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.

A word of appreciation for John Hurt

John Hurt has passed away, and the world is a wee bit darker today. I’m not going to go on as there’s better than me doing tributes for the man, but this is a little tour through what Hurt meant to me.

I first saw him as a kid in the superb I, Claudius, and I think at that point he became an actor who I deeply admired and over the years from there even as a young lad often unable to get into see his films I tried to keep up with his work but the man was prolific. It was however Alien that cemented Hurt in my mind forever in a scene that’s a classic in horror cinema.

From there Hurt seemed to pop up everywhere from the splendid Elephant Man, to even taking the piss out if his death in Alien in Mel Brooks Spaceballs.

Hurt dabbled with science fiction often his role as Winston Smith in 1984 is for me, utterly perfect, and although he ended up doing stuff like Harry Potter and Doctor Who, this just showed how astonishingly a versatile actor he was.

So cheerio to John Hurt, we quite literally will never see another like him again.

The Return of the Magic Roundabout is a glorious gem of a mockumentary

Back on Christmas Day 1991, Channel 4 broadcast The Return of the Magic Roundabout, and its a bizarre programme. Starring Nigel Planer; it was a half hour mockumentary broadcast early on Christmas morning in 1991 that must have fried the brains of those wee kids watching it. Telling an entirely fictional history of The Magic Roundabout with drug references, missing episodes and other mysteries, it’s a comedy treat which passed quickly into obscurity as being broadcast at 8.50am on Christmas morning (it did have a repeat at a later slot a few days later but that again was something most people missed)is not a time when people traditionally looked for comedy gems.

Thanks to the glory of 21st century technology we’re now able to see what is a lost classic. Enjoy.