March 14th, 2010


Gibbon Chapter XX

  • The first half of the chapter is an investigation into Constantine's conversion, one of Gibbon's few attempts to get under the skin of a complex psychological individual who made a crucial political decision, and on whom the historical sources are in sometimes vigorous conflict. The second half of the chapter is a description of the political set-up of the Christian church during and after Constantine's reign.
    (tags: gibbon)

2010 films 4) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

I spent most of last week in bed, and finally got round to watching this great example of the Star Trek genre, which I had not seen before (I still haven't seen the third or fourth films in the series either). Ricardo Montalban as Khan, and Kirstie Alley, years before Cheers, as Vulcan fledgling captain Saavik are both rather more memorable than the returning crew, but that's OK. The plot and execution are sufficiently close to the better episodes from the 60s, updated for 80s sensibilities, to succeed in what it aims to do.

I was struck especially by the resonances of Spock's death scene in New Who. RTD has done a couple of scenes which feel to me now as if they are conscious references to it - the Ten/Jack conversation in Utopia (though of course Jack isn't actually dying, which is partly the point) and Ten's own self-sacrifice in The End of Time II. Am I imagining this? Are there other famous examples of protagonists being killed by radiation poisoning on the other side of a transparent screen which I have missed?

2010 films 5) The Young Ones

A peculiar whim moved me to watch this early Cliff Richard vehicle last night. It was made in 1961 when he was only 21, and the plot (according to Wikipedia) was ripped off for The Blues Brothers - our hero and his friends put on a benefit show to save their beloved orphanage night club, despite the efforts of law enforcement to prevent them. (Actually, wasn't this also true of every episode of Fame?)

The standout acting performance is Robert Morley, playing Cliff's father who is also incidentally the property developer who wants to build an office block on the night club. Slightly more uneasy is Carole Gray as Cliff's romantic interest, partly because Cliff himself doesn't exude sufficient lust to match her. She went on to a brief but notable career in horror films. My whimsical reason for watching the film was the other main female character, Barbara, who is played by Annette Robinson who appeared four years later in Doctor Who as Anne Chaplette in The Massacre. Here she has long red hair, and isn't quite as confident as Carole Gray (there is one scene where she repeatedly declares that she is Cleopatra for some reason). Also noted: to a dyed blond Melvyn Hayes, playing one of Cliff's male sidekicks, and future sitcom star Richard O'Sullivan, playing the other one.

Anyway, one doesn't really watch this for the acting. The point of the film for Cliff to sing some slow romantic songs, including the title piece (which he sings to Gray walking through a park, surrounded by children who mob the couple as they are about to kiss), and he does it very well; and we don't quite get enough of The Shadows, but what we get is great. Even better, however, are the absolutely stunning dance scenes of Cliff's friends preparing and performing their show. I found this reminiscent of the great Gene Kelly sequences in Singin' in the Rain and An American in Paris, except that they are less focussed on the star (Cliff not being as notable a dancer as a singer) and also make a lot more sense in the context of the film. This is some of the best choreography I can remember seeing on screen, and it's reason enough on its own to hunt down the film.