Saturday, 30 August 2014

Mid-life crisis… Logan's Run (1976)

This is one of those films that my generation remembers very fondly from teenage viewing… solid sci-fi scenario, dystopian glamour, futuristic gadgetry, a space-age city and Jenny Agutter wild-swimming yet again. It’s part of the same strain of edgy speculative fiction as Planet of the Apes with traces of the more optimistic Star Trek and Space 1999. The future’s not what it used to be and does this film survive the tests of time as well as, say 2001 or Solaris (the first one)?

In the City
The story was based on the novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson (who also wrote for Star Trek…) and it’s interesting to compare with how well the contemporaneous tales of Philip K Dick have endured as sources for modern films from Blade Runner onwards – the ideas don’t date but visual interpretations inevitably do. Nolan and Johnson’s contention was that the Earth would over-populate and run out of resources and in Logan’s world, the governing computer intelligence ensures that human life must be extinguished at 30 in order for the species to continue based on available resources. Birth and death are strictly controlled with humanity little more than deluded and over-indulged prisoners…. Plus ca change eh?

Richard Jordan and Michael York
Life crystals implanted on citizens’ hands from birth, indicate the proximity to the cut-off point at which everyone has to submit to the process of “Carrousel” a mass spectacle in which everyone has the chance to be “renewed” and to start life afresh… or do they (there has to be a dark secret… there’s always a dark secret…)?

Michael York plays Logan 5 who is a sandman, one of the policemen who help regulate life in the city. His job is to prevent “runners” escaping their death-date and it’s a role he relishes; toying with the desperate escapees along with his best mate Francis 7 (a high-intensity Richard Jordan). Their unquestioning slaughter reflects a society divorced from moral free will – everything is accepted and whilst no one grows old they seem to be stuck in childhood.

I have what he's having etc...
But, not everyone…  Logan finds an Ankh on the body of one runner and is finds another being worn by one Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter) who gets teleported into his room as part of some kind of dial-a-date home shopping service with a difference… Before he can get to unwrap his present she has second thoughts – is it because he’s a sandman and is far too curious about the symbol?

He seeks answers from the central computer which identifies the symbol and its connection to an underground movement attempting to help 30-somethings escape the city to a place called Sanctuary. As Logan sits wide-eyed the system tells him he must find Sanctuary and pretend to be a runner. .. he has no choice especially once his life crystal is run down moving him from 26 to 30…

He seeks out Jessica and after convincing her that he’s serious about running gets put in touch with the group, who immediately plan to kill him. Escaping beyond the City to – oddly familiar - labyrinthine tunnels (multiple seventies sci-fi escape routes…) they are confronted by a group of feral children… the truth is indeed out there. Logan lets a runner continue her escape to Sanctuary but Francis has followed and kills her…

The kids are not alright
Logan and Jessica return to the city to meet with a plastic surgeon (Michael Anderson Jr.) who is helping runners by changing their faces with his rather dangerous looking automated surgery…  He has a rather striking assistant Holly 13 (Farrah Fawcett) who smiles reassuringly in a way that suggests that, yes, there really is something to worry about… The Doctor gets a message from the underground movement and sets his machine to slice Logan to death but the table – literally – is turned and Logan escapes with Jessica… Francis not far behind.

Farrah Fawcett
Finally convincing Jessica’s friends that he’s the real deal, Logan runs away from the city, Jessica in tow, as the sandmen arrive to slaughter those left behind… the chase for the truth is on.

As the couple run deeper the temperature changes and they arrive sodden after a close encounter with Francis in an icy cave where they meet a strange robot, Box (Roscoe Lee Browne) who seems very eager to help them. Box is a congenial robot but he hides a most disturbing secret as Logan and Jessica discover wandering down a corridor containing the frozen bodies of dozens of runners. Another example of technology gone bad: a zoo-keeping mechanoid who ends up putting his intended customers on ice…

Bad robot
Logan and Jessica destroy Box and escape through the tunnels finally running to a stop high up a cliff-face looking out on the sun-drenched ruins of Earth. Away from artificial light for the first time in their lives they explore this disorganised and threatening new environment.

After a quick dip to show off Jenny’s elegant front crawl (see Walkabout for further evidence…) they set off in search of Sanctuary and find Washington or at least what’s left of it. Like rather less angry versions of Charlton Heston, they finally work out their world through exposure to the remains of our past glory.

Jenny in the water, again
The American capital is in ruins; overgrown and inhabited by hundreds of cats and, startlingly, a single old man (Peter Ustinov). Jessica and Logan have never seen “old age” before and star with bewilderment at this relic as the truth is gradually revealed.

But, there’s not much time to dwell on the wonder of natural existence as wild-eyed Francis finally catches them up and, in the library of the former White House he faces off against Logan for the final time…

York, Agutter and Peter Ustinov
Will Logan prevail and will he be able to drag it back with him to the City to free everyone from the tyranny of computerised control?

Logan 5 Francis 7?
Dusty verdict: Logan’s Run remains an enjoyable watch and has some excellent sequences and a compelling central premise. Some of the parts are less than the sum of the whole with the strange Box episode undermined by unconvincing ice and robots and the Seventies curse of overly colourful future-scapes – we’re not all bright primary flashes but shades of grey… and we don’t all live in Texas shopping malls.

That said, director Michael Anderson moves things along at pace, there’s superb cinematography from Ernest Laszlo and the city models work well.

Michael York provides a grounded Logan upon whose character arc the whole narrative depends and Richard Jordan provides great intensity as well as a counter-balance in character:  he doesn’t move on and can’t adapt to reality.
Soul: Jenny Agutter
Jenny Agutter runs and swims very well and makes the most of the few moments when a genuine human connection is required; she’s under-used in what is essentially a masculine film and a solo battle between Michael York’s Logan and the city computer.  Farrah seems more at home in this world of short skirts and big hair but Jenny gives the film a key part of what soul it possesses.

