Thursday, March 23, 2017

Black and White

Although film makers were attempting to make colour films during the early 1900s (further information from the dubious world of Wikipedia...), it wasn't proven to be hugely successful until the late '30s with mainstream movies like The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind. Throughout the following couple of decades, studios toyed with both colour and black & white and, quite often, it was more a case of budgetary constraint rather than artistic choice to plump for the standard monochrome.

Below are just a handful of films made in the 1960s and beyond whose directors and producers deliberately chose to film in black & white for varying reasons. The lack of full-colour does not distract from the drama, excitement or entertainment one jot. (This is a mere selection of a multitude of monochrome movies from the last sixty years. A list of films from 1970 and beyond can be found here.


Alfred Hitchcock - 1960

An absolute masterpiece. Hitchcock made this film on a budget with the television crew from Alfred Hitchcock Presents. His reasons for filming in B&W were partly for budgetary constraints but also to get away with bloody murder in the shower scene (censors were less squeamish if they couldn't see red!)


Roman Polanski - 1965

Polanski's first English Language film and, to my mind, another masterpiece. Yes, the choice for B&W was to keep the costs down, but the coldness and bleakness convey the isolation and sexual apprehension of Carol Ledoux (played to perfection by Catherine Deneuve).

Ed Wood

Tim Burton - 1991

Without doubt, Tim Burton's best film. It's a love letter to Hollywood and the dreams of a desperately eager yet pitifully untalented fellow. The lack of colour merely pays tribute to the era.

Schindler's List

Steven Spielberg - 1993

This story just had to be B&W. It's bleak. It's harrowing. It's cold. The flash of red we see in the form of the little girl's coat highlights the individuality of the lives lost rather than just see the holocaust as a faceless blanket of death.

The Mist

Frank Darabont - 2007

It was always Frank Darabont's wish to have this Stephen king adaptation seen by audiences in B&W but the fearful, greedy studios were concerned about the box office. Thankfully, the blu-ray release has Frank's original vision in tact. I refuse to watch the colour version.

The Elephant Man

David Lynch - 1980

David Lynch is synonymous with eerie and dreamlike storytelling. His other films are incredibly colourful and the spectrum for each movie plays an integral part of the narrative. Surprisingly, it was the film's producer, Mel Brooks, who persuaded Lynch to do this film in B&W.

Down by Law

Jim Jarmusch - 1986

I only saw this film for the first time a couple of years ago (thanks to the insistence of my friend Dan). To be honest, I don't know exactly why Jim Jarmusch chose to film in B&W, but I am so glad he did. The monochrome (again) evokes the isolation of the main characters and also brings that jazzy New Orleans vibe to life.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Robert Aldrich - 1962

Another classic. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford loathed each other in real life and that dramatic tension was brought to the fore in this grand guignol chiller. Once more, the B&W gives it the Hollywood homage tone and also highlights the duality and contrast between the two leading roles... and all the grey in between.

The Artist

Michel Hazanavicius - 2011

This one is pretty self-explanatory, I think. A sort of distant cousin of Singin' in the Rain and an absolutely beautiful tribute to the silent era of Hollywood. Pure magic.

Young Frankenstein

Mel Brooks - 1974

One of Mel Brooks' most loved films and a joyful comedy played to perfection by the leads. Again, it doesn't take much imagination to consider why Mel chose to go with B&W here...

Night of the Living Dead

George A Romero - 1968

Yep. I think it's safe to say budget played a huge part here - but how serendipitous. Just like Hitchcock, Romero used chocolate sauce for the blood, so in the cases of this and Psycho the monochrome disguises the charade and the effect is crucial.

There are so many more one could mention but this is a mere selection. Who says black & white films are boring, eh? Fools, that's who!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

This Life

Last night, my friend Dean and I finished re-watching the seminal BBC TV series This Life. For me, it is the umpteenth time that I have watched it all the way through. For about the first ten years after it was made I made it an annual tradition to plough through my VHS copies (and, later, the DVD boxset!) but I haven't done so for a long time since.

When its first season aired in early 1996, it felt like I was the only person watching it; but, a year later (and after a hasty re-run of that freshman year) season two hit our screens and it became a passion for many across the United Kingdom.

If anyone were to delve into this show with fresh eyes, they might not see what all the fuss is about. The show hasn't dated (apart from the noticeable lack of mobile phones and the occasional '90s jeans syndrome') but myriad shows have followed in its wake and regurgitated a lot of the format and storylines. This was the mid-nineties and it was rare to see such audacious authenticity in the depiction of the lives of twentysomethings.

