The past joys of Cup Final Day

Today is cup final day in Scotland and England. These days it’s just a moderately sized game at the end of the season, but in times past when live football was as scarce as a Conservative politicians morals, cup final day was a day when as a boy you’d be glued to the television from early Saturday morning watching the build up. In the 80’s that meant David Coleman on the BBC…

Viewers in Scotland had their own programming which meant the parochial cheapness of BBC Scotland and STV, but live television gave us great moments like this fantastic Jock Wallace interview on STV.

Or Alex Ferguson having a pop at his Aberdeen team after winning the cup final in 1983.

How about Dickie Davies on ITV and his smooth lounge bar ethic?

Now, sadly, the game is another notch in TV companies schedules. Kick-off times are all over the place, fans are secondary to corporate fans and finals are dominated by the massive clubs like Chelsea or Celtic. Basically clubs used to finals and winning things. Shocks are a thing of rarity, but there’s the hope still at every single season that your team may well be standing there on the pitch at Hampden or Wembley holding the trophy.

So good luck to whatever team you support but I do miss the days when today was a day to savour rather than an afterthought.

What I thought of Twin Peaks episodes 1-4

Twin Peaks has returned to an utter lack of advance knowledge of what happens in it, and this frankly is the best way to approach this new series so massive great honking SPOILER WARNINGS from now on. Also, if you haven’t seen the TV series you’ll be totally lost here. If you’ve not seen Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me then go see that as this draws upon a lot of that film, including even the deleted scenes. Basically go consume everything Twin Peaks before seeing this. Also it may be an idea to watch Lynch’s films too, even Dune as there’s visual references to all of Lynch’s previous works going on here. So, if you’ve done that crack on…

First up anyone who comes to this expecting quirky humour and weird, but still funny, characters will suffer a serious shock as the first two hours especially owe less to what people mainly think Twin Peaks is (quirky, funny, charming, sometimes scary, weird) to David Lynch unleashing his full creative forces. There are moments in the first two episodes especially that are some of the best images Lynch has even put on screen but there’s a lot of times when you the viewer will be made uncomfortable, and this is a good thing.

Far too many programmes end up pandering to keep viewers happy. There’s nothing of what one would expect of a Twin Peaks revival til near the end of the second episode, and the fourth episode features the sort of scenes (Andy and Lucy provide much of the fun quirkiness here) you may expect. Mainly though you’ll be bombarded with confusing, disturbing and sometimes grotesque images that actually helps tell what is a complex story.

The jist of that story is that Good Agent Cooper has been trapped in the Black Lodge for 25 years until Laura Palmer appears again to him as promised.

In the world outwith the Black Lodge, our world, the Bad Agent Cooper is doing bad things as this is Cooper’s doppelgänger inhabited by the evil Bob at the end of the TV series.

Evil Cooper involves Kyle MacLachlan wearing a dodgy wig while doing seriously vicious things to people, and here’s another thing (and I hate using the term ‘political correctness’) this is not a programme that restricts itself to current moralities. This is a programme where Evil Cooper is amoral and brutal, where middle aged men leer after younger women and where oddness abounds. It’s designed at times to challenge you and it will because we’re used to a level of sanitisation in our television but that’s not going in here and this is a good thing. We’re not seeing a toned down or restrained Twin Peaks here, we’re seeing something that will delight, astound, shock and scare you as much as the visuals and sound (I recommend watching this on earphones as the sound mix/design is amazing) is stunning.

The opening episodes deal with Good Cooper’s escape from the surreal world of the Black Lodge, Bad Cooper’s murderous plans, the slow introduction back into the community of Twin Peaks, and the FBI being involved which means a welcome return for some old faces. The plot hinges on Lynch’s fascination with duality and multiple personalities as well as the idea that evil can be a real force which in this case in Bad Cooper. I won’t bother explaining the rest of the plot beyond that as frankly, we’re only seeing part of it right now and the main jist is just what I’ve said. I won’t go into the nightmare monsters, or episode three’s brilliantly incomprehensible scenes, or the fact a plot point hinges on the words ”blue rose” which only makes sense if you’ve watched Fire Walk With Me, or the fun little cameos that pop up or even the fact there’s more Cooper doppelgängers than just Good and Bad Cooper.

