Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

While I was on leave over the Christmas break I watched a brilliant film: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

metropolis (2)I used to have it on video back in my university days. It was part of a film course I did.

But the version I saw a week or two ago was “reconstructed and restored” to its original two and a half hours. From memory the previous version I’d seen was about half of that and therefore seemed disjointed and hard to follow.

The story of Metropolis (Reconstructed & Restored) flowed very well and was easy to understand. It also included the original orchestral score written for the film.

My previous version had the typical jangly piano attached to a lot of silent films.

Of course being a “silent” film the acting wasn’t subtle – but I started to see it like a dance performance and that approach worked for me.

Even Gloria watched the whole lot – and usually that kind of film would NOT be her “cup of tea”.

The story was powerful and very topical, about the oppression of the poor workers by the rich elites.

There was also a strong current of biblical allusion throughout, something that increased its appeal to me.

I was aware of the film long before I saw the shorter version at university. It has been proclaimed as a classic, early science fiction film. As well as its futurist cityscapes and portrayal of oppressive industrialisation, it also features one of (if not the) first on-screen robot, credited with inspiring many that followed in later decades, such as Star Wars’ C3PO.

Previously, whenever anyone has asked me to name my favourite film I never had an answer – I think for now I could say Metropolis.


The Man x 2

Two books about “the man”.

think i knowThe Man I Think I Know is a novel by one of my most reliable, favourite authors. Mike Gayle always guarantees me a good, page turning read.
His books aren’t suspenseful thrillers, they are set in real life, everyday situations with strong relatable characters. This must be around his sixteenth book, and I’ve enjoyed them all.

Danny has no desire to work, but after losing his unemployment benefits he takes a job as a carer in a “residential care home”.

James was a successful, wealthy business man, just starting out on a political career when “the incident” undermined everything and left him completely dependent on his parents.

The two men meet when James enters the care home to give his parents a short break. Despite Danny’s denial, James is sure he knows him from their school years.

A growing friendship between the two leads each of them to come to terms with the tragic events that shaped the direction of their lives.


golden touchThe Man With the Golden Touch by Sinclair McKay is a critical study of the James Bond films. McKay compares them to the Ian Fleming books upon which they were loosely based, as well as looking at the cultural context within which the films were created.

He not only writes about every Bond film released up to the time of publication, he compares/contrasts them with other spy fiction and films, some of which were a clear exploitative response to the success of Bond.

As someone who had read all of the Bond books by the time I reached my teens, I enjoyed reading someone else’s views on the character.

McKay’s initial Bond experiences were mostly through the films, where mine were through the books. By the time I’d read all of Fleming’s books and another, Colonel Sun, that Kingsley Amis wrote under the pseudonym Robert Markham, I’d only seen three of the films.

Dr No and From Russia With Love were the first, screened as a double feature at  a local cinema when I was 10 or 11 years old.  On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the other, seen a year or two later. I didn’t see any others until Live and Let Die on its first cinema release when I was in my mid teens. Those first three named are perhaps the closest adaptations of Fleming’s stories and they are the films I always liked best from the series.

Most of the other films merely used the book titles and had no resemblance to the original stories. McKay looks at the reasons for that, explaining the wisdom of it. The success of the films not only depended on those changes, but also ensured the ongoing viability of keeping the Fleming books in print.

As someone who grew up with Bond, this book had a significant nostalgic appeal, but also I enjoyed its wider journey into the spy fiction and films  that inspired and was inspired by the success of Bond.

Beyond the TV Whoniverse

 At the end of my previous post I noted an apparent discrepancy related to the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who. While 2013 may have marked 50 years since the broadcast of the first Doctor Who episode, it is clear that there was a significant period of those 50 years when no new episodes of Doctor Who were being made for TV.

I think most people (myself included) gave little thought to the show during that period, assuming that like so many other once popular shows, this one had also been committed to history and occasional re-runs.

But not all people are “most people”, and there were enough who weren’t ready to allow the Doctor to fade away. Disappointed fans of the show did what they could to keep their connection to Doctor Who going. There were avenues beyond TV through which stories could be created and enjoyed. Some of those avenues were already being explored and exploited during the show’s successful years, with novelizations of TV stories and audio productions. (I recall reading Doctor Who and the Zarbi during my teens and recognising it as being based on an episode I’d seen as a child, which I later found was The Web Planet from the show’s second season.)

DWMThere was also the continuing popularity of Doctor Who Magazine (DWM), which started in 1979 and is still being published today. After the cancellation of the TV show, the magazine provided an outlet of new Doctor Who stories through comic strips.

Other publishers gained the rights to release novels of new Doctor Who stories. Both the comics and novels continued from where the TV show left off. Through these the seventh doctor, (played by Sylvester McCoy on TV) was given new life and adventures for several more years until an attempted reviving of the TV show introduced the next regeneration of the Doctor.

In a made-for-TV movie that failed to generate enough interest to commission a continuing series, Sylvester McCoy handed over the role to the 8th Doctor played by Paul McGann, and while a new TV series didn’t eventuate, McGann’s Doctor was kept alive in DWM’s ongoing comic strips, along with new companions to share his journeys.

