Film Alfred Hitchcock reaches The States, signing a seven year deal to work under David O. Selznick and though he’s now essentially working within what amounts to a huger, more oppressive version of the studio system he was used to back home, Selznick gives him far greater latitude and flexibility with the material. Which makes it all the more perverse that his first film, like the disappointing Jamaica Inn, is based on a Daphne Du Maurier novel and set in Cornwall, with British leads in Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier.
Rebecca is the deceased wife of Olivier whom his new wife Joan Fontaine finds impossible to live up to. The couple meet and marry in Monte Carlo and Fontaine follows him to the old estate, Manderley, were everything is still arranged as Rebecca expected and the adversarially witchy housekeeper Mrs. Danvers maintains (the house keeper is played with carefully subsumed mania by Judith Anderson who would end her career first playing the Vulcan High Priestess in Star Trek III then four years in Santa Barbara). Slowly it becomes apparent that tragedy stalks the house and there’s nothing that Fontaine can do to stop it as the dead woman's lifestyle slowly subsumes her and threatens to drown her own personality.
Rebecca is technically a step up again from his Gaumont period just as The 39 Steps showed an improvement from British International Pictures. So much of an improvement in fact, that it won Best Picture at the Oscars the following year and garnered nominations in almost every category (it wasn’t a short or in a foreign language!). He lost out to John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath. It was that kind of year. I can't imagine future cineaste looking back at the list of films under consideration this year with quite the same awe. "Gosh! 2009 was the year of Milk and Benjamin Button! Wow. I mean wow." Nope, not going to happen.
Back at this film, Hitch is clearly revelling in the larger budget and so, though this is a far more domestic piece than something like The Lady Vanishes, it has a much greater sense of scale and extraordinarily impressive photography from the great George Barnes (who won the film’s other Oscar). There are shots which still influence filmmakers now particular the moment when the curtain’s are drawn back in Rebecca’s room and daylight floods in for the first time in a year.
Hitch is so control of style and form in fact that he’s able to conjure Rebecca into a rounded being through that photography, plus editing, music and the performances of the other actors to the point that she’s as vivid the viewer’s imagination as the characters on screen. In one scene the camera is tilted backwards and forwards to reveal the movements the woman made in the past, as though an actress is still in shot. Perhaps she’s played by The Lady Vanishes’ Margaret Lockwood with some of her bite from The Wicked Lady.
I was surprised by how closely the film follows Kirsten Thompson's four act structure with each of the turning points worked around Fontaine's discovery of who her predecessor was. At first turning point Fontaine reaches Mandalay, next she enters her predecessor's room and at the next she discovers the truth about the woman she's replaced and each happens at just over half hour intervals until she almost drops from the plot as the focus changes to the investigation into exactly how Rebecca died.
And once the secrets are revealed, you want to go back and watch the film again with this new perspective, something that is rare of films from the period. If nothing else it means you can scrutinise Larry superb 'tache some more and wonder at the way that Anderson seems to drift through scenes like a ninja, almost popping up on queue to give Fontaine a disapproving look. Mrs Danvers was played by Diana Rigg in the 90s tv version of the book and I can't imagine she had quite the same austerity (though you can bet I'll be seeking the dvd to have a look).
There is something gut wrenching about the cancellation of a favourite television show, especially a drama. Over the period of broadcast the viewer invests a certain emotion interest in the lives of the characters. So when these characters are left in the middle of story arcs or plotlines we are denied something which he rightly expect in real life. Closure. One show in particular was a particular pain.
For some reason I keep coming back to ‘My So-Called Life’. Every year I get the shows out and watch them again. Every year I see new things. I understand more. I'm twenty-six now. What's going on?
When you're a teenager, and you have those problems, and you know your friends will make fun of you if you tell them, you look to film, music and TV for answers. Living in England, honest to goodness teen shows were pretty thin on the ground. There's 'Byker Grove', 'Grange Hill' and hints of 'HollyOaks' and that's about it. The trouble is that none of them quite has the audacity or time slot to cut to the heart of what its actually like to be a teenager. Most of the time you have to look to US shows like 'Dawson's Creek' or 'Buffy'. But standing above them all was 'My So-called Life' a television programme that answered all of our questions. When the show was transmitted on our Channel 4 in 1995 it was stupidly popular.
No one had seen anything like this. Suddenly you knew what to do about that older boy or girl you fancy. Or if you have feelings for the girl next door. Or if you weren't sure about your sexuality. Or of someone loved you but you couldn't return their feelings. Or if you got handcuffed to a bed. Your heart was broken by it week after week, but you came back before because you knew it was doing you good. A free hour of therapy with what amounted to being your friends.
