Thursday, April 26, 2018

Someone's In the Kitchen with Naomi

There were lots of great character moments in last night's new episode of The Expanse, an episode that used a series of good scenes to show overlapping political, personal, and social issues and the unpredictable ways they play off each other.

Spoilers after the screenshot

There were two someones in the kitchen with Naomi (Dominique Tipper) in two separate scenes that contrast with each other in a nice way. Both are scenes where someone tries to make peace with her, one more successfully than the other. First Alex (Cas Anvar) offers her some food, this coming after a scene where he finally hears back from his wife on Mars.

This was a scene that showed why Cas Anvar is one of the standout performers on this show as the rapid sequence of emotions that pass through him after his wife has told him she's left him are completely clear. So his motive for making peace with Naomi is also clear--he's suddenly realised, without Mars and without his wife and kid, his misfit shipmates on the Pinus are the only family he has. I like that he still made it clear that he's still furious about Naomi for giving up the protomolecule, but there's a basic human need that transcends that. It's a very sweet scene.

The episode began with another Martian, Bobbie (Frankie Adams), in a nice, dialogue-free scene that establishes her own feelings. With a relaxed smile she sits down, happy to be in the familiar Martian surroundings, until she sees the defaced Martian flag and she's furious.

Despite her own experiences that have cut her off from Mars, the symbols are too personal for her, and it's especially a cruel shock coming when she was feeling a sense of peace at being some place, somewhat like home.

Feelings of family and loyalty are too deep rooted and complex to be cast aside even for very clear logical reasons. The other person to have a scene with Naomi in the kitchen is Avasarala and it was a pleasure watching Shohreh Aghdashloo and Dominque Tipper doing a scene together. Outside the more restrictive political scenes and voluminous costumes, Aghdashloo seems to be taking the opportunity to give a more physical performance, her poses simultaneously theatrical and reminding me a bit of Marlon Brando.

She gives a very political line to Naomi about how she understands that not all Belters support the actions of the OPA--it's a familiar line one might hear from someone talking to an Irish person about the IRA or a Muslim about ISIS. There's insight in it and maybe a real effort at sympathy but of course it's patronising and Naomi demonstrates why with her angry reaction--she might not agree with OPA all the time but there's a history of personal and philosophical dialogue that Avasarala's political speak is tone deaf to.

The episode also featured some nice moments of nuance with two of its more villainous characters, Mao (Francois Chau) and Errinwright (Shawn Doyle). Even Mao has a moment of conscience after he, like Alex with his shipmates, has a transference of familial connexion, in his case to Prax's daughter. And in his case, he does allow his personal feeling to influence his policy decision.

Errinwright, meanwhile, shows he really is as conflicted as he seemed last season. He's clearly shaken by the over two million people who died because one Martian missile got past Earth's defence systems. Then he does something really petty with that feeling and goes and tells Anna (Elizabeth Mitchell) that it could've been avoided if the president had had firmer resolve--implying that it was she who swayed him. It's unclear if Errinwright's insinuation is right but we see by the look on her face that Anna knows he could be. And Errinwright walks away with a bitter smile at the knowledge that he's spread some of the misery. So he's not a total psychopath--he does feel bad about people dying--but he's too weak not to abuse others for his own pain management. I think he's an asshole, but then, it's hard to imagine what it would be like feeling responsible for two million deaths.

There were also some nice scenes on the UNN flagship. I love those classic space opera corridors. I definitely like the more complex lighting after the endless blue of the Pinus/Rocinante.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Hyde Solution

Is it necessary for our well being to commit rape and murder? The vast majority of us would say no but Henry Jekyll takes it as read in the extraordinary 1980 BBC adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. With a great performance by David Hemmings in the title role and several wonderful supporting performances--including Diana Dors and Clive Swift--this adaptation's perspective on sex and society clearly and cleverly reflects the punk groundswell of its day.

It begins with Jekyll seemingly addressing us directly before we realise he's recording a monograph. He puts forth the familiar theory about human beings being composed of a good and evil duality but then he directly says, "If the twin sides of my nature could be separated then the unjust could go its own way without disgracing its more upright twin." What? So the idea isn't to get rid of evil so much as to make sure he can have his evil cake and eat it too. It brings the concept a little closer to Dorian Gray at heart--goodness is imputed to be an entirely superficial thing even by the most virtuous. So ingrained is the concept of an abstract morality governing all things that characters in this story don't even consider that it could be related to real actions or conditions. Jekyll figures he's going to be under the evil column anyway for the impossible to anticipate shifting goal post of "good" so he may as well see himself as a murderer.

