ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE – ‘I’ll Retire to Bedlam’ (1×04 – Series Retrospective #4)

30 years old in 2020, I’m going to look at David Renwick’s unique British sitcom One Foot in the Grave to celebrate the anniversary of one of the UK’s most innovative comedy series of all time…

We continue by looking at the fourth episode of the first series, I’ll Retire to Bedlam, which first aired on January 25, 1990…

The first season of One Foot in the Grave has been marked, thus far, on particular existential anxieties about British life for the aged and retired, and I’ll Retire to Bedlam continues Victor Meldrew’s slide into reactive frustration.

In another historical allusion to 19th century literature, David Renwick titles this episode after Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and the belief from perhaps the most iconic curmudgeon of them all, Ebernezer Scrooge, that the inmates at St Mary’s of Bethlehem hospital (known colloquially as ‘Bedlam’) were more sane compatriots than everyone else in London merrily celebrating Christmas. It would be easy to liken Victor to a Scrooge figure but it’s inaccurate, aside from their grumpy disposition. Scrooge actively hated the people around him until the ghosts of multiple eras showed him the error of his ways. Victor’s ire is for the continued degradation and decay of society, and that becomes more apparent as Renwick here commits him to hospital for stress.

There is, in Mr Brocklebank, the escaped mental patient who, believing he’s a nurse preparing him for surgery, Victor allows to shave his entire private parts (in what is arguably the funniest sequence in the episode, and perhaps the funniest in One Foot so far), an allusion to the idea of ‘Bedlam’, of the lunatics running the asylum; and indeed in the inclusion of the Monster Raving Loony Party as part of the story, Renwick provides an additional layer of fringe thinking, of society’s rejects or eccentrics intruding into the Meldrew’s life, but the chief anxiety of I’ll Retire to Bedlam is more generalised than fears of death or youth culture or corporate hegemony. Everything is getting to Victor in this episode. The less he has anything to focus on, the more he sees everything.

That’s quite a profound realisation One Foot is getting to during Series 1. I’ll Retire to Bedlam may be a little unfocused and unformed, structurally, but it gets to the nub of Victor Meldrew’s existential malady very well.

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THE DARK KNIGHT JOKES: How JOKER builds on Nolan’s revolutionary thesis

When in 2012 the culmination of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, arrived on the landscape, it suggested a conclusion to a series which defied convention. Batman doesn’t simply defeat the villain and live to protect Gotham City another day. He has to die (or at the least the symbol of him has to die) in order to save his city, only not from a conventional villain we are often used to in comic-book cinema. Batman ‘dies’ to thwart a revolutionary.

The character of Bane, so memorably essayed by Tom Hardy, was as unprecedented an antagonist as Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck is the iconic Joker in the recent film of the same name. Bane had appeared previously, in 1997’s camp, rubbery Batman & Robin, but as a brainless henchman who could do little more than bellow his own name; part of a movie which epitomised the pre-Nolan, indeed pre-Marvel, excess of a cinematic sub-genre which was considered as tacky and disposable as comic-books long were themselves – with a few notable exceptions, such as Tim Burton’s original Batman or Richard Donner’s iconic Superman. Yet even those films, as skilled as they are, were married to convention. DC Comics’ tortured or incognito superheroes would protect their cities from a villain bent on world domination or destruction, not to mention on unmasking their secret identities.

Nolan’s Batman films entirely changed that paradigm. They played off the success of particularly the X-Men franchise, which deigned to take seriously its spandex-clad meta-humans and wrap their colourful, science-fiction worlds with real social and political undertones. From Batman Begins, in which Nolan re-conceptualises Bruce Wayne’s origin story without breaking from canon, through to The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan charts a clear and definable arc not just for Batman but for Gotham City itself. Each of the trilogy has the hero, the villain, the supporting players and the other major character – the city. Gotham. A representation and microcosm of our world today. Nolan’s chief interest in Batman was not simply recapturing Joel Schumacher’s cod-60’s derring-do, but using the Caped Crusader and his world as a framework to show the corruption and self-destruction of modern capitalist democracy.

