strange_complex: (Doctor Caecilius hands)
So! Film festival, day two. Here is the overall schedule for the day:

Saturday schedule.jpg


And here's what I did:

21. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), dir. Gordon Hessler / interview with Caroline Munro / Ray Harryhausen's Lost Treasures )

Interview with Katy Manning (aka Jo Grant from Doctor Who) )

Met Caroline Munro and got her autograph )

Doctor Who season 22 show-makers' interview )

Afterwards, I joined [livejournal.com profile] newandrewhickey, [livejournal.com profile] minnesattva and [livejournal.com profile] innerbrat for the first 45 minutes or so of The Rocketeer (1991), a sort of larger-than-life SF comedy about a US stunt pilot in the 1940s who finds a jet-pack, with Jennifer Connelly as his under-impressed girlfriend. I could see it was good and would have stayed to watch the whole thing if there weren't competing features on the schedule, but there were: two live commentaries from the Tenth Doctor era, marking the fact that his first full season screened ten years ago now. Ten is much more my thing than Six, so off I slipped...

Live commentary on New Who 2.3 School Reunion )

Live commentary on New Who 2.13 Doomsday )

All this time, Galaxy Quest had been playing in another room, which is a pity, because once the Doctor Who stuff was over and I went to join [livejournal.com profile] innerbrat, [livejournal.com profile] minnesattva and [livejournal.com profile] newandrewhickey in the screening, I realised what bloody good fun it was to watch at an actual con. But then again I have seen it multiple times before, and those live Doctor Who commentaries really were great, so I think I made the right choice.

After the film had finished, we went for food at a seriously good pizza / pasta place just down the road. It was nominally just a take-away / sit-in at fixed tables place, but the quality of the food was way better than you'd normally expect for a place like that, and along with the cute student room I was staying in and the well-appointed Co-op just below it, this was one of a number of things that really made me fall for the area where we were staying. Like, on one level, it was just edge-of-city-centre ring-roadish urban redevelopment, with a lot of medium-rise new-builds, but on another it did actually feel somehow quite modern and dynamic and nice to be in. In fact, hell, let's have a picture of it which fails to do justice to the intensity of the sunset on the Friday evening:

2016-08-26 20.27.12.jpg


22. Blood of the Tribades (2016), dir. Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein )

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strange_complex: (Vampira)
I've known that this exists, and is a 'blaxploitation' film, for a very long time (not least because it is featured in my Horror Bible), but had never tried to track it down until very recently. Without actually having researched what blaxploitation entails, I had assumed it would be all white-perspective exoticising stereotypes about black Americans - especially stuff to do with funk, afros, tight spandex pants, etc. As it turns out, while there are a few scenes set in a disco bar, and that bar has its fair share of customers with afros and tight clothing, actually both this film and blaxploitation as a genre are very different from what I had expected. The genre term 'blaxploitation' as a whole is less about exploiting stereotypes for economic gain (as I'd assumed), and more about exploiting the economic spending power of black audiences by appealing directly to their interests - including, of course, their interest in being portrayed as three-dimensional human beings with agency of their own on screen. In the context of this particular film, that translates into a black director, a cast full of meaningful, positively-drawn black characters, and a script which engages directly with race issues in its plot and dialogue. As such, it's distinctly better in its handling of race issues than most mainstream screen productions manage to be today, including those produced by companies like the BBC which are honestly trying to be diverse and inclusive (see e.g. the Black Dude Dies First trope being rife in Doctor Who).

This particular story kicks off in 1780, when an African prince named Mamuwalde goes to ask the help of a powerful white European aristocrat in suppressing the slave trade and freeing his people. Unfortunately, the particular European aristocrat he picks is Dracula, who is pretty keen on the slave trade, and furthermore conceives a liking for Mamuwalde's (also black African) wife and starts saying incredibly racist / sexist things when Mamuwalde objects about how he should be flattered that a white man thinks his wife attractive. To punish Mamuwalde for his insubordination and his wife for rejecting his advances, Dracula then turns Mamuwalde into a vampire, locks him in a coffin so that he will be tormented by blood-lust forever but unable to get out to slake it, and locks his wife up in the same room so that she will die hearing his cries of thirst from within the coffin. So we have white European treatment of black Africans literally presented as vampirism, and our sympathies are entirely directed towards the black victims.

Fast forward (almost) two centuries, and the box containing Mamuwalde is transported to 1970s Los Angeles, with predictable results. Here, [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan was absolutely right to point out that Mamuwalde adapts rather too easily to his vampire nature. The whole point at the beginning was that vampirism was meted out to him as a cruel punishment, but that isn't really followed through in the main story. It's not that he becomes completely evil - he remains a sympathetic character, still basically searching for his long-lost wife. But there could have been a lot more pathos and self-loathing about his actual vampirism in the portrayal - as, for example, was done so well in Dracula's Daughter. After all, he is basically condemned to a life where it's now impossible for him not to enslave people himself - and in the light of the opening sequence he should have a bit more emotional conflict about that.

The long-lost wife story also rather stuck in my craw. Inevitably, he very quickly comes across a 20th-century woman who looks exactly like his 18th-century wife, and tells her all the usual sort of stuff about how she is his long-lost wife's reincarnation, they are destined to be together, etc. This is of course a well-worn trope, and I think I have reached the end of my tether with it. It is almost always the female character who is reincarnated, purely so that an immortal male character can still have their designated love interest, so that it reeks of male privilege and women existing only as objects for male attraction. It also completely robs the female character of all agency, as any independent choices which she might have made crumble in the face of her Manifest Destiny. And so it plays out here - and in the process serves up yet another case of characters allegedly falling in love on screen without us as the audience being given any very compelling evidence for why they might have done so, exactly as happens in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) in the context of the same trope.

In spite of those niggles, though, the film as a whole is ace. Partly that's just because I'm always eager for new takes on vampirism, and partly because I'm a sucker for contemporary-set '70s films full of awesome flares and enormous collars. But on a more universal level, William Marshall in the title role is genuinely compelling, with lots of power and gravitas to his performance, and he is surrounded by loads of really well-developed secondary characters too. Interestingly, these included a gay male couple, and several independently-minded female characters with jobs of their own who were not defined in relation to any man - e.g. a photographer and a taxi cab driver. It would be an exaggeration to claim these characters as paradigms for equality - the gay male couple in particular live up to camp stereotypes in that they are interior designers; their penchant for the aesthetic is to 'blame' for Mamuwalde's resurrection because they buy up his coffin and bring it to LA; and naturally they are punished for this by becoming his first victims. Similarly, both the photographer and the taxi cab driver meet sticky ends. But all four of them are presented as having real agency and meaningful lives of their own in a way that pretty rarely applies to the same sorts of characters in other films of this era - so I think there may be a case for saying that in casting aside mainstream stereotypical treatments of black characters, blaxploitation films also to some extent opened the door to better portrayals of other under-privileged groups at the same time.

