strange_complex: (Dracula 1958 cloak)
I was planning to write about my holiday to Romania today, but then I woke up after a much needed lie-in to the news that Christopher Lee had died, and the truth is it would probably never have occurred to me to want to go to Romania at all if it hadn't been for him. So I will write about him instead.

I've long known that I first saw him in Hammer's Dracula (1958) when I was eight years old, and thanks to the Radio Times online archive I've recently been able to pin that down a little more precisely. On 28th December 1984, BBC Two broadcast a late night double-bill of The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula. My Dad recorded it on our at that time very new and exciting home video recorder, and soon afterwards (I don't know exactly how soon, but within a few days or weeks, I think) decided that these X-rated films would be suitable viewing for his eight-year-old daughter.

He knew what he was doing. Dracula in particular struck a chord with me which has resonated ever since. Within a year, I had bought and devoured the novel. Within two, I had moved outwards into the wider world of vampire fiction. Within three I had bought my personal horror bible, and was busy working my way through its Vampire chapter with a particular focus on Hammer's other Dracula movies. I have carried on in much the same vein ever since - and it was absolutely definitively Lee's performance as Dracula which started it all.


If it hadn't been for him, I wouldn't have spent my teens steeping myself in Gothic fiction and horror movies. As a result, I would probably never have felt inclined to drift into the Gothic sub-culture in my Bristol days, or have made all the friends I did then and later as a result. I could never have watched The Wicker Man when I got to Oxford, might never have felt the same resonances in the city's May Day celebrations, and would never have had the Wicker Man holiday which [ profile] thanatos_kalos and I enjoyed two years ago in Scotland. Indeed, I would never have watched any of the awesome movies on this list - or any of the rubbishy second-rate ones, either, which I have hunted down and sat through (often accompanied by the ever-patient [ profile] ms_siobhan) just because he was in them. Nor would I recently have bothered reading all about the real life Vlad III Dracula. My parents going to Romania in 1987 would have meant nothing particular to me, and nor would I have joined the Dracula Society and gone on the holiday there with them which I have just got back from.

While we were in Romania, Christopher Lee had his 93rd, and sadly we now know his last, birthday. We happened to be in Sighișoara, where the real life Vlad III Dracula was (probably) born, so I marked the day by nipping out of our hotel early in the morning, crossing the town square and tweeting this selfie from outside the house where he grew up.

Little did I know that the man who had sparked off my interest in Dracula in the first place was already in hospital. Little did I know how few days he had left.

I won't try to claim that I have always considered Christopher Lee to be the perfect human being. I've said plenty of uncomplimentary things about him in the past on this journal. There's no need to repeat them today. But he brought such wonderful stories so powerfully to life - not indeed just by acting in them with such presence and professionalism, but by doing it to such an inspiring degree that already by the mid-1960s people were writing roles and producing stories so that he could inhabit them and bring that magic to them. There is no question that the whole world of fantastic drama and fiction has been immeasurably stronger for his contribution to it. So I am truly, truly grateful for the wondrous worlds those prodigious acting talents have transported me to, and for the real-world doors and pathways they have opened up to me as a result. And though I never met him, and now never will, it felt good to share the same planet with him for the past 38 years. I am very sorry now that that time is over.

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strange_complex: (Dracula Risen hearse smile)
OK, next up on Overdue Film Review Club we have this BBC adaptation of Dracula starring Louis Jourdan, which was originally broadcast all in one go at Christmas 1977, and which I watched last weekend with [ profile] ms_siobhan. I have wanted to see it for a very long time, as it is widely acknowledged as the adaptation most faithful to the original novel, and I can now confirm that this is very definitely true. Not absolutely everything is by the book - for example, Mina and Lucy are made into sisters, while Quincey P. Morris steals Arthur Holmwood's surname, and the latter isn't otherwise represented in the story. But other than that it follows the structure, events and feel of the novel more closely than any other adaptation I have ever seen. Episodes which almost universally get discarded, like Mina and Lucy's encounter with the seaman Swales in Whitby, the scene where Dracula gets to speak out for himself and pour scorn on the vampire-hunters at his house in Piccadilly, or the shoot-out between the vampire-hunters and the gypsies at the end, are all present and correct, as Stoker would recognise them - and it was absolutely fantastic to see them.

Thanks largely to Doctor Who, I have seen enough television from the 1970s to say that by the standards of their time, the production values here are absolutely mint, too. People were still producing television quite noticeably inferior to this in the late 80s and indeed the early 90s. Some of the special effects look dated now - particularly colour-saturation and negative inversion of a type used regularly on Top of the Pops at the time (example). But even those are being used in a commendable attempt to convey the surreal, dreamlike effects of vampirism, which was actually still very effective in terms of creating the right atmosphere for the story. Other than that it has all stood up extremely well, and must have eaten up a pretty hefty chunk of the BBC budget for the year of its production. The costumes, locations, sets and props are seriously impressive, with Dracula's castle in particular looking both historically-plausible and properly unkempt and Gothic at the same time, and they had even acquired a real bat for some close-up scenes (though it unfortunately also had a rubbery, be-stringed stunt double). Whitby features prominently, as do various settings in London (including Highgate cemetery), while the internet tells me that Dracula's castle was played primarily by Alnwick Castle in Northumberland (supplemented by sets for the interiors) - and that would explain why it looked so good.

