Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Big War Movie Themes - 4) Battle of Britain (1969)

Theme tune: Battle of Britain Theme by Ron Goodwin a wonderful soaring number (as you'd expect) however the scoring of the film was not without controversy.

Year: 1969

Director: Guy Hamilton

Length: 2h13m

Format: DVD bought off eBay for £1.71 without a case

Synopsis: Well it's the Battle of Britain isn't it.  So basically plucky Brits (erm with the help of Australian, West Indian, Belgium, Canadian, Czech, French, Irish, New Zealand, Rhodesian, Polish, South African, US and other commonwealth pilots, amongst others.  To be fair the film makes a big point of listing all the non-Brit pilots at the end of the film, which is a poignant moment) take on the Germans and (SPOILER ALERT) just about manage to cling on, thus avoiding the invasion of the British mainland in 1940  The film focusses on the people but also gives very strong cameos to the equipment (Hurricanes, Spitfires and radar).

For more go here

Historical Accuracy: Well as far as the accuracy of the planes, dogfights etc not bad at all, as you'd expect.  Much effort was made to locate period compatible fighters and bombers and the aerial photography is simply stunning.  The city bombing sequences are less realistic, but presumably a lot more difficult in 1969.  Notable accuracies are the French speaking French and the long waits, with mounting tension, between sorties.  The film used a mixture of real pilots, established and up and coming actors (witness a very young Ian McShane who still manages to look older than anyone else) which seems to work pretty well if it's a little wooden at time.  The panic of trying to get planes airborne as bombs are literally falling in the background is palpable and done well.  They didn't flinch from showing the dead and the effect of this on others either.

The treatment of women is mixed.  They are shown doing incredibly important jobs, but somehow also managed to throw in a few cliches and a scene of Susannah York in her stockings.

Is it a good film?: Flippin' heck it certainly is.  The flying scenes get a bit repetitive after a while to the modern eye, but that was the nature of it and can't really be criticised.   The aerial photography combined with the mundanity of ground life and the permanent scarring of those that managed to survive being shot or bombed gives it a good balance.  Perhaps compared with the modern benchmark of Saving Private Ryan et al, we are spared the very worst of what war is like, but nonetheless I think they did an amazing job at the time.  Okay it's also a propaganda piece, but considering that the Vietnam war was in full flight at the time it doesn't shy away from the war is hell theme.  The final flight of the "few" to stirring music is the complete antithesis of the music over black screen of Lawrence of Arabia, but it sends shivers down the spine nonetheless.  Of all the films I've watched in this series so far, this is the one that I would happily put on again now.

Overall: 8/10

Up next: THE LONGEST DAY (1962)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Big War Movie Themes - 3) The Guns Of Navarone (1961)

Theme tune: The Guns Of Navarone by Dimitri Tiomkin. Also features a number of traditional Greek tunes arranged my Tiomkin.

Year: 1961

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Length: 2h30m

Format: DVD bought off eBay for £2.20

Synopsis: In order to allow the evacuation of 2000 allied troops a mis-matched group of commandos (played by Gregory Peck, Anthonys Quinn & Quayle and David Niven amongst others) are sent to destroy a pair of German super guns on a (fictional) Greek Island.  It's based on the book of the same name by Alistair MacLean (1957).

For more go here

Historical Accuracy: Well it's a fictional story, so in a way this is not that important. However, since it's set in the 2nd World War some degree of accuracy is required.  Although they get most of the weapons right (a relief for me) they had a complete fail with the tanks and trucks (one of which is clearly marked "Dodge").  Also, a modern film would consult real soldiers for key scenes and there's none of that going on here, with artillery and tanks simply lined up along the coast at one point supposed waiting for an invasion.  Completely unforgivable, for me, is the scene when a soldier is using a metal detector to look for explosives, swinging it over metal rails without a beep!

Anthony Quinn pops up again playing another swarthy foreigner, although I note this film preceded Lawrence so perhaps this is what got him that role.  Actually it's interesting watching the films in this order that certain actors pop up more than once (Alec Guinness in Kwai and Lawrence, Anthonys Quinn & Quayle (playing another english officer, so again perhaps it swung him a role in Lawrence) in Lawrence and Navarone).  The languages spoken are all authentic though, with no subtitles, which works well for me. - 6/10

Is it a good film?: It's a pretty good watch, but it perhaps lacks the true "epic blockbuster" feel of Kwai or Lawrence.  It feels more like a solid 60s adventure picture, but perhaps that's fine.  It starts with quite a jarring sequence of real newsreel footage and a voiceover, which is very much not something you'd see in a true classic.  Some say it's the best of the Alistair MacLean adaptions, but I'll reserve judgement until I've watched Where Eagles Dare again.

The action sequences are key to this kind of film and they are a mixed bag.  The scenes in the boat are pretty good (and interestingly played out with just sound FX - no music, which is something modern films could learn from), but the final battle scenes are a bit TV movie compared with the current hyper-realism.  They just about get away with it, and for the 60s it was probably state-of-the-art.  Nice to see the women in the film portrayed in fighting roles and also being more flawed than is usually allowed.