This is the first one I've seen to directly connect this with Protestantism. When Utterson (Ian Bannen) speculates that Henry has some past sin or disgrace haunting him, Lanyon (Clive Swift) dismissively replies, "There speaks the voice of John Calvin."

I'm always happy to see Diana Dors, one of my favourite actresses, and I knew without having to look she'd be playing the brothel madam. We meet her ensconced behind a beautiful elevated desk like a judge. An appropriate impression because this version amusingly portrays Jekyll as a regular visitor already--he pays to have prostitutes beat him. Presumably for Original Naughtiness.

Jekyll and Hyde both talk about how the moral duality also might exist in women and this is reflected in Jekyll's fiancee, Ann Coggeshall (Lisa Harrow), who unlike the ciphers of earlier versions seems like a very good match for Henry. She's shocked by the suggestion of improprieties but also leads the men on one of the sadly enduring displays of Victorian hypocrisy, the slum tour.

This version combines the Suave Hyde with the Wolfman Hyde. Hemmings gets heavily made up as Jekyll so he can look younger and more handsome as Hyde but in the transition sequences, and when things start to go wrong, he gets more hair and weird teeth.

As in the novella, there's absolutely nothing to suggest that there's anything but a cosmetic difference between Jekyll and Hyde, Hyde merely representing Jekyll under the cloak of anonymity and, in this case, with better looks and a charm that comes with self-confidence and ease of manner. So his insistent belief that he has become two separate people seems especially mad, just as unvarnished as Boris Karloff's version in the Abbott and Costello movie but much more disturbing in this context.

This is a Hyde who preys on children, too, in ways much worse than trampling them. He takes one twelve or thirteen year old girl back to her hovel where she regularly sells her body, talks to her in a broad, amiable manner like a TV presenter before cheerfully telling her to undress. I had to wonder, were the makers of this film trying to say something about Jimmy Savile? In any case, they manage to say something much bigger about society with the casual revelation that Hyde is far from the first to abuse her in this way.

Another of Hyde's victims is Jekyll's housemaid played by Toyah Willcox with a nice, understated simmer. She can't read and Hyde tricks her into taking mescal--which is also a component of his potion in this film. Someone who commented on one of my earlier reviews, Evan S Ent, told me that the formula for mescaline is written on Jekyll's chalkboard in this version, which would explain why the first transformation sequence has the inverted colours and other camera effects associated with drug trips in other films. I suppose it's possible the whole film after that first dose is one long hallucination. I'd hope so, for a lot of people's sakes.

Twitter Sonnet #1107

A silver shadow traced a fabric bird.
A stencilled night behind the curtain sleeps.
The paint not dry the morning reads the word.
A nodding bowler boards the train it keeps.
The early metal pings for walking phones.
Across a marble street the blind've blinked.
Betimes the shuffling egg could make the bones.
Preserve a brain of grapes beneath the rink.
The ancient face remakes the new to back.
A timely flame appeared a cent'ry gone.
As punching cards dissolve to painted wrack.
A pigment gave a sun to canvas dawn.
A shiny mustard bullion fills the hold.
The endless columns do resemble gold.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

It's a Strange World, Jekyll

Decades before she starred on Showtime's revival of Twin Peaks, Laura Dern appeared in another Showtime series, desperately trying to catch the eye of Henry Jekyll on Shelley Duvall's short lived anthology series, Nightmare Classics. With a teleplay by J. Michael Straczynski, this version of Jekyll and Hyde, like the Jack Palance version, takes a cue from The Nutty Professor but even more obviously. With an ending that's a bit too abrupt and a misguided conception of Hyde, the episode does have some nice performances from Dern and Anthony Andrews as well as some disappointing supporting performances. In comparison to other examples of the "shy Jekyll" and "suave Hyde" type, this one functions mainly in agreement with the original argument of the novella.

Andrews plays a shy and awkward Dr. Jekyll. Unable to muster the courage to return the earnest and obvious affections of Rebecca Laymon (Dern) he throws himself into his research. This neatly ties in with his repression leading to the creation of the psychopathic Hyde.

Makeup is minimal in this one but Andrews does a good job with his performance making Jekyll and Hyde seem like different people. Unfortunately, his decision to play Hyde as exceedingly stiff and aloof doesn't really make sense for a persona that's supposed to be without any restraint or inhibitions. He kind of comes off as a cross between Jeremy Irons and Klaus Nomi.