The show's creator, Amy Jenkins, wanted a show about young lawyers in which you never saw the interior of a court room (a conceit discarded by the reunion special ten years later) - Amy wanted to expose the emotional struggles that young people fresh from university go through when entering adult life. It's a period when the partying lifestyle doesn't quite want to be relinquished; sexuality still needs to be explored; and the coveted independence from family is not as welcome, nor as easy, as one might have anticipated.

With its bold and frank approach to sex, drugs, alcohol and all things considered sinful, it shocked and entertained in equal measures. Of course, there were frequent letters written in to the Daily Mail from aggressively indignant and pompous windbags who loathed the notion of young people enjoying themselves, but that just made it all the more decadent.

These friends and colleagues live together in an expensive Southwark home, trying to get on with their careers and their lives but having to maintain a very student lifestyle that is proving difficult to abjure.

Season one introduced us to Miles, the entitled and arrogant public school educated tosser; Anna, the sassy, witty and feisty squatter in Chambers; Milly, the driven yet uptight perfectionist; Egg, Milly's daydreamer of a boyfriend who'd rather be playing football than doing attendance notes; and Warren, the Welsh and proudly gay man who is terrified of his family's disapproval.

Other characters included Delilah, an obnoxious, thieving drug addict; Ferdy, a bisexual courier; O'Donnell, Milly's boss and seducer; and Kira, Warren's mouthy and bold cousin.

Season two arrived with a hard act to follow. We were introduced to some new characters and said goodbye to an old friend in a shocking and gripping storyline. Ferdy became a series regular and slowly became more confident in his own sexuality. We were also introduced to Rachel - a character who has divided fans. Was she just a misunderstood, innocent try-hard, or was she a calculating, manipulative bitch?

The second series was twice as long as the first and this allowed a multitude of storylines but it was dominated by Warren's dark encounter on the wrong side of the law, Milly's misguided affair, and Anna's anarchic collapse.

Numerous plot threads hurtled toward the exhilarating finale and clashed with catastrophic consequences. The show really went out on a high, and with a bang, in one of the best TV series finales ever. (Forgive my hyperbole, but it really was a fantastic denouement!)

In 2007, we had a reunion special. In all honesty, it didn't quite recapture the glory of the original two series. It was lovely to have the majority of the core cast back on our screens, but the plot felt rather contrived. Critics and fans were, on the whole, disappointed. I, however, was more than content sitting down with a pizza and a bottle of red and reacquainting myself with old friends.

This Life left a great legacy. Shows such as Cold Feet and Queer as Folk followed and ran with their own success. But would they have been made had Amy Jenkins not been a pioneer in creating this addictive show?

The show also launched the careers of its cast - most notable Andrew Lincoln and jack Davenport - and those of us who were engulfed in its maelstrom for those two years have a strange bond formed of a passion and respect for this beloved TV drama.

I would just like to mention Daniela Nardini who played Anna Forbes with such incredible gusto that she became a cultural icon. This acerbic, brassy and astute character was also a f*cked up headcase - but we all loved her. Daniela absolutely deserved her BAFTA award for Best Actress. I for one would love to see a spin-off series all about this remarkable, hedonistic Scot. 'The Trials of Anna', maybe?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


I promised myself that I was going to get back into the blogging malarkey this year. It was not even approaching 'sporadic' in 2016! After a rather tumultuous 2015, the following year was lollygagging in its wake. The twelve months of unemployment throughout was beginning to wear me down until I was nearly a mere shadow of my former self.

Thankfully, 2017 is looking up and I have a job (wahoo!) and this has spurred me on to find my own abode once more (having spent the last year and a quarter living in the homes of others, be it family or friends - all very kind and wonderful people).

Once back in the realms of "normal" life (employed and with my own private space around me) I can shed my cloak of morbid woe and channel any positive energy into prattling on about nothing to anyone who cares to read.

So let's get back to writing words 'n' stuff'...

My new role is situated in Sheffield so I have some reasonable options in regard to where I live:

  • Chesterfield - which would mean a daily, costly commute on top of the rent
  • Sheffield - local to work but a tad more pricey
  • Oz - but I have no hot air balloon nor a cyclone at hand, so I might skip this choice.

I started looking at places on Friday. During my lunchbreak, I visited a new block of flats in the north area of Sheffield. I like a new build. the notion that no one has lived in a place before me is rather satisfying. It comes with white goods (washing machine and fridge/freezer); it's secure; it's soundproofed; but it is rather small. Luckily, I don't own much furniture - as long as my books and DVDs have somewhere to go, I'm happy.

Could this be my next home?