Of course, telling Stoker's story accurately, and pouring a lot of money into the effort, doesn't automatically result in a high-quality outcome. Jess Franco's Count Dracula (1970) also ticks both of those boxes, and has Christopher Lee in the title role to boot, but it is still ill-paced and tedious to watch. Thankfully, this production is a great deal better. It is long (150 minutes in total), but in general used the time very effectively to develop the characters and build up the story-line. There was a short phase in the run-up to the climactic encounter with the Count in the Carpathians where we did feel that a few scenes were being rushed through in order to get to the end on time, but perhaps even that is worth accepting for the quality of the material around it. For example, the scene in which Mina and Van Helsing cower amid the snowy Carpathians within a circle made of crumbled holy wafers while the vampire brides call and gesture all around them was really well done, and worth the rather rapid montage needed to get them into that position.

Certainly, ample space is given to character development, and the actors (almost all) make good use of the material. Louis Jourdan may not be Christopher Lee, but he does turn in a great performance as Dracula here - beautifully creepy from his very first appearance, exuding a powerful, self-confident sexuality in his interactions with his victims, and yet with a note of impatient world-weariness to his character that speaks of the many centuries he has lived through. I did miss Dracula's violent out-bursts, though, which seem to have been neither scripted nor acted into Jourdan's part. Even when he catches his vampire brides dining out on Jonathan Harker, he is merely a little firm about expressing his displeasure - and I definitely like Christopher Lee's utter explosion of rage in the equivalent scene (albeit with only one bride) in Hammer's Dracula much better. Frank Finlay as Van Helsing and Jack Shepherd as Renfield also deserve special mention for two utterly compelling performances, although on the other hand it does need saying that Quincey P. Morris' 'Texan' accent was face-palmingly bad, and his performance as a whole lacklustre alongside it. In fact, it seems to have been the first role of an unremarkable career for him, and it shows.

This was never going to dethrone Hammer's Dracula as the ultimate telling of the story for me, and if only because of when it was made it couldn't really hope to outshine Nosferatu (1922) or Bela Lugosi's iconic Dracula (1931) either. But it is definitely in their league, and far stronger than some film versions I could mention. I can certainly recommend it as a way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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strange_complex: (Strange complex)
Yes, I thought I might want to write a little about this. I'm still concerned that I might find tonight's special a little disappointing (though also still hopeful I won't), but even if I do, this went a long way towards marking the anniversary appropriately for me. I do very much love the William Hartnell era after all - enough that that is where my LJ username now comes from. And it is a great pleasure to be able to use the Doctor Who anniversary to help develop and refine my work-related thinking about anniversary commemorations, as well.

It's fair to say, as Laurence Miles has done most forcefully (in a post now sadly deleted from his blog), that An Adventure in Space and Time both mythologised and stereotyped some of its main characters )

Anyway, as both a work of drama and a nostalgic tribute, An Adventure in Space and Time was brilliant )

Fannish tick-boxes and tributes )

Cameos and casting )

Anyway. 50th anniversaries are funny ones, I think. They stand on the cusp between memory and history. Enough time has passed for things to have changed a great deal, for memories to have become distorted, and for the need to reinterpret the past in a way that makes sense now in the present to have arisen. But it is generally not long enough for all those involved to have died, so that there is also a need for negotiation between direct memory and reinterpretation - sometimes both at work within the same people. If Doctor Who marks its centenary, which I very much hope it does, the line of direct memory to its origins will by then have been broken. It will all be about second-hand interpretation of the recorded past, via archives and photographs and interviews and of course the show itself. But it will be enriched by the fact that the 50th anniversary has served as a prompt to add to our collective store of direct memories, now while we can and before they are gone forever.

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strange_complex: (Doctor Who Bechdel test)
Via [ profile] altariel, and with thanks to [ profile] communicator for compiling the list, here follows a meme based on the BBC programmes and other services mentioned in Mitch Benn's new song, I'm Proud of the BBC. Bold = love (or have loved) it, Plain text = neutral, Strike through = never seen / listened to.

Obviously, there's some stuff on the list that I think is a bit rub, too - like Last of the Summer Wine or Songs of Praise. But that's not the point here. The point of the song, and thus also the meme, is how much stuff produced by the BBC most of us have seen or otherwise experienced (and thus have in common whether we liked it or not), and how much of it really is chuffing good, and thus worth being proud of. I'm happy to extend that pride to programmes and services which don't appeal to me personally, but which I can see are well made and well suited to their target audience.