In short, I'm glad I watched this, and [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and I have already devoured the sequel as well. Review of that to follow.

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strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
I saw both of these with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan as a New Year's Eve double-bill at the Hyde Park Picture House yesterday, from our favourite seats on the left-hand side of the balcony.


45. Some Like It Hot (1959), dir. Billy Wilder

First of all, it does have to be acknowledged that this one particular film probably bears about 90% of the responsibility for the transphobic myth that trans women are really just straight dudes who want to infiltrate women-only spaces and ogle cis women. It didn't invent that idea, and nor is it now necessarily the direct cause of most people absorbing it, but it is a major theme of the film, and must surely have given it a very big cultural boost. So I think it's important to say that whenever talking about this film, as a small way of helping to chip away at the real-world potency of that very damaging myth. On a similar note, I also found the scenes in which Tony Curtis' character, in persona as Shell Oil Junior, coerces Sugar into sex by pretending to be sexually unresponsive and in need of 'help' to fix him pretty gross as well. I get that disguise and deceit are ancient staples of romantic comedies, and never more so than in this one, but she was totally into his Shell Oil Junior character anyway. She would very obviously have willingly and enthusiastically have had sex with him without that extra layer of lies and manipulation, so to me they broke through the romantic comedy genre conventions and out into some distinctly rapey territory.

But I am perfectly capable of separating out those things from the rest of the film in my mind, and seeing it for the of-its-time romantic musical comedy it is meant to be. As a star vehicle for Monroe it is magnificent, with her performance of "I Wanna Be Loved By You" capturing her appeal perfectly. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are perfectly paired as the two protagonists, the Chicago gangsters are brilliant, the music is great, the physical farce fantastic and the witty dialogue to die for. Plus, for all my reservations above, I also think that by showing male characters experiencing male treatment of women at first hand, and by including scenes with strong homosexual overtones (both lesbian ones between Sugar and Curtis-as-Josephine and the famous "Well, nobody's perfect" ending between Osgood and Lemmon-as-Jerry), it probably helped to achieve some social steps forwards as well as backwards. So, if the movie isn't perfect either, that doesn't mean it isn't still a great watch.


46. The Apartment (1960), dir. Billy Wilder

Part two of the double-bill was the next year's follow-up movie from the same production team, which brought back Jack Lemmon as the leading man. It's still a comedy, and starts out looking for all the world like a farce, but it has a dark undertone from the beginning, because of the way it portrays sleazy executives laughing it up together as they coldly conduct affairs in Lemmon's character's apartment, and him conniving in it for the sake of material promotion, while at the same time being very obviously strung along and exploited himself. Then, half-way through, the darkness bursts violently to the surface when one executive's to-him-casual (but to her serious) fling attempts suicide in the apartment. The overall arc is actually very moralistic - Lemmon discovers his moral compass and is rewarded with True Love, the chief sleazy executive gets his come-uppance, and the young lady (Miss Kubelik) rediscovers her sense of self-worth. But gosh, you do get put through the wringer along the way.

This made it a good second film for the double-bill, though. It felt a little more 'cerebral' than Some Like It Hot (if that's quite the right word), which worked well for its early evening slot once you'd been warmed up by the comedy first. It was certainly more moving, anyway - I found myself sniffing back tears as the end credits rolled, which you just wouldn't get from Some Like It Hot (unless, of course, Chicago mobsters had killed your grandmother, you insensitive clod). But it has in common with the other film all those classic qualities of slick pacing, seemingly effortless photography and of course a brilliant cast. Though his character isn't very nice, I actually thought Fred MacMurray was absolutely brilliant as Sleazy Executive Mr. Sheldrake, hitting that perfect note between oiliness and plausible charm which seems to be so characteristic of American Presidents (Nixon and Regan particularly spring to mind). It is essential to the whole plot that we should be able to believe Miss Kubelik might attempt suicide over him while simultaneously being able to see that he's a schmuck, so MacMurray had an important job to do there, and did it really well. I'd like to see more stuff with him in now on that basis. I also loved both the characterisation and the performances for the two Jewish neighbours, Dr. and Mrs. Dreyfuss - relatively small roles (especially hers), but ones which felt very human and three-dimensional al the same.

While Some Like It Hot has fun playing up the glamour of the 1920s jazz age, The Apartment is now just as fascinating for being set in its contemporary present day. I particularly enjoyed seeing how large-scale corporate office culture might have operated in 1960s America, complete with lobbies, elevators, desk diaries, rotary card index files, calculating machines and telephone exchanges. And I liked the insights into Lemmon's bachelor life-style as well, which was so close to and yet not quite the same as its equivalent today - frozen meals for heating up in the oven rather than microwave meals, a TV remote-control unit with a dial on it fixed to his table, and of course the time-honoured pokey apartment for one. In less cheery news from the 1960s, though, I was disquieted to realise that Miss Kubelik is obviously at risk of getting into trouble with the law for having attempted suicide, so that the whole thing has to be hushed up. We have moved beyond that, suicide-wise, in both the US and UK since, but that is still exactly where we are with drugs, leaving addicts unable to seek help for fear of punishment (not to mention at risk from unregulated products), and it's about damned time we sorted that out.

Back to The Apartment(!), it also turned out to be a Christmas / New Year film, which I guess was yet another reason (on top of release-date chronology and the tonal move from pure comedy to black comedy) why it needed to be the second half of the double bill. Miss Kubelik makes her suicide attempt on Christmas Eve, spends a few days recovering at Jack Lemmon's apartment, and then finally dumps her Sleazy Executive in favour of him on New Year's Eve. Not quite the Christmas-to-New-Year experience I would wish on anyone in reality, but still in its own way something to get us in the mood for our own NYE celebrations which followed.

Films watched 2014 round-up )

And now I believe it is time to get started on my films watched in 2015. :-)

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strange_complex: (Dracula Risen hearse smile)
Mirabile dictu, I am now on top of BOTH film reviews AND Doctor Who reviews, so at last I am able to move on to book reviewing. I have three unreviewed books in the queue, two of which I aspire to knock off today.

Like The Historian, this book came my way courtesy of the Notorious Dracula-Enabler of Old Meanwood Town, and I moved straight onto it after finishing the former. It is a very different book, though. Where The Historian was all about the atmosphere, this one is all about the action. There are dramatic carriage-chases, deadly duels, monsters on the Underground, encounters in dark alleyways, campaigns of vengeance stretching over generations - all the makings of a Gothic romp, really. But the prose is pretty ordinary; functional, rather than beautiful. And the authors' claims about what the novel is doing make it difficult not to scoff.