Ultimately Logan’s Run is comfort viewing that is not quiet as haunting as it could be... submerging its key questions beneath the techno-flash of its visuals, reducing things down to the chase albeit a very entertaining one enlivened by Jerry Goldsmith’s super score.

Logan’s Run is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon and Movie Mail.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Beating boredom in Bristol… Some People (1962)

This is a slightly odd but none-the-less interesting film… there were quite a few generational conflict films around the turn of the sixties but to my knowledge none were filmed in Bristol. I also can’t remember any that were effectively an advert for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, with all proceeds going towards that scheme and the National Playing Fields Association

Preachy? A little but as Kenneth More’s philanthropic mover and shaker says repeatedly, they’re not trying to tell anyone to do anything just offering up and idea that they – the young - can take or leave: a pretty cool philosophy for the bored teenagers in the audience. Anyway, are we all too cynical to even countenance the idea that the DofE is a worthwhile enterprise?

Some People tries to lead by example and is skilfully assembled by director Clive Donner and scriptwriter John Eldridge, whose experience had mostly been in documentaries – his eye for detail keeping things reasonably real throughout. Cinematographer John Wilcox also gets the most out of the locations and film is almost a travelogue for Bristol: from the Clifton Bridge to the Christmas Steps and the covered market it’s all here along with a working dockside. Bristol feels more real than sprawling pre-swinging London and the cast’s efforts at the local sing-song are an entertainment in themselves!

The film starts with a trio of “ton-up boys” looking for something to do there’s deep-thinking Johnnie (Ray Brooks), tightly-wired Bill (David Andrews) and spotty Herbert Bert (David Hemmings, just five years away from being the coolest man on the planet in Blow Up…). They take their bikes out for a tear up and end up almost causing an accident on the bends below Clifton. The Magistrate holds back from throwing the book at them but still disqualifies them from driving for a year…

At a loose end the lads wander the streets looking for something to do: they have so much time and energy to burn. They walk into a local church and Johnnie plays some inappropriately syncopated rock on the organ before being interrupted by the vicar who hands the matter over to the choirmaster a man of clear authority called Mr Smith (Kenneth More, an actor of clear authority…). Mr Smith plays it cool and when the boys explain that they love music but have nowhere to play; he offers them the church hall as a venue.

They return the following evening and set up after the rather impressive choir has finished practice, kicking into to some post-Cliff-pre-Beatles rock that sets the foot tapping of Mr Smith’s daughter Anne (Anneke Wills, later an assistant to both Hartnell and Troughton’s versions of Doctor Who) who is especially impressed with Johnnie.

The band needs percussion and next time up this is provided by a member of the youth club, Harper (Richard Davies) whilst Bill’s girl Terry (Angela Douglas) picks up vocals on her own insistence and she can sing, albeit in the “boyish” manner of Helen Shapiro as the band bashes out the film’s theme tune: 'Some People think that kids today have gone astray… Well they should know cos they were kids once too' (an E.P. of the soundtrack was made available by Valerie Mountain and the Eagles…)

Rock and, some people might say, roll...
But Terry’s got her eye on Johnnie and Bill has his doubts, not just about her, but also Mr Smith’s motives: there has to be a catch. But when confronted, Mr Smith just explains what opportunities are available through the DofE and disarms any objections by telling the boys that they can take it or leave it.

The Flaming Pencil
Smith’s day job is as an engineer testing planes over at Filton by that time home to Bristol Siddeley, maker of high-powered engines. There’s some thrilling footage of the advanced test aircraft the Bristol 188, The Flaming Pencil, as well as a factory packed full of partially-constructed Handley Page Victors awaiting their engine fittings… call me a nerd but these were great planes. This, the film appears to say, is what you can do if you apply yourself.

Spot the unfinished jet planes!
Johnnie and Anne’s relationship grows and Mr Smith arrives home to find his daughter sitting in the bath trying to shrink-fit her new jeans as tightly as possible, he takes it all in his stride, well the shrinking strides anyway.

Anneke Wills suffers for her art
But things begin to unravel as Bill detaches himself from the group in conflicted rebellion, partly to avoid Terry’s rejection but also to avoid what he views as the assimilation of the more academic Johnnie and the eager Bert who annoys him by taking too much pride in canoe making.

Things come to a head when Bill and his biker buddies force a fight at the church hall and leave everything in tatters.

Rumble at the church hall!
Johnnie takes the blame and goes drinking with his father (the excellent Harry H. Corbett) who is desperate to connect with his son even whilst he realises that the same barriers existed with his own father.  We could have done with more of this conversation but I guess that’s the point.

Johnnie knows he must follow his own path and make his own future… and he’s seen enough to know he must look at every opportunity…

Ray Brooks and Harry H Corbett
Dusty verdict: Some People works principally because cast and crew know just where to draw the line. More, who apparently did the film for free as he believed in the D of E programme, anchors everything with a calm honesty and the moral certainty of a man who has succeeded on his own terms. His “reward” was Angela Douglas who he later married… She acts well and amongst her frets and frowns reveals a delicious little crush on Johnnie.

Ray Brooks gives a compelling performance, shrewd and measured in comparison to David Andrews’ Bill, whose energetic cynicism provides him with only fitful direction and strategies. Anneke Wills gives the kind of nuanced performance that would be later overshadowed by screams during her stint with The Doctor and David Hemmings doesn’t just act young he is young!

Young David Hemmings and Angela Douglas
Some People is now available on very cost-effective Network DVD, through Movie Mail or Amazon. It doesn’t set the World on fire but it’s an interesting snapshot of a more earnest society when our industry and ingenuity seemed forever to be carrying us forward.