered the years well. I’m not talking about the special effects, which are kept to a minimum and executed efficiently. And as its intensity increases, the film becomes genuinely creepy, its air of impending disaster palpable but not ladled on crudely. In 1973 I was shuddering at the end and in 2020 it’s still disturbing.

Where the film is flawed is very much in its writing. There’s an unpleasant undertone of racism that’s far more noticeable now: the early stages are full of protestations about being there to beat the Nips, boot the Japs, complete with the off background ‘ah-so’, whilst the absent heard of Ryan Electrics, Patrick Ryan, who’s built his business up from nothing to an American headquarters, is referred to as ‘the auld man’ in cod-Irish accents. It’s a reflection of the times and it strikes such a wrong note now, as unnecessary shittiness about foreigners: I mean, we all know the Oirish are thick Micks, eh?

I was also struck by the team in general. Kneale was inspired to make them nice guys, and boyish, after seeing a BBC recording team in similarly old surroundings, but they came over to me as not boyish but juvenile, full of japes and forced jollity, as if serious was contagious. Everybody shouted when they didn’t need to, which emphasised the theatricality of things rather than the filmic aspect.

All of this served to emphasise the separateness of Jill. Jill was the only female role of substance in the film and it showed. Jane Asher was still very much a beautiful woman, and the script makes it clear that she’s Peter’s mistress (he’s married with two children he loves dearly), but hers is not a role in which sex is more than implied. Instead, Jill’s contrasting femininity is of the weak and feble woman kind: she’s psychic, intuitive, fluttery, the most unscientific about their scientific project.

Jill’s role as the woman is established up front in an awkward sequence. People are arriving at Taskerlands. She parks her car but finds herself caught between two bloody massive removal trucks, each backing up past each her with Jill’s car as the meat in the sandwich. Her frantic horn-blowing makes no impression on eaither and she has to hastily back out herself, into a pile of sand, that then becomes a shake-her-up accident about which she’s mystifyingly vague and semi-hysterical.

Yes, the hysterical woman, who can’t take the stress unlike all the shouty men. It doesn’t helpthat as written, and convincingly played by Michael Bryant, Peter Brock islittle more that a self-centred, dictatorial twat. Peter’s always right. He knows everything. He knows what Jill thinks and what she’s doing. She’s out to destroy him because he won’t leave his wife and children for her. Peter is summed up during the intense session trying to detect the ghost when, in frustration, he screams at her to “Come when I tell you!”

Failure doesn’t exist in Peter’s world, not to him. It’s somebody else and we don’t talk about it, it never happened, and we’ll slander the memory of the woman he was sleeping with by claiming she was mentally ill, it was all her fault.

All of this got under my skin, in a way that wasn’t possible in 1973, when I was 17 and a naive 17 at that. You couldn’t write the story like that now, and rightly so.

But these aspects make The Stone Tape a mixed bag, a curate’s egg. They are peripherals, however intrusive, and the bones of the story are strong and solid. The idea that ghosts are memories trapped in stone has become a considered theory in the past half-century, and it’s known as the Stone Tape Effect, which says more for the story than casual racism and sexism.

Film 2020: The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix

For all its resolutely English title and the presence of the legendary Murray Walker providing spirited commentary on the titular Grand Prix, The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix is a foreign film and a Norwegian one to boot. There it is known as Flaklypa Grand Prix and is a classic that is broadcast every Xmas. I saw it on British TV an uncountable number of years ago and loved it instantly.

The film is based on a series of books created by cartoonist and author Kjell Aukrust and, according to Wikipedia, is the most widely seen film in Norwegian history, with 5,500,000 seats sold to a population of 5,000,000. It’s made in stop-go animation, was originally intended to be a 25 minutes Xmas TV special which basically featured sketches based on Aukrust’s works, with no connecting thread, which was eventually scrapped before being revived as a full-length idea by director Ivo Caprino.

And four more films have been made based on Aukrust’s cartoons, none of which have been translated into English which, based on the evidence of this one, is a damned shame.

But if you’re talking damned shame, the real one is that the DVD of this film seems to have suffered damage since last I watched it, which has made the final eight minutes – including the race conclusion – impossible to watch. So this post is of necessity incomplete. Sure, another version of the film is currently being downloaded as I write, but it’s being suggested it will take most of the day before I can catch up.

Mind you, as we all know that the hero will win and the villain be disgraced, hving the ending on a plate is not necessarily essential. The film has had long enough to impress itself with its warmth, eccentricity and depiction of a strange and impossible place that would be similarly fascinating and frustrating to live.

The place is Pinchcliffe, described as a hill village, ‘100 miles north, a bit east and up’, in short a nowhere discoverable in space, a brigadoon where things aren’t as they are in our world. Pinchcliffe is a small village of plain wooden houses, at the base of a twin-mountain outline consisting of two uneven rocky peaks separated from foot to height but linked by a stone bridge. The silhouette of these peaks identifies Pinchcliffe over and again, and they’re apparently based on a rock outcrop where Aukrust was born.

Anyway, at the top of the higher peak lives Theodore Rimspoke, noted bicycle repairer and inventor, with his two assistants and virtual family, Sunny Duckworth and Lambert. Sunny is a cheerful go-getting optimist, Lambert a fearful pessimist. Also, Sunny is some form of blackbird and Lambert a big-nosed hedgehog. Who wears a rucksack on his back.

Now if that last detail doesn’t capture you, I should give some careful thought about whether to watch this film. We are in the land of the wilfully eccentric, powered by a hefty dose of whimsey, all wrapped up in a delightfully Heath-Robinson-esque attention to overtly complex gadgets, such as the local cameraman perched on a bicycle-driven mobile camera-post that Sjy ought to be taking a look at for covering football.

This is a world of its own with its local paper an equal to all the major newspapers of the world and its own, wonderfully archaic television station. That’s the start of the ‘story’ as Theodore and co watch the Sports news one night, featuring the new motor-racing sensation Rudolph Gore-Slimey (he’s the villain,how can you tell?) and his Boomerang Special. Gore-Slimey was a former assistant to Rimspoke who disappeared one day, evidently with Rimspoe’s plans to build a powerful motor engine…

Rimspoke is philosophical but Sonny is outraged. There is the framework of a super car, Il Tempo Gigante, in the coach house, but not the money to even buy nuts and bolts. Fortunately, the gold Rolls-Royce belonging to Sheikh Abdul ben Bonanza of Aladdin Oil has broken down in Pinchcliffe and his chauffeur Manuel Desperados, a gorilla-chimpanzee cross, is struggling to fix it. Once the Sheikh sees the plans for Il Tempo Gigante, he finances Rimspoke for the forthcoming Grand Prix to be held in Pinchcliffe.

But the night before, Gore-Slimey and his assistant sneak in to sabotage the car by sawing part way through Rimspoke’s power contraption: one key characteristic of the dialogue is the highly-technical pseudo-scientific devices discussed in profound but utterly confusing language so don’t expect a more detailed description.

The race attracts an international cast of drivers, as well as Murray Walker, all with wonderfully speed related names – the German, Herman von Schnell, the Irishman, Jimmy McQuick, the Swede, Ronnie Turnip-Anderson – and a crowd of literally dozens, stood all round the course waving Rimspoke on.

The race itself is a thing of mixed fortunes. The film’s one failure is that for distance shots, conveying the speed of the race, it resorts to Matchbox-style models of the cars that are too obviously a solid toy car as opposed to the things of improbable design that they are in close-up.