On Friday evening, I checked out a larger flat in Brimington, Chesterfield. It was a spacious living space, but directly above an Indian restaurant (smelly and bound to make me hungry... and fat!) and in a noisy area. It also had no white goods. Loads of cupboard space, though. If I wanted to invite some friends around to play sardines, we'd be sorted!

On Saturday, I checked out a ground floor flat in the same block where my brother and his family live. This was not as small as the first, nor as large as the second, but it was homely. I am not fond of ground floor flats because I have a fear of home invasion and theft. Oh, and floods. And moths - but that's inconsequential.

Now... we come to 'Application Fees'. After living for sixteen years in Australia, I had no idea about this astonishing extortion brought upon us by Estate Agents. Apparently, it costs a fortune to do a credit check or whatever... but £300?? Eff off!! The last flat was asking this and it put me off immediately.

So, on Monday morning, I applied for the first flat I saw back on Friday lunchtime as the application fee was only £150. I hope I get it, otherwise that's six ponies gone to the glue factory!

Now, as anyone who knows me well knows that I am prone to bouts of stress, they don't need me to highlight the fact that my lower intestine has been popping and gurgling for the past four days. Panic ensues and my innards react like a volcano with a billion Mentos thrown in. I shudder to recall the day an old "friend" had a vicious rant at me (ridiculously unfairly, I assure you!) and I was so taken aback, I just trembled and farted. Heaven help me if I am ever in a bank hold-up or trapped in a well with a nervy wrestler suffering from Tourette's.

As soon as I have found and secured a place to live, the better. I look forward to relaxing...

Wish me luck, y'all.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

For the Love of Torchwood

As most people know, I am a Whovian. A Doctor Who fan for those unaware of the nerdy jargon. Yes, I am also a Trekkie, a Fannibal, an X Phile and a passionate fan of numerous other TV shows (what one calls a devotee of Randall and Hopkirk (deceased) is anyone’s guess!).

I am also a “Woody” (for want of a much better moniker) – that is to say, a fan of Torchwood, the Doctor Who spin-off aimed at slightly more mature viewer.

For the uninitiated, Torchwood sprang from the world of Doctor Who thanks to the wonderful, talented brain of Russell T Davies. Originally, the term was merely a pseudonym for production of the mother show in order to keep filming as secret as possible. The notion of an alien/crime fighting team had been at the back of RTD’s mind for years (with a working title of ‘Excalibur’) but once he got his creative claws into the Whoniverse, it was only a matter of time before the perfect blend came together.

The Torchwood seed was planted within the world of Doctor Who very subtly during episode twelve of series one (of 21st Century Who) in 2005 and was explored further more blatantly in the second series. We finally got to witness the fabled organisation in the stunning two-part finale Army of Ghosts/Doomsday.

Series one was also where we first met the charming and dynamic anti-hero Captain Jack Harkness and he proved so popular with fans, it was no wonder he would return for more adventures and his own spin off.

The first fully-fledged series of Torchwood appeared on October 22nd on BBC3 with a double bill of its first two episodes. Although Russell T Davies was the mastermind behind the show, Chris ‘Broadchurch’ Chibnall would serve as lead writer for the first two series.

I was hooked instantly. As I was already a fan of Doctor Who, it wasn’t that much of a surprise that I would warm to a spin-off (I was to fall in love with the children’s spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures too!) but there was something extra special about Torchwood. Allegedly, RTD had pitched it as a cross between The X Files and This Life – two of my all-time favourite TV shows – so I was already eager to see this exciting hybrid.

OK, the show did have its detractors as most things do. One of the main complaints was that the stronger language and focus on sexuality was too aggressive, but I think if it was any other show, no one would bat an eye lid. I think it is just because people were used to the comfort of Doctor Who - I mean, look at Russell's Queer as Folk! Did anyone really think he was one to shy away from the truth about human nature? Ha!.

The cast was sublime. John Barrowman has so much onscreen charm that a number of straight blokes I know have admitted that they’d go gay for a night just for Captain Jack. Naoko Mori is a superb actress with a background in theatre and was also ‘Titicaca/Sarah’ in another favourite show of mine, Absolutely Fabulous. Burn Gorman is a man to watch whenever he is on screen. He is so naturalistic and can slip into any role with ease. Gareth David-Lloyd was a relative unknown outside of Wales but soon wooed his way into the hearts of fans world-wide. Kai Owen playing the simply lovable boyfriend/husband of Gwen...