Rue McClanahan appears as the brothel owner with a broad French accent, her performance more suited for oversized comedy; she's a bit out of place here. Laura Dern has the seemingly effortless natural charm she's known for though it's a bit of a mystery why she's so attracted to Jekyll. She mentions admiring his work--it could've been an intriguing bit of irony if she loved him for the very work that's tied into his destructive repression. In this version, Jekyll speaks quite plainly of good and evil, something that causes a character to remark he seems more like a priest than a doctor. In this Straczynski might have been attempting to neatly wed the Nutty Professor premise with the novella's original idea of the destructive nature of artificial, imposed codes of moral conduct.

But after a climax that features an abrupt confrontation with quite of issues unresolved, nothing feels adequately fleshed out. The impression is of a two hour script with roughly half of it removed. But there are some nice elements in what there is.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Prison of Hyde

I hardly expected the cruellest adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde I've seen thus far to be a 1990 TV movie starring Michael Caine. But it is, simply by going with the premise that Jekyll really is a decent fellow whose life is being ruined by his experiment gone wrong. This is another Jekyll who sees morality as unscientific but unlike the Jekylls in Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll or the 2003 adaptation, the character isn't given this belief so the movie can make a counterargument. Instead, he finds he was right all along but there's no pleasure in being right as the consequences are horrific and sad.

This is underlined by one of the most nightmarish Hydes I've seen. I think Michael Caine is a good actor but not one with a lot of range. Fortunately the makeup here more than makes up for it, his Hyde being this strange trollish creature with an oversized bald head who can barely talk. I really like the transformation sequences, too, where the man's flesh seems to boil from a great internal heat.

We find this Jekyll a widower, his late wife the daughter of his professional rival, Dr. Lanyon (Joss Ackland). Now Lanyon's other daughter, Sarah (Cheryl Ladd), has her heart set on Jekyll, a fact complicated by the fact that she's already married.

She sure doesn't look period accurate, does she? This is the first shot of her--I couldn't restrain a "Wow." The hair immediately launches a powerful salvo of anachronism. I love how every generation seems to have a completely different idea of what's fair to put into the Victorian aesthetic.

It's Dr. Lanyon in this one who's obsessed with appearances and reputation, an aspect of the plot fleshed out with several supporting society characters giving the story something like the feel of an Oscar Wilde play. There's also a substantial amount of time spent with a tabloid reporter, desperate to catch every hint of sexual scandal so he can blow it up in his paper. In contrast, Jekyll and Sarah embarking on an affair seems a great breath of fresh air. It's more remarkable because it happens after Hyde brutally rapes Sarah and Jekyll confesses to her his secret.

Some more time could have been spent conveying her trauma from the incident--though Ladd's performance can also be interpreted as admirable fortitude--but it is clear that this is a Jekyll with no similarity to Hyde. So her willingness to become his partner as he tries to cure himself of Hyde makes sense.

His initial goals are a little more vague than usual--something about curing madness. When he starts to gain some insight into a possible future in genetic manipulation he becomes disgusted with his own work.

He also has a room at a brothel for Hyde, who, incredibly enough, seems to have behaved himself well enough until a prostitute named Lucy (Kim Thomson) gets the scratches on her back that Miriam Hopkins and Ingrid Bergman got before her in the same role.

The colour scheme for prostitutes in this film is a bold red and white. I love the bug eyed madam played by Miriam Karlin.

She seems to be the prototype for the character played by Glenn Close in Mary Reilly and there's another similar madam in the 2003 movie.

When Lanyon finds out what his daughter is doing with Jekyll he throws her out in the rain, a fact gleefully reported in the papers, his effort to preserve his reputation earning him no sympathy. But, as in the novella, when Hyde goes to Lanyon and transforms in front of him, it seems to inflict a terrible psychological blow to the older man. In this case, it seems to come from the revelation that the cruelty of his own actions, in the interest of preserving social morality, is useless and pales in comparison to a far crueller reality. When Lanyon tells Jekyll only God can help him now, he can only weep when Jekyll replies, "Then why doesn't He?"