Naturally, Rimspoke has to start thirty seconds behind the field, to make up that gap in unbelievable time, and just as naturally he hits the front before the half-sawn through thingie breaks down and he loses all power and has to coast into the Pits from the back. Everybody fusses futilely but Lambert spots the sabotage and holds the thingie up, restoring power. By default, he becomes the new second driver as Rimspoke cuts through the field again, leading to one final duel with Gore-Slimey, who resorts to open trickery to try to preserve his advantage…

But I haven’t got that bit thanks to the damaged DVD. On the other hand, the download has progressed far better than it intially led me to think, so if you’d like to get yourselves tea and/or coffee whist we wait…

The film’s final few minutes bring the race to an end but the sense that all this is taking place within a bubble is re-emphasised when we cut to Rimspoke’s worksop that night. They’ve got the Cup, they’ve had the fun, but tomorrow is about returning to repairing bicycles, and the usual in-passing quarrels. Lambert gets the inside berth in the bed he shared with Sonny tonight, because of his efforts: out of the draft for once. But it’s all over and real life, or rather their ‘real life’ reasserts itself. It’s a clam and gentle moment on which to end.

Which is as it should be. The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix is a slow film, in our terms, but a better word would be unhurried. It takes its time, because there is no need for rush. Things will get done, and the diversions along that way, such as the band concert with Manuel Desperados as guest drummer, are just as much a part of living as the Grand Prix of the Century’. It’s a part o things, along with the gentle but wide-ranging colours. The film is mellow but distinctie, the screen a riot of colours, but all of them natural. It’s picture is complete and perfect. Abandon being miserable all those who enter here.

I’m disappointed that there are no credits for the English voices. Walker is unmistakable, and I applaud him for his willingness to lend his voice to this, and I’m eighty percent certain that the narrator is Derrick Guyler, an opinion shared by many on-line, where it appears there are no records of the English voices.

So, not the usual Sunday morning excursion into Filmland, but we got there in the end. If you’ve never watched The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix before, make the effort, take time off, sink in, and then start a petition for English-dubbed versions of the other four…

Film 2020: Penda’s Fen

The run on Sunday morning film DVDs that I began on the first weekend in January 2018 is now very near the end. Short of any late acquisitions, Film 2020 will be coming to an end this autumn.

To help postpone the evil moment,I’ve turned to a number of TV films, though it would be more proper to call these plays.

The first of these is definitely stretching things to call it a film. A decade later, the definition might have been looser, but in 1974 Penda’s Fen was broadcast as an episode of the BBC’s Play for Today, from the era when the BBC, and ITV, still trafficked in single plays, frequently to great effect.

Penda’s Fen was not the sort of thing I would normally watch, neither in itself or in the Play for Today slot. What caught my eye was the presence of Spencer Banks in the leading role, who practically everyone of my generation will fondly recall as one of the two leads in the very successful cult classic Children’s ITV SF series Timeslip (1970-71).

There were a lot of very famous productions in Play for Today down the years, such as ‘Blue Remembered Hills’, ‘Abigail’s Party’ and the original, one-off, ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’, and the series covered a wide range of subjects but was largely concerned with realistic dramas. Among such plays, Penda’s Fen is a cult story, but it is remembered to this day.

It was broadcast once when I watched it, and repeated once, when I only got to turn over to watch the rest of it when something my mother was watching finished, and I turned straight into a dream sequence emblemising one of the film’s  more over themes. In a Terrible Voice, my mother demanded to know what this was. My answer was a very red-faced admission that I’d completely forgotten that scene was even in it. Which had the merit of being completely true whilst being completely implausible. Today is the first time I have seen the film since.

Penda’s Fen was written by David Rundkin and was a far cry from his normal, realistic fare, a story with intense moral, religious, nationalistic and mystic roots that the writer himself confessed to not fully understanding, and directed by the celebrated Alan Clarke. It’s set in and around the village of Pinvin, in Worcestershire, filmed completely on location, an English pastoral location of fields and grass and gentle green country, to which the Malvern Hills and Sir Edward Elgar are an essential backdrop. We don’t know how long a period the story covers but, with the exception of a single rainstorm, it runs through a long, idyllic summer.

Banks is Stephen Franklin, the son of a slow-talking, thoughtful and philosophical C of E Parson (John Atkinson). We meet him studying music in his bedroom, listening to Elgar’s ‘Dream of Gerontius’. He’s an awkward, priggish, intelligent but wholly dogmatic boy, a gifted organist, a Corporal in his Private School’s Army Corps, ultra-Christian, small and big C-Conservative with convictions as to the pureness of Englishness and the correctly stratified society that make you instinctively loathe the idea of spending ninety minutes with him. Stephen is one of those adolescents who knows already, who you can hardly imagine needing school to teach him anything.

What follows through a series of increasingly fantastic visions, is Stephen’s unmaking.

One thing that’s as clear as the gulfstream waters from the outset but of which I was next to wholly ignorant in 1974, which says a lot about me as a sheletered and naive character even through seven years of an all-boys Grammar School, is that Stephen is a far from latent homosexual. Even though, at the beginning, he would denounce it as unnatural, and certainly against God’s wishes from which all things derive, it’s as plain as the nose on his face, and it was a dream sequence in which his hand is stroking down the chest of a naked man towards a shaded area that I unfortunately turned over to on repeat (I genuinely had forgotten that and remembered the increasingly fantastic and quasi-horrific visions, in keeping with my onrushing enthusiasm for fantasy fiction).

Though the story is handled in static manner, with plenty of long, slow conversations, the old Stephen breaks down into something more questioning, finding an old paganism, born of place, breaking through. The moment he crosses an internal line into accepting his sexual nature, everything that has matter before, his narrow-defined Englishness based on traditional authority as worshipped all around him, ceases to become important without anything but questions replacing it.

He questions the values of his School, and its Backbone of England men, his father the vicar turns out to be considerably more of a Freethinker than Stephen has been, he learns he is adopted and that his natural parents were not English.

And the visions. a devil squats on his groin in bed. An Angel is reflected in a puddle beside a cornfield. Crashing off his bike and stunned, he hallucinates a scene in an Elizabethan house garden where contemporary children and adults re having their hands chopped off, presided over by a middle-aged couple who he has already praised as the ‘mother and father of England’ for winning an injunction to ban broadcast of a TV documentary on Jesus that is ‘investigative theology’ but which he denounces as a deliberate atheist plot.

In a rainstorm, he meets the aged, wheelchair-bound Sir Edward Elgar, talking about his music and disclosing the secret of the unrevealed melody that fits the Enigma Variations, a secret to e kept between them and England. Playing ‘Dreams of Gerontius’ on the Church organ, the aisle slipts in a widening crack intent on swallowing up…

There are no answers, nor any dogma. The closest we come to a definition is in the final scene. What Rudkin is striving for, on an unconscious level, is a definition of England that extends beyond its mortal traditions, attached to the Empire, and reaches into subsconcious areas of doubt and darkness and dissension and questioning.

It carries with it a suppressed power. Pinvin is a corruption of Pendefen, Penda’s Fen, the land of the last Midland’s King, King Penda. It is where Stephen lives and behind all his simple certainties it lies, awake still, holding deeper lessons.

And in the end, Stephen sits alone on the Malverns, looking out on this world. A man and a woman approach him over the brow, the ‘mother and father of england’, the banners and stiflers of the start of the story. In a scene echoing the Temptation on the Mount, they offer Stephen his Kingdom. He is the boy Prince, the one they have been promised so long, the Second Coming, the Pure who they exalt. But Stephen isn’t pure in his own mind, he’s a mixing of all things, and he claims this for himself and runs away downhill.