PS The Extras on the DVD made for interesting watching, partly as it made it clear the actors chose the director, not other way around, and also for the way the whole island of Crete turned out to watch the filming.

Overall: 6/10

Up next: BATTLE OF BRITAIN (1969)

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

The Very Best Of The Light Programme

The Albion Radiophonic Corporation is, reasonably, proud to present the Best of The Light Programme 1898. When we say "Best of" we mean "most tolerated" and by "most tolerated" we mean "received the least complaints".   If you've not listened yet to any episodes of the ARC Light Programme then this is a great place to start, or at the very least it's "a" place to start.  You could, naturally enough, start with the first episode and work your way up, but hey, we're not ones for expecting anyone to act in a conventional way.  Heaven forbid.

Now this particular compilation from the first season contains a letter from Mrs. Twomble, folk songs collated by Dame Dilemna-Spaniels, Lady Boudicca & Lord Hercules of Cheam doing something or other and Mayor Flange of Treacle Dripping.  Quite how we managed to attract such and eclectic bunch of contributors is anyone's guess. 

All the music has been specially composed by Charlotte Savigar and the New Albion Synthetic Orchestra.  Apparently the style is what one might refer to as "steampunk" whatever that is.

To contact the team who put the show together send a SAE to letters@talesofnewalbion.com

Otherwise click here for The Very Best Of Tales Of New Albion

Big War Movie Themes - 2) Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)

Theme tune: Theme from Lawrence of Arabia by Maurice Jarre (who also wrote the score for Dr. Zhivago) - the soundtrack won an Oscar.  One of the most interesting features of the film is that there are no images over the opening music of both halves of the film, just a black screen for 5 minutes.  This must have been particularly evocative in the movie theatre.

Year: 1962

Director: David Lean

Length: 3h38m

Format: DVD bought off eBay for 99p

Synopsis: An Englishman with vivid blue eyes  (Peter O'Toole) goes out into the desert more or less against his will and ends up leading the Arab revolt against the Turks (and others).

For more go here

Historical Accuracy: It's a bit of a mixed bag, the first half being more accurate, it seems, than the second.  Various scenes and characters have been conflated, and some of it was just made up.  Overall the Arabs don't seem to come out of it too well.  It also gives the impression that TE Lawrence led the Arab Revolt practically singlehanded, but this was not the case.  The overwhelming impression is that the Bedouin tribes made up the bulk of his army, but in fact it was regular soldier.  Again it's about a 5/10.

Is it a good film?: Well yes certainly it is, especially the first half where the desert is the real star (I'd be surprised if it wasn't a big influence on Star Wars) although it must have been hell to film there.  Quite how they got the camels to do all the things they did, is a feat in itself.  Again they shoe-horned in various americans to ensure it got good coverage in the States, and surely they could have found someone more suitable than Alec Guinness to play Prince Faisal?  Despite all the noted actors, it's actually Omar Sharif who steals pretty much every scene, and as an Egyptian is the most authentic character of the lot.  The only women in the film are dead ones.  It definitely loses it's way in the second half (there is a proper interval, thank goodness) with some bizarre homoerotic / messianic type scenes when Lawrence is captured by the Turks.  It's not a very strong ending to an epic film in my opinion.

Overall: 6.5/10

Up next: THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961)

Friday, March 29, 2019

Tales Of New Albion - 2nd Edition

Many moons ago I woke up with a fully formed Steampunk story in my head.  It seemed a good idea to write it down and after my good friend Ben Henderson booked me to read it out at one of his Convivial events I did so.  Well one thing led to another and before I knew it I'd finished a collection of 10 Steampunk short stories and published my first book on Amazon.  This featured artwork by Frog Morris which was splendid, but in other ways it wasn't quite right.  For a start there were no page numbers, no index and no foreword.  Also, there was more than the odd typo that really needed correcting.  Well due to another of my Tales Of New Albion side-projects I re-read all 10 stories for my podcast, which helped me correct most of the problems.  I also was greatly assisted by John "Jags" Smith who also read through the entire manuscript and added comments.

So the stories were there now, but I still wanted more.  I got Frog to tweak his artwork and create a new chapter divider.  I also got the aforementioned Ben Henderson to submit a brand spanking new foreword.  I even managed to figure out how to create page numbers!

And so the 2nd Edition of Tales Of New Albion came into being and you can be a proud owner at any point.  Just follow this link and order your copy now.

Or see you at the Red Cape Publishing Book Fayre (8th June - Brighton Unitarian Church) where you can inspect the product closely and get your copy signed.  Oh and did I mention there is an album of original music by Charlotte Savigar also available?  Well it is.


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Big War Movie Themes - 1) The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)

Theme tune: Colonel Bogey (K.J. Alford) and the River Kwai March (Arnold) - the former was a marching tune known to soldiers in WWII.  It is particularly haunting when first heard as the POWs march proudly into the Japanese camp.

