Was looking up this clip (embedding disabled) for the May Day thread and struck by the similarity in tone between a bunch of these things. Some Avengers episodes share it too, tho they're more on the light-hearted end of it. Maybe sort of the British equivalent to Rod Serling's shtick? But seems very particular to its era -- characterized by spartan production values (which are generally made a virtue of), often a surface sense of middle-class normalcy masking something sinister, and also often a hidden authoritarian and/or supernatural power.
In rewatching some of these things in recent years -- Sapphire and Steel most recently -- I'm surprised by how scary they can be. I was pretty much terrified by S&S and some Dr. Who episodes as a kid, but they still seem pretty creepy to me. Because it's about this pervasive vibe of dread and things-not-being-right, more than overt shocks or scares. And is obviously tied to political/cultural issues of the time.
Anyway. Just curious if there's ever been a good article about it or study of it or anything. Or a name for it. I think I'm going to start calling the feeling it induces "the Uncle Tom Cobleys."
― something of an astrological coup (tipsy mothra), Sunday, 1 May 2011 14:17 (eleven years ago) link
Oops, over-ran the thread title. Meant to say Baker-era Dr. Who, obv.
In rewatching some of these things in recent years -- Sapphire and Steel most recently -- I'm surprised by how scary they can be. I was pretty much terrified by S&S and some Dr. Who episodes as a kid, but they still seem pretty creepy to me. Because it's about this pervasive vibe of dread and things-not-being-right, more than overt shocks or scares.
The uncanny or unheimlich?
― emil.y, Sunday, 1 May 2011 14:27 (eleven years ago) link
It overlaps with a lot of the stuff Ghost Box records are doing. There's a sense that, even if it's not referred to explicitly, there's something elemental and folkloric hidden just beneath the surface of a lot of sixties and seventies television. It's much scarier than effects-heavy horror. Nigel Kneale was the master at exploiting it but Brian Clemens was very good too.
I've seen some good BFI pieces about individual shows but i've not come across a comprehensive overview or name given to the wider concept.
― I LOVE BELARUS (ShariVari), Sunday, 1 May 2011 14:36 (eleven years ago) link
Well, I was thinking of referencing the hauntology phenomenon, but I think the OP is attempting more to consider what the similarity was at the time rather than in modern reception theory. So I'd place it more in the general tradition of the uncanny myself.
― emil.y, Sunday, 1 May 2011 14:39 (eleven years ago) link
The folkloric element is interesting. Obviously The Wicker Man makes that explicit, but some S&S episodes have it (the first one especially, with the nursery rhymes).
And it definitely is a form of uncanniness, but it has what seem to me (from the outside) like specifically British parameters and forms of expression. I can't think of American movies or shows with quite the same feeling -- I think because it so often draws on British history and the subversion or inversion of British cultural norms.
― something of an astrological coup (tipsy mothra), Sunday, 1 May 2011 15:43 (eleven years ago) link
emil.y otm, it's unheimlich/uncanny
think it has a lot to do with the style of these shows, the location work, on 'the prisoner' in particular -- and that wasn't a spartan production
― lloyd banks knew my father (history mayne), Sunday, 1 May 2011 15:57 (eleven years ago) link
Well, much like hauntology, the uncanny often manifests itself in ways which are quite parochial, surely? Not wanting to get all Theory 101 but the 'unheimlich' stemming from 'unhomely' is a fair indicator. That sense of danger must arise from something known but transfigure it into the unknowable. Also, I guess, consider the Uncanny Valley - those figures that most closely resemble the human are the most fearful. Which is a long way of saying that British uncanny will by definition be different from the American uncanny, for our homeliness is different to yours. How that affects your reception is unknowable to me, being from the country under discussion.
But I do agree that there is more to these pieces than just a hand-waving 'oh, it's uncanny'. How to describe it further I'm unsure.
(that took me longer to write than it should have, being a 6-minute xpost)
― emil.y, Sunday, 1 May 2011 16:04 (eleven years ago) link
1981 version of Day of the Triffids fits in here I think
― wk, Sunday, 1 May 2011 16:11 (eleven years ago) link
And I suppose by extension the whole "cosy catastrophe" genre.
― wk, Sunday, 1 May 2011 16:12 (eleven years ago) link
Ha, maybe John Wyndham is a sort of patron saint of this. I was thinking of Village of the Damned as an early example.
― something of an astrological coup (tipsy mothra), Sunday, 1 May 2011 16:33 (eleven years ago) link
(which of course has lots of similarities to Invasion of the Body Snatchers -- comparing the two would probably point up some nice differences in postwar British and American anxieties.)
― something of an astrological coup (tipsy mothra), Sunday, 1 May 2011 16:35 (eleven years ago) link
understand that you guys are talking about british television and culture, but i recently watched a few episodes of the invaders, an american television series from '67/'68 and was struck by the by its pervasive, unheimlich creep. it functioned mostly like a western and seemed to concern one man's attempts to uncover and spread awareness of a secretive alien invasion. an example of post-mccarthyite cold war paranoia taken to psychedelic extremes, old-fashioned in its small town good guy stoicism, but set adrift in an unknowable and morally ambiguous dream world. dug it quite a bit.
that said, it lacks the weirdly mythic/folkloric resonance that seems present in (for instance) the prisoner, the sense that everything you're seeing is an occult parable of a particularly sinister sort.