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Jekyll for God

Even by Victorian standards, the 2003 television adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is very conservative. Like The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, this version deliberately reframes the story to make a philosophical statement opposite to Robert Louis Stevenson's and it also takes a cue from Mary Reilly in its focus on the servant class. In this case, it does so to argue that some people are meant to be servants and others are meant to be aristocrats, that it's something possibly determined by inherited genetic traits. Other than the levels of violence portrayed, at the heart of this story is a perspective that might have been applauded by an ardent Victorian Royalist. It has lousy dialogue and a mediocrity in composition, editing, and music typically associated with TV movies but it also has some decent performances and some really pretty sets.

Early in the movie we get what seems like some really clumsily expository dialogue--Dr. Jekyll explaining how society celebrates carefully composed surface over the reality of human nature, which is partly the point of the novella. But this adaptation introduces the idea to make a point that this superficiality is really one of the best achievements of the human race and is fully necessary for a properly functioning society. I don't agree but I'll admit the movie makes some good points.

I knew David Warner would turn up in one of these eventually. He plays Sir Danvers here in an expanded role--in the novella he's just the MP whom Hyde randomly murders in the street. In many film versions, he becomes the father of Jekyll's fiancee--here he's the father of Sarah (Elodie Kendall) who would very much like to be Jekyll's fiancee but for unexplained reasons he always declines her attentions. This is also the first adaptation I've seen that actually focuses on Sir Danvers' career as a politician.

Warner plays the role as halfway to villainous. We're meant to recoil at the obvious hypocrisy of this guy who uses the poor as a publicity opportunity and he has a lot of dialogue about the importance of maintaining his reputation and avoiding scandal in order to keep his career. By the end of the movie, though, we're clearly meant to sympathise with him as we see that, yes, he's had an illegitimate child but he really has tried to help her and her mother. Obviously he couldn't help them if he didn't have his position and he couldn't have his position if it weren't for his reputation. But the movie's not as convincing when Danvers deliberately overlooks a rape in order to preserve his status--does letting the rapist continue, unfettered and unrepentant, really serve the greater good?

The rapist is Hyde, of course. John Hannah plays both Jekyll and Hyde, playing Jekyll a little more convincingly. Like the Jekyll in The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, he doesn't believe in the "good and evil" moral dichotomy which the novella Jekyll subscribes to. Hannah's Jekyll believes in coexisting "high" and "base" personalities and directly rejects not only the idea of good and evil but of the existence of God. The movie could hardly more clearly set up its position as anti-Nietzschean/Byronic. He goes further by arguing that all people are biologically part of the same species, something Sir Danvers' wife (Mel Martin) scoffs at, pointing out there's a world of difference between her daughter, Sarah, and the girl serving peas at that moment, Mabel (Kellie Shirley).

Mabel is Jekyll's servant and essentially occupies the Mary Reilly role as she takes on more and more heroic qualities in the story and as an influence in Jekyll's life. She tells him about the grace of God and patiently indoctrinates him on the idea of good and evil. And just in case you think this is the movie refuting the idea that roles are biologically determined part of the movie's climax is a revelation that Mabel has at least one very distinguished parent. Mabel is definitely no Rey.

Meanwhile, another of Jekyll's servants, a boy named Ned (Jack Blumenau), gets wind of Jekyll's opinions on human equality and it inspires him to blackmail Jekyll when he learns he and Hyde are one and the same. This is what happens when people get ideas above their station!

Integral to the movie's unselfconsciously misanthropic idea is that liberated people naturally want to hurt people for no reason. Part of the point of the novella is that repression by a superficial morality inspires a contrary impulse to transgress. The point of this TV movie is that this superficial morality is all that stops us from killing and raping one another.

There's no change in appearance between Jekyll and Hyde in this version but in this case people actually do recognise Hyde as Jekyll. Which removes the idea of Jekyll glorying in the license of anonymity. He basically takes a potion that makes him into an asshole. Like the Abbott and Costello version, this is a Jekyll who takes the drug seemingly with the idea, he won't quite admit to himself, that Hyde will dispose of his enemies. Despite a lot of scenes where Jekyll hallucinates actually having dialogue with Hyde--Hyde screams in pain at the mention of God at one point--the main difference between the two seems to be levels of cowardice. Yet we're supposed to take it as a good thing Sir Danvers wanted Jekyll to marry his daughter? Incredibly enough, I think that was the idea.

