Tuesday, May 3, 2011

THE PRISONER w/ Patrick McGoohan (Ground-breaking Cult Television Shows of the 1960s pt 1)

The 1960s was a time of questioning the status quo and exploring new forms of creative expression. Three shows from this era stand out for their innovative visual effects, controversial main characters, and absurdist plots; “The Prisoner,” “The Avengers,’ and “The Ernie Kovacs Show.” They continue to influence film and television to this day.

“I am not a Number, I am a Free Man”

The legendary British mini-series, “The Prisoner” (1967) stars Patrick McGoohan (1928 – 2009) as Number Six, a kidnapped ex-spy who is relocated to a beautiful yet mysterious village where the inhabitants are known not by their names, but by their assigned numbers. McGoohan (King Edward I in “Braveheart” 1995) was the brilliantly creative mind behind the show; having written, produced, and directed it.

The intro to the show sets the stage superbly, thus making each of the seventeen episodes non-linear. To the sound of thunder, Number Six storms into his Bose’s office with a letter of resignation. A menacingly large black car follows him home, looking as if it will eat his small Lotus sports car with him in it. He hurriedly packs his suitcase, only to be gassed through a keyhole. Disoriented, he wakes up and stumbles to a window to find he is in an apartment in the Village.

Number 6 asks: “Where am I?”/ Number 2: “In the Village.”/ “What do you want?”/ “We want information.”/ “Whose side are you on?”/ “That would be telling. We want information.”/ “You won’t get it!”/ “By hook or by crook, we will!”/ “Who are you?”/ “The new Number 2.” / “Who is Number 1?” / “You are Number 6.” / “I am not a Number, I am a Free Man!” / Number 2 laughs heartily (fade)

What is the reason why Number 6 resigned in such a fury? What is the nature of the information which Number 2 is obsessed with obtaining? Where is this Village? The answer is: there is no answer. That is the exquisiteness of the show; it is purposefully left open to the interpretation of its viewers. This is no mindless sit-com with canned laughter tracks signaling viewers where to giggle; it is a thinking persons program full of symbolism, social criticism, and double entendres.

McGoohan’s vision of a Kafkaesque society where untold numbers of people are blackmailed to report on the activity of others is hauntingly familiar to that of the Stasi (Secret Police) apparatus in East Germany which indoctrinated one quarter of the population to spy on their friends, family, and neighbours. The show is timeless and produces striking images which permanently etch themselves into the minds of viewers.

Like putting together a 200 piece puzzle of M.C. Escher’s staircase, the plot unfolds to reveal its splendid complexity. The colourful clothing of the townspeople is in stark contrast to their drab personalities and strict adherence to rules of conformity enforced by the establishment. Upon deeper inspection, the wardrobe, towels, and umbrellas of the townsfolk are in primary colours; blue, red, green, yellow, the same shades recur with no variation. Number Six has a distinctly different outfit: gray pants, dark blue turtleneck, and black dress jacket with white trim. Nobody looks like him, and nobody dares act like him. He is the embodiment of non-conformity: he questions the rules of the authorities, and tries to escape every chance he gets.

The location of the exterior shots is a visual odyssey in its own right. The village is cluster of breath-taking classically inspired buildings surrounded on three sides by mountains and a beach by the sea on the forth. The location was carefully kept secret during production, finally revealed in the closing credits of the last episode, “Fall Out.” Portmeirion, a small resort town in North Wales, has an enchanting quality about it. A vanity project by Welsh architect, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, it was deigned and constructed between 1925 and 1975 in the style of a southern Italian town. Lovely sunny days, lush gardens, and palm trees make this town idyllic, but it is a gilded cage for Number 6.

The art Director, Jack Shampan, created the atmospheric Bond-like feel to the mechanical devices and interiors of Number 2s chamber and dome control room. Rover is huge remote control white bouncing balloon which incapacitates in-subordinates and escapes. When it moves through the village, people become motionless; a surreal sight.

“The Prisoner” is experimental in theme, characters, and setting. Like the work of Lewis Carroll, it combines symbolism, strange characters, and unusual scenarios to weave together a story which represents different things for different people. McGoohan was offered the role of Bond before Roger Moore, but he reclined on the grounds that he wished his character to use his mind instead of a gun (just like Doctor Who). He chose instead to take the spy genre to heretofore unexplored psychological and sociological territory and for that we are forever grateful.

“The Prisoner” presented us with an absurdist existence in a mysterious village. The villagers are absurdist in their dress, anti-individual stance, and blind devotion to an invisible authority. Number Six is a stranger in a strange place, but in a deeper philosophical sense. The show played with bizarre camera angles and unusual visuals to convey such effects as disorientation, psychedelic drugs, confusion, and dream-states. The main character is novel to television: a militant non-conformist who openly questions societal rules and refuses to “fit in.
The time has come to stand up as individuals against social injustices. The 99% movement, Occupy Wall St, and global protests embody the spirit of McGoohans legacy, which is both profound and timely. Doctor Who, Number 6, V (V for Vendetta) and now we proclaim that you can't kill an idea.

"I am not a number, I am a free man" speech from The Prisoner...Relevant more now than ever!

