Tag Archives: SciFi

Nazis from the dark side of the Moon and ultra film violence from Indonesia

Prince Charles Cinema: home of lateral thinking marketing

London would be a duller place if the Prince Charles Cinema did not exist.

A few weeks ago, the management were asking what their market position was. I said I thought the cinema filled a gap between the mainstream and art house cinemas. In among some cult commercial films, the Prince Charles screens movies the National Film Theatre seldom if ever shows.

The Prince Charles screens cult, schlock, under-the-radar and often extraordinarily quirky movies. Amid special events like Sing-a-long-a-Grease, the Bugsy Malone Sing-Along, Swear-Along-With-South-Park and a screening of ‘The Die Hard Trilogy’ (they are not including Die Hard 4.0 because they say it is not a ‘real’ Die Hard film…. they will soon be screening the little-heard-of Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie and God Bless America (with free hot dogs) as well as an all-night marathon of Friday the 13th Parts I-VIII.

They also yesterday screened two films extraordinary even by their standards – Iron Sky and The Raid both of which, I suspect, have been held back by titles less vivid than they should be. Iron Sky should, I think, really have been called Nazis From The Dark Side of The Moon… or Space Nazis… because the plot runs thus:

Iron Sky: Nazis are not a waste of space

In 1945, some Nazis escaped to the Moon, where they built a giant secret base in the shape of a swastika. Since then, they have been watching us and waiting for the right time to mount an invasion of Earth in their meteor-towing zeppelin-shaped spacecraft and take their revenge. The date is now 2018 and the time is right…

Admittedly I got in for free, but THAT is a movie I would pay good money to see and the strange thing about it is that the visuals and the special effects are excellent, as are the sound, the direction and the acting. And the acting is difficult to pull off, because all the lines are (quite rightly) delivered totally straight-faced, so the acting style has to be in that difficult region between realistic and slightly stylised cartoon – If you have a central Negro character whom the Nazis turn white and a sequence in which the vacuum of space pulls off a female Nazi’s clothes yet she is still somehow able to breathe, there is a credibility risk unless you have everything spot-on.

They get away with lines like (I paraphrase):

“I was black but now I’m white. I went to the dark side of the Moon but now I’m back. And the space Nazis are coming!”

(To a taxi driver) “Take us upState – We need to get back to the Moon”

and

“The Nazis are the only guys the US managed to beat in a fair fight”

Alright, the last line is not actually so odd; it is the truth (if you exclude the British in 1776).

Iron Sky has its faults – it would be a much better film with less ponderous, less Wagnerian music – oddly from Slovenian avant-garde group Laibach - but it is 93 minutes long and never less than interesting.

It is good clean Nazi fun and has a fair stab at satire with a cynical political PR lady who sees the benefits of having a Nazi invasion of Earth and a not-too-far-removed-from-reality Sarah Palin type female US President in 2018 who says: “All Presidents who start a war in their first term get re-elected”.

With an unsurprisingly complicated production history, it is basically a Finnish film with English and German dialogue (sub-titled) which was shot for an estimated 7.5 million Euros in Australia, Finland, Germany and New York and partly financed by ‘crowd funding’ from fan investors.

Iron Sky is well worth seeing on the big screen – something that is highly unlikely in the UK now, as distributors Revolver are putting it straight to DVD.

The Raid: wall-to-wall high-rise violence

The Raid is another film championed by the Prince Charles Cinema though, unlike Iron Sky, it did get a decent UK release.

It is a visceral, staggeringly-violent Indonesian action film directed by Welsh film-maker Gareth Evans (allegedly only 27-years-old) with jaw-dropping martial arts sequences.

I am no martial arts aficionado, but the action is amazing – it showcases the unknown-to-me Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat.

The movie won the Midnight Madness Award at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival and that sounds a pretty well-titled award.

The plot is token – more a MacGuffin than a plot.

A less-than-elite SWAT team mount an attack on the strangely run-down Jakarta tower block base of a crime lord who has rented rooms in the block out to the city’s most dangerous murderers, killers and gangsters… and, inexplicably, to one ordinary good guy and his pregnant wife.

Running 101 minutes, it could usefully have about 10 minutes trimmed off it, but it is astonishingly gripping throughout, especially given that it is simply wall-to-wall violence. Very well edited and with vivid Dolby Stereo, it is like being in a firefight. You have no idea what is going to happen next.