Then there’s Eve Myles. Bloody Gwen Cooper. This woman can act the socks off anyone. RTD once described her as Wales’ best kept secret. Eve gives me goosebumps. She is simply a phenomenal actress. I am trying to be careful not to gush too much but it’s sufficient to say that, out of EVERYTHING I love about Torchwood, she is the zenith. Let that be enough, otherwise I will harp on for pages…

Series One

Series one was very much a mixed bag of stories. Some see this as a show trying to find its feet and maybe that’s true. I found that it proved how versatile the show can be. Not only were we dealing with aliens, but we had time-travel, fairies, vile human cannibals and even paedophilia. Each week I was in for a new feast and I was kept on my toes not knowing what the hell was going to happen next.

Without doubt, the highlight of the season was Catherine Treganna’s Out of Time in which three people from 1953 flew into Cardiff airport and had to adjust to 21st Century life. It was moving, heartbreaking and simply wonderful. Other highlights include P.J. Hammond’s disturbing story, Small Worlds, about fairies at the bottom of the garden (he has not lost his touch from the days of Sapphire and Steel!!) and Captain Jack Harkness (again, by Catherine Treganna) in which we meet the genuine article from whom our lead hero took his name.

Series Two

Once Torchwood settled into itself, it knew the kind of stories it wanted to tell – and series two delivered in spades. The show was beginning to attract attention and was moved to BBC2 in order to gain a larger audience. Freema Agyeman from Doctor Who joined the cast in a guest role as the brilliant Martha Jones, and we had a number of guest stars including the likes of James Marsters, Alan Dale, Julian Bleach and Ruth Jones.

This season felt more confident. There was real camaraderie in the cast and the episodes were bolder. We learned a lot more about Jack and, for the first time, his brother, Gray.

Amonsgt some of the best episodes were couple more from the superb Catherine Treganna – Meat and Adam – two fascinating episodes; one about the way humans treat animals for their own personal gain; one about the need to fit in. This show wasn’t ever going to be about evil aliens... this was a show which had a heart and would elicit empathy for others.

There was also a beautiful insight into the nature of human life and our existence in the episode A Day in the Death by Joseph Lidster. It was a rather atypical episode but one which gave us pause to reflect on what it is to be alive.

The finale, Exit Wounds was stunning. I was genuinely in floods of tears when we lost two of our lead characters. When Tosh uttered the line “Because you’re breaking my heart”, mine broke too. It’s such a shocking but deeply upsetting way for two characters to leave a series. It still makes me tear up…

Series Three

Now it was confirmed that Auntie Beeb had a hit on their hands, the show was moved to a prime time slot on BBC 1. However, the format was to change. No longer made up of thirteen episodes, series three was to be just one story told over five consecutive nights. I, for one, was shocked when I heard this announcement. I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to get a full banquet and only a mere snack.

Boy, was I wrong.

Children of Earth as it was eventually subtitled, was one of the most harrowing but brilliant pieces of television in years. Aliens return to Earth to complete a deal made decades earlier which involves giving up the human children for one of the most disturbing reasons possible.

The dilemmas posed in this five-night spectacular were astonishing and provoked much discussion amongst viewers. One scene in particular stands out for me and that’s where a cabinet of ministers in the British Government try to determine how to choose which children to give up. This is pure drama and actually made me feel physically sick as it made us an audience ask ‘What would WE do?’

We had exceptional performances from all, but most notably Cush Jumbo, Paul Copley ("Egg's Dad!"*), Susan Brown and the future Doctor himself, Peter Capaldi. I would love to see Cush Jumbo return as Lois Habiba one day… The series ended on a depressing note with too many lives close to Jack lost. It was chilling.

Series Four

Miracle Day (provisionally titled The New World) was always going to suffer from the ‘Tara King Syndrome’. Linda Thorson wasn’t Diana Rigg and Miracle Day wasn’t Children of Earth. It was the "difficult second album" (or fourth in this case). This does not make it any less worthy. Some tiresome fans online were extremely negative about this fourth run, mainly because of the American input (which, frankly, reeks of insular thinking and parochialism and is barmy in this day and age!)

Yes, we had part American funding and a lot of American cast, but this didn’t take away anything from the show in my opinion. It just made the show more global (as it should be!)

The premise was gold – no one dying and the cataclysmic aftermath of such a population growth – we saw how it affected various people in society; the families who lost people close; the greedy corporate world; the media’s spin; the life of those who were supposed to die… it raised so many existential issues and it took us to places we would never have thought to go.

New members of the cast fell seamlessly into the Torchwood world such as Alexa Havin’s beautiful performance as Esther Drummond from the CIA, Mekhi Phifer as the cynical Agent Rex Matheson, Lauren Ambrose as the conniving Jillian Kitzinger, Arlene Tur as the ill-fated Vera Juarez, and Bill Pullman as the repugnant Oswald Danes, a killer paedophile who survived the death penalty to go on to become a star. What an incredible performance he gave. I should also mention the new blood of writers including Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s very own Jane Espenson!