What is brilliant is the pace in which Lynch and Mark Frost slowly unwind the threads of the plot and the pacing (unlike many programmes today) is at times, glacial but this isn’t something to forward through. This is about building up the creeping sense of unease in these scenes.

Twin Peaks is a welcome return. It gives Lynch a chance to create one huge story and hopefully resolve it in a way that suits him and Frost but it may not suit us which is fine by me. In an age where TV programmes are made to ensure fans are not frightened off, the new Twin Peaks isn’t scared to go onto ground that will scare people off but this is art mixed with horror mixed with so many genres that it can only be described as Lynchian and that’s a glorious thing…

The welcome return of Twin Peaks

Tonight in the US is the very welcome return of David Lynch’s and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks. The last Twin Peaks was the horribly underrated, and undervalued Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me in 1992, so we’re now 25 years on with the programme returning on Showtime in the US for 18 episodes. That’s 18 hours of television directed by David Lynch.

This is something that’s being amazingly hyped but let’s not forget that from the moment the TV series revealed who killed Laura Palmer, the critical and audience reaction turned increasingly negative, even hostile as the series frankly fell up it’s own are for a chunk of the second year before David Lynch returned for the final episode which is still a unique piece of American television.

A lot of people say that Twin Peaks redefined where Lynch’s career went, and indeed, there’s a lot to that. as after Twin Peaks Lynch focused on the subject of duality in everything he did afterwards. Even The Straight Story has a Twin Peaks feel as it deals with small town lives in a naturalistic, but detached way and here we are now awaiting to see what Lynch does. Lynch hasn’t made a film since Inland Empire, in 2006. That’s eleven years but i can’t remember anything with this sort of anticipation barring maybe the 2005 return of Doctor Who.

So why the change in heart? Why are people who were hostile to Twin Peaks in 1992 onwards suddenly so hyped for when most of the last 25 years Twin Peaks has been at best, a cult.

Barring the fact a new audience discovered the programme through repeats and DVD, Twin Peaks holds a place in history for being the programme that broke the format of American episodic TV, not to mention in pushing the limits of what can be done in TV in America. No Twin Peaks, no X Files, no Millennium, no NCIS, no Hannibal, nothing. Things may well have taken a very different path if Twin Peaks hadn’t happened and I think people who were harsh on it now realise that. They know the last 25 years of television owes much to it and it’s return is a sense of squaring a circle which knowing Lynch will be something that literally happens in this new series.

But let’s not forget how good the series was. There’s a lot to live up to, and the series in my mind has one of the (still) most terrifying scenes I’ve seen on an American TV series with (SPOILERS) Maddy’s murder.

This strain of outright horrific nastiness carried on into Fire Walk With Me, and I hope carries on to this new series. Not because I’m especially vicious (or am I??) but because Twin Peaks worked well when it had these parts which were deeply, deeply disturbing beyond the odd quirkiness that most of the series had. That tone hid the darker side, and this return hopefully scares the living shite out of me.

Most of all though I want it to surprise me. I want it to be familiar and different. I don’t want Lynch to play it safe. I want him to lure me in then pummel me around the head in such a way that I’m scared of turning out the lights. See, far too many revivals sink into a confused mess (see the aforementioned Doctor Who) as it ends up pandering purely to fans who want things spoon-fed to them. I think if anyone is going to avoid that it’ll be David Lynch so I look forward to firing up my Magic Crystal Set tomorrow and viewing the new Twin Peaks

This UFO episode from 1971 is years ahead of its time

The Gerry and Sylvia Anderson TV series UFO was a feature of my youth but on the whole I remembered it as a fairly decent bit of often camp TV SF. In the last weeks I’ve watched a few episodes and one leaps out as something not just different, but decades ahead of time in terms of meta-commentary.