And the violence is relentless.

There are a couple of half-hearted attempts to give the movie depth and a late attempt to create personal sympathy with one of the characters, but this is pointless.

Watching it reminded me of the original reviews of Reservoir Dogs, which said that film was mindlessly violent, staggeringly bloody and was simply violence for the sake of violence.

Reservoir Dogs was not.

The Raid is.

And I loved it.

Director Gareth Evans could be the new Quentin Tarantino.

Uniquely different. That is what you get at the Prince Charles Cinema.

Nazis from the Dark Side of the Moon for 93 minutes and mindless martial art violence from Indonesia for 101 minutes.

Now that is what I call entertainment.

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Writer Terry Nation talks about “Blake’s 7″ and how to write TV adventure series

A few days ago, I posted the introduction to and an extract from my 1978 interview with writer Terry Nation, a former comedy scriptwriter who, as well as creating the Daleks for Doctor Who, created the BBC TV series Blake’s 7 and Survivors.

In this second extract, he talks about Blake’s 7. The interview took place after the first series of Blake’s 7 had been transmitted and before the second series aired,

___________

The first series of Blake’s 7 was widely criticised for having cheap production values.

What can I say?

They looked pretty cheap.

They were. Yes, they were by any standards. I mean, you have to know the current state of the BBC. They were the best we could produce and we have never done less than our best. But, finally, if you want to buy a motor car and you can afford a second-hand 1948 Ford Anglia, that’s what you go after. So yes, OK, to the buff we are not in Star Trek’s class, but we attempted more than Star Trek ever did.

But with no decent budget.

Well, it would have been nice but that wasn’t possible – it wasn’t achievable – so you go with what you’ve got.

The secondary character of Avon seemed to me to be a far more attractive and dominant character than Blake himself.

Aaah. He (Paul Darrow) took hold of the part and made it his own. It could have been a very dull role, but this particular actor took hold of it and gave it much better dimensions than I’d ever put on paper. He is an enormously popular character. He is incredibly popular – and rightly so. He’s a good actor. I think he’s terrific. I enjoy watching him all the time. This is how stars emerge, I suppose: it’s the actor’s doing.

Was Blake’s 7 easier to write than Doctor Who? Presumably because it is longer it is easier to pace.

Yes. Tempo is vital. Years ago a radio producer told me that all of drama is shaped like a ‘W’. You start at a peak, but you can’t ride on that peak all the time because it’s just very boring. Hammer movies are interesting: when they do all their heavy horror sequences, somewhere in there is always the light relief.

You also tend to have two or three sub-plots going on in your series. Not just in Blake’s 7 but also in your Doctor Who stories.

Always. Always. I maintain it’s the only way to write those things and they don’t do it enough. Always my aim in episode one was Split them. Get them all going off in different directions so the moment whatever Doctor Who was doing was getting dull or he was getting to the edge of a precipice or his fingers were slipping, then cut to the other one. Cut to the other one so you’ve got this intercut situation. I think what’s happened to the Doctor Who series now is that they haven’t done that enough. I think they tell one story. They mainline it, following Tom Baker, and there isn’t enough diversion of secondary and tertiary stories. I did that (using sub-plots) in Blake’s 7 all the time.

The central idea of Blake’s 7 is wildly subversive, isn’t it?

Well, the Daleks are Mark 1. The Federation is the Daleks Mark II, if you like.

But the audience is asked to identify with rebels who are going round blowing up official installations – people who might be called terrorists.

In a way, yes, you’re absolutely right. But I disapprove entirely of that kind of political action. That’s why, in the first episode, I made The Federation so beastly and monstrous.

In the Blake’s 7 episode Bounty, starring the Irish actor T.P.McKenna, you had a community which was going to be torn apart by two internal factions fighting each other. The Federation’s plan was to send in a supposed ‘peace-keeping’ force which was, in fact, an occupying army. That sounds like you were thinking of a particular, real, situation. Were you?

Syria. It’s a political device that happens all the time. That’s what was happening at the time with Syria. (The Syrians sent a peace-keeping force into Lebanon.)

You were sneaking in a serious idea. 