The background is that the Stoker family missed out on a lot of the potential revenue generated by the original novel, because some kind of minor technical mistake was made when filing for copyright for it in the USA. This came to light during negotiations with the Universal film studio in the 1930s, and once it had been revealed, it meant that the family lost all rights over any adaptation of the story. Meanwhile, a screenwriter and horror geek called Ian Holt had long been looking for the opportunity to write a Dracula sequel. Through various networks of Dracula enthusiasts, he eventually managed to meet Dacre Stoker, Bram's great-grandnephew, and they agreed to collaborate on this novel. So Ian Holt could benefit from the profile and marketing opportunities afforded by the Stoker name, while Dacre Stoker could re-establish a Stoker family stake in the Dracula character.

All of this is explained in an Afterword at the end of the book, in which both authors tell their 'story'. Unfortunately, though, between this Afterword and the novel itself it is patently obvious that a) Dacre Stoker is no writer (he literally says "Ian reassured me that, even though I had never written a novel before, I could do it"), and b) that Ian Holt is in truth much more of a film geek than a Bram Stoker aficionado. So we end up with this novel, which presents itself as The One True Sequel to Stoker's novel, but actually throws a lot of Stoker's canon out of the window, preferring the filmic traditions instead. Examples include:
  • Sunlight is fatal to vampires - famously invented for the innovative special-effects climax of Nosferatu (1922)
  • Carfax Abbey is in Whitby and next to John Seward's Asylum - invented for the stage-play to slim down the number of different locations, but popularised by Universal's Dracula (1931)
  • Renfield is a former partner of Peter Hawkins, Jonathan Harker's employer - Universal again
  • Lucy, who of course occurs only in flash-backs in this novel, having met a sticky end in the first one, is repeatedly described as having red hair - sounds like Francis Ford Coppola to me.
The in-story explanation for all this is that Stoker wrote his novel after a stranger (later, of course, revealed to be Dracula) related the basic events of it to him in the pub, but that those events were not related accurately in the first place, while Stoker also adjusted and embroidered them as he wrote them up. So this novel incorporates both Stoker's novel and Stoker himself, who appears as a character, but can also either keep or discard any of the details of Stoker's novel which it fancies, by simply declaring that those details either were or weren't 'true' narrations of the facts. Thus the surviving characters from Stoker's novel - John Seward, Mina and Jonathan Harker, their son Quincey, Arthur Holmwood and Van Helsing - all exist within this novel, and indeed young Quincey Harker finds out about Stoker's work and confronts him angrily about its resemblance to his family's real experiences. But those aren't actually quite the same as the events experienced by characters with the same names in Stoker's novel.

In some respects, this is fine, because it allows room for the exploration of the experiences and perspectives of Stoker's characters not covered in the original novel. But talking about those gets spoilery ) But the purely mechanical changes which favour film-canon over book-canon felt off to me in a book explicitly positioning itself as a sequel to Stoker's novel. This is what the Afterword has this to say about the issue:
"Our dearest wish is all Dracula fans - of the book and of the films - will read and enjoy our sequel. To this end there are several areas which we felt that film fans had so embraced and had become so engrained into Dracula legend that we could not overlook them. To the literary purists we apologize, but we feel this is a necessary concession, made in the hope of once and for all harmonizing Dracula fans."
Is it just me that finds their self-appointment as the 'harmonizing' healers of Dracula fandom breath-takingly arrogant? And naive, for that matter. But that aside, I don't think it is necessary to do things like move Carfax from London to Whitby so that people who know the story of Dracula primarily from its film adaptations can enjoy this story. Besides, the experience of reading it is one of encountering less a deliberate and clever merging of myths, and more a distinct impression that its authors couldn't actually be bothered to read the novel properly. Basically, it feels like this is the Dracula screenplay which Ian Holt always wanted to write, and probably had written well before he met Dacre Stoker, awkwardly and not entirely successfully re-configured to fit the opportunities offered by the collaboration.

That probably sounds hugely snobbish, but there you are. People get annoyed if what they find when they open the covers of a book doesn't match what is promised on the front. In fact, you can end up cancelling out the goodwill you would have achieved by being more honest about what you are doing that way. Because it's not actually as if this book is dreadful in and of itself. Like I said, the new angles on Stoker's characters which build on what he wrote, rather than contradicting it, are fun. And there are some quite good inter-texts which again don't contradict Stoker, but enrich the story by evoking the wider tradition around his text, and thus in turn drawing meta-referential attention to its status as a work of fiction. Those get spoilery, too! )

Basically, then, this is a cracky mash-up of Stoker's novel, its many filmic adaptations (though especially the American ones), a load of other Gothic tales, and some historical people and events, all wrapped up into a ripping adventure yarn with a surprisingly brutal ending. As such, it's a pretty good read. But the definitive sequel to Stoker's Dracula it is not.

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strange_complex: (Dracula 1958 cloak)
I saw this on Tuesday evening with notorious Dracula-enabler [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan, and it was absolutely captivating. I'm not a big ballet-goer - in fact, I think the last live ballet I went to was a performance of The Nutcracker at the Birmingham Hippodrome with my mother during my mid- to late-teens. But when [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan pointed out that this was on, recommended it highly based on having seen it previously, and suggested that we go along, I didn't take much persuading. Well, let's be honest, I'll find time for pretty much anything with 'Dracula' in the title right now. But I could see straight away how a ballet version of the story would have the potential to really bring out its fantasy, romance and visual spectacle - and I was not disappointed.

Ballet dancers, of course, can move in ways which most human beings cannot, and this is a great boon when playing supernatural characters. You can take for granted incredible feats of strength and agility and suitably animalistic movements on the part of all the vampire characters - Dracula, his three brides, and a transformed Lucy. More deliberately supernatural, and different from the human characters in this ballet or the supernatural ones in other dramatic performances, were two particular feats performed by Dracula himself - gliding side-ways, almost as though floating, and literally crawling out of a window head-first, exactly as described in the book. The latter can briefly be seen in this trailer video (at 0:25), which indeed is worth watching in full (it's only 1m15s long) for a good sense of the general splendour of the performance:


It was perfectly clear how both were done - the former by using the tight scuttling movement that ballet-dancers do (I don't know the technical term) while his feet were hidden below the length of his cloak, and the latter by supporting himself with powerful arm-muscles on two vertical bars running down either side of the 'window', while hooking onto the horizontal dividers of the frame with his feet. But still! I couldn't dream of doing either, and seeing another human being right in front of my eyes deploying what (to me) were effectively supernatural powers was an amazing experience. In these days of CGI special effects, it's easy to become blasé about seeing human beings doing apparently-impossible things, so that it becomes hard to relate to the combined fascination and repulsion which Stoker's characters experience on encounters with vampires. But seeing such physical feats being performed live gave a much more powerful sense of the strangeness of difference than I think any screen-trickery could ever quite manage.