The ‘mother and father’ won’t let him go. If he cannot be theirs, he cannot be the Devil’s. They take a polaroid, start to burrn it. Stephen falls, his clothes starting to burn, his burning the agony it really is, not the joy this couple have claimed for it. He cries out to Penda and the couple vanish in a burning explostion. Penda sits on his throne, anointing Steph n for the truest qualities he embodies, for what he can now be. Stephen silently accepts this kingdom and descends to rejoin his people.

I don’t pretend to understand all of this any more than Rudkin does. What astonished me was the power of its appeal. The story reflects its time, and is a window into a past in which there were good things and bad things and these were different to what is good and bad now, and were differently proportioned, but even nearer to an English nationalism that was assumed and assumed to be both right and continuous instead of the crudely contrived bullshit we have now, it reminded me of an England with which I aill always have far more sympathy than that we live in today. That England was an England to share, and enjoy, not the England I now hate and despise and would abandon if I could.

I am from the Northern parts, shaped by my heritage and my home, nor the rolling country, the softer landscapes of Worcestershire and the south west Midlands. We are of different races in that ancient England. But theirs is mine as well in what we really are, beneath all surfaces. Penda’s Fen took us through those layers, into an England I recognise as true and of which I want to be part. Whether you call it a film or not, it holds its place here as much as any cinematic triumph.

Film 2020: Private Property

It took me a while to settle into this film, a 2006 Belgian production, French language affair (original title Nue Propriete – literally Bare Property), starring Isabelle Huppert. This was not through any failings of the film but rather that I’d set my expectations for something light and comic, and also French, only to discover at the literal last minute that it came without English sub-titles.

So, what was this family psychologogical drama about? Huppert plays Pascale, who has been divorced from Luc (the bear-like Patrick Descamps) for at least ten years. She lives with their twin children Thierry and Francois (played by half-brothers Jeremie and Yannick Renier). If I understand the Wikipedia explanation about property rights corectly, Pascale has the right to live in the property but not to profit from it. The problem is that, after a decade and a half of devoting herself wholly to her sons, Pascale wants to resume her life. She’s started a clandestine relationship with Jan (Kris Cuppens), an accomplished chef and is talking of opening a B&B. To fund this, she talks of selling the house.

That’s the practicalities of the situation. The film is about the relationship between the characters. Director Joachim Lafosse complicates this somewhat by not giving us an objective external view of Pascale. We see her for ourselves, externally calm, still upset and angry with Luc, who has never got out of the habit of dropping round whenever he feels like it, at one point turning up in her bedroom when she’s taking a nap, passive in the face of Thierry’s offensive talk, his total self-entitlement. We’re meant to be sympathetic to her but we don’t know the past history except from her side. At one point, having invited Jan to dinner (which he cooks himself), Thierry starts accusing Jan of not knowing about Pascale and what she’s capable of, and this prompts the reconition that we don’t either. We can only jude her in the light of the men surrounding her and confining her, and frankly when you look at them, you rapidly find yourself in complete sympathy with her!

I’ve already characterised Luc as controlling, and Thierry is a replication of him assurely as if he’d been cloned. It’s not until the end of the film, and by way of a severely belated correction from Luc, that it’s made explicit that Thierry blames his mother for the family breakdown, and hates her for it. His words towards her, his demands to know what she’s doing, where she’s going, his refusal to even countenance her selling the house, his open hostility to Jan (who in truth , is making one ham-fisted mess of their one meeting) and his constant demands of her – and his girlfriend Anne (Raphaelle Lubansu, who we note looks not unlike a young Huppert – that they do what he wants, immediately, without thought of their own lives, depict him as an evil little bastard, a selfish tw*t.

Between these two, we cannot be but understanding of Pascale. She lives in her ex-husband’s house, unable to break free of his shadow, bringing up two boy who, now in their early twenties, show no signs of growing up or taking responsibility for themselves, one of whom is constantly ‘teasing’ of her by being as obnoxious as he can: the nice dress that makes her look like a whore, the red-tinting of her hair that he openly laughs at, but it’s all her fault for not seeing that he’s joking, oh yes, we’ve got your number, sonny.

Francois, in contrast, is more supportive, in an entirely passive manner. Thierry is the more forceful of the pair, who are twins, and thus bonded. He is mostly silent when Thierry is going off on one, but though he’s far more like his mother, to the extent that I detect the faint echoes of an Oedipus Complex, he’s a weak person and his encouraement always comes way too late and way too diffidently.

Both boys haven’t grown up and don’t want to grow up. Thierry has his studies in some undisclosed subject and Francois is ‘looking for a job’, the process of which seems to be his sanding down doors and shutters. Only in comprison to his poisonous brother is Francois at all a positive figure.

And Jan’s no bloody use either. He and Pascale have sex in places like the back of an estate car out in the forest (not cramped at all) but as soon as he’s introduced to the boys, he walks out on her, doesn’t want to know: supportive or what? Admittedly, he’s dropped right in it by Pascale who, having told him of her problems, wants him to try to talk to the boy on her behalf, at which he’s bloody useless. Given Thierry’s nature, this was always going to be a complete waste of time and only serves to jack up the boy’s hostility to the point where he’s telling her to fuck off, to her face, repeatedly, enough so that she loses her temper (about ten years too late) and belts him round the head, screaming at him.

This leads to the film’s turning point. Pascale leaves, requiring a breather, recognising that Thierry is impossible and won’t change. Luc won’t take any responsibility for looking after them: she wanted the divorce, it’s her bed, let her lie in it.

Left alone, Thierry’s selfishness is extended to Francois who, resentful of his mother having been drive away, starts fighting ack. Anne comes for the weekend. Sex is disrupted by Francois’ insistence on playing video motor-racing games all night, he tells a mocking story about Thierry’s childhood. When watching TV, Thierry starts trying to feel Anne up and Francois watches them. Infuriated by the atmosphere between the brothers, Anne leaves. Francois mocks Thierry’s please for her to come back,leading to a short,violent brawl in which Thierry pushes his brother off, causing him to fall and demolish a glass coffee-table. Francois lands half off-screen and lies still.

This is where Thierry falls part. What’s happened to Francois we don’t know. The film deliberately won’t tell us, nor the eventual outcome. But it’s serious and potentially fatal. Thierry stands there, speaking his brother’s name. Instead of helping, or call an ambulance, he calls Dad, then he runs off and hides. The camera sits unmovingly on him as, in the deep background, first Luc’s car then an ambulance then Pascale’s arrive iutside the huse, running in. He takes himself to Anne’s but can’t/won’t speak. she drives him back to the house and dumps him there.

Luc and Pascale return. He’s lying on his bed, refusing to speak, pretending that if he doesn’t admit what he’s done it won’t have happened, the sniveling little merde (excuse my French). Luc won’t press him but Pascale will. He tries to run away, calls her a bitch, who is responsible for all this. It’s not his fault, nothing was ever his fault, a big boy did it and ran away…

And then Luc, at least ten years too late, grabs him by the throat, drags him outside, shouts in his face that his mother is not a bitch. And in a long-overdue and no doubt ineffectual, he tells Thierry that they tried, but it didn’t work out. That was all.

The one note of optimism is in the defeated slump of Luc’s shoulders, the merest suggestion that, having seen what anger and hatred has led to, he might have learned. Silent in the living room, Luc slumps to his knees and begins, carefully, to collect the shards of the coffee table. After watching him for thirty seconds or so, Pascale kneels and starts her own pile.