As well as the authorised stories in various media, creative fans produced their own Doctor Who tales including the “Audio Visuals” a series of audio dramas made in the 1980s and 90s starting even before the TV show was cancelled. Although the Audio Visuals were unlicensed and technically illegal, the fans involved were never challenged by the BBC, who held the copyright, and many of them have since worked on authorised Doctor Who productions.

Big FinishSome of those involved with the Audio Visuals went on to work with Big Finish, a company that started with audio stories adapted from the New Adventures range of books published by Virgin. Initially denied the opportunity to record Doctor Who related stories, Big Finish started with adaptations of a series of Who spin-off books.

Virgin New Adventures had introduced Bernice Summerfield as a new companion for the Doctor and later gave her a series of her own. Big Finish obtained the rights to adapt the Summerfield books and the quality of the resulting recordings helped to convince the BBC to issue the Doctor Who rights.

Big Finish has now released well over 200 Doctor Who stories, most of which feature original actors from the TV show and TV movie, including Doctors played by Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann; and several original companions.

As well as this link to the past, Big Finish also has links to the new Doctor Who series. Big Finish director, writer and actor Nick Briggs has been the voice of the Daleks, Cybermen and several other aliens from 2005 through to the present.


So while the Doctor had a 15 year screen absence, he never really went away, making last year’s half century celebrations fully justified

The Many Faces of Doctor Who: (Introduction)

 Those familiar with Doctor Who will know that over the 50 years of the series’ history, there have been many different actors playing the lead role since the show was first screened in 1963. The first change was needed because of the ill health of William Hartnell the original Doctor.

Other shows have maintained popular characters by changes to cast members, giving no explanation for that character’s change of appearance, expecting the audience to follow along until the new actor becomes the accepted face of that character. But Doctor Who producers came up with a logical reason for the change that could be re-used when necessary in the future.

The Doctor is a member of an alien race that can extend life through “regeneration”. When exposed to life ending conditions, his body can be renewed, taking on a different physical appearance, a different personality and different dress sense.

A roboman from The Dalek's Invasion of Earth

A roboman from The Dalek’s Invasion of Earth

I first saw Doctor Who in England when it was originally broadcast by the BBC. I was only 5 at the time so my memories of the early episodes are minimal and seem to come from only two stories (The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Web Planet).

I also recall a few of the later episodes featuring the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, but again, being so young, the memories are vague. It was after Jon Pertwee took over the role (3rd Doctor) that my recollection improves, probably because I saw regular repeats of episodes after I moved to Australia as well as new episodes with Tom Baker (4th Doctor) and Peter Davison ( 5th Doctor) in the title role. I must have stopped watching some time during the tenure of the 6th Doctor, Colin Baker, because I remember least about his stories, and I know I saw nothing at all of Sylvester McCoy’s brief time as the 7th Doctor..

During McCoy’s time as the Doctor, the show was axed in 1989.

I gave very little thought to Doctor Who after I stopped watching it on TV sometime in the mid-1980s, and was no longer interested enough to watch a 1996 TV movie starring Paul McGann (as the 8th Doctor). Likewise when a new series started in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston I wasn’t tempted to watch it.

Things changed at the end of 2012 when I saw that year’s Doctor Who Christmas special. I’m not sure why that particular episode sparked my interest enough to start buying the newer Doctor Who series on DVD, but it helped that they were being sold with large discounts early in the new year.

Throughout 2013 I built up my collection and watched all episodes of the new series featuring three new Doctors. I was able to catch up in time for the 50th anniversary episode shown in November.

Those with mathematically attuned minds might be wondering how a show that ran for 26 years before being cancelled and then renewed almost two decades later and then running for another 8 years making a total of 34, would be entitled to a 50th anniversary. But there is more to the story than a TV show.

More of that story to follow…

The Hobbit: Peter Jackson vs Tolkien

hobbitMy first memories of The Hobbit come from Primary School. I recall a relief teacher reading part of it to the class.

I bought my first copy of the book about 15 years ago, a large hardcover illustrated by Alan Lee. It stayed unread on a bookshelf until a couple of weeks ago.

My neglect of the book came to an end after watching the first instalment of Peter Jackson’s film of the story. Ironically it wasn’t enjoyment of the film that led me to the book. My disappointment with the film made me want to know how much the film departed from the book, and how a book of about 300 pages could be stretched into a series of three, three hour films.

The answer to that last question seems to be: include extensive battle scenes where visual spectacle can distract the viewer from the fact that the brevity of the battles in the book helped to keep the story moving. And if you still need to stretch the film to three hours, add a battle or two not in the book and introduce parts of The Lord of the Rings book that had been omitted from the earlier films.

The book is a simple quest. Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit of the title, is recruited to join a group of dwarves who intend to reclaim treasure lost to the dragon Smaug when he drove the dwarves’ ancestors out of their kingdom. Their journey presents a continual series of obstacles and enemies that need to be overcome. The book’s climax brings together most of the journey’s adversaries (as well as a few friends) in a final battle. To me the book presented an intimate, personal story despite the epic nature of the journey and quest.

Tolkien later expanded the world of his children’s book the Hobbit in his creation of the more mature Lord of the Rings, presenting a grander quest with much higher, universal outcome at stake. In tackling his films of the two stories in reverse order, it seem to me that Peter Jackson felt the need to maintain the tone created in LOTR in his version of The Hobbit, but maybe he could have done so without “needing” to make them the same length.