Those weren't the only places where the strengths of ballet as a medium for story-telling were well-deployed, either. Other simple yet clever examples included the scenes where Dracula physically manipulated human characters like marionettes to represent hypnotically bending them to his will, or where Renfield's mental torment was conveyed through powerful contortions - not a case of supernatural movement this time, but another good use of a ballet dancer's exceptional physical capabilities to convey difference. And in a context where all of the characters were flowing and floating around the stage in a rather surreal fashion all the time anyway, and there was no dialogue, it also seemed very natural to convey one character's thoughts about another by having them appear at a slight distance. This was how we first met Mina, for example - as a 'vision' in a white dress dancing lightly across a corner of the stage, prompted by Jonathan's longing for her while he is imprisoned in Dracula's castle.

And oh, how well ballet conveys longing and yearning of all kinds! The absolute high-light of the piece was a love-duet between Dracula and Mina in the second half, which seemed to go on for ever, yet which I still wanted never to stop at all. But the early scenes in Dracula's castle of course offer lots of scope for homoerotic longing, too - "This man belongs to me!" and so on. There was some great business between Dracula and Jonathan Harker, where Jonathan would be sitting at a desk studying legal documents, with Dracula hanging over his shoulder on the brink of succumbing to the urge to bite him - but then Jonathan would notice and Dracula would shift smoothly into pointing out something on the page in front of him. Indeed, they had a proper male-male duet too, with Dracula guiding and steering Jonathan's movements in one of his mind-control sequences. That's something which ballet as a format, with all those finely-toned male bodies, has the potential to do incredibly well, and yet of course isn't common in classical ballet AT ALL because of the prevalent social mores at the time when most of it was developed. And much the same could be said for the vampire brides, where the strength of the dancers was used to show them as casually powerful, in complete command of their own bodies, and enjoying the hell out of playing around with a helpless Jonathan Harker. Sure, OK, so Dracula was always going to turn up at the end and tell them to quit it, but they got an extended scene of potent, jubilant femininity before that - a world away from the fragile characters female ballet-dancers are usually asked to play, and quite the most exuberant vampire brides I think I've ever seen.

As for how this ballet related to other tellings of the Dracula story, it largely follows the contours of the book, although it is inevitably impressionistic given the relatively short running-time (c. 1h 45m of stage time), emphasis on character moments and dramatic confrontations, and absence of dialogue. The perpetual dilemmas about where Lucy, Mina, Seward, Holmwood etc all live in relation to Dracula's castle become largely irrelevant when no-one in the story is speaking words like 'Whitby', 'London', 'Carlstadt' or whatever. Possibly Dracula travels to wherever-it-is by ship - but equally, the lashing wind and water which we hear may just be a storm outside Lucy's drawing-room window. It doesn't really matter. On this impressionistic level, the only identifiable 'departure' from the book was a party held to celebrate Lucy's engagement to Arthur Holmwood (at which she shockingly turns up on Dracula's arm!), but since that allowed for some very nice formal dancing scenes which gave roles to members of the company who otherwise wouldn't have been in the production at all, it seemed like a good inclusion.

The sets were probably closest to the 1931 Universal Dracula, in that they were neither realistic nor entirely abstract, so matched its expressionistic spirit. They were certainly really good, anyway - lots of broken castles and abbeys, but also lavish ballrooms and bedrooms, and an excellent carriage pulled through clouds of dry ice by burning-eyed horses. There are quite a few traceable footprints of Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) here too - e.g. in Dracula's shoulder-length hair, the very Elizabethan-looking collar worn by Lucy after her transformation, the fact that Dracula and Mina's story is cast as a romance (though thankfully without any hints at reincarnation), and the portrayal of Seward as morphine addict ([livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan - I checked that one, and this is indeed where it comes from). But there was a touch of the rattish Nosferatu to Dracula's look as well, and of course the absence of spoken dialogue inevitably recalls the format of the 1922 movie.

Because nothing is perfect, I do have to note here that after the highlight which was Dracula and Mina's love-duet, the dancing did seem to fall into a bit of an anti-climax, especially as the team of vampire hunters dashed around the stage in search of Dracula with no obvious sense of purpose to their movements. And while the costumes were generally amazing (especially a long beaded frock-coat worn by Dracula to Lucy's engagement party), his standard attire of a long high-collared crushed-velvet cloak unfortunately looked very much like it had come from a cheap fancy-dress shop. But all in all, this really was a fantastic performance and a great night out. If you ever get the chance to see it, grab it with both hands.

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strange_complex: (Dracula 1958 cloak)
The local cultural offerings of last weekend could not have been more perfect for me. Not only did the National Media Museum in Bradford put on a Hammer Horror themed film course, but Robert Lloyd Parry, who played M.R. James in Mark Gatiss' documentary about his life on Christmas Day, was to be found doing live readings of Lost Hearts and A Warning to the Curious in a derelict warehouse in Holbeck on the Sunday evening. Fitting it all in to a single weekend was a bit of a logistical challenge, but I am so glad that I did.

The film course was entitled Sex, Death & British Horror: Hammer in the 1950s, and involved screenings of the three iconic films which made Hammer's name as a horror studio in the late '50s - The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy - each preceded by about half an hour's worth of introductory talks. On the Sunday afternoon, we were also taken into the museum's archive to see some of the most relevant items from their Hammer collection, while each day ended with tutor-led discussions of the films in the Media Museum bar. Seeing the films and the archive was awesome, of course, but I have experienced those before, whereas the chance to sit around with equally-geeky people steeped in the same material and keen to discuss it in depth was in many ways the best part of the weekend for me. Really, that wasn't exactly unique for me either, since many of the most vocal people in both discussions also happened to be my friends already, so I can have that experience almost any time I like - as indeed we did as we walked out of each screening, or on the bus afterwards. But it's still nice to do it in a slightly larger group, and with some extra perspectives and opinions in the mix.

7. The Curse of Frankenstein, which turned out to be basically a doomed bromance )

8. The Mummy, which turned out to be a serious attempt at cinematic epic, and with strong contemporary political resonances to boot )

9. Dracula, which somehow even after all this time and all these viewings yielded up yet another discovery and a whole raft of backstory which can be built upon it )

I was going to write about the effects of viewing the three films so close together, of our visit to the Media Museum's Hammer make-up effects archive, and of the M.R. James readings in this post as well, but it's already got pretty long, and I won't have time to do any more until Monday evening, as I have to spend the weekend at my parents'. So this will do for now, and I'll pick up the rest next week.