― normal_fantasy-unicorns (contenderizer), Sunday, 1 May 2011 17:57 (eleven years ago) link
Which is a long way of saying that British uncanny will by definition be different from the American uncanny, for our homeliness is different to yours. How that affects your reception is unknowable to me, being from the country under discussion.
Yeah, that's an interesting question. I'm a huge fan of this kind of stuff and immediately knew what the OP was talking about. But I always chalked it up to anglophilia + '70s-philia + radiophonic workshop fandom. But maybe there's something deeper to it that makes it a uniquely British sort of expression and yet for some reason doesn't affect the reception for some Americans.
Part of it may be some kind of weird axis of synergy between cosiness, creepiness, and low production values, where the sort of rough, homemade feel enhances both the cosiness and the creepiness. American TV shows and movies of the era explore some of the same territory but usually in a much slicker way.
― wk, Sunday, 1 May 2011 18:13 (eleven years ago) link
Just like WK, I'm a huge fan of this as well and thought 'hauntology' immediately (in its un-'lol'-ed, original version, it seems to be made fun of recently, or not taken seriously anymore?).
I do think it goes beyond a mere fondness for sci-fi/occult/bbc radiophonic workshop et al. As a non-English person (though living with an English woman) I've always been attracted to the particular atmosphere of those tv shows and movies (The Witchfinder General, Wicker Man, the superb Stone Tape series etc) and the creepiness for me definitely lies in that in the English shows/movies (part of) the source of the eeriness is left undefined and unexplained. American counterparts have always seemed to rely more on explaining, polishing, rounding off a story nicely.
Image-wise England is way more gritty and raw, too. The landscape and the age-old history it encapsules seeps through any story you set there, whether it's one meant to have that certain 'creepy vibe' or not. It cannot be denied, even if it's not on the surface, it is there. Which is what I endlessly adore about England, too.
― RIP Brodie, aspiring bellhop boy, 4 months old (Le Bateau Ivre), Sunday, 1 May 2011 18:30 (eleven years ago) link
Maybe one difference in American and British manifestations is that U.S. paranoia seems to be always about malignant outside forces (invasion of the body snatchers, invaders, etc) where in the U.K. iterations it's often something already-present but hidden or forgotten.
― something of an astrological coup (tipsy mothra), Sunday, 1 May 2011 18:47 (eleven years ago) link
I love this stuff, but analyzing what I like about it and why in excruciating detail doesn't make me (personally) like it any more. It's part costume party, part ghosts, part human ritual trying in vain to control our violent natural environment and the rest may have something to do with the general aesthetic of the 60s/70s big hair/boobs + gunne sax dresses.
― deez m'uts (La Lechera), Sunday, 1 May 2011 18:55 (eleven years ago) link
(interesting that the U.S. doesn't have more of a tradition of ancient-Indian-curse stories --Poltergeist aside I guess. Wonder if that storyline's just too uncomfortable for the culture to handle)
― something of an astrological coup (tipsy mothra), Sunday, 1 May 2011 18:57 (eleven years ago) link
...U.S. paranoia seems to be always about malignant outside forces (invasion of the body snatchers, invaders, etc) where in the U.K. iterations it's often something already-present but hidden or forgotten.
OTM, especially the "or forgotten" bit
― normal_fantasy-unicorns (contenderizer), Sunday, 1 May 2011 19:11 (eleven years ago) link
while i'm OTM-ing, also to le bateau for the similar/different point about landscape and history. american popular imagination, especially during the 60s & 70s when the imprint of the western was still so clear in everything, demands that landscape be seen as devoid as history, as "nature," the undiscovered country. this makes humans and their social spaces a sort of flotsam bobbing around on the surface of landscape, not really woven into it. humans are either with or against nature, but nature's aims are hardly secret.
― normal_fantasy-unicorns (contenderizer), Sunday, 1 May 2011 19:17 (eleven years ago) link
They also served:
― Hippocratic Oaf (DavidM), Sunday, 1 May 2011 20:01 (eleven years ago) link
― I have some kind of staph infection, and the only prescription is IALEX (sic), Sunday, 1 May 2011 20:27 (eleven years ago) link
there was also a kind of creepy sub genre for kids in which you could include say:
all terrifying to me at pre teen age. especially The Book Tower.brrr.
― piscesx, Sunday, 1 May 2011 20:32 (eleven years ago) link
Children of the Stones: Like The Wicker Man, but with ancient stone circles... for kids.
― Hippocratic Oaf (DavidM), Sunday, 1 May 2011 20:56 (eleven years ago) link
Image-wise England is way more gritty and raw, too. The landscape and the age-old history it encapsules seeps through any story you set there,
True, which also has a lot to do with the vast bulk of '60s and '70s American film and TV being shot in LA. There's definitely a sort of "sickness beneath the sunshine" vibe to some Hollywood productions that England can never hope to capture. Maybe more American horror would have had a gloomy pagan Lovecraftian feeling if the industry were centered in Boston. Cronenberg may have come the closest to capturing that English feeling in some of his '70s work, since Canada is a lot greyer.