Thierry? I think he’s irredeemable, that his ingrained sense of self-entitlement, indulged for so long by Luc, is too thick to be penetrated even by this shock.

The film offers only one more shot, a continuous shot from a camer affixed tothe back of a car, driving away from the house along country roads until the screen fades to black. We assume this to be Anne, leaving forever, and perhaps we can infer that Francois’ injury has been fatal, though it’s clear she had more or less given up on her other son as well.

Either way, it’s a non-ending, but what else could be possible? here was a family who were fucked up beyond all recognition,save that there are millions of them. When there is no ending, a decision must be made to stopsomewhere. Itn it’s way,this is a dynamic non-ending, not one produced through inertia,lack orf enery or imagination.

Not what I was planning for a genuinely sunny Saturday morning, but thought-provoking and involving nevertheless.

Film 2020: Allegro Non Troppo

A long way back, when watching Fantasia, I promised to include this film later that year, only to forget. It’s time has now come, Allegro Non Troppo (colloquially Not So Fast), a 1976 Italian film directed by Bruno Bozetto, long known as the ‘anti-Fantasia‘.

What this film is is a parody of Fantasia, sometimes directly. It presents six pieces of classical music, set to animations, but these animations are much darker in tone, be it comic or tragic, and the pieces chosen by and large avoid the distinctively melodic likes of ‘The Sorceror’s Apprentice’ and the ‘Dance of the Hours’ in favour of more subtle, and usually shorter pieces that, without being demanding, require a little more concentration.

The original version of the film, which is the version I have, includes extensive live-action sequences (in black and white) in between the colour animations. These initially parody Deems Taylor’s introduction to Fantasia but unfortunately they don’t stop there. These sequences develop a life of their own and unfortunatelky it’s not a happy one.

Basically, the theme is that the eager presenter (Maurizio Micheli, in a spangly suit), after learning that this idea of marrying music and cartooning isn’t original, decides to try and top Fantasia by bringing in a live orchestra (of little old ladies, collected from a cattle pen and herded onto a truck in a sequence that uncomfortably smacked of the Holocaust) under the direction of the conductor (Nestor Garay), a smug, domineering, growling egotist,chomping throughout on a short fat cigar, his hair tweaked into a pair of devil’s horns. An animator (Maurizio Nichetti, with a distinct Pete Atkin moustache) sits on the stage, ‘drawing’ the cartoon sequences whilst a cleaning lady (the genuinely lovely Maurialuisa Giiovannini) tidies up around them.

These sequences are subject to three main problems. One is that they are in Italian, without sub-titles, so they’re completely incomprehensible. Second is that,to a fault, they are overlong. And thirdly, and completely unforgivably in combination with point 2, they are just plain unfunny.

But the point of Allegro Non Troppo is not this bridging claptrap, or at least to me it’s not. The point is the music and the animation.Before we get down to specifics, let me describe the animation generally. First of all, it’s not the clean, pristine full-animation of Disney. Overall, it’s much more limited, the movements frequently jerky, and in style it draws more on the underground art of the Sixties, with a distinctly R. Crumb look in some places, both in imagery (especially in backgrounds) and abstractness.

The piece opens with Debussy’s ‘Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune’, the first of two pieces that have changed dramatically in their effect on me. The story is simple in structure, drawing upon the imagery applied to Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral Symphony’ in Fantasia, the cherubs and centaurs sequence. An elderly faun on a summer afternoon tries to recapture his past and his satyr-appeal to long-legged naked female girls, by trying through cosmetics to once again appear young. But the girls walk or even run away as his disguises fail, and he slowly diminishes before sadly accepting his fate, returning to his muffler and stick and wandering off across a curved landscape that, as the camera pulls back, is revealed as a naked young woman.

It’s not the film that’s changed but me. What was new about this was always there before I had the experiences to identify with the aging faun, whose desire, appreciation of beauty and recollection of warmth has neither died nor dimmed, but who is now relegated to the ranks of those for whom it will now only ever be a memory, a memory best accepted because, as John Vleese recently put it, it’s not the despair, it’s the hope…

A comic piece was needed and quickly, but those bloody stupid slapstick live-action bits… Nevertheless, that’s what we got with Dvorak’s ‘Slavonic Dance No. 7’, a couple of minutes of slapstick featuring a cartoon man who tries to better himself only for everyone in his former cave-dwelling community to ape him slavishly. He decides to exploit this viciously by dressing up in uniform and marching over a ciff where there’s a vine strong enough to hold him up. They don’t follow him: when he climbs back up the cliff they’re stood there is unifrm ranks and, as one, turn round and moon him!

To close the first half, we get the film’s longest and strongest part, Ravel’s ‘Bolero’. This powerful piece parodies Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of spring’ from Fantasia by being an evolutionary exposition linked to an inexorable march towards… well,let’s not say what just yet.

The animation is linked to the live action by the conductor throwing away a coca-cola bottle. The animated version flies across the hall, coming to a rest half-buried. The bolero, with its repeated form subtly changing only in arrangement, commences. Bubbles in the coke rise and pop as it turns into a sludge that scales the inside of the bottle and emerges as a primordial ooze that evolves through fantastic, freakish shapes that split and diversify as they begin their long procession, drawn ever ‘eastwards’ – a left-to-right progression across the screen – changing, mutating, like evolution incapable of stopping either movement.

There’s no attempt to realistically depict genuine creatures but, the more sophisticated the marching masses become, as the more sophisticated the arrangements become, the more like creatures we recognise they become.

Midway through, a recognisable creature appears,flitting around and about the procession. This is Ape, this is Man-to-be, and the evil grin on its face establishes in a moment our refusal to accept ourselves as a part of Nature, a part of the processes that apply to everyone. And Man is the predator, killing creatures around him to serve his needs. And the music swells upwards, the creatures walk relentlessly, the Ape kills relentlessly, untilthe climax crashes through a solar eclipse to a city exploding upwards through the ground,  killing thousands by brushing through them. Until all look up to the statue of a Man, noble, wise, proud… who crumbles from within to reveal the Ape, still holding on to its club, settling down with its evil grin to contemplate what it will do next.

The ‘Bolero’ has always been the most powerful part of the film, and its jaundiced but truthful message is even more pertinent today. Long live Us, Lords of Creation.

There’s more clowning around and a man in a gorilla suit supposedly escaped from the bolero, but even that can’t damage the piece. The second half starts with the other piece whose depth and effect has changed on me, and which now had the power to reduce me to tears. This was Sibelius’ ‘Valse Triste’.

An almost wholly-demolished house stands alone, reduced to a gable wall and the outline of no longer existent rooms, three stories. A scrawny, big-eyed cat enters the ruins and prowls around. In its eyes it recreates the life that used to be hear, rooms expanding in dimension, children playing, women doing housework,men playing poker, live action figures shot in monocolours, a hand that put a saucer of milk on the floor. The cat belonged here and for a moment it recreates the life it knew, that was life but which, like the lonely mournful cat desperately missing the people it belonged with, is only a ghost. The cat fades and the sequence freezes as a wrecking ball arrives to remove even this marker of the past. As with the faun, the impact of this piece lies in how my own experiences grew around it so that now I cannot escape feeling it and wanting to give that cat, and one cat in particular, now no more than a ghost herself, the love it felt.

Another comic piece is needed urgently but of course we hve to put up with the nonsense first, until we could throw things. This is equally short, Vivaldi’s ‘Comcerto in C Major’, set to a female bumblebee preparing a prim picnic on a flower but interrupted by two lovers arriving for a rural idyll away from prying eyes, in which romance will be enacted. Until a fuming bumblebee stings a no doubt already priapic man on his arse!