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strange_complex: (Vampira)
As mentioned at the end of my last Hammer Dracula review, I have set myself the intellectual challenge of seeing if I can conjure up an internally-consistent continuity framework for the entire series, even though no such thing was ever used or imagined by the people who originally made the films. For the lulz, I'm interpreting the challenge in the most extensive possible terms, and am thus going to (at least attempt) to include not only Brides of Dracula (a perfectly good film which presents no particular continuity challenges anyway) but also The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (a terrible film which utterly contradicts almost everything Hammer had done before) within my remit. May the gods have mercy upon my soul...

Brides is the first avowed sequel to Hammer's original 1958 Dracula, but in spite of its title Dracula himself is not in it. His place is taken instead by David Peel as the Baron Meinster )

Up against the Baron is Peter Cushing as an impeccable Van Helsing )

There is a great supporting cast of classic British character actors )

Some nice misdirection sets us up to expect that the Baroness Meinster is the vampire at the beginning of the film, She's not, but she is probably the best character in the film anyway )

Vampirism as a sort of pagan cult )

Lesbian and poly readings )

Sets, props and other production elements )

Next time: kung-fu vampire-hunting adventures in turn-of-the-century China - so help me.

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strange_complex: (Vampira)
This was part two of our New Year's Eve viewing, and because we watched this one after midnight it counts as the first film I watched in 2014. Start as you mean to go on, I say. It was a recent purchase by [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan, which of course I was very happy to watch given that I had only just rewatched Universal's Dracula (1931) myself on Christmas Day.

This is a direct sequel to the previous film, to the extent that the action starts immediately after the ending of the last one, with two policemen discovering Van (or here technically 'Von') Helsing loitering suspiciously outside the scene of an apparent murder. But unlike in the Hammer franchise, Dracula himself is not resurrected for the new story. We see what I presume was a waxwork model of Bela Lugosi lying staked to death in his coffin (apparently unaffected by the crumbling-into-dust phenomenon which Hammer made such play of, and which originates in Stoker's book), but he remains resolutely dead. Instead, as per the title, the vampire at the centre of this story is Dracula's daughter, the Countess Marya Zaleska. Exactly in what sense she is his 'daughter', when he was 500 years old but she says she became a vampire 100 years ago isn't quite clear, but I presume we're supposed to understand that he made her into a vampire, rather than literally being her father in the human sense.

The gender-switch apparently opened up a whole new angle on vampirism for the script-writer (essentially Garrett Fort, who also scripted the 1931 film, though there were two very different first drafts before he pretty much rewrote the entire story). Though there is some pathos to Dracula's character in the first film (as I noted in my review), it isn't the centre of that story. Here, though, the main narrative arc for the Countess concerns her attempts to rid herself of Dracula's influence over her after his death, including turning to a psychiatrist in a quest to overcome her vampiric urges. It looks very much like Fort (or one of his script-writing predecessors) found it easy to imagine a female vampire feeling guilt, experiencing conflicting urges, worrying about them, etc. - in short, Having Emotions - in a way that had not really occurred to him (or the writers of the original Dracula stage-play) for a male vampire.

The Countess is also distinctly more sexual / romantic about her predation than Lugosi's Dracula ever was (though, again, it's not totally absent with him). Here, Fort (or his predecessors) could draw on a well-established tradition of sexy female vampires, dating right back to Le Fanu's Carmilla, as well as on the early 20th-century film image of the vamp. Vamps, of course, were typically dark-haired, giving rise to one particular line which shows up the cultural gulf between the 1930s and the 2010s. When the Countess arrives at an evening party, looking amazing in one of many fabulous frocks which she wears throughout the film, the male romantic lead of the piece, Dr. Garth, cannot help but stare, prompting his would-be-girlfriend, Janet, to proclaim that she won't be leaving him alone "while there's a dangerous-looking brunette like that around." We're more used to hearing blondes described like that today, of course - which only goes to show what arbitrary social constructions lie behind both notions.

But the Countess proves alluring not only to male characters like Dr. Garth. There are also some very distinct overtones of lesbianism to the story, especially during one scene when the Countess lures a young woman off the street by asking her to pose for her as an artist's model, and then of course feeds on her, and another in which she nearly (but not quite) does the same to Janet, Dr. Garth's by-then-actual-girlfriend. The Wikipedia article on the film has a very good section on this aspect of it, and is quite right to say that the Countess's sense of inner conflict about her vampirism, and attempts to overcome it via psychiatric treatment, map well onto the early-20th century view of homosexuality as a mental illness which could be 'cured' in the same way.

The film lacks the expressionistic touches of Dracula (1931), since the people who had created that the first time round were no longer involved. Instead, it is primarily set in a solidly modern-looking London. During the last ten minutes, though, the action suddenly shifts to Transylvania, where the Countess has fled back to her castle with the kidnapped Janet, and we find ourselves in a world of curving staircases, dusty draperies, strange mists and broken battlements. It seemed a bit of a waste to me to have spent so much money building these sets for only ten minutes of action, but it was nice to see them at all.

Meanwhile, there are various other themes and touches which together add up to a really pretty decent film. The science vs. superstition theme from the original novel is retained in the way that Dr. Garth the psychiatrist is set off against the Countess with her supernatural powers, as well as a montage scene which shows the human characters using newspapers and telegraphs to try to track down Janet's kidnapper, and the way they chase the Countess to Transylvania by car and aeroplane. The idea of a parasitic aristocracy preying on the poor, also inherent in the original novel, is well-developed here too. The Countess is explicitly described as 'aristocratic' in the dialogue, and of course we see her preying on the street girl who believes she is getting work as an artist's model. But in the end her treatment of her social inferiors becomes her undoing, when her loyal servant, Sandor, turns against her because she has haughtily denied him immortality, and shoots her with a wooden arrow that acts on her like a stake.

The dialogue, characterisation and acting are all worth the price of entrance (or the DVD), too. [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan was particularly taken with the police chief who gruffly demands, "What new piece of asininity is this?" when summoned from his bed in the middle of the night by Van Helsing and his mad theories about vampires. But there are lots of great lines and great secondary characters to speak them. I particularly liked one friend of Dr. Garth's, played by Claud Allister, who was to all intents and purposes a slightly older Bertie Wooster, always looking for a good party and calling people "old fellow" a lot. Indeed, in all honesty I think that the characterisation, the acting, and the plot are all rather better here than in the 1931 Dracula, though I can see why the sheer originality of the first film, and its expressionistic atmosphere, somehow still mean that the sum of its parts is greater, even if the individual elements aren't.