Twitter Sonnet #1106

Discarded warnings make a good return.
Imploring eyes belong to lily pads.
For sev'ral hundred years we must relearn.
The spirit's purse concedes so much for fads.
In veins of quartz a string of words descends.
The watchful rock replaced the plaster wall.
In dragon woods a lantern late ascends.
A living house contains a changing hall.
A temple sunk between tomato hills.
The sails are slack, siesta turns around.
For burning tracks and time and turning mills.
The pond conducts its power over ground.
A weathered boot conducts itself away.
There's breakfast served throughout the night and day.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Paper Doctor Who

This week I finally got around to watching the 2016 animated version of 1966's Power of the Daleks, the first serial of the Second Doctor's tenure on Doctor Who. The original live action episodes from the serial, with the exception of a few clips and stills, are lost due to the BBC's ill-advised junking policy. Audio of all six episodes survived, though, so this was used to create an animated version. I found the result a mixed bag, mostly I prefer the old releases consisting of stills, clips, and title cards combined with the surviving audio of lost episodes. Your mileage may vary, depending on how comfortable you are with this particular form of animation, but I found the combination had a persistently distracting disharmony.

Mind you, I realise this was probably the best that could be afforded. Traditional hand drawn animation or fully 3d computer animation might have been better but even then I don't think it would have quite added up properly. So much of Patrick Troughton's performance is in his face and body, any animated version will inevitably be the work of other creative impulses and limitations. The old Star Trek animated series from the 70s wasn't quite as jarring, partly because the actors were recording specifically for animation, but animated Kirk and Spock were always of a different species than their live action counterparts. The 2D computer animation for Power of the Daleks also might suffer from my familiarity with its association with parody.

Maybe it's just me, but on shows like Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Sealab 2021, and Harvey Birdman, it seemed like part of the joke. It created a sense of deliberate unreality, post-modern and a bit punk, reliant on the consistent impression that these images are being pushed outside their originally intended parameters. Space Ghost bantering nonsense with Zorak, the petty insecurities that come through in their dialogue and delivery undermining the simplistic hero and villain figures paralleled by computers stretching the drawings past their intended range. It was ridiculous, oddly imposing the external reality on the animation, and therefore funny.

So it feels out of step with the experience we're supposed to be having with Power of the Daleks. I love the idea that the Second Doctor's first moments are both frightening and funny, and Troughton is a big part of that in the surviving clips. The animation sanitises it, removes the sense of anxiety at the strange and uncomfortable.

Sometimes the animation carries its own sense of eeriness, typically divorced from any eeriness intended in the story. I felt sometimes like I was watching demon puppets who'd become trapped in a recording, especially in long pauses where they stand there blinking, shifting their eyes around, as though slightly panicked they're temporarily unconstrained by any dialogue from the audio, frightened by the sudden imposition of freedom.

The Daleks come off a little better, being fully 3D animation. Their familiar peevish monotone dialogue fits well with the animation and the sequence where a horde of new Dalek shells are manufactured is the most effective part of the animated serial. All in all, though, I prefer the audio accompanied by stills and clips.

Friday, April 20, 2018

That Rascal Hyde!

Why would I watch the 1986 animated TV movie version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? I don't plan on watching every adaptation. Though I might end up doing that. But I guess I was in the mood for cheesy 80s animation and that's just what I got. From Australia's Burbank Films, a studio that has produced cheap animated adaptations of literary classics since the early 80s, it's not as bad as you might expect. The style looks like Hanna-Barbera but it's better animated, still a cut well below what was out of Japan at the time, though. In terms of story, I think it's instructive if you want an idea of the haziest conception of Jekyll and Hyde in the popular imagination.

There's no playing around with how much Jekyll (Max Meldrum) is in Hyde (David Nettheim) or how much Hyde is in Jekyll, or how much the events of the story support or contradict Jekyll's idea of each person containing a good and evil side. Jekyll does talk about this and his colleagues do scoff at him as usual but Hyde is portrayed as essentially a lucky thug who's taken up residence in Jekyll's home. Expect that they occupy the same body, he's basically exactly what Utterson assumes he is in the book--a bad fellow who forces Jekyll to put him his will. The film isn't very clear on the subject but it seems, after the first time Jekyll takes the potion, Hyde just manifests on his own and switches back by drinking the potion in order to hide from authorities.

He seems basically modelled on Peg Leg Pete and his first transformation is accompanied by synthesised bass guitar with a rock beat. I had to grin, after all the other adaptations I've watched lately, to see Hyde as a run of the mill 80s cartoon villain.

Obviously it's meant for children who probably wouldn't appreciate the subtleties of conversations about duty and the liberation of amorality. Oddly, this simple version of the story got me thinking about what a basically frightening idea it is, losing control of one's own life so completely. This in spite of a pretty garish colour palette.