Last up is the only composer common to both films, Stravinsky, here represented by two parts of the ‘Firebird Suite’. God, an eye in the pyramid, makes man and woman out of clay (after a couple of lumpish false starts). Adam and Eve turn into animation cels, followed by the snake, which steals an apple and proffers it to each in turn. Both refuse it, indifferent. So the snake swallows it whole. There follows a dream, of torment by demons leading to torment by the ‘appeals’ of modern  life – sex, money, drugs etc. When the snake, by now possessed of arms and legs, suit and hat, wakes up, it rants incomprehensibly about its dream, shrugs off his human trappings (including his limbs), coughs up the apple, and nobody leaves the Garden.

That’s it basically, and it’s been good fun and well worth the time, but we’ve still got ten minutes left and the film has run out of ideas. The orchestra has fled, the animator has transformed the cleaning lady and himself into parodies of Snow White and Prince Charming, Disney versions, and the Presenter and the bandaged all over conductor (let’s not go into that bit) try to contrive an ending that basically falls apat. Switch the DVD off after the animation transformation, you won’t miss anything,not even the nuclear war that destroys the planet. Watch the ‘Bolero’ again instead.

So you’d have to say that Allegro Non Troppo is a bit of a curate’s egg, and certainly its two short pieces are far from essential, but the major pieces are worth all the film put together. It’s not Disney, it’s the anti-Disney. Ultimately, this and Fantasia aren’t really comparable. They merely use a common format to completely different ends and when Allegro Non Troppo is as good as it can be, it transcends the parodic intent to become a thing of its own. And that thing is astonishingly good.

Film 2020: Hang ‘Em High

Hang ‘Em High was the fourth film in the ‘Man from Nowhere’ trilogy boxset I bought earlier this year. It was Clint Eastwood’s first American western, a 1968 production that followed hard on the heels of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in terms of release, and the first co-production with Malpaso, the company Eastwood created to control his career.

Before watching it this morning, I was under the impression I’d seen this film before at my old local cinema, the Burnage Odeon, but I remembered nothing of it, and recognised nothing I remembered of the film I’d gone to see (hardly surprising as it was actually High Plains Drifter I watched). I’d never seen it before, so it came as a surprise to view.

Ultimately, though I think the film enjoys the negative benefits of not perpetuating the worse of Sergio Leone’s excesses, I was still not satisfied with it. Like the Trilogy, it’s a very slow film without the benefit of deliberatenerss, and it’s story meanders. Overall, the film suffers for me from falling between two stools, two visions, embodied by the film’s two principal characters, Jed Cooper (Eastwood) and Judge Fenton (Pat Hingle), standing for Revenge and Justice.

The film, which is set in the Oklahoma Territory in 1889, the first year of Benjamin harrison’s Presidency, begins with a lynching. Cooper, an ex-deputy seeking to settle down, build a spread, has bought a small herd of cattle. Unknown to him, he has bought them from a rustler who has killed the real owner and his family. A posse of nine men, led by local rancher Captain Wilson (Ed Begley) refuses to believe in Cooper’s innocence and hang him from a tree. After they ride off, Cooper is cut down still alive by Marshall Dave Bliss (Ben Johnson) and taken to Fort Grant, home of the Territory’s only Courthouse and only Judge, Adam Fenton. Fenton checks Cooper’s story and confims it; he is released as an innocent man.

Cooper is clearly going to seek revenge on the nine men who lynched him. Fenton warns him that to do so will result in his returning to Fort Grant to be hung. Only Justice can prevail if ever Oklahoma is to be granted Statehood, receive a Governor, a state Senate, the full panoply of Law and Justice. All it has for now is Fenton, one man standing for the power of Justice. And Fenton is a fanatic. The only way Cooper can have his revenge is as a Deputy Marshall, under obligation to bring them in alive.

This is the moment at which the film compromises itself fatally. We are meant to sympathise with Cooper, with Eastwood. He has the right to his Revenge and the moment the mantle of the Law is placed on his shoulders he can no longer have it. Yes, he shoots Reno, dead, but it’s in self-defence. Yes, he brings Miller (a young Bruce Dern, father of Laura) in to be hung, but any satisfaction he may have from that – and Cooper shows no satisfaction from any of his successes – is tempered by finding Miller with two teenage boys, companions in a rustling but not in murder. Cooper brings in all three alone, only because the boys refuse to join Miller in an attack on the Deputy Marshall.

For this Cooper wants to see mercy, two boys, eighteen and sixteen, easy to turn back to a righteous life, but Fenton will have none of it. The boys have to be convicted, have to be and are hung, because if the Law doesn’t do it, folks will say it is useless, and they will lynch, and Oklahoma will never become a State.

As for the others, various fates await. Stone the blacksmith (Alan Hale Jr, TV’s Casey Jones and the Skipper in Gilligan’s Island) goes into arrest easily but forces the Sherrif, Ray Calhoun, his friend, to shoot him. Jenkins, the old man, the only one to argue against the lynching, turns himself in. The other five, accepting they were wrong, attempt to buy Cooper off by returning him money, but he will still execute the Law. Two head off into the distance, two stand by Wilson.

Whilst a hanging is taking place at Fort Grant, Wilson and his two loyalists ambush Cooper in the hotel. His life is saved by the mysterious and beautiful Rachel Warren (Inger Stevens, genuinely beautiful) who nurses him back to health.

Rachel is an enigma. By Fenton’s order she is given access to look at every prisoner brought in. It’s hardly difficult to work out why but it’s not until she takes the recuperating Cooper for a picnic and he kisses her, very lightly, only for her to flinch, that she explains. Once she was married, to a Doctor. They were headed west, where he believed he wastruly wanted. One night, two drifters joined them at their campfire. They shot the doctor dead and both raped her. She is looking for them in each prisoner.

Cooper questionswhat Rachel will do afterwards if she finally sees them, or if she never sees them. They are trapped by a cloudburst, take shelter in a rackety shack overnight, and in the morning make love. That cures Rachel, but the same question poses itself to Cooper, who can’t answer if completing his restricted revenge will do the same for him. There’s very little room for women in this film but this touch comfirms a subtle misogyny is nevertheless present.

Cooper’s off after his would-be killers. Tommy and Loomis try to kill him and wind-up dead, Wilson, in fear of prison, hangs himself in his own house. It’s an ironic end but an unsatisfying one.

So Cooper hands in his badge. He wants the dying Jenkins pardoned but Fenton won’t do it. Cooper’s sick of Fenton’s Law, that demands death from the undeserving, that is no more than a legal lynching. Cooper is arguing for a more modern approach, a Justice tempered by Mercy, by sense, by rehabilitation, but that’s the future. Fenton’s Law is pragmatic: it has to be strict, it has to punish and do nothing but punish, it has to ignore its own mistakes, because only through the Law suppressing the will of the people to execute Revenge will Sttehood come, will checks and balances come, with Fenton be relieved of his awful, exclusive responsibility for life and death.

He sneers at Cooper and his future: marrying Rachel, buying a spread, aising cattle and kids. Jemkins willnot be pardoned. Unless Cooper puts the badge back on. Two futures, incompatible. Cooper puts the badge back on. Jenkins is pardoned. Cooper is handed two warrants, Maddow and Charley Blackfoot, the last of the nine. The Law still wants them. Cooper rides out. Rachel’s re-awakening, through love for (and sex with) him is at best put on hold, poor woman.