Really? The ancient indian curse seems like such a cliche that it would be impossible to list how many times it was used. But again to the question of geography and architecture, there's something fundamentally different about it due to the lack of permanent native american architecture in the midst of big American cities and suburbs. It's one thing to have some Indian artifact or the land beneath your development be haunted, but it's not quite the same as your local church or pub, or entire village being taken over by a lurking evil.
So, lots of ancient architecture with pagan historical connections within easy filming distance of London, plus wartime experiences of actual invasion combined to create a fertile ground for exploring all sorts of themes of invasion and corruption from both outside and in.
― wk, Sunday, 1 May 2011 21:10 (eleven years ago) link
As a kid, The Omega Factor used to scare the living shit out of me. My friends and I used to reference bits of it out and it was shorthand for the shitting-your-pants-scary-creeping-through-derelict-house adventures we would occasionally have. Because this was only broadcast in Scotland (to my knowledge) not many people remembered it. A few years ago it came out on DVD and I snapped it up, of course it wasn't a tenth as scary, and it's so damn *slow* and everything in the sets seem to be different shades of brown, but it's still faintly eerie.
Seems like the filter of childhood remeniscence contributes to this feeling, it's always retropective but it's very attractive, for instance when I see those Ghost box covers that Julian House designs I get such a strong notion of school textbooks and suchlike from my own past.
Anyhoo, check out the titles and the relentlessly brown colourscheme
― the crap gig in the sky (MaresNest), Sunday, 1 May 2011 21:40 (eleven years ago) link
it's in my wish list, they def broadcast it in England too
― bell hops (Noodle Vague), Sunday, 1 May 2011 21:42 (eleven years ago) link
imo a good part of the creepiness is yr exposure to it a certain point in childhood/young adulthood - the supernatural is a metaphor for the not-quite-fathomed mysteries of sex and mortality that are nagging away in yr head at that point in life. of course those mysteries never quite get fathomed which means that creepiness is always going to hang around
― bell hops (Noodle Vague), Sunday, 1 May 2011 21:45 (eleven years ago) link
there's some old good k-punk posts limning this stuff, aren't they? or maybe it was just a long parenthesis whilst talking about the Fall again. but mentioned the stone tape and the later quatermass.
one wonders if you could include: those creepy public info spots ('apaches' etc); the wicker man; i had a third, but i have forgotten whilst writing this sentence. m.r. james? enh.
― thomp, Sunday, 1 May 2011 21:55 (eleven years ago) link
In a similar vein: never saw the second half of this because my dad sent me to bed on account of it being "a right load of old rubbish". He may well have been right but apparently thanks to the magic of Youtube i can find out.
xp I think the stories of M.R. James play into this but the production values on the stories they filmed make them not quite the same thing maybe?
― bell hops (Noodle Vague), Sunday, 1 May 2011 21:58 (eleven years ago) link
xpost - sorry -
oh, my original third was dennis potter
op: 'characterized by spartan production values (which are generally made a virtue of)'
i was just trying to work out whether you could draw a line around the era being talked about in terms of whether the bbc was using video or film but i don't think it quite works
but i think mb. the organising principle is that (if we accept for the moment that a lot of the effect of horror -- well, of this sort of creepiness -- is the whole unheimlich palimpsest thing, the idea that this stuff underwrites quotidian experience) this is a period where people in tv are starting to know how the conventions of tv drama have settled down, and are willing to game them -- tho not to the level of, say, the totally silly baker stories with the candy monster, or of 'ghostwatch'
so the formal characteristics of this particular vibe are on some level identical to their thematic ones, is what lends it its odd power
however i am mostly familiar with this stuff at second hand so i may well be talking out of my arse here
― thomp, Sunday, 1 May 2011 22:01 (eleven years ago) link
I've mentioned this before on other threads, but the Open University mnemonic is my all time pant crapping childhood memory and for what reason I still don't know.
― the crap gig in the sky (MaresNest), Sunday, 1 May 2011 22:01 (eleven years ago) link
The flatness of 70's video cameras goes a long way towards the vibe imho.
― the crap gig in the sky (MaresNest), Sunday, 1 May 2011 22:02 (eleven years ago) link
yeah I thought about Potter, particularly Blue Remembered Hills. Altho he is arguably working in a less explicitly supernatural way - even in something like Brimstone and Treacle - i think he is exploiting similar themes of the uncanny. Rather than Invasion, which the UK didn't really experience during WWII, I wonder how many of the writers were expressing anxieties about displacement, and specifically the displacement of city kids evacuated to a sinister-seeming countryside during the war. as well as the rearrangement of the cities caused by bombing etc.
― bell hops (Noodle Vague), Sunday, 1 May 2011 22:08 (eleven years ago) link
and I suddenly remember Penda's Fen which again is a deal better than the campier end of this stuff but rocks the England's Ancient Evil line to brilliant effect. No DVD apparently and i seem to have agonisingly lost my avi of it but copies are out there i think.
― bell hops (Noodle Vague), Sunday, 1 May 2011 22:20 (eleven years ago) link
and a quick wiki search reveals that it was written by the guy who wrote Artemis 81 and the adaptation of James' "The Ash Tree" so duh
― bell hops (Noodle Vague), Sunday, 1 May 2011 22:22 (eleven years ago) link
Well, a huge part of this aesthetic for me is the use of video for interiors and film for exteriors. When I saw Doctor Who on PBS as a kid that was one of the most immediately jarring and almost distancing elements for me. I obviously didn't know technically why it was happening but I remember that distinct feeling that parts of it felt like some kind of old educational documentary and other parts felt like a really bad public access TV show.