Even if you didn't want to admit it, you were one of them. You were Rayanne Graffe, afraid of the world and overcompensating. Sharon Cherski, searching for your own identity beneath the expectations of others. You were Ricki Vasquez unsure who you were but quietly finding an equilibrium. You were Jordan Catalano torn between your friends and something else. You were Brian Krakow, the romantic with so many high expectations of people. You were Danielle Chase, always being kicked out of different rooms. You were Patty Chase fighting to keep your family together. You were Graham Chase fighting to keep yourself together. And you were always Angela, your world falling apart around you, every choice being wrong, every moment a battle, but somehow slowly working it all out.
Then, after nineteen episodes, it was gone. Replaced, I believe, by a rerun of 'Matlock'. The show should never have been cancelled. It wasn't fair goddam it. And not on that cliffhanger. But perhaps it had the right end. The perfect ending. The only ending this show could have had. Making a choice then watching in pain the road not travelled. So like life. So-called Life.
This year we would have had its sixth season (this was written in 2000 -- the older version of me). All of the contracts would have been up for renewal. The teenagers would have been twenty something. Characters would have gone, new characters brought in. The writing teams change. But it would not have been the same show.
The show I keep coming back to.
The End of the World is where the series really began and I can still remember my reaction to that speech. Gut-wrenching. The Doctor in the old series simply didn't talk like that and though there had been similar since in the spin-off media, this was the first time we'd heard him really talk about his feelings in such a bald way on screen (with the odd exception during the Hartnell era).
But it's the content too, the hints of what may have happened between the last time we saw him and now whether you believe that to be the end of the novels, comic books, audio series or TV Movie and whether you even believe it was the Eighth Doctor who was in the time war. It's not something which has ever been established on screen, just a general assumption that he must have regenerated as a result of something that happened during the time war, the destruction of Gallifrey presumably.
Author Lance Parkin's suggestion is that it's the same event from the novels seen from different points of view something he elaborated on in his recent Tenth Doctor novel The Eyeless which features a moment in which the timelord reflects back on the time war and the description of his home planet being snuffed out replicates what's said in The Ancestor Cell. The Eyeless is replete with these subliminal reference to the EDAs, for example the origin of the weapon.
Personally I'd rather not know what happened during the Time War because nothing which happens on screen could be exciting as the version going on in our heads. I remember with affection the years in which I could only dream about the content of The Clone Wars and the crushing disappointment when I found out the clones where all just Boba Fett's dad over and over and over again.
If we were to see Eighth again I'd much rather in a multiple Doctor story and from early within his own timeline, way before the time war with the post-Gallifreyan destruction Doctor unable to tell him about his future, demonstrate once again that he has the web of time in his hands and demonstrating to whoever his companion is the gravity of trying to change time -- look I can't even use it to save my own planet. Though depending on who you talk to, the Doctor's subliminally aware of both his past and future but the convenient victim (for the purposes of drama) of a deep case of selective memory.
Hands up anyone else who understood that...
82: I don't eat fish. Much.
I can’t stand fish. The smell, the texture, the idea. I’ll watch cookery programmes and marvel at the cookery process, the choice of flavours, the philosophy, but can’t imagine why I would put it in my mouth, least of having dealt with possible bones. It wasn’t always this way – I used to love prawn and crab and salmon. But somewhere in my late tweens, something psychological happened and the closest I’ll get to a cod now is if it's covered in batter and nestling next to some chips as far away from its natural form and shape as possible (even though sometimes it gives me the trots) (you weren’t expecting me to say that where you?).
Which should make a visit to Yo! Sushi an insane idea. All of that raw fish. But I like the novelty of the little plates passing by on a conveyor belt and my Dad wanted to see what it was like. I think I might have disillusioned him slightly when I explained that it wasn’t a Japanese company but set up by a British entrepreneur in the late nineties after a visit to Tokyo. Since then it has gone global, though no restaurants have been set up in Japan. I wonder what that would be like, coals to Newcastle I suppose, Café Nerro pitching up in Seattle or Pizza/Pasta Hut in Italy.
When I last visited, at a Selfridge's somewhere, the only alternative was to vegetable, but by now the slogan ‘more than just sushi’ has been added to the window and I was thankful to see that various types of poultry and meat have been added to the mebu which might feel like cheating to a weary visitor but from a business perspective means they can attract a wider crowd of cheater. They've also added a big red button to the table to press for service which saves on trying to attract someone’s attention. I’m not sure how the staff know they’re needed. Perhaps an implant is added to the brain during the induction.