Within two years of making this film, Inger Stevens would be dead of a drugs overdose, which explains why such a beautiful, cool woman, already a TV star, in showsnever exported to Britain, never came to my attention before. Nevertheless, for all it amounted to, I’d have preferred it if her strand had been eliminated from the film. It serves no purpose in the overall story, lumpy and ill-formed as that is, except to make her further a victim, for no justfiable reason.

Overall, I prefer this film to any of the Leone trilogy, but I can’t say I’d queue up to see it again. Some of it is the difference between 1968 and 2020, and the increased pace of everything these later years, but for an action film I find Hang ‘Em High far too slow to hold my attention.

Film 2020: Expose

You may be surprised to find me selecting a film of this nature for Sunday morning but we are once again travelling down Nostalgia Avenue.

Expose holds a unique place in British film history, being the only British-made film to be included on the Government list of ‘video-nasties’, back when such things were exercising the moral conscience of the country. This was some time after it first appeared, in the late summer – and what a summer – of 1976, the Great Drought Summer.

Back then, I knew it as The House on Straw Hill, a title chosen to allude to Stanley Kubrick’s Straw Dogs, one of Britain’s two most famous banned films alongside A Clockwork Orange. These were the days of Local Authority Film Committees, who were not bound by the BBFC ratings (U, A or X), with the power to veto showings in cinemas subject to their licence. Manchester banned The House on Straw Hill, but Salford didn’t, meaning that my mate Alan and I had to drive about twenty minutes longer to see it one deep, golden Saturday evening.

I don’t know about video-nasty, having never watched any of the many such obvious examples, but Expose was certainly a case of the cheap’n’nasties. It starred Udo Kier, a German actor who did not speak English, Fiona Richmond, a star of multimedia softcore porn activities (including SF novels), who had masses of lovely red hair, big tits and no discernible acting ability, and Linda Hayden, who’d appeared nude in her film debut, Baby Love, at the age of 15 and who’d gotten them out in every other film she’d made up to that point.

The film-makers were not aiming for a high-quality audience.

The story is simple, whilst managing to be simultaneously pretentious and crude. Paul Martin (Kier) is an author whose first novel has been a major success, but who is struggling to meet the deadline on his follow-up. Paranoid and fearful, Paul has rented a remote cottage somewhere in southern England, where he has sex with his girlfriend Suzanne (Richmond) before she leaves, during which he has visions of blood and people breaking in.

In order to work faster, Paul has his publisher hire a typist for him, Linda (Hayden). She’s hassled by two louts at the station on arrival, one of whom is future sitcom and EastEnders star Karl Howman (here credited as Carl): Paul has to knee them in the groins to stop them pushing him around.

After a first dictation scene during which we learn that Paul’s writing is as arty and pretentious as both he and the film are being up to now, Linda goes upstairs to unpack, after looking round Paul’s multi-locked and bolted bedroom. She reveals that she carries two photos one of Paul and one of a man who’s already been seen in two of Paul’s hallucinations, plus a butcher’s knife. Then she strips off and shoves her hand down her knickers whilst staring at the other man’s photos.

After thus refreshing herself, Linda returns to work, though this is now/still (?) a morning session. Instead of lunch, she goes for a walk through the wheatfields before lying down, undoing her dress and touching herself up again.

She is interrupted by the louts – credited as Big Youth and Little Youth – one of whom rapes her in a very perfunctory, not-even-a-flash-of-tit manner whilst the other obligingly holds his shortgun just over her making it easy for her to shoot both of them in an unseen manner. The one on top of her dies instantly, the other (Howman) is merely severely wounded in a manner that lets him hang around in the wheatfield for however many days the story covers without either dying or trying to get help for his wounds.

Linda takes over the household, sending off Mrs Aston, the housekeeper (Patsy Smart muttering her lines in a cutglass accent). When the housekeeper returns at night to sneak around, she gets her throat cut.)

Paul wants to have sex with Linda but gets no further than sticking his hand inside her blouse and squeezing her tit. To get at her (sigh), he phones up Suzanne and gets her to come back, but Linda has to pick her up at the station in a black Morris Minor so old it still had white on black number plates.

I should mention by now the massive great plot-point that Paul’s book is dedicated to the memory of Simon Hindstatt (in thick black capitals and a font-size so large you could see it from the moon, hey, look, get this, admire how subtle we’re being.). Add to this the fact that Linda’s surname has been scrupulously not given and she says she’s been married but isn’t divorced and see how fast you can get here.

The first thing Paul and Suzanne do when she arrives is fuck, she naked, he keeping his trousers on. Suzanne turns up in the dining room. Linda compliments her on how good she looks (if you like that sort of thing) and sticks her hand down the front of Suzanne’s low-cut frock and squeezes her tit, which sends Suzanne into poorly acted, cliche-defined orgasmic delight.

Paul walks in on this, drags Suzanne up to the bedroom to slap her around, tell her she’s here for him, make her suck him off (still with his pants on). They see Linda watching them in the mirror but then she’s gone. And so’s Paul’s Rolls-Royce. He, forgetting all about Suzanne, who’s wound up in Linda’s bedroom, tears off round the countryside at speeds unfeasible for a Morris Minor that old (the numberplate indicates it was registered pre-1962) until his brakes fail him and he ends up crashing into a river.

Meanwhile, Linda has sneaked back to have full-on lesbian sex with Suzanne before abandioning her. Conveniently, the housekeeper’s body falls out of Linda’s wardrobe at that point, made-up to look like she’s three days dead, but in a hot summer nobody’s noticed the smell… Suzanne tries to call the Police but Linda’s pulled the plug, so Suzanne decides to take a shower except that Linda walks in with the butcher’s knife. There follows a Psycho rip-off in colour, or so the DVD cover says because it’s been edited out completely, as, incidentally, has the bouncer-outside-and-throwing-then-in proclamation that Fiona Richmond does full-frontal in this film, which in my copy she doesn’t.

Paul arrives back to find Linda writing the last page for him. She then produces the knife and tells him he’s a fraud. He didn’t write a word of his big hit novel, he stole it from Simon Hindstatt, who went on to commit suicide. Her surname is Hindstatt and he was her husband. She slashes Paul’s face. not that it seems to hurt him and the blood dries incredibly quickly into an artistic pattern that shows a second, less central slash we don’t see happen.

Paul escapes. This is to be cat-and-mouse stuff. He grabs a shotgun off the wall, runs around frantically outside, goes back in through the back door. Instead of shooting Linda on sight, he drops the gun, grapples with her for the knife, runs outside leaving the shotgun behind for her to pick up, hits the wheatfield and hurls the knife away. He turns round to see Linda with the shotgun, her calf-length dress open enough to see a very long expanse of leg.

She raises the gun to shoot him. It clicks on an empty barrel. Linda looks panicky, Big Youth, who still hasn’t died yet, is crawling through the wheatfield. He finds the flung knife. As Linda struggles with the shotgun to fire the other barrel, Big Youth runs up behind her and sticks the knife in her back, killing her and dying on the instant himself. I can’t resist mentioning that to get behind her, this almost-dead clown has had to squirm a very long way through the wheatfield in a big circle, since she’s facing the direction in which Paul threw the knife a great distance.

Paul lives. Two combine harvesters start grinding the wheat. Cue credits.

Did I call this a simple story? A simple-minded one, perhaps. It’s written by someone who hs a tin ear for how people actually speak, and how they think and act and respond. I’m prepared to forgive the excerpts we get from Paul’s writing on the basis that they’re meant to be pretentious crap, though if they’re that bad, how come the first book sold for half a million dollars?