Yes. But I guarantee that 99.9% of people in the world who see that show won’t see any political significance at all. Though, God knows, I’ve got to get all those people to relate to some truth, some honour or some dignity somewhere. It is not just people tearing around in spaceships, although that may appear to be what it is.

My Blake is the true figure of good. Do you know the story of the Last Crusade? – I think it’s the Third Crusade.

All these guys set off and they were really going to wipe out these heathens and they got as far as Venice, I think, and ran out of money, ran out of boats and a million other things. And the Venetians said, “Okay, fellahs, listen. There’s a Christian community over there. You’ve got the men and the arms. Go and wipe out that town and we’ll give you the boats.”

So they wiped out the Christian community so that they could get the boats to wipe out the heathen community. It’s that kind of deviousness that I see in The Federation. They have no regard for Man; they have regard only for the mechanics of Man – for that machine. It all works neatly and efficiently. It doesn’t matter what the cost in manpower; it’s the Final Solution. Get rid of the Jews and the world is going to be lovely; get rid of the gypsies and the world is going to be lovely. That metamorphosis doesn’t ever work. Finally somebody has to be on the line that says, “I, at least, am honourable and I believe in my honour.” The awful thing for me would be to find out that honour is the true evil – which would be devastating and destroy my life.

Do you find that people don’t treat you seriously as a writer because you write ‘fantasy’?

Oh, I’m never taken as a serious writer.

That must be frustrating, isn’t it? Not getting credit for hard work.

Well, perhaps. But if you’re a popular entertainer, then that’s the kind of badge you carry, I suppose. I don’t mind that too much. I mean, I have yet to prove that I’ve got something very valid and good to offer. I’ve yet to do that. I think I will, because I’m learning my craft and I’m beginning to get it right now. I think it will come. I’ve always believed I’m a late developer, so I think it’s just taking me longer. My intention always is to entertain because, if I fail to do that, I think I’ve failed to reach an audience. But, within the context of primarily entertaining, I like to say some things that I believe are valid and good and honourable, if you like. I don’t want to use the medium simply for adventure: I’d like to educate. – Oh! I take that word back! – But, all right, having said it and retracted it, you know what I mean.

To intellectually interest?

(Laughs) I wish I’d said that. But, having said it, I would never actually let that be said aloud, in a way. I hope it’s subversive in that sense. What they must see is a good entertainment. If it has an additional value, that’s terrific. That’s really what I would like to achieve.

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TV writer Terry Nation talks about creating the Daleks and about his insecurities and nightmares

(This was published later in the Huffington Post)

As mentioned in yesterday’s blog, last century I interviewed Terry Nation, who created the Daleks for the BBC TV series Doctor Who. We talked in 1978, during the Lebanese Civil War, which lasted 1975-1990. The interview was published in the January 1979 issue of Starburst magazine. Terry Nation died in 1997. Such is time. So it goes.

I met him at the Reform Club in London’s Pall Mall (the base for Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days) and talked about the fantasy world which he had created. I thought he was rather shy and insecure. I think he was a new member of the Reform Club and rather over-awed by the fact a middle class boy like himself had broken into what he saw as ‘the Establishment’.

This is Part 1 of that interview. Part 2 will follow in a future blog.

________

What did you think when you heard about Doctor Who for the first time?

I didn’t have any confidence in the series. I read the brochure at the briefing and said, “There’s no way this show can ever succeed.” And I don’t think it could have done if it had followed the route that they had planned for it.

What was that?

That it actually went into historical situations and was reasonably educational. That was the direction the BBC wanted to take and Sydney Newman (BBC TV’s Head of Drama) was bitterly opposed to any bug-eyed monsters. We could go into the future, but it had to have a relatively scientific base and it was going to be ‘good solid stuff’. He violently objected to the Daleks when he saw them in the script. It was only the determination of the producer Verity Lambert that got them on. Or maybe it was the fact that the BBC had to go on. They’d had them built and they’d spent so much money they had to go on. Nobody had faith in them, including myself.

How did you originally visualise the Daleks?

I knew that I didn’t want them to be men dressed up. That was my first personal brief. I had seen the Georgian State Dancers – the girls who move with long skirts and appear not to move – they just glide. That was the kind of image I wanted to get. I knew what the voice would sound like, because it had to be mechanical and broken down into syllables all the time. I made a few mistakes.