Mindbender features this synopsis

Lieutenant Andy Conroy is investigating a crash involving an alien craft on the Moon when he suddenly gets caught up in a Wild west type shoot-out with Mexican brigands. Back at the SHADO’s earthly base another officer, Beaver James, gets involved in another shoot-out, this time with aliens. Then a voice shouts “Cut!” and the whole is seen to be a film being made at the studios telling the story of Straker’s life. So what’s real and what’s imagined?

This is meta before the likes of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison made careers out of it, and is arguably much more adventurous being as it takes place in what was a pretty mainstream programme of the time. Mindbender really is a superb bit of television and takes the sort of risks many a programme now would never risk in case it annoys the fans. Something like this probably did annoy fans at the time but it’s such an experimental script (possibly brought on by budgetry concerns) that it really is ahead of the curve by several decades.

Thankfully YouTube have it all, so enjoy…

The joy of Space:1999

I used to love Gerry Anderson shows as a kid. Thunderbirds though was never my favourite, for me it was all about Captain Scarlet, but his live action stuff for years never seemed to find favour with me when I was older. Recently I’ve been swallowing up Space:1999 on YouTube.

I loved Space: 1999 as a kid. I even loved the flares.

I especially loved the die-cast toys of the Eagle spaceships.

Oooo, look at this beauty!

And this one, though I used to lose the wee containers.

Of course being the 1970’s there were AIrfix kits with the Hawk spaceship being my favourite.

Of course the programme itself is worth it’s weight in gold, the first series especially as it had a strange melancholy feel in many of the episodes that belied it was essentially an action-adventure series on Thursday evenings on ITV. The tone is set in the first episode.

Though the flares do somewhat overwhelm.

You could get lost in the swish of Martin Landau’s flared jumpsuit.

That first series is mainly wonderful. It’s a mix of big ideas, some good scripts, and of course action, adventure and 70’s fashions.The second series less so as the story is the American audience found the first series ‘too cerebral’ so stories became lightweight and trivial. One episode even had this title.

So here’s a word of appreciation for a great (first) series, and a series which as far as I’m concerned had the best title sequence of any programme in the 1970’s.

Rumours of reboots and continuations are a regular thing but they’ll never take away from the joy that is that first season…

 

 

Kenneth Willliams and Jimmy Reid discuss politics on Parkinson in 1973

Political debate in the 21st century is a series of shouting soundbites by a series of arseholes on all sides of whatever debate you’d care to discuss from Brexit to Scottish independence and so on and on. The BBC’s Question Time is a cauldron of bullshit with the occasional odd gem of informed opinion standing shining in a sea of shite. Everyone seems polarised. Identity politics rule. Nobody wants to see what they can do to make things better because they’re shouting at each other on television or online.

This wasn’t always the case. Back in the 1970’s political debate on television was vastly different and this episode of Parkinson from 1973 featuring Carry On actor Kenneth Williams and Glaswegian socialist (and a family idol when I was growing up) Jimmy Reid is amazing viewing. Moderated brilliantly by Michael Parkinson this is 80 minutes or so of fascinating debate between Williams and Reid that thanks to hindsight has more going on for the viewer in 2017 (Williams hidden homosexuality, Reid’s latter support for independence) than it would have in 1973.

I will warn you to make sure there’s a cup of tea next to you before watching this as you won’t want to pause it.

A word of appreciatiation for Culloden

No, I’m not cheering on the actual historical atrocity, I’m talking about the excellent 1964 film, Culloden, made by Peter Watkins who made one of my top ten ever films, Punishment Park.

Made 53 years ago for the BBC, looking at it now it looks as if it could have been made today as in style, as well as tone, it seems fresh and at the time was hugely adventurous in presenting the battle of Culloden in a docudrama style which at the time wasn’t even a genre of film-making. As a film, Culloden is a flawless gem. As a piece of history it follows the account of the battle by the historian John Prebble making it as accurate (though Prebble is accused of himself missing out facts to support his point of view) as possible which when talking about a battle which even today is shrouded in myth and lies, is some achievement.

So, here’s 70 minutes of groundbreaking television.