― wk, Sunday, 1 May 2011 22:28 (eleven years ago) link
Or actually, a soap opera is a better point of reference for that weird live video look.
― wk, Sunday, 1 May 2011 22:30 (eleven years ago) link
If you want something scary from the 1970s, you can't beat public service information films. This still gives me the creeps, 38 years after seeing it for the first time.
― Cluster the boots (Billy Dods), Sunday, 1 May 2011 23:05 (eleven years ago) link
I wonder how many of the writers were expressing anxieties about displacement, and specifically the displacement of city kids evacuated to a sinister-seeming countryside during the war. as well as the rearrangement of the cities caused by bombing etc.
Interesting idea. One thing that strikes me is the sinister sort of cuts both ways -- you get this sense of lurking pagan forces, but also the idea that "normal," middle-class postwar life is fundamentally hollow, covering over all this other stuff. Which is just normal suburban anxiety in a way, but takes a different form in a country and culture with so much history (as opposed to American suburban anxiety, where the suburbs are hollow because there's nothing underneath, no history, no anything -- or if there is, it's something recent and specific, like the Amityville Horror).
― something of an astrological coup (tipsy mothra), Sunday, 1 May 2011 23:12 (eleven years ago) link
This still gives me the creeps, 38 years after seeing it for the first time.
― something of an astrological coup (tipsy mothra), Sunday, 1 May 2011 23:14 (eleven years ago) link
but takes a different form in a country and culture with so much history (as opposed to American suburban anxiety, where the suburbs are hollow because there's nothing underneath, no history, no anything -- or if there is, it's something recent and specific, like the Amityville Horror).
yeah, that's what i was getting at earlier. occurred to me when thinking about the 70s-era US boom in occult-themed horror - for example, the brotherhood of satan, which i watched just a few days ago. it's set in a small, isolated town that seems to be collapsing in an orgy of unmotivated violence. turns out that a secret satanic coven is behind things, no surprise, but you never get the sense that the looming evil, however ancient the forces it might draw on, has any real history or deep connection to place. it seems, in fact, more like a foreign invader - or a commie/druggie plot from within, not to put too fine a point on it...
rosemary's baby, perhaps because it was directed by an "old world" european, positively reeks of occult history, but here even history becomes a sort of threat from without. the movie consequently seems like a battle between a placeless and superstitious anciency and the ostensibly rational modern world. to pare it down even further: between corrupt wisdom and innocent naivete, age and youth, europe and america.
upthread, wk says that, "the ancient indian curse seems like such a cliche that it would be impossible to list how many times it was used," but i'm not so sure about that. it's certainly a familiar device, but i'd hardly say that it's dominated the imaginations of american horror filmmakers over the last 50 years. and films like pet sematary and creepshow 2 (both stephen king adaptations, oddly) have often used the idea of the "indian curse" without any perceptible investment in the significance of history or landscape. poltergeist seems more interesting in this regard, given the political implications and the eventual eradication of suburban property as a sort of penitential sacrifice. then there's the shining, which allows any number of readings, but remains maddeningly vague.
i like the idea of an american horror film in which a presence or purpose coded into the landscape, something that predates european settlement, enacts itself in ways that destablize "ordinary" american life. maybe not because the presence/purpose is evil or aggrieved, but simply because its ends are different. there must be examples of this, but i can't think of any offhand...
― normal_fantasy-unicorns (contenderizer), Monday, 2 May 2011 06:33 (eleven years ago) link
i dunno. maybe i'm giving pet sematary short shrift. though it's not as direct as poltergeist in its suggestion that american comfort is built on genocide, it does invite similar interpretations. the contemporary nuclear family existing in a state of constant existential peril, threatened from one side by the very things that supply its material comforts (the road with its long-haul trucks), and from the other by a terrifying forest that conceals an explicitly forbidden history, stinking of death.
― normal_fantasy-unicorns (contenderizer), Monday, 2 May 2011 06:43 (eleven years ago) link
The Dark and Lonely Water, Billy Dods up here is sending shivers down my spine... Perfect example!
― RIP Brodie, aspiring bellhop boy, 4 months old (Le Bateau Ivre), Monday, 2 May 2011 07:50 (eleven years ago) link
voiced by donald pleasance too...
― koogs, Monday, 2 May 2011 11:29 (eleven years ago) link
Even Disney got in on this -- Watcher in the Woods is probably the first movie like this that I saw growing up in Ohio. It was really really scary at the time.
Also, The Shining to thread (re: uh oh burial grounds).
Oh, and speaking of Bette Davis, what about The Dark Secret of Harvest Home?! (The book was really good, too btw)
― deez m'uts (La Lechera), Monday, 2 May 2011 13:15 (eleven years ago) link
The cover is pretty cool -- has the same most dreadful sacrifice theme as Wicker Man, only it's set in a quasi Peyton Place sort of atmosphere. The Widow Fortune is sort of like Lord Summerisle, I guess?http://worldsstrongestlibrarian.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/harvest-home-208x300.jpg
― deez m'uts (La Lechera), Monday, 2 May 2011 13:18 (eleven years ago) link
Haha, we own so many of these things. In fact, just watched Penda's Fen again last night for film club. Such a strange and beautiful film.