It must be one of the more difficult places for staff to work. Apart from the beck and call button, they have to work in front of the public as we scrutinise their every move even when they make a mistake. It’s fascinating to watch the meals prepared though, the rice wrapped around the main ingredient and the giant leaf after that before being cut into slices. Not that you can always identify what that ingredient is and half the fun is trying to match the little photographs on the menu with the reality.
You sit at the bar and watch the little colour coded dishes pass by, ironically like fish in a stream, now and putting your hand out to hook something to eat. It’s addictive, and as the plates pile up you end up only having a vague notion of how much its all costing and it always seems to be the expensive pink dishes that have the yummier food. Between courses you can hypnotically watching the little plastic plates going around and round as some things returned again and again right through the lunch hour, when something like a collection of noodles had been roundly ignored for over twenty minutes.
Dad’s less squeamish about edible marine life, so was very pleased with his salmon and squid and king prawns, and though I liked the crispy chicken and crispy tofu and omelette, I was a bit disappointed with the spicy chicken which was a bit cold and hard. Considering the price of some of the dishes, I don’t think anything was particularly exceptional, especially the chicken dumpling soup which was just about inedible. That’s a result of mass production, I suppose, and attempting to produce a variety of foods to suite a range of tastes, for people like me whose pallet might not necessarily be attuned to some of the subtler flavours.
The only other disappointment was that we seemed to spend most of the meal asking for things they didn’t have in because of a missed delivery. No seared beef, no crab, none of the particular variety of chicken needed for a few of the dishes. Our waiter was looking increasingly frustrated that he had to keep telling offering us alternatives and the last straw was at the end when it became apparent they’d run out of the desert we’d ordered. But he gave us something similar on the house which was nice of him. He looked tired and harassed too, and I suppose I would too if I was being run ragged by people enjoying the novelty of a big red service button that lights up.
FIAT Million Hits
"12 tracks from original artists who have sold over a million. Produced in support of the FIAT Madagascar Appeal to commemorate the 1,000,000 Fiat Uno."
It's the mid-1980s and to show their commitment to saving the planet, FIAT gave away these charity compilations with their cars. Given that it's songs which sold lots and lots of copies, it's a pretty good microcosm of what people were listening to in the 80s without the faux-amnesia which strikes when meeting new people when you pretend that the first record you bought was from The Smith, knowing full well it was Five Star.
The liner notes are a fairly spectacular fail on the part of FIAT, or at least the person attempting to justify their green credentials. They begin with this quote from naturalist David Bellamy:
"May I go on record and say thank you for caring enough to take part in the FIAT Madahascar Appeal. Thanks to you, FIAT and the World Wildlife Fund, one of the earths top ten conservation sites and hundreds of species of animals and plants which are found there and nowhere else on earth, are much safer."Which is fine and laudable. Then there's a section describing the extinction event pending in Madagscar and the causes:
"Madagascar's population of eight million is growing at a rate of 3% a year, and with this growth the natural habitat of the wildlife, including extensive rain forests, is being ruthlessly destroyed. The effects of this development have been so dramatic that today there are more endangered species in Madagscar than in another other country in the world."Which is true and will continue to be so what with the current political climate in the country. The notes continue by explaining why the aye-aye has been chosen as the symbol of the campaign -- it was the most under threat as Douglas Adams discovered at the time. But then you come up against this bit of prose and see if you can spot the sentence were by jaw metaphorically hit the floor:
Scientists estimate that unless something is down now, the opportunity of saving the wildlife of Madagascar will be gone within ten years. The World Wildlife Fund has given this top priority, and now their action is being funded by another organisation with a worldwide reputation.To underscore their global credentials, FIAT admits to helping produce the very kinds of machinery which is putting Madagascar under threat in the first place. For the benefit of the lawyers, I should say I'm not implying that FIAT had a contract on the island; I'm just saying that I can't believe that whoever was writing the liner notes didn't find some other way of explaining why the car company is interested. Perhaps they were expecting people to be enjoying the record so much that they wouldn't bother to read it anyway.
For almost a century, Fiat have been associated with the production of high quality cars. But the company's international name can also be seen in areas as diverse as agricultural machinery, construction and excavation equipment, production systems, components for motor vehicles, industrial and domestic appliances, as well as in tourism and transport, aviation, and telecommunications."
At least they didn't mention the tanks and aircraft.