This list is a lot longer than I'd realised, just listening to the song )

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strange_complex: (Tom Baker)
At least two people on my friends list have posted over the last week or so to recommend Being Human, the pilot episode of which has now been shown twice on BBC3. Having just watched it, I can now say that they were definitely right - it's a very promising little piece, which I'd love to see more of. Basically, you have a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost, who are in all other respects really very normal twenty-somethings trying to get along and make sense of life. It's not over-stated, it addresses the usual clichés without going over the top about it, and it's basically exactly what British cult TV does best. And I discovered to my delight when I watched it this evening that it's also set in Bristol, which brought back a lot of nostalgic studenty memories for me - especially when I saw the shabby, scabby little flat the three of them moved into.

Alas, for the present, it's a pilot only, so if this sort of television floats your boat and you haven't seen it yet, then I can only recommend you get yourself along to iPlayer and check it out (within the next five days). Then, if you like it, there's a petition you can sign to persuade BBC3 to commission more. Actually, I can't help but suspect the whole "We'll only show you one episode and then make you beg for more" set-up is a big publicity stunt - but if that's what it takes, I'm voting anyway.

In other news, I made my first ever animated icon! I don't intend to make a habit of this, because quite frankly they usually rather annoy me. But there was no way I was going to get all the text and images I wanted into one 100x100 frame in this particular case, and I wanted to learn how anyway. Pity about the reduction in picture quality you get when you turn things into gifs, but other than that I'm fairly happy with it.

Yes, I am still watching a lot of Classic Who...

Time travel

Saturday, 28 April 2007 19:31
strange_complex: (TARDIS)
Bah, I wish the Beeb would stop changing the time of Doctor Who! I just missed the first ten minutes of this week's episode, because I thought it started at 7. I even (thought I had) checked, but mis-read the way the programmes were lined up on DigiGuide, so hadn't noticed that crucial 15 minutes...

Well, at least I can perform an emergency temporal shift to watch it again via On Demand, and I will. But, on the whole, I have to say that that two-parter was one of the lower points of the series so far. Good characters and setting, but the central theme just compromised what Daleks should be about too much for my taste. Not only bad for these two episodes, but I fear bad for their future appearances, too.

Still, next week looks thematically promising...

strange_complex: (TARDIS)
The BBC has given the green light to a third series of Doctor Who. There's an article all about it here, BUT it does contain mild spoilers for the second series, and (at the very bottom) for this Saturday's climactic episode.

If you want to know the basics from the article about signing details for the next two series without getting any spoilers, they are thus:
  • David Tennant has been signed for the whole of series 2 and 3
  • Billie Piper will serve through the whole of series 2
  • Russell T. Davies will write six episodes for series 2
  • There will definitely be Christmas Specials for 2005 and 2006

Big Bother

Wednesday, 8 June 2005 12:56
strange_complex: (Penny Farthing)
I'm not sure this is quite what the BBC intended, but last night I decided I should make the effort to watch a little of Big Brother in preparation for this weekend's Doctor Who episode.

Ye gods, but this year's housemates are a bunch of petty and characterless individuals, aren't they? Admittedly, I was watching the live feed on E4, so it wasn't edited to present the most interesting moments, but still. One lot were sitting around in some kind of conservatory, bitching about the washing up, while another lot were in the kitchen, telling each other to stop singing. Living on my own as I do, I can usually tolerate the most tedious dross for the sake of some background babble... but this got switched off within ten minutes.

I wonder if the BBC made their own set for the Doctor Who story, or paid Channel 4 for the use of theirs? Perhaps this will become obvious on Saturday. I'm betting the BBC would have preferred to hire, and I should think Channel 4 would have been happy to take both the money and the publicity, assuming that the show isn't too roundly trashed.

Early indications

Thursday, 5 May 2005 22:18
strange_complex: (C J Cregg)
Cor, I hope the BBC's exit poll doesn't turn out to be accurate. I'm all for seeing Tony's majority slashed, but barely any change for the LibDems? *grumble*

Last election:
Labour - 413
Conservative - 166
Lib Dems - 52
Other - 28

Exit poll predictions (c. 20,000 voters):
Labour - 356
Conservative - 209
Lib Dems - 53
Other - 28

My hopes:
Labour - 370
Conservative - 150
Lib Dems - 100
Other - whatever's left

Of course that's not my dream parliament. But it's within the bounds of plausibility (or appeared so before the exit poll came out), and would see everyone going in the right direction (according to me!). Labour still in power with a slight majority, thus giving us the better of two evils until the LibDems are really ready for a full attack next time round. And meanwhile the Tories impotent, and the LibDems in a position to kick some serious ass as an opposition party, and fight from a solid foundation next time.

Well, we'll see. Right now I'm off to cheer on Sunderland South in their attempt to get into the Guinness Book of Records by being the first seat to declare four elections in a row.

EDIT: They did it! Results as follows:

Monster Raving Loony Party - 149
British National Party - 1166 (yuk!)
Liberal Democrats - 4492
Conservative - 6923
Labour - 17982


Labour -5%
Conservative +2%
LibDem +3%


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