I think the Britain = internal/forgotten histories/nature and USA = external/eradicated history/urbanity thing is spot on, actually. I want to agree that the Indian burial ground plot is a very common trope but can't think of many more examples than those already mentioned. I guess America does also have the natural spookiness of vast desert landscapes etc but I'm unsure if that's *uncanny* or something different. I guess it's less centred on the homeliness of the small British island and more on exploration of the unknown?
― emil.y, Monday, 2 May 2011 13:29 (eleven years ago) link
feel like the vibe y'all are talking about got expressed in the US via dystopian future fantasies like phase iv and the like
― don't judge a book by its jpg (Edward III), Monday, 2 May 2011 13:44 (eleven years ago) link
for some reason equivalent US examples I can think of are TV movies
dark night of the scarecrowdon't be afraid of the darkcrowhaven farm
― don't judge a book by its jpg (Edward III), Monday, 2 May 2011 13:48 (eleven years ago) link
Did anyone go to the Kneale thing in the end? Any good?
― Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Sunday, 24 April 2022 10:40 (eleven months ago) link
By Our Selves sounds good, will steal
― Number One shlong in Devon (Noodle Vague), Sunday, 24 April 2022 10:54 (eleven months ago) link
I think I should give that a go too.
― Robert Adam Gilmour, Sunday, 24 April 2022 11:48 (eleven months ago) link
rewatched penda's fen ahead of listening to the Uncanny Hour podcast thing that robin ince does (or maybe did, i an over a year behind). still don't know what to think (and it was £6 rather than 5 from fopp but was a blu ray)
― koogs, Sunday, 24 April 2022 23:16 (eleven months ago) link
I did and it was good. Well organised etc. I think for a lot of the attendees, myself included, it was the first affair of this kind they'd been to since lockdown so the overall vibe was friendly, positive, upbeat. A celebration of Kneale rather than a rigorous critical interrogation, although most of the speakers had good things to say and there some genuinely funny moments. I learned some things I didn't know before (a lost tv one-off called Chopper with Patrick Troughton and an evil motorbike; Kneale working on a TV adaptation of Brian Aldiss's Non-Stop!) The lost radio play reading wasn't the absolute worst of its kind I'd seen, but it went on too long and was undermiked (the main technical flaw of the day).
I knew all the films/ tv progs on the bill, although it was nice to see them on a big screen. Larger projection did really reveal the limitations of BBC budgets. The special effects in the Stone Tape are just really shoddy, even for the time.
I was utterly ambushed by unexpected emotion when they introduced Jane Asher with a clip from the first Quatermass movie - I'd totally forgotten that she was the little girl who gets her dolly broken by the space man-monster, very nearly 70 years ago. It's all about time, innit.
― Ward Fowler, Monday, 25 April 2022 22:58 (eleven months ago) link
I watched By Our Selves. I only really enjoyed the documentary bits, most everything else seemed a tad sterile to me. I knew nothing about John Clare so I would have enjoyed a straight documentary more. I'm curious about the director's other film This Filthy Earth.
― Robert Adam Gilmour, Tuesday, 26 April 2022 17:18 (eleven months ago) link
Cool little BBC feature on Quartermass:
― Andy the Grasshopper, Thursday, 28 April 2022 17:08 (eleven months ago) link
oh, i have a question.
what if anything does this have to do with ^ that quatermass? is there a wider meaning of the name?
― koogs, Thursday, 28 April 2022 17:47 (eleven months ago) link
Kneale got Quatermass from the phone book - one of the researchers at that centenary thing said they'd even tracked down the particular phone book in question, with a Mrs Quatermass listed.
Don't know how Dockstader came by that name tho
― Ward Fowler, Thursday, 28 April 2022 17:53 (eleven months ago) link
Going to do The Edge of Darkness here, even though it doesn't fit for a number of reasons – it doesn't have the CREEPY VIBE and it's from 1985. tho I think it's closer to the type than it looks on first inspection. Apologies, I couldn't be bothered to work round SPOILERS, so all spoilers I guess. You should watch this though. It's incredible.
BOB. PECK.The line from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy about Jim Prideaux being made 'by the same firm that did Stonehenge' applies perfectly to Bob Peck. He seems bigger even than Joe Don Baker, which if you've seen Charley Varrick sounds like a hell of a statement. Wikipedia tells me he's actually an inch shorter at 6'1". still, Bob Peck looks he doesn't need to move for anyone and this makes his placidity potent and his portrayal of grief feel subterranean, a huge, implacable motive force. He's very still. This is all very important for his symbolic role, I think. The direction and editing show his mild eyes noticing everything. Other people spar off him, weighing him up with uncertain glances, unclear about his meaning and purpose.
The Sources of InformationThis is very noticeable watching it now. It's in a middle place between computer databases and everything still being on a hard copy somewhere. Phone calls still needed. Having to go to places to collect information. It made me wonder how modern writers manage to move their characters about at all. What is the motivation to move someone from one place to another when an awful lot of essential information can be garnered online. It becomes more esoteric. Less about necessity.