The film was shot on location in a country cottage rented by the film’s Director, James Kenelm Clarke (why should he get away with it?). It’s not a film set and the lighting is dreadful. Anything that doesn’t take place in sunlight or in the few rooms with proper electric lights is at best too murky to properly see anything.

As for the sex and violence, this version’s a joke. The rape scene, including the two shootings, occupies about fifteen seconds of screen-time, the shower scene is gone but for a genuine Psycho rip-off of the last few traces of blood disappearing down the plughole and of Ms Richmond’s pubes there is no sight, and this at a time when full frontal nudity was a commonplace sight in the Confessions films (in which Linda Hayden starred in the first one). According to Wikipedia, the current Certified DVD has 51 seconds of cuts to the rape and the shower scene: mine is clearly not the current Certified DVD. The film is very difficult and expensive to get hold of, and it’s not worth it for a second.

As my nostalgic memories from 1976, these consisted of the rape scene, every bit as short then as now, the lesbian bit (in an interview with one of the two ladies, I don’t remember which, before the scene started one asked the other if she fancied her at all, was told, ‘not in the slightest’, which the interviewee was very glad to hear: not the most comfortable scene then) and the preposterous death scene. As for video-nasty, we don’t even see the knife go into Linda’s fully-clothed back.

So there’s nothing in this version to indicate why the film was classified in that manner. It’s overwhelming impression is of cheapness and stupidity. Linda Hayden later said this was the only film of her career she regretted making and that it was not the movie she played in, a claim I find very hard to swallow. A film in which, no disrespect, she’s the best actor, has very little going for it.

There are only two scenes in which sex’n’violence of a kind that could repel and horrify could take place. Without them, the film has no interest, and with them I strongly suspect the film would still have no interest. I have certainly seen worse since, and I don’t go for horror or bloody thrillers.

A waste of a Sunday morning. A waste of any time.

Film 2020: Julieta

I’ve had this DVD hanging around for ages now. It was part of my Xmas intake, one of those films bought, on a whim, a flash of curiosity and, yes, in response to an attractive cover image. Like my other Spanish film, Volver, it is a work written and directed by Pedro Almodovar and, like Volver, it was a film that in the end thoroughly absorbed me despite an early stage of wondering just what the film was suposed to be.

Julieta stars both Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte in the title role, playing the same character in different phases of her life. The film is a character piece, and both women are superb in their roles, despite each developing their character independently.

The film starts in Madrid. Julieta, a teacher of Classical Literature aged about fifty, is packing to leave for Portugal with her partner, art critic Lorenzo Gentile (Dario Grandenetti): she doesn’t plan to come back. But the same day she bumps into Beatriz (Michelle Jenner), the former inseperable childhood friend of Julieta’s daughter Antia. Julieta has not seen Antia for twelve years. Apparently, she lives in Switzerland and is married with three children.

As a consequence of this encounter, Julieta abandons her plan to leave Spain, much to the surprise and hurt of Lorenzo. She rents an apartment in the same block where she brought Antia up, in the hope that she may one day hear from her daughter. Whilst there, she begins a long letter, so long it extends into a second journal, explaining herself, her life and her love for Xoan, Antia’s father (Daniel Grao).

Thus far we have been watching Emma Suarez but now the primary role switches to Adriana Ugarte. The two actresses are perfectly believable as the same character, Ugarte being a younger, fresher version of Suarez. Her part begins on a train where an older man sits down opposite her and tries to strike up a conversation: she runs away to the dining car where she meets the young, bearded fisherman Xoan. The journey is interrupted by an emergency stop, just after leaving a station. It is the older man who has committed suicide. Julieta feels a freezing guilt for his death, but Xoan comforts and reassures her annd the pair end up having sex, from which Julieta becomes pregnant with Antia.

Having received a letter from Xoan just as her six-month contract as a substitute teacher ends, Julieta goes to visit him in his home near the mouth of the Ferrol estuary, in Galicia, on Spain’s northern coast. She arrives the day after the funeral of Xoan’s wife, who has been in a coma for six years: Xoan is visiting his lifelong friend and occasional bed-mate Ava. Marian, the housekeeper (Rossy de Palma), clearly unsympathetic, tries to get rid of her but Julieta stays until Xoan returns. they go to bed together.

The relationship blossoms into a permanent one. Antia is born. At age 2, Julieta takes her to visit her parents. Her mother is bedridden, suffering from Alzheimer’s, her father, a former school teacher who hasretired early to farm, is sleeping with the maid, much to Julieta’ disapproval.

This is not merely a piece of the film’s tapestry, it is a foreshadowing. By age 9, Antia is aseager to fish as her father. At 12, she goes away to a summer camp where she meets and befriends Beatriz. Julieta has succeeded in getting rid of Marian by now, but the housekeeper is still a poisonous bitch, letting Julieta know that Xoan still screws Ava every now and then, when Julieta’s not there.

A quarrel follows. Julieta refuses to speak to Xoan who runs away by going fishing. Unfortunately, a storm blows up and he is killed. Julieta does not let Antia know: Zoan is cremated and his ashes poured into the sea whilst Antia continues her holiday. Indeed, when she begs to be allowed to go to Madrid with Bea’s family, Julieta still doesn’t tell her her father’s dead. Only when that break is over does she break the news.

Julieta enters into a long depressive fugue during which Antia easily gets her to live in Madrid, in the apartment block. She and Bea look after Julieta, who is completely numb and helpless. There’s a very clever moment when the two girls help Ugarte out of a bath in which she’s clearly lain until it’s gone cold, wrap her in towels, cover her head to towel her hair partly dry, and when the towel is lifted it’s Suarez to play out the film.

Though Julieta gradually improves, she’s still emotionally dependent upon Antia. Bea has gone to New york to study and Antia goes on a three month spiritual retreat. When julieta goes to collect her, she has already left, some time previously, and the woman in charge won’t give out her whereabouts. It’s a chilling scene, less for Julieta’s despair than the cold implacability of the other woman: Antia has chosen her path, involving a faith she’s never had, and it doesn’t include her mother. There is no explanation, nothing but rigidity. Antia is right to do what she is doing and there is no sympathy for Julieta, only an implied condemnation that she does not immediately embrace this as a wonderful thing for Antia: how dare Julieta think of herself at all?

The film sweeps on, quietly building to the situation we have seen at the start of the story. Julieta hunts desperately for Antia. For three years she makes a birthday cake and hopes for contact but all she gets is an unsigned greeting card after which she throws the untouched cake in the bin. Then she snaps, obliterates every trace of Antia, moves iout, tries to obliterate her from her memories.

Ava suffers from multiple sclerosis. Shortly before her death, she confesses to Julieta that Antia knew about the quarrel, from Marian, and blamed her mother, Ava and also herself, for having been happy at camp with her beloved Bea when her father was dead.

At Aa’s funeral, Julieta meets Lorenzo. They become a couple, though the inference is that they do not live together. Julieta is happy, but the issue of her daughter never leaves her mind. We already know that Lorenzo is aware of something she’s held back, but that he’s respected that.

Julieta is once again in a spiral of despair. Sitting at an outdoor basketball court, watching two girls playing, she has visions of Antia and Bea doing the same. By a fantastic coincidence, the girls are nieces of Bea, who is sat at the other side of the court. She talks to Julieta, about her break-up with Antia, and how unpleasant it was. The girls had more than a friendship, but antia was smothering and Bea went to New York to escape her. Her last contact was by phone, Antia cutting her off angrily. Their chance encounter at Lake Como saw Antia trying to avoid speaking to her, pretending to be someone else, until Bea forced her into acknowledgement.