Finally, it's pretty clear that Hammer picked up a few tricks from this film, just as they did its predecessor. These would include:
  • The entire idea of Dracula sequels.
  • Sexy female vampires with a strong lesbian overtones - the Karnstein Trilogy; Helen's approach towards Diana in Dracula, Prince of Darkness (though obviously this is mainly because both studios are drawing on an existing tradition which itself pre-dates Dracula's Daughter).
  • A female aristocrat who loathes her own vampirism - Baroness Meinster in Brides of Dracula.
  • A vampire's loyal servant - the two Kloves in Prince of Darkness and Scars of Dracula.
  • Who demands immortality - Johnny Alucard in Dracula AD 1972 (though this is inherent in Stoker's original character of Renfield, too).
  • And turns against his mistress / master - Klove in Scars.
  • The servant's name, Sandor - perhaps appropriated for Father Sandor in Prince of Darkness?
  • The principal vampire dying at the end in a way which is more exciting than a mere common-or-garden staking - every Hammer Dracula film ever.
In short, worth seeing in its own right, worth seeing as an important stage in the evolution of the vampire movie, and a damned fine way to start off the New Year!

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strange_complex: (Girly love Tadé Styka)
This is one from my Lovefilm list, which various people (can't remember who now) recommended to me because I like Eva Green. It's basically a lesbian love-triangle story set in a private girls' school in the 1930s, which sounded incredibly promising. Unfortunately, though, Eva Green's character is gradually revealed to be self-deluded, neurotic, a rapist and finally a murderer, so it didn't quite deliver the crush-fodder I'd been hoping for.

Long plot summary )

It's an OK film, I guess, and certainly has psychological plausibility and a clear moral compass. The performances are all good, there are some beautifully evocative shots of the girls diving like birds in flight against the sun, and Eva Green looks absolutely smoking hot in her 1930s glamour make-up and wide-leg pants (even if her character does belong more in a prison uniform). But still something about the film as a whole felt a bit thin and flimsy.

Maybe I've seen too many homoerotic boarding-school dramas? Though it is certainly unusual for them to be about women, somehow that very departure from tradition only seemed in this case to show up the limitations of the genre, rather than refresh it. Like, if we're going to drop the highly mythologised and intensely privileged all-male setting, why only go as far as replacing it with a highly mythologised and intensely privileged all-female setting? The traditional dynamics of the set-up aren't really subverted at all by the gender-switch - just shown up - and you end up feeling unsatisfied as a result.

Also, although we do get a few glimpses into Miss G's back-story, I think her character needed a little more unfolding and development before she went completely off the rails. I think for the story to be really effective, we ought to have fallen just a little bit in love with her ourselves before the cracks start showing, or at least to have seen something relatable and human which helped to explain the extent of her self-delusions and the intensity of her emotions. As it is, she just comes across as an unhinged caricature - perhaps precisely because of the unreal setting. If I never really felt any great sympathy for her, despite watching with the primary intention of drooling over her character, then the film is definitely mis-firing somewhere.

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strange_complex: (Wicker Man sunset)
I watched this on the plane on the way to New York, which was nice as I missed it in the cinema. Presumably, I saw a slightly censored version, as the cinema release was a 12A, and as far as I understand all films available on in-flight entertainment systems have to be a PG or below. But basically I've seen it.

Overall verdict - jolly good. I've enjoyed the Judi Dench 'era' of Bond, but I guess nothing can last for ever, and she certainly had a very compelling exit. Playing Bond's character off against a bitter former agent made for some good opportunities to explore the personal cost of serving as a double-0 agent, especially when triangulated against the new Eve Moneypenny's ultimate decision not to go into the field herself. Speaking of Naomie Harris, I have always completely loved her in 28 Days Later, so was very pleased to come across her here again. And it is cool to have a new, minimalist techy Q on board as well. I've only seen the actor who plays him, Ben Whishaw, in Brideshead Revisited (2008), where I was distinctly underwhelmed with his petulant teenage Sebastian, but he seemed to work much better in this role.

The action sequences and dry humour that we all basically watch these films for were well in place, as were some fantastic locations. I especially enjoyed the Scottish highland setting for Skyfall itself, having been to very similar country so recently myself, and also Raoul Silva's abandoned industrial island complex. The best line of the film was easily Kincade's response to Bond asking him whether he was ready to face off their attackers at Skyfall: "I was ready before you were born, son" (the line really being made, of course, by a well-timed re-loading of his shotgun).

On the down-side, the stuff about Bond's parents dying when he was a child, and the link between that and his Freudian relationship with M as his substitute-'mother' sometimes came across as a bit cod-psychological. The return to the old-school set-up of a male M in an oak-panelled office and Miss Moneypenny in the ante-room outside could offer fresh opportunities for re-invention and subversion, but it also risks a return to the more misogynistic scripts which originally came with it (not that this one was exactly a feminist triumph - ask Sévérine, the trafficked sex-slave who ended up as a toy, broken in a fight between two men). And Raoul Silva was blatantly an Evil Gay, which I could really have done without.

Still, it was gripping, entertaining and fairly substantial for a Bond film, and I certainly enjoyed its company on a long-haul flight. I will be looking forward to more Naomie Harris in particular in the next instalment.

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strange_complex: (Vampira)
I saw this round at [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy's house a couple of weeks ago. As [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan explained before we began, it is one of those ghost films where you never actually see anything supernatural, but the atmosphere is nonetheless creepy as hell. Shot in beautiful black and white and set almost entirely in an empty, isolated stately home, it is all about the psychological reactions of a small group of main characters. The set-up is that they have been invited there by a Dr. Markway, who wants to investigate the house's supposed paranormal history. Once they are settled in, of course, strange and frightening things begin to happen, bringing all the hidden tensions within and between the various personalities in the house to the fore.

This means, of course, that this film is very closely comparable to other similar movies such as House on Haunted Hill and The Legend of Hell House - though by no means diminished by the comparison. I'm afraid I found the main point-of-view character, Eleanor Lance slightly disappointing. She is the one most affected by the atmosphere in the house, and both her back-story of guilt after the recent death of her mother (for whom she has been a carer most of her life) and her psychological disintegration over the course of the film could have been very compelling. But for me she began the film already too neurotic and self-doubting for me to develop any real sympathy for her, or for her further journey into madness to carry much interest for me. Otherwise, though, the cocktail of characters was very well-judged, the individuals convincing and well-defined, and the interplay between them as they experienced greater and greater terror very compelling. As for the location and sets (the latter purpose-built for the film), they did a huge amount to underscore the atmosphere of the story, and were beautifully shot using all sorts of interesting angles and framing devices.