This is from a time just before that conundrum is posed, so that phone calls and rendezvous and travel are all required. People may not be contactable when you need them. How Craven navigates the world of information is interesting. Detection doesn't happen as such – he is just *driven* (as Jedburgh says of him in the final episode) to acquire whatever he needs to get to the centre of the web. Craven finds recordings, notes, interrogates, interviews, a computer database, he uses psychic contact with his dead daughter, Emma, and talks to himself, he exists in a web of surveillance, data security and information secrecy, odd secret service functions. Colleagues consider him on the edge of sanity – one version of the 'edge of darkness' at play – and he himself wonders what territories he is walking in, especially when he loses the link with his Emma. It is becomes increasingly clear his role as a policeman is becoming entirely absorbed by an emotional quest. Quest? Yes, the motives behind the drive are sexualised, animistic, mythic, arthurian.
SexualisationHis daughter, the absence of the mother, there's something going on here. You notice it in the car in the first episode - it's not entirely clear whether she's his daughter or his young girlfriend. It's in the notorious and powerful episode where he sniffs his dead daughter's dildo, working his way round her bedroom, trying to find, recover, feel her presence.
then there's his very peculiar interrogation technique, of one of the pair who was involved in her death, in the hospital where the mother died. He whispers tenderly and softly to the unconscious terrorist, near death, comforting and sensuously courting him, in order to get the information he needs.
So much!It's super super dense, the writing, the direction, the acting - it all contains so much. the politics of energy and post-industrial environment, nature v humankind, a psychological portrait of grief, a nuclear era psychomachia - these themes in particular link this to something like Penda's Fen or Quatermass – all connected with Thatcherism, London, mining, masculinity. High relevant to emusk for example. But also the faces in this are alive with abrasive interaction, power plays, sizing each other up. There's an extremely memorable moment where we cut from Jedburgh (Joe Don Baker) in a combat jacket, running around in crisis mode, to him standing, cheerfully grinng, raising a stetson to a sworn enemy flying in from the States. People are not what they seem and are willing to play parts in the dance that's taking place. ie this programme doesn't take its viewers for fools, thank god.
As a by the bye – there's nothing like this era tv ('70s, '80s) for better conveying a grey London in the rain.
psycho psycho machia
so yeah about that. Jedburgh is basically Christianity; that's fairly heavily trailed. He is of course an extraordinary character – Chestertonian in his Christian exuberance to do good, a rather militant good, and to live life and kill enemy. He is clearly co-opted by state authority in the beginning, but recognises this and breaks from it into a sort of Manichean entity, driven to bring about Armageddon. Holding up the plutonium in his extended hands in the form of a cross at the conference. Craven is, as Jedburgh himself says, 'freeze-dried from some earlier epoch'. His an animistic world, variously portrayed as a tree and a stag. He represents the earth, and the Gaia theory, and survival beyond nuclear war. Pastoral v Nuclear makes it very much of that period of drama. And It's interesting to see this conversation – of nature being part of and surviving within the ambit of human's capitalistic behaviour – worked through by The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing.
How the show contains all this in an integrated way is something else that adds to its density, makes it potent like v good whisky.
i haven't seen the hollywood remake, though i'd like to, once i've rewatched this a couple of times.
― Fizzles, Sunday, 27 November 2022 16:55 (four months ago) link
Thanks Fizzles, a perceptive and insightful post as always! No it doesn't have the creepy vibe that this thread is all about but I think it's adjacent. The creepiness of the shows in this thread is obviously supernatural, whereas edge of darkness is trading on the very real idea of nuclear terror, which it does it subtly and creepily (the occasional shots of trains of nuclear waste rattling through the night) as well as much more explicitly (sluicing the tunnels with radioactive water, the dead body in the radiation suit at the hot cell). And not to throw the net of creepiness too wide but there's the idea of higher powers (governmental or extra governmental) always watching even when you don't know it - AZURE!
I have to say Jedburgh = Christianity passed me by on my previous viewings, if I rewatch I'll look out for it. I guess I would have characterised him as chaotic neutral.
I have no interest in seeing mel gibson's remake.
― ledge, Monday, 28 November 2022 08:54 (four months ago) link
i do think there's an explicitly supernatural element, but yes, this is firmly in the nuclear space. there's a few things that cause me to locate it perhaps more closely to the vibe that might seem appropriate, but they're all fairly subliminal.
- the spring magically appearing where his daughter dies (Jedburgh quotes Hamlet when he sees it: 'Oh Jepthah, Judge of Israel, what a treasure hadst thou' which suggests biblical allusion on his part, but it can also be read as a sacred grove). - the figuring of craven out of policeman into an avatar of nature, and his final mystical transformation into a stag (it's how he's last seen, and we only hear how he just disappears at the same time as a distant cry) - the daughter as just on the edge of psychic projection and autonomous ghost- christianity v nature worship allegory (if you do watch it again i'm interested in your thoughts – there are various key moments throughout, the co-opting and working with the state in the first place, but becoming a radical millenarian by an end seems to me deliberately allegorical)
i guess you could see it as a reverse of penda's fen, where nuclear and military appropriation and potential destruction of the land are a meaningful backdrop to the supernatural events. in this it's the reverse, the supernatural is a deep, unemphasised background to the nuclear and energy political thriller.