While a film lacking the breadth, scope and grandeur of The Dark Knight trilogy, Todd Phillips’ Joker picks up the gauntlet Nolan laid down in this respect. It feels like the natural yet grotesque culmination of Nolan’s revolutionary thesis.

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Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt II – ‘Surely, the Best of Times’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

Very early on, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan positions itself as a film not just about life and death, but also about age.

We like to think of Captain James T. Kirk as one of the iconic heroic figures of 20th century media. Gene Roddenberry envisaged Star Trek as a Western in space, a “Wagon Train to the Stars”, and for the second film director Nicholas Meyer thought a lot about Horatio Hornblower, from the mid-20th century novels by C. S. Forester. The younger Kirk was a space cowboy, an honourable sharpshooter riding his starship steed across the galaxy with his trusty crew, encountering life forms, putting out fires, starting a few unintentionally, and finding a girl in almost every port. Meyer reconfigures Kirk in middle-age as the swaggering commander in chief, the seasoned voyager whose cowboy days are long over. “Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young, Doctor” he tells Leonard McCoy, after all.

Yet this elder Kirk is restless and Meyer conveys this from the beginning. Following the disastrous Kobayashi Maru, Kirk’s trusty, unlikely best friend, the equally seasoned and middle-aged Spock, presents his commander with a birthday present – Charles Dickens’ 19th century classic A Tale of Two Cities, in a beautiful, historic hardback edition. Kirk reads the legendary opening lines: “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times… message, Spock?”. Kirk understands that his friend gives everything deliberate and naturally, as a Vulcan, logical thought, so guesses Spock would not have passed this book onto him on such a key day arbitrarily. “None that I’m conscious of” Spock replies coyly, but we don’t believe either. Kirk is intelligent and well read enough to be aware Spock detects in him a melancholy, a sorrow, which the Kobayashi Maru—a reminder of his youthful brio—serves to simply underscore.

Captain Kirk is gone. Admiral Kirk endures. Yet what is left when the cowboy hangs up his boots?

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Scrooged (1988)

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is my favourite story in all of fiction. Honestly. For all the hundreds of movies or TV shows I have seen, or books I have read, it always comes back to Dickens’ story of cold-hearted London businessman Ebernezer Scrooge and his Christmas Eve haunting by the three spirits who show him the error of his ways, and teach him to be as good a man as the good old world had ever seen. It’s a timeless, beautifully structured, gloriously heartfelt narrative which doesn’t just imbue the meaning of Christmas—a time we all take a breath and enjoy the people in our lives—but what it means to be a good human. With any great piece of fiction, an innumerable amount of takes and reinventions are destined to lie in its future – which leads us right to Scrooged.

Richard Donner’s comedic take on the Dickens legend feels particularly apposite in terms of the age it was written. Scrooged is post-Wall Street, the epitome of Reagan’s corporate America, hence why the choice is made to reinvent the character of Scrooge for a new age in Bill Murray’s vicious, irascible Frank Cross and make him a powerful TV executive. Everything about Frank’s life speaks to the consumerist, vacuous nature of entertainment the 1980’s truly gave birth to – he is a Scrooge for the MTV generation, appropriately. Donner’s film therefore provides a new way into Dickens’ story, which traditionally is adapted as either a straight TV or cinematic version of the 19th century parable, or a modern, updated take on the character of Scrooge.

The difference with Scrooged is that Dickens’ story is a construct within Frank’s existence itself; he may be presented as a modern Scrooge, and experience the same essential journey and epiphany as the character of Scrooge does, but the ‘meta’ approach to Scrooged sees an adaptation of A Christmas Carol as part of the story itself, with Buddy Hackett no less as an improbably accented Ebernezer. This creative choice makes Scrooged read as a satire on Christmas entertainment, as well as Dickens himself, while also playing out the same redemptive beat for the character of Frank. Everything about the film is done with a knowing wink of the eye and tongue very much in cheek. Even the title suggests Dickens is being *done* to our main character.

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