So far, so very competently-made haunted house story, but the one extra element which took us quite by surprise in a film from 1963 was the heavily-suggested homoerotic sexual tension between Eleanor Lance and another female character, the sassy and very modern Theodora (or Theo for short). This isn't exactly what you would call a positive representation, of course - how could it be in 1963? At one point, Eleanor roundly accuses Theo of being both jealous of her own growing attraction to (the male) Dr. Markway, and of being 'unnatural' and one of 'nature's mistakes'. But on the other hand, they also have scenes of close intimacy - holding hands, walking arm in arm and painting their toe-nails together - in which it is quite clear that Eleanor is just as drawn to Theo as Theo is to her. And in the end, it is Theo, the character depicted as being consciously aware of her own lesbian desires and knowingly acting on them, who survives the film, while the more repressed Eleanor is broken by the house to the extent that she dies and becomes one of its victims. So there is something a little more complex than a simple heteronormative morality tale going on here, and something which in turn opens the door to some more interesting readings of what exactly the unseen terrors within the house represent - uncontrolled female sexual desire, perhaps? Viewers must decide for themselves.

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strange_complex: (Meta Sudans)
I'm still way behind on Doctor Who reviews, and have yet to even watch The Angels Take Manhattan - though I have a fair idea of what happens in it, since I don't care in the least about spoilers, so have been quite happy to read any comments about it which fell into my path. That's not to say I've read widely amongst reviews of either Power or Angels, though, since I simply haven't had the time to do so. So these are very much my own thoughts about Power, written from within my own little bubble.

The actual plot )

Amy and Rory )

Guest characters )

Cool bits )

Future implications )

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strange_complex: (Eleven dude)
I watched this last night with [livejournal.com profile] big_daz, and felt so-soish about it. It had a few neat ideas and surprises - which are themselves spoilery ) - but didn't really wow me. There wasn't much in the way of punchy character moments or intriguing puzzles. I guess in a way that shows how the bar has been raised over the course of New Who, by both Rusty and the Moff. This was a decent enough episode really, but I was somehow expecting more. I've watched it again this morning to see how knowing about Oswin's real situation from the start changes it, and spotted some things which made me slightly more impressed than I was last night. But then again I've also confirmed that some of the things which didn't appear to make sense last night genuinely don't, and also been made angry by a line which I missed the first time round, but which the internet did not. So in the end I feel much the same as after the first viewing - so-soish, but with an extra hint of *growl*.

My obviously very spoilerific thoughts after re-watching are gathered below under a series of headings.

Things which didn't make sense )

Careful structuring and symbolism )

Oswin )

Amy and Rory )

Racist, sexist and biphobic clap-trap )

Things that were fun / cool / scary )

Past continuity )

Future implications )

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strange_complex: (Girly love Tadé Styka)
In favour of equal civil marriages? Then it's ACTION TIME! The government's consultation on introducing them opens today, and it's very important for positive voices to be heard. This is not a foregone conclusion, and if we want it, we need to say so loudly and clearly.

It's About Time gives information on the consultation, tips on what sorts of things supporters might say, and a link to where to go to say them (click on 'Take Part'). Please take the time to speak up if you support this proposal. This is not just another online petition, but a direct government consultation where you can really have an influence.

strange_complex: (Corset self lacing '50s)
A friend lent me this, and it lay around unwatched in my lounge for about a fortnight because it looked kind of dire from the box. What I was getting from the packaging was 'rom-com with a mild male-fantasy-style kink twist'. But now that I've actually sat down and watched it, I think it's only fair to say that it was quite a lot more character-driven and intelligent than that would suggest.

The blurb on the back of the box reads as follows:
"When Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) gets a job as a secretary in a small firm she does her best to please. But her new boss (James Spader) finds fault with her typing and administers a rather unconventional kind of punishment. Soon Lee realises that she is not only becoming the perfect secretary, but also the woman she always wanted to be."
But what that doesn't really convey is that the film isn't just 'secretary and her boss start an S&M relationship' (which would be quite dull and almost certainly misogynistic and shot through with clichés and moral hypocrisy), but that it is also a story of genuine character growth )

Around that strong central plot, there is a lot of intelligent detail and design )

But there were some things about the film I wasn't so keen on, and that includes the happily-ever-after ending )

On the whole, though, not bad at all. It's just a pity that it is packaged and marketed as a less interesting film than it actually is.

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strange_complex: (Clegg checks the omens)
I can't be at the LibDem party conference this year, because it clashes hopelessly with a very busy freshers' week here in Leeds. But I have been following along as much as possible via the BBC Parliament channel and my many friends who are busy tweeting from the conference hall.

I've been following with particular interest this morning (either side of holding a meeting to explain to freshers how Study Abroad works), because conference has been debating the Equal Marriage proposal which LibDems for LGBT action (aka Delga) were drafting when I went to their strategy conference in the summer.

The good news is that that motion has now passed, making the LibDems the first UK party in government to officially support the introduction of equal marriage. You can read the full details of the new policy, including the equality of opportunity which it pledges for transgender people, religious organisations, and the status of relationships across international borders, here.

I am really, really, really, really pleased about that.

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strange_complex: (Metropolis False Maria)
I saw this yesterday with [livejournal.com profile] big_daz, [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan, [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy, [livejournal.com profile] nigelmouse and [livejournal.com profile] maviscruet in a big jolly Northern Goth Contingent family outing at the Light. I've seen the fullest version of Metropolis previously available before - in fact, that was the first film I wrote up when I began systematically blogging all the films I had seen on LJ back in January 2007. But this is an all-new version, complete with an extra 25 minutes of footage taken from a recently-rediscovered Argentinian print of the film, and a newly-recorded soundtrack based on the original orchestral score.

The Argentinian footage is badly damaged, so that it stands out very distinctly from the rest of the film (itself in any case compiled from multiple sources at varying levels of quality). It is scratched, covered in dancing vertical lines and cropped along three edges, and even now there are still a couple of scenes missing. But it really does turn the film into a whole different ball-game. Whole themes, sub-plots and secondary characters now make sense in a way that they just didn't before. And in any case, seeing it on the big screen - a VERY big screen, actually - is an entirely different experience from watching it at home on a DVD. There is a lot of fine detail in the models of the overground city, the machine-rooms, the catacombs and the actors' costumes which I'm pretty sure escaped me last time I watched it, and which really adds to the magic.

I enthused over the film's scale and scope last time I wrote it up, apparently particularly liking its ambitious special effects and imaginative vision, so there's no need for me to repeat all that - though I have certainly been forcefully reminded of it by this repeat viewing. This time, though, I was also struck by how balletic the whole film seemed. The score is very much in the tradition of 19th-century Romantic symphonies. It reuses some of their motifs, and is even explicitly divided into three movements labelled 'Prelude', 'Intermezzo' and 'Furioso' on the intertitles. The effect is heightened in this new release by the fact that you can actually hear the sounds of an orchestra coughing and turning over their sheet music between the movements - just as you would have done if you'd been to see the film at a large cinema on its original release. Meanwhile up on the screen, the exaggerated gestures and body language of the actors draw heavily on the balletic tradition - partly because of course that is the natural parent genre for a relatively new medium trying to tell stories without words, but I suspect also partly as a conscious stylistic decision to suit the fantastical, allegorical story of this specific film.