― Fizzles, Monday, 28 November 2022 09:19 (four months ago) link
TKM should overruled Peck and turned him into a tree, as intended.
― Piedie Gimbel, Monday, 28 November 2022 10:59 (four months ago) link
I've never seen The Edge of Darkness
― Oh wouldn't it be rubbery? (Tom D.), Monday, 28 November 2022 11:52 (four months ago) link
Genuinely one of the greatest TV series ever, real justification-of-the-form stuff. I cannot imagine the circumstances which would lead to me watching an American remake.
― Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Monday, 5 December 2022 05:44 (three months ago) link
There is something both supernaturally and actually-in-reality terrifying about dying of radiation poisoning (it’s invisible! but it kills you grotesquely). Proper horror
― Chuck_Tatum, Monday, 5 December 2022 12:09 (three months ago) link
And obvs the Clapton/Kamen score is an incredible bullseye use of their limited ranges
― Chuck_Tatum, Monday, 5 December 2022 12:11 (three months ago) link
Okay watching Mike Hodges' The Tyrant King on youtube (thanks Soref for the recommendation) and it has a distinctly creepy UK vibe - I think this would have disturbed me as a kid, especially with the Pink Floyd freakout jams.. it's not very supernatural (so far) but has sinister adults chasing children all over London
― Andy the Grasshopper, Thursday, 22 December 2022 00:49 (three months ago) link
― Elvis Telecom, Friday, 17 March 2023 06:25 (two weeks ago) link
(I recently rewatched EoD and discovered a rich vein of screencaps)
― Elvis Telecom, Friday, 17 March 2023 06:27 (two weeks ago) link
Fizzles' analysis above deserves more space. I didn't pick up on Jedburgh = Christianity either, but admittedly I'm biased by the American style of Atomic Christianity/apocalyptic which would have told the story from Joe Don Baker's p.o.v. or something.
― Elvis Telecom, Friday, 17 March 2023 07:11 (two weeks ago) link
Anyway, back to pining away for the lost recordings of the original A For Andromeda
― Elvis Telecom, Friday, 17 March 2023 07:12 (two weeks ago) link
one of my friends recommended me two books called "Scarred For Life" by Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence, i've found them to be genuinely excellent considerations of all aspects of this kind of thing
― Kate (rushomancy), Friday, 17 March 2023 14:43 (two weeks ago) link
Thread revival made me look up Sapphire and Steel and damn, is it as great as it sounds?
There was a vibe so many of these programs had which tripped me out when I’d catch them as a kid. For some reason my local PBS station (iirc) would air Blake’s 7 late at night and the atmosphere and style of it just felt very creepy and odd to me. I don’t know how creepy it actually is, this was something I was watching as a 9 or 10 yr old in the mid eighties.
― omar little, Friday, 17 March 2023 15:58 (two weeks ago) link
sapphire and steel is a very slow by 2023 standards. it's also made all the weirder when you consider it went out at prime time early evening back when there were only 3 TV channels available.
and the various cases are wildly different
― koogs, Friday, 17 March 2023 16:36 (two weeks ago) link
Sapphire and Steel is slow and of its time, yes, but it's wonderfully weird and entertaining. If you don't like the first episode, you can safely bail on the rest.
― Brad C., Friday, 17 March 2023 16:41 (two weeks ago) link
I would actually say that if you don't like the first episode, try going straight to the second season. The first season is good fun but a bit shonky, the second season is amazing imo. I can't remember quite how much you need to watch to get the 'lore' of the show, but I think you can do it this way without missing too much.
― emil.y, Friday, 17 March 2023 16:50 (two weeks ago) link
Just finished EoD. Extraordinary - thanks for highlighting it!
― kinder, Friday, 17 March 2023 17:40 (two weeks ago) link
on reflection I think emil.y is right ... S1 of S&S is scary but has two cute kids getting lots of screen time; many would prefer the child-free horror of S2
― Brad C., Friday, 17 March 2023 18:05 (two weeks ago) link
Lots of quibbles about stuff but I would simply like to say I watched the first 2 stories at time of broadcast and the second one was the one that stuck
― satori enabler (Noodle Vague), Friday, 17 March 2023 20:00 (two weeks ago) link
second one is extraordinary i think. it’s worth watching the first just to experience how deep and hard the second one goes. it’s pretty long.
― Fizzles, Tuesday, 21 March 2023 19:43 (one week ago) link
I often wonder if this is why Space: 1999 failed to catch on. Lew Grade's business model involved selling UK shows to the US audience, which worked with The Saint and Danger Man because despite starring British actors and being written by British people everybody knew the brief. Meanwhile Gerry Anderson wanted to get into live action.
So his first show was UFO, which was a weird mixture of dayglow wigs and downbeat plots where the heroes always lost. And the Space: 1999, which had some awesome spaceships but every episode consisted of Martin Landau looking worried and Barry Morse looking worried and at the end of Landau would look at the camera and say "there's no hope for any of us, or for the people watching at home, because it's 1975 and there's just no hope, no hope at all".
Every single episode. They just couldn't suppress their Britishness. The Britishness leaked through. To this day I haven't seen Moonbase 3 but from what I've read it was much the same but without even aliens. Like Star Cops but ultra-70s.