Such as?

The hands. They became enormously cumbersome. I made a few mistakes about being able to go up stairs and things of that sort. I made the cardinal mistake of killing them off at the end of the first series, which had to be rectified. But what actually happened with the BBC was that episode one of The Dead Planet came up. It was quite a good eerie beginning and, at the end of it – the last frame of the picture – we saw a bit of a Dalek. We didn’t see a whole Dalek. And the phones started to ring. People saying, “Christ, what is that thing?”

A week later, the Dalek appeared. And a week after that the mail started to arrive. And then it mushroomed. As a writer, you are a very anonymous figure. Nobody notices your name on the screen. And, for the first time in my life, I started to get mail. It wasn’t just a couple of letters. They were coming in by the sackload. So I twigged I had something going for me here: something was happening. And, of course, the BBC twigged it as well and they knew they had to change the direction that Doctor Who was intended to go in. So a lot of the stuff that they had prepared was put aside and they went much more into the science fiction area. And I think that actually established the ultimate pattern of where it was going.

The series has never really caught on in America. Why do you think that is?

It’s played now in syndication.

But the networks were never really interested, were they?

No, well how could they be with the quality of the production? There was always a certain sort of Englishness about it. It was very much a domestic product, I think. I went to the United States in 1965 and said I wanted to make a series called The Daleks. I went there to hustle and got very close to doing it.

What sort of series would it have been?

There would have been no Doctor Who because I had no copyright on the Doctor character. But I could take the Daleks away and do it. I might have to pay the BBC something for their interest in the design, but they’re my characters. Indeed, the BBC was going to go with me on this series at one point. But they weren’t – at that time – a very good business organisation. And the whole thing sort of crumbled to dust. And then I’d moved on to something else: I think I’d gone on to The Saint. And from there I went on to The Baron and on to The Avengers and straight on to The Persuaders. And each one of these is a big block of your life. There was never time. Hence, when the BBC wanted the Daleks again, I wasn’t available to write them. So other people wrote those episode but they never understood the nature of the Daleks as well as I did.

So what was the nature of the Daleks? You must have based them on a real person or a number of real people, did you?

I can’t isolate one character. But I suppose you could say the Nazis. The one recurring dream I have – once or twice a year it comes to me – is that I’m driving a car very quickly and the windscreen is a bit murky. The sun comes onto it and it becomes totally opaque. I’m still hurtling forwards at incredible speed and there’s nothing I can see or do and I can’t stop the car. That’s my recurring nightmare and it’s very simply solved by psychologists who say you’re heading for your future. You don’t know what your future is. However much you plead with somebody to save you from this situation, everybody you turn to turns out to be one of ‘Them’. And there’s nobody left – You are the lone guy.

The Daleks are all of ‘Them’ and they represent for so many people so many different things, but they all see them as government, as officialdom, as that unhearing, unthinking, blanked-out face of authority that will destroy you because it wants to destroy you. I believe in that now – I’ve directed them more that way over the years.

Presumably by writIng about the future, by creating your own future, you’re making what lies at the end of the road, at the other side of the windscreen, less frightening because it’s less unknown and because you’re controlling it.

Yes, I mean, Doctor Who comes out of it alive, however bad the problem. The good guys, if they don’t win exclusively, at least come out winning that particular round of the war. Doctor Who doesn’t win the war, but he wins a battle.

You once said all your writing was about survival.

Yes, well, it’s a theme that’s actually gone through my work enormously. I see minefields all around me: I’m not that confident. I’ve been going back and forth from London to Geneva (working on a new project) and it may be like Walter Mitty, but I’m in that aeroplane and I’m waiting for the moment when they say, “Can anybody fly this aeroplane?” – And I can’t, but I know that finally I’m going to be the one that has to do it.

There is menace all around you. It’s a fairly dark world out there. It doesn’t infringe very much on my personal life but, when I listen to any news broadcast, I think, “God! I might be living in Beirut. I could be one of those people in Beirut being shelled every day of my life.” As a wartime child, I grew up when bombs were dropping and men actually were trying to kill me – not personally, but they wouldn’t mind if they killed me.

(TO BE CONTINUED….. HERE)

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