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Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

After several years of production, design and location shooting, Walt Disney released his first Hollywood produced live-action motion picture in 1954. If the advertising was to be believed, it was in fact the mightiest motion picture of them all. Considering that the film was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, this is a credible claim. 

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, starring James Mason as Nemo and Kirk Douglas as Ned Land alongside Peter Lorre as Conseil and Paul Lukas as Prof. Arronax, is perhaps the single most important modern film in the genre of Scientific Romance. 20,000 Leagues came to the silver screen in a post-Hiroshima, pre-Sputnik era when Atomic Age Science Fiction was the darling of young and old imaginations alike (not to mention drive-in theatre patrons). Between voyaging to forbidden planets and fighting off prehistoric monsters, filmmakers turned their attention back to the Scientific Romances of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. The first of these was George Pal's War of the Worlds, which updated Wells' tale by placing it squarely in the modern day.

Following Treasure Island and a series of three Mediaeval historical dramas shot in England with money tied up during the Second World War, Disney sought another live-action project for production in his studios in Burbank. In doing so, he revived his childhood love for Jules Verne. His concerns, in making the film, were very much the stuff of adulthood, however.


Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Walt Disney and the Gay Nineties

In a 1997 exhibition of the same name, scholar Karal Ann Marling aptly described Walt Disney's theme park ventures as "The Architecture of Reassurance." Through gingerbread houses, Western stockades, futuristic rocketships, and fairy tale villages, visitors to the newly christened Disneyland in the Fifties and Sixties could find nostalgia, comfort, and hope for the future through the uncertainties of America's changing culture and global position in the post-war milieu. Complimenting Walt Disney's Disneyland, the theme park, was Walt Disney's Disneyland the television series. Each week, Walt's comforting public persona would introduce updates on the theme park, behind-the-scenes programs for newly arriving films, and reruns of past cinematic successes, each themed to a different section of the park, be it Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland, or Tomorrowland. When first unveiled to the world, "Disneyland" was not merely a theme park or a TV show or motion pictures, but a state of mind. The gateway to this mentality was Main Street U.S.A. and the reassuring myth of the Gay Nineties.



Saturday, 12 November 2016

BBC's The Secret Agent

Produced by the BBC and making its home video debut in North America on Acorn TV, The Secret Agent is a three-episode adaptation of Joseph Conrad's tale about The Great Game and its human cost. Toby Jones (Captain America's Armin Zola) stars as Anton Verloc, the owner of a pornography shoppe in London's Soho who moonlights as an anarchist agitator who moonlights as a Russian spy. His chief, the Russian ambassador (David Dawson) is tired of paying their hapless agent for inaction. The international anarcho-communist movement is threatening the stability of governments across Europe, and thus the ambassador wishes to provoke Scotland Yard into bringing its full weight against England's would-be revolutionaries. Verloc is assigned to frame his anarchist cell with a heinous crime: the bombing of the Greenwich Observatory.



What follows is a descent into an utterly bleak moral landscape of madness and ideology manipulated by damnable political forces. The anarcho-communists are a futile lot of bickering "old men" who talk of revolution while wasting their lives on petty seductions. Only one offers any help to Verloc, known only as "The Professor" (Ian Hart), a nihilistic maniac frustrated with the cell's unwillingness to actually get its hands dirty. The cell is under the watch of Chief Inspector Heat (Stephen Grahame), who has nothing but disdain for their foolish hobby... Until he discovers that The Professor's wired up overcoat has turned him into a walking bomb. That is his first clue that there is more going on than impotent political bloviating.

Essential to Verloc's plot is his brother-in-law Stevie (Charlie Hamblett). Believing Verloc to be a decent and simple man, Winnie (Vicky McClure) married him for security rather than love. The security he provided allowed her, her mother, and her brother to get away from the abusive hand of her father. This was especially important for Stevie, who suffers from a developmental disability. The cowardly Verloc, who cannot bear to commit an actual act of terrorism, sees in Stevie an easy dupe to commit the terrible act. Yet the plan goes awry, and the lives of everyone spiral downwards to the abyss.


Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Charles Golightly and his Steam Rocket

Man in Space, the classic 1954 episode of the Walt Disney's Disneyland television series that helped launch the American space program, begins with a brief history of rocket science that veers from Newtonian physics and Chinese fireworks to the various silly and ill-conceived adventures of the Victorian Era to the successes of the German V-2 program. Nestled into it is a mention of "Charles Golightly," a British inventor who took out a patent on steam-powered rockets in 1841.


But who was Charles Golightly? Did he exist? And did he ever build his rocket?