― Ashley Pomeroy, Tuesday, 21 March 2023 21:13 (one week ago) link
I remember reading about a show called The Nightmare Man, which had Celia Imrie, and was one of those six-part one-offs made by the BBC. But with four parts. Adapted by Robert Holmes from a novel and shot on location with murky, creepy videotape:https://www.thisishorror.co.uk/a-halloween-blast-from-the-past-the-nightmare-man/
I would have been five when it was on TV so my parents would not have let me watch it. I wasn't allowed to watch The Day of the Triffids either, although it was apparently marketed as action-packed fun for the family (with a Radio Times cover). Apart from the shot-on-video-in-the-rain look I think the complete lack of irony, the utter seriousness of it all, was the key thing that made shows like that work. The portentousness. And in the case of Sapphire and Steel, the measured pace.
Taggart. I remember that being unusually grim as well. It wasn't sci-fi or fantasy, or even set in an alternative world, but it was nastier than other detective shows.
I remember being aware of Edge of Darkness. It was apparently repeated on BBC1 almost immediately after it was broadcast on BBC2, which didn't happen often. I would have caught a repeat in the 1990s, by which time it was famous. I remember that beyond the subtext it also worked as a pacy action thriller - it felt cinematic in a way that stood out. I still remember the cliffhanger where Craven tries to find a working telephone. Wasn't the evil corporation's goal a space station?
― Ashley Pomeroy, Tuesday, 21 March 2023 21:24 (one week ago) link
The Nightmare Man is v good tho i recall being slightly underwhelmed. Got it on dvd somewhere, years since i watched it. Will dig it out and have another watch.
― Fizzles, Tuesday, 21 March 2023 21:31 (one week ago) link
otm about the seriousness of it all. that isn’t a mode or tone you get so much These Days.
― Fizzles, Tuesday, 21 March 2023 21:32 (one week ago) link
And! While I'm hyperactive I remember that Whoops Apocalypse - the TV show - was utterly unfunny but had a grim, almost joyless air to it. And given the casual racism and toplessness it now feels like an artefact from an alien planet:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mwWhWtvJAw
Off the top of my head the ending was played completely straight as well, with Barry Morse - again - doing some acting. There was a film but it was basically slapstick.
― Ashley Pomeroy, Tuesday, 21 March 2023 21:32 (one week ago) link
second series of space 1999 was rejigged for an American audience - swapping out grumpy Barry Morse for the shape-shifting woman, slightly lighter, more romance.
first season is better imo
― koogs, Tuesday, 21 March 2023 22:08 (one week ago) link
(did they ever explain where Barry Morse went?)
― koogs, Tuesday, 21 March 2023 22:09 (one week ago) link
Back to Canada I assume.
― Maggot Bairn (Tom D.), Tuesday, 21 March 2023 22:30 (one week ago) link
Ok, I've never had any desire to watch this before but now I'm sold!
― Daniel_Rf, Wednesday, 22 March 2023 11:20 (one week ago) link
Barbara Bain looks worried too.
― Maggot Bairn (Tom D.), Wednesday, 22 March 2023 11:43 (one week ago) link
'Black Sun' is my Space 1999 Series One go-to, absolutely batshit and bleak, until this brilliant 2001-style third act.
― MaresNest, Wednesday, 22 March 2023 11:45 (one week ago) link
Really nice spooky feel to several season 1 eps in Space: 1999; there's the episode where Big Jim Sullivan is playing a coral sitar recital for the team, and that music underpins the rest of the show. Lots of ultra-wide angles, shadows and voids, and age-inappropriate scares. In season 2, the ambient lighting and colour palette get brighter, Maya solves everything by turning into an insect or whatever, and they all have a good laugh in the epilogue at Tony Anholt's homebrew. Not good!
― Michael Jones, Wednesday, 22 March 2023 11:50 (one week ago) link
I'd have sold a kidney to own this. pic.twitter.com/NxmJUHQKWh— Scarred for Life (@ScarredForLife2) March 20, 2023
― koogs, Wednesday, 22 March 2023 13:46 (one week ago) link
^ all three of them looking worried
― koogs, Wednesday, 22 March 2023 13:51 (one week ago) link
lol yes I love how despite all the attempts at HEY KIDS TOYS advertising that clip still feels bleak a f
― Daniel_Rf, Friday, 24 March 2023 12:24 (one week ago) link
Space 1999 is a good call, I can't think of too many contemporaneous U.S. shows that had something of that sinister vibe but that one did.
― a man often referred to in the news media as the Duke of Saxony (tipsy mothra), Friday, 24 March 2023 13:49 (one week ago) link
I watched the movie The Wonder (currently on Netflix) the other night on a giant TV with motion smoothing turned on, and the digital made it look very much like a low budget 70s or 80s BBC production. I thought it really added something, so if you're thinking about watching the movie, I recommend seeing it that way if possible.
― but also fuck you (unperson), Saturday, 25 March 2023 20:46 (six days ago) link
Any good cultural studies type writing on the British archetype of the guy who knows more than everyone else and is a total asshole about it? Sherlock Holmes, old school Who, Saphire & Steel...
― Daniel_Rf, Saturday, 25 March 2023 21:32 (six days ago) link
Henry Higgins …
― a man often referred to in the news media as the Duke of Saxony (tipsy mothra), Sunday, 26 March 2023 01:59 (five days ago) link