Perhaps not so very surprisingly, given the balletic aesthetic, I was also struck this time by how very, very homoerotic some of the scenes were. This is actually a bit annoying on one level, because it springs all-too-obviously from the film's almost total side-lining of female characters. Apart from Maria, who is hardly a real person anyway, as she is too busy being quite literally a Madonna or (in her evil doppelgänger capacity) a Whore, the only women in the film are there to be passive sexual objects and / or mothers. Though you can't literally distinguish between 'speaking' and 'non-speaking' roles in a silent film, it is certain that none of them (except for Maria) have character names, or get to have any input at all into any of the action or drama of the film. Instead, they just hang around looking pretty in gardens, sexy at night-clubs or despairing when they think that their children have been drowned.

Still, subversive feminism would be a bit much to expect from a film made in 1927 - even a fantastical one. In fact, since the vision of the future which Metropolis presents is clearly meant to be dystopian, you could even argue that its marginalisation of women is slightly feminist, in that it is presenting this as a characteristic of a profoundly unhappy society. But that's probably stretching things a little... Meanwhile, as original Star Trek fans know, a fictional environment without any meaningful female characters in it is a fertile breeding-ground for slash. And we have here a film which is deeply concerned with the male body - from the athletic figures of the youthful elite exercising in the 'Sons' Garden' to the struggling bodies of the male workers in the grip of the Machine. Central to both the plot and the imagery of the film is tender love of Freder, the Capitalist Overlord's son, for said workers - especially Josaphat, a clerk fired by his father, and Georgy 11811, an ordinary worker on one of the machines. And given that this love was conveyed via anguished looks, impassioned embraces and romantic music, while the actors concerned wore theatrical-style make-up complete with eye-liner, it seemed incredible at times that they didn't just go the whole hog and kiss madly.

Anyway, I'll certainly be looking out for a DVD release of this version of the film - not least for its amazing score, which is still going round my head today. Here's hoping I end up having to buy yet another one some time in the future, when those final eight minutes of lost footage are rediscovered...

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strange_complex: (Sherlock Aha!)
I've ended up with oddly mixed feelings about this series now that it is over. Some things about it have been so consistently good - especially the design, the camerawork, and the characterisation of Sherlock himself. I love the way that this Holmes dances the line between being cringe-makingly loathsome and yet also exciting and fascinating and just understatedly nice enough that our sympathies remain with him. And I think Benedict Cumberbatch is doing a brilliant job, not only with the grand gestures but also with the small details which really bring the character to life. The original stories are used beautifully without weighing down the new stories that the series is trying to tell; most of the dialogue and the supporting characters are detailed and rich and witty and intriguing; and most of the plots are neatly structured and satisfyingly resolved. Heck, even the various tie-in websites actually do provide genuine added value, even if the supposed hidden messages on Sherlock's site hardly seem like the work of a master criminal.

And yet... and yet some things which seemed incredibly promising early on have ended up disappointing.

Looking back over my first post about it, I see that I was excited at what presenting Sherlock's face upside down on the first occasion that we meet him was signalling about the series' intentions to invert old tropes. But although I do think that Sherlock and Watson themselves as characters have been very nicely brought forward into the modern world, the rest of what's going on around them unfortunately oozes with unexamined tropes which have most certainly not been inverted at all )

I note also from my first post that, while recognising that the format of the show and its central relationship simply doesn't allow as much room for strong female characters as I'd ideally like, I was also still pretty optimistic about the ones we had met thus far: particularly Sally Donovan, the police sergeant, and Mycroft's mysterious assistant, Anthea. But they have disappointed, too )

I think a lot of the problems here probably stem from the very limited scope of a three-episode run - even if those episodes are each 90 minutes long. It means that many of the characters who seemed so promising early on just haven't had time to be developed properly - and in the squeeze of a limited run, it seems to be the female characters in particular who have suffered. What makes that so especially frustrating is the efforts which the first episode seemed to be making to set up interesting and intriguing characters whom I wanted to learn more about - a promise which was then never delivered on. If they'd just been fairly mediocre in the first place, I wouldn't have minded so much. Entrusting each episode to a different writer obviously hasn't helped much with this: it's noticeable that Lestrade, Mycroft and Sally Donovan vanished entirely from the middle episode, while even the character of Sherlock lost the nasty edge which kept him so interesting in the first and third. On the plus side, I think Watson has undergone a steady and plausible development from the bored, traumatised veteran of the first episode to the active and competent investigator of the third. But Moffat and Gatiss as co-creators really should have taken steps to ensure that this was happening more consistently for the secondary characters as well.

Some things have felt rushed, too - especially the introduction of Moriarty )

So, yeah. The stories are gripping, the visuals are beautiful, and Sherlock, Watson, Mycroft and Lestrade are all well-enough developed to make me want to come back for more. It's just a pity about the rushed schedule, under-developed characters and poor handling of minority groups. But it has definitely been nice to have something this well put-together showing over the summer when most cult TV series are on hiatus, and I am very happy to hear that they will be making more of it. I have already pre-ordered the box set, and will doubtless be back with my thoughts on the unaired pilot which it includes once it has arrived. Give it a bit longer and a rethink on the unexamined tropes front, and this could just start to present Granada's Jeremy Brett series with some serious competition. But it has some way to go just yet.

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strange_complex: (Rick's Cafe)
I've been writing up reviews of films seen at the Cottage Road cinema's classic film nights here for a while, but last night the Hyde Park Picture House offered an equivalent of its own: an evening of 1940s cinema. I went along with [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy, [livejournal.com profile] big_daz and [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan - who had really thrown herself into the spirit of the evening by taking the cinema management's encouragement to dress in period style to heart. She wasn't the only one, either. I'd say there were probably about 50-60 people there, of whom at least ten had taken the opportunity to dress up, and some of whom had really gone to town. Unlike at the Cottage Road cinema, we didn't get any dodgy vintage adverts at the start of the programme, but we did get two short films before moving on to the main feature.

19a. Listen to Britain )

19b. 6 Little Jungle Boys )

19c. Perfect Strangers )

Anyway, a very enjoyable evening all round; and capped off by a jolly nice late dinner in Hyde Park, too. Posters outside the cinema promised Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth, complete with a new musical score, next Saturday night - but I can't actually see anything about that on the Hyde Park Picture House's own website. Still, if it's on, [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and I are going. Anyone else?

Edit: The Last Man on Earth is now on the official Hyde Park Picture House site, too - so definitely a goer!

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