Still more depressed, julieta sees Lorenzo at a traffic crossing. She walks into the road, intent only on him, and is knocked down. when she comes to, he is looking after her in hospital. He clears her apartment for her. There is an unopened letter addressed to Julieta: we recognise it as Antia’s handwriting but he doesn’t. When Julieta sees it, she cannot believe it. More so, there is a return address on the back.

Antia has three children, a boy and two girls. she named the boy Xoan after her father. He has died aged 9, drowned in a river. Antia finally understands how her mother felt at the loss of both her Xoan and, again impliedly, Antia.

We never meet Antia except in her adolescence. The film ends with Lorenzo driving Julieta to meet her daughter again. He has the final word: when Julieta says that Antia had not invited her to visit, he replies that she doesn’t have the right. The word ‘yet’ lies in implication.

This is a slow-moving film, taking it’s subject quietly. Though we see a lot of her in the middle of the film, Antia is ultimately the great absence that Almodovar very intelligently doesn’t address. What motivates her is left for the audience to determine, from what we see. Clues are given that might be enough in themselves but which are really only the straight bits round the edge of the puzzle: the centre is missing.

In a way, Julieta is that centre. We know very little of her before Adriana Ugarte appears on that train with her blonde hair in a semi-spikey urchin cut. Her life is one of chances, but then isn’t that the same for all of us? Her father is cheating on her mother, her partner is cheating on her, her natural and immediate resentment leads to his death, though his own immaturity in running away contributes heavily to that. Her daughter becomes her world, she is dependent upon her, even as she is (understandably) oblivious of what is now the most important relationship of Antia’s life.

What changes Antia? Is it simply spirituality? Severing her ties with the mother she blames for her father’s death, severing her ties with the girl who’s been her lover? All of these things cluster around the edges of the story, Almodovar keeping them at a distance. His study is loss, isolation, grief, despondency. Julieta is not the architect of her life but it’s helpless subject, a cork bobbing on a stream. And we are left to make up our own minds as to whether her reunion with Antia will mend or tear her fragile existence.

Apparently, the film was going to be made in America, set and shot in Vancouver, with Meryl Streep in the title role,plying a character at ages 20, 40 and 60. Streep was very enthused, but ultimately Almodovar felt uncomfortable at shooting outside Spain, and did not feel up to writing the film in English.

Interesting as that version would have been, in the end I prefer what we have here, and was very glad I’d bought it. That makes two Pedro Almodovar films I’ve been impressed with. Should I try more?

Film 2020: Back to the Future Part III

And thus the trilogy concludes, with the admonitory words that Time Travel is a menace, too dangerous to meddle with, the comprehensive destruction of the means by which it can be accomplished, the supposed end to predestination and the appearance of the slickest Time Machine of the entire Trilogy. I’ve got to say that there’s a mixed message or two going on in there.

Part III, which as I said last week was written and, mostly, filmed back-to-back with Part II, is generally regarded as a success which, as the end of the story, is only to be expected. It’s yet another good fun movie, slick and professional, effective and thrilling, but there’s practically nothing of it that isn’t referenced from other films and media.

The film starts with a reprise of the closing moments of Part II, to where Doc Brown faints, then it picks up in a surprisingly slow and draggy introduction. We read more of Doc 1985’s letter, written in 1885 when he has become a blacksmith. He’s concealed the DeLorean for Marty and Doc 1955 to discover it and return Marty to 1985. He tells them explicitly not to ‘rescue’ him: he is happy where he is.

Unfortunately, Marty and Doc 1955 discover an old tombstone, for Emmet Brown, shot in the back by Buford ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen, erected by his beloved Clara. Date of death, six days after Doc’s letter. So Marty goes back to 1885 to warn Doc and take him Back to the Future.

So the third film returns to the same story goal as the first. It also gets to indulge itself by playing Cowboys and Indians.

What is it with this enthusiasm for recreating the Western? It reminded me of the episode ‘Living in Harmony’ of The Prisoner. It was apparently Michael J Fox’s suggestion but everybody wanted in on it. It’s one of the great American film traditions, but hell’s bells, it’s such a cliche! Turning something into a Western, as opposed to setting out to make a Western from the start is an immediate nosedive into the cheap and predictable, and the film doesn’t leave a stone unturned in its pursuit of the inevitable.

Nor can Zemeckis and Gale restrain themselves from more split-screen antics as Marty once again has to play other members of his family, this time his great-great grandfather, the Irish-born Seamus McFly (complete with Lea Thompson, downgraded to a very minor cameo as great-great grandmother Maggie). Given how the McFly family seems to be producing absolutely identical male members down the centuries, one of the McFlys has got to be spreading his genetic material very close to home).

Fox and Christopher Lloyd are still as effective as ever in their double act, but Zemeckis at least breaks the mould by introducing a third player to the act, in the form of Mary Steenburgen as the newly-arriving town schoolmarm, Clara Clayton. She and Doc fall in love instantly when he saves her from falling to her death in a ravine, and he breaks both their hearts when he tells her he’s from the future and is returning there.

Even this isn’t original: Steenburgen was chosen for the part because she’d already played the role before, in the 1979 film Time after Time, where she’d been a 20th century woman falling in love with a 19th century time traveller (H.G. Wells, incidentally) and travelling back to his time. That she’s now playing a 19th century woman falling in love with a 20th century time traveller and planning to travel back to his time makes no significant difference.

And after repeating one of its own tropes (Tannen getting covered in manure) the film sets up another Western cliche for its finale. This one’s taken from Buster Keaton’s The General, the Western train, complete with cow-catcher, supercharged with Doc’s special fuel so that it can push the DeLorean up to 88mph. Except that Clara’s caught the engine, she and Doc are trying to clamber along it, at risk of falling off and all on a tight deadline as the unfinished bridge rapidly nears…

This film really is a manufactured thing, contructed out of other people’s ideas.

Anyway, Marty winds up in 1985, dressed for 1855, in a depowered DeLorean that’s immediately smashed to pieces by a 1985 train: no more Time Machine, exactly as Doc intended to do had he not been left behind with Clara and the hoverboard. Cue a thirty-second cameo from the rest of the family, back to normal (normal here meaning the changed normal of the end of the first normal, not the original normal of the start of that film, instead of the changed changed ‘normal’ of mid Part 2).

Marty goes to collect Jennifer, who’s still asleep on her porch, left out of the story. She’s had a horrible dream… or was it a dream? Marty evidently levels with her because next thing he’s driving her back to the scene, with a rather perfunctory diversion where he’s accused of being chicken over entering into a car race. Marty has, however, learned not to be so stupid, so he doesn’t crash and damage his guitar-playing hand.

And no sooner do they reach the smashed DeLorean than Doc turns up again, having rebuilt the Time Machine as a sleek, polished, all-black Western steam engine, in which he’s travelling with his wife, Clara, and their son Jules and Verne. And, despite the presence of a Time Machine before their very eyes, Doc is insistent that Marty and Jennifer have no future except the one they make: nothing is written, anything can happen.

Nice thought but, after nearly five hours of filming, inconsistent to the max, not to mention intellectually moronic. If time is a continuum along which one can shift their temporal position, the future does not cease to exist simply because you choose not to visit it. Or is this a subtle expression of the Zen philosophy of if a tree falls in a forest and no-one is there to witness it, does it make a noise?

Nah, it’s not subtle.

Nevertheless, despite these multiple flaws, I still enjoyed Back to the Future Part III, but I’m very glad they stopped there: I’d have hated to see a Part IV given the paucity of imagination on dispay here