Wonderful homage to Patrick McGoohan (part 1 of 3)

“Mrs. Peel - We’re Needed”

“The Avengers” is an outstanding BBC spy-fi (spy fiction with elements of science fiction) adventure series starring Patrick Macnee (1922 – present) as the impeccably stylish secret agent John Steed, and Dame Diana Rigg (1938 – present) as the fearless and independent-minded Emma Peel. The show ran from 1961 – 1969 and was filmed in black and white until 1967, when colour was introduced to marvelous effect. Rigg played Peel from 1965 – 1968, after Honor Blackman, who played Catherine Gale, left the show.

Peel is the epitome of femininity; intelligent, elegant, and beautiful, all while fighting off enemy spies so she can complete a friendly game of chess with Steed. Her classic Lotus Elan sports car and leather cat suits embody the ideal of an emancipated modern woman.

Steed is the quintessential British upper-class gentleman-spy: he wears a smart suit (designed by Pierre Cardin), carries a concealed sword in his umbrella, and has a custom metal bowler hat (for fighting, of course). Suave, sophisticated, full of gadgets and witty one-liners, Steed is televisions version of James Bond, minus the regular visits to the STD clinic. Steed and Peel never kiss but occasionally flirt. They complement each other perfectly as they fight international espionage plots and still have time left over to pop open a vintage bottle of champagne at the end of each episode.

The playful Mod clothing and extraordinary set design establish the unique visual character of the series. Framed photographs of eyes on walls, round-shaped brightly coloured furniture, and big-buttoned A-line jackets blend with walking bass lines and beatnik drums to create a collage of the swinging 60s. Peels dynamic and bold-coloured Mod garb was designed by Alun Hughes.

The titles of the episodes are as whimsical as the show, spoofing titles of films and television shows. For example: “The Girl from AUNTIE” spoofs of spy-fi show, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “Mission Highly Improbable” lampoons secret agent show “Mission Impossible,” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station” parody’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” 1966 film comedy with Buster Keaton in his last film appearance).

“The Joker” (season 5 episode 15, 1967)

In which Steed trumps an ace –

And Emma plays a lone card

Pendergast, a criminal whom Peel had sent to jail, has devised a scheme to lure her to an isolated mansion in the countryside. She arrives at the Victorian-Gothic style manor expecting to spend the weekend playing bridge, but instead finds Ola, a menacing young woman who tells her that the host has been delayed and will arrive later. The mansion is reminiscent of those found in Hammer horror films (a la Vincent Price) with its wood paneling, antique furniture, and candelabras. The eight-foot tall playing cards throughout the dinning room and one as a revolving door on top of the staircase break the horror film spell and become absurdist. After Ola leaves to “care for a sick friend,” Peel can tell she isn’t alone in the house when the card door keeps revolving.

Far be it for Peel to be intimidated. A stranger appears at the door asking to use the phone instead he takes his knife out and asks, “How would you like me to tuck you in (to bed)?” She twists his arm and says, “How would you like me to break your arm?” as she kicks him out the door.

The attention to detail in the application of colour in this episode is dazzling. Peels Chinese red silk pajamas make her shoulder-length auburn hair radiate. The tablecloth and the wall paper in the dinning room are the same shade of red as hearts on the cards and the roses Pentergast leaves around the house for Peel to find. Ola wears a sweater which is the identical blue to that of the candles and the clothing on the cards.

The gramophone record which Pentergast plays repeatedly in order to taunt Peel is a German song called, “Mein Liebling, Mein Rose.” The producers could have gone through the trouble to find someone who could sing it with proper German grammar and without the fake accent. The correct title should have been, “Mein Liebing, Meine Rose.” There were a few parts in the song which had flawed grammar.

“The Avengers” has classic wit and charisma which makes it addictive. The chemistry between Steed and Peel clicks perfectly. Peel pioneered the role of strong female characters. In the mid-sixties, it was unprecedented to have a woman who could fight (and win) her own battles. Female roles were weak and mousy; they often were victims who would get kidnapped by just grabbing their wrists and walking away. We didn’t get another tough and robust female role like that until 1977 with Princess Leia from “Star Wars.” After Leia, it took at least another decade for resilient females to become visible. The proliferation of these women, such as Trinity from “The Matrix” (1999), can be traced back to the immaculate Emma Peel.

The Absurdist World of Ernie Kovacs

What Emerges from Three Peas in a Pod

These are three influential shows from the sixties, each different, yet similar. Their similarity lies in what they utilized and contributed to the future of film and television.

“The Avengers” gives us Emma Peel, who rebels against the accepted norm of female behaviour. She thinks for herself and does for herself; she is her own person. The Art Direction is one-of-a-kind: vibrantly coloured sets, absurd props with absurd plots (like Peel being tied to the mini railroad track as the train approaches) seem cartoon-like (in a good way)..

The shows use of lighting, camera effects and odd props generates a feeling that this can’t be real. Is it all a dream?

STRANGE INTERLUDE: My Dream, Time-Travel inspired band, "Hypnagogic Telegram" is going VIRAL on Youtube. Timelord Rock. Trock. I play a timeghost (zeitgeist) that inhabits the wardrobe closet in the TARDIS. I come out in costumes from various eras to dance & sing. If Doctor Who would have a band, it might sound like this.
<---- View YOUTUBE VIDEO here.

Check out my Time Travel, Dream, surreal artwork, performance art, costuming & photography on the other blog pages!

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