Year: 1957

Director: David Lean

Length: 2h35m

Format: DVD bought off eBay for £1

Synopsis: A group of WWII prisoners of war are forced to built a railway bridge over the River Kwai by the Japanese.  The Colonel in charge of the british prisoners (Alec Guiness) stubbornly refuses to allow officers to work alongside the enlisted men when demanded to by Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa).  When the bridge falls behind schedule he takes it on as a matter of pride to build the bridge properly.  In the end a commando raid destroys the bridge and at that point the colonel questions what he's done.

Read more here

Historical Accuracy: Probably about a 5 out of 10, from what I've read about it.  My own personal bugbear was that all the Japanese were armed with allied weapons.  Despite the treatment of the prisoners being very bad, it seems that is was short of what really happened.  One good thing is that the Japanese all speak Japanese and are not subtitled.  In terms of it's representation of WWII I would say that the first third is the best (where the prisoners are at the camp and the battle of wills between the two colonels takes place) and it gets weaker after that.  The weird section where the two colonels leave the bridge without any other soldiers and attempt to prevent the bridge being blown up is odd to say the least, however it does work within the scope of the plot and the two people driven by principle into acts that are not what we would consider to be right. 

The representation of women in the film leaves a lot to be desired, but I think it does come across that they were equally brave and served at great cost to themselves during the war.

Is it a good film?: Yes it is.  It was a very entertaining watch and despite bogging down in the middle third (where a shoehorned american character (William Holden) tries to get out of being part of the commando raid) it rolls along pretty well.  I certainly enjoyed watching it and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good film. 

Overall: 7/10

Up next: LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)


Monday, March 11, 2019

Big War Movie Themes - Geoff Love & his Orchestra

We spent many hours in the car when we were kids and in those days we would listen to music on cassette tape to while away the hours, since there was not much else apart from iSpy books to keep us amused.  In heavy rotation were the entire Sky catalogue and the occasional Christmas present (the embarrassment of listening to Adam and the Ants - S.E.X. - it's on the B-side of Prince Charming -  with my parents both in the car sticks with me).  But one of our favourites, and indeed very popular at the time, was Geoff Love and his Orchestra playing the Big War Movie Themes (1971).  These were all haunting and evocative pieces of classical music and many of them are indelibly written into my memory banks.  Recently I decided that I wanted to hear those specific versions again and bought the album on vinyl (after all, who has a cassette player these days) and sure enough it's still a great listen.

It struck me though, that although I had seen a good number of the films featured, that I hadn't seen them all.  Also, I wondered how well these classic movies stand up when watched with modern eyes some 48 years later.  So I've decided to watch all 12 movies in the order they appear on the album (see the second photograph below) and rate the movie along with it's historical accuracy and depiction of conflict.  With modern offerings like Saving Private Ryan, Letters from Iwo Jima, Band of Brothers and Fury the benchmark for modern war films, it will be very interesting to see how they stand up.

If you want to play along with me then I'll post the next film at the bottom of the review post.  For fun I'll also be noting how much it cost me to get the movie (if I don't have it already) and what medium I watched it on.  I'll be very interested in your own memories and review.



Right - so here we go, first up:

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Tales Of New Albion - Halloween Special


Tales Of New Albion - Halloween Special

I've always been a big admirer of The Simpsons and had been looking for an excuse to shamelessly steal their format for my Podcast.  The opportunity finally came along in August of last year.  I'd been looking for other writers to contribute items such as the "Thought For The Day" section or other parts of the show, and mentioned this to Peter Gardiner - a prolific writer that I'd worked with in the Brighton Theatre of the Air group.  His style is very Black Mirror / Tales of the Unexpected and he likes to dabble in dark sci-fi and off-beat humour - as can be heard in his own series of podcasts - Whisper Through The Static - for 2Bit Productions.  If you would like to hear my voice on his productions then check out Unmoored and Late To The Party - see if you can spot me. 

Anyway, he seemed a perfect fit for a contribution and I was excited to receive a whole story to feature on the show.  Reading through it soon became clear that it fell more towards the Horror genre than my usual adventure Steampunk style, but that got me thinking.  It was time for a The Simpsons style "Halloween Special"!

These shows are amongst my favourites as then tend to be a collection of short sketches where all the usual rules (such as they are) are thrown out the window.  Absolutely anything is possible as long as it has a scary payoff and this let my mind run free and come up with something a little more frightening than usual.

So have a listen and see what you think.  You don't really need to know anything else about the podcast or Tales Of New Albion as this episode is very much a stand alone episode.  However, you might want to listen to the start of the previous few episodes to see what the "Listeners Telephone In" section is usually all about, or not.

Whatever you do, I hope you enjoy Peter's story, which will also feature in one of his podcasts soon.  And don't go having nightmares...


...although you can if want:

Hear the Tales Of New Albion Halloween Special