For me, one of the highlights of Miracle Day was episode seven: Immortal Sins in which we get to visit a period of Captain Jack’s past that has severe consequences in the show. It’s a beautifully orchestrated piece of television and stunningly shot. And, even though it’s a Jack-centric episode, we still get a knock-out performance from Eve Myles… again!!

The larger universe...

Whether it was the mixed reviews or the lack of funding, we were not fortunate enough to see more of Torchwood on TV (I live in hope…) but the Torchwood universe is larger with books, comics and audio plays continuing to entertain the fans. The BBC Radio did a series of plays which were received very well. The company behind the behemoth Doctor Who range of audio plays, Big Finish, got the rights to Torchwood and we are now treated to superb stories on a regular basis featuring a lot of the regular cast (including the adorable Tom Price as PC Andy and, brilliantly, Indira Varma as the troubled ex-Torchwood operative Suzie Costello).

At the time of writing, we have been subjected to two series of audio adventures (six episodes apiece) and three special releases: The Torchwood Archive, Torchwood: Outbreak, and Torchwood One: Before the Fall. The latter is the highlight of the three specials as we delve into the history of the London base with Yvonne Hartman, played to perfection by Tracy-Ann Oberman. The writers of the Big Finish audios (including series writer Joseph Lidster), the books and the comics are true fans of this much-loved show. They know their characters and they really “get” what Torchwood is. Even if we never get it back on our screens, I am more than happy to listen to their adventures or read about them as long as people keep writing them.

One last thing; while I have been typing this, I have been listing to the Torchwood soundtracks on my iPod. Ben Foster’s score is absolutely friggin’ wonderful. Murray Gold’s main theme is a classic and I wish they would release his score for Miracle Day one day as it has yet to be published (I am unsure as to why Ben Foster didn’t do the score, but Murray did a grand job!). Torchwood is one of those entities where all the ingredients worked for me. The writers, the cast, the directors, the stories, the production, the ethos… I am very passionate about it and, frankly, I’m a die-hard fan.

Long may the legacy last.

* I always shout "Egg's Dad!" whenever i see Paul Copley in anything. He played Andrew Lincoln ('Egg')'s father in the aforementioned This Life. He got to shag Anna Forbes. Good on Egg's dad!"

Monday, January 16, 2017

Thank You

2017 is going to be the year that I reboot my life.

After over a year of job-hunting, I have finally found a position that suits me like a 1940s gentleman's garment. I won't go into great detail right now, but it's sufficient to announce that it will allow me to use my writing skills daily and also utilise my affable charm on a regular basis. It's part reception work, part communications officer. A very satisfying blend for me.

This new role is based in Sheffield, so I will be leaving Bristol and dragging my hefty arse "Oop North" next weekend before settling into my new job and my new routine within the coming weeks.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank a great number of people. I will, no doubt, miss a few as there have been SO MANY that have helped me and to whom I am indebted beyond measure...

Firstly, to my family. They have been superb in their support over the last thirteen months - both emotionally and financially - and that is something to cherish. Mum, Mac, Sarah & Ian, Matt & Jo et al.

There are friends who have gone beyond the call of duty in their assistance: Jamie and Kevin housing me, feeding me, and supporting me during my brief foray into the Bristolian community; Dean for his unending generosity (in various forms) and his nonchalant yet occasionally acerbic words of encouragement; Rick and Teresa for seeing my potential and actually "getting me"; Dan for his strength and understanding, despite being ten and a half thousand miles away; Chris for being his usual empathetic self and giving me virtual ego-boosts as and when necessary; Louise, Adam, Rohan and Vanessa for just being the greatest gang of friends I have ever known (and I never EVER felt like a fifth wheel!); Jane for continuing to keep on the lookout for ideal positions for me; Alison for being Alison. No one knows me better than Ali...

Crikey... this is beginning to sound like an Oscar acceptance speech!

If I have forgotten someone, please forgive me. I am only on my second mug of tea for the day - give me a break!

All my friends, new and old, have been understanding, caring and, frankly, bloody fantastic. It is safe to say that in terms of friendship, I am one of the richest people in the world.

Cheers to all my friends!

OK, enough of the puke-fest. Now I am back in the land of the living, I might even be more prolific on this blog and on social media. I need the impetus of routine and happiness to fuel my writing so be warned, I may be spamming your newsfeed more often this year. Ha!