Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I Spy With My Little Eye


Given my affinity for the Sixties Spy-Fi genre, I have gotten a number of requests to write something about I Spy, which ran for three seasons from 1965-1968.
I only got into I Spy recently, since I tend to watch parodies and slightly surreal spy shows and movies like The Avengers and Derek Flint. But I really adore I Spy now that I've started watching it.
If I were to compare it to another spy-fi show, it would be Danger Man, in terms of it's realism. You wont find any gadgets in I Spy. The two characters rely on using their wits and intelligence to get them out of sticky situations. There's one episode were they break out of a locked room using some dry ice and saltpeter.

Here's a clip of Scott and Kelly breaking out of jail.


Now, why do I love this show?
Well, a couple of reasons.
The first is the relationship between Scott and Kelly. Bill Cosby plays Alexander Scott and Robert Culp plays Kelly Robinson, they work for the American Government as secret agents using the cover of being tennis bums to cover up their jet-setting ways. The focus of the show is really on their buddy relationship. Their hip banter back and forth is a bigger draw for watching this show than the espionage is. Kelly is the athletic playboy who's after the girl (most of the time) and lives by his wits. Whereas Scott is the working class Rhodes Scholar who speaks several languages and is more pragmatic. But these two different people complement each other it make their partnership work. It also helps that Culp and Cosby were actual friends and their amazing chemistry together is genuine. Kelly and Scott treated each other as brothers and you knew that by the end of the episode, no matter what they fought about or if anything tragic happened over the course of their assignment, they would end up together. Plus, they always worked together, which I like better than U.N.C.L.E., since Napoleon and Illya would spend most of every episode apart and you never really got to know their characters.

Here's a clip which sums up how much Scott and Kelly really cared for each other.

Now, why should you watch the show if you don't really like spy shows?
Well, for the reason why this makes the show almost entirely unique in the history of American television.
It's filmed on location.
Actual, exotic locations.
If Scott and Kelly are escaping the baddies by running across rooftops in Hong Kong, they are actually running across rooftops in Hong Kong.
If they're chasing someone on a Vespa in Rome, they are actually navigating Roman traffic.
You want to see Vegas back when it was cool in all it's neon glory?
Watch this show.
You want to see what Hong Kong looked like before the Chinese took it over and built skyscrapers?
Watch this show.
You want to see Venice with a slightly higher water level?
Watch this show.
You want to see San Francisco in the Sixties?
Watch this show, baby.
You want to see what everyday people wore and how cities looked on an ordinary day in the mid Sixties?
I know you do.
Screw Mad Men.
Watch I Spy.


I said earlier that this show is based on realism because of it's lack of gadgets. Well, it's much more than that. I said in my post on Danger Man that John Drake is more realistic than James Bond and it predated Bond on the screen. Well, I Spy is in direct contrast to the massively popular Sean Connery period. There are a number of references in it's pilot "So Long, Patrick Henry" (which was actually written by Robert Culp) to James Bond in order to highlight the direct contrast to James Bond. Bond is a fantasy, But Scott and Kelly are real. I Spy shows the tough, gritty world of being an agent. Yes, there is world travel and beautiful girls, but sometimes the girls are the enemy, or they die or they are just using Scott or Kelly. Plus Scott and Kelly know that they can't commit to a girl without giving their job and settling down. Their assignments are tough, dangerous and sometimes have no purpose. But they can't do anything about it because they knew what they were getting into and at the end of the day, they are like anyone else with a government job, but at least they have medical benefits and a pension. There aren't always happy endings in I Spy, but that's not to say that it's a strict dramatic show. There are episodes played purely for laughs (try watching "Will The Real Good Guys Please Stand Up") and there are some episodes that are really sad, but what makes the show great is it's combination of dramatic tension with the comedic banter and reactions of Scott and Kelly.

Here is an example of an action scene in Hong Kong. You can actually picture this happening to a real life spy team.


If I can just say a few words about the clothes.
Yes, the women were gorgeous Sixties fashions, but they also were what look like their own clothes.
But Scott and Kelly are really snappy dressers.
And they wear a lot of white jeans and repeat their clothes.
And they wear bright colours and a lot of knitwear for some reason.
So, there's a lot of fashion inspiration.
In terms of celebrity guest stars, there are some, but not as much as U.N.C.L.E.
But two notable ones are Anna Karina speaking in English in "A Gift From Alexander" and the fabulous Eartha Kitt playing a herion addicted singer in "The Loser", which was written by Robert Culp and is one of the best episodes of the series.

Now, you may have noticed something about the two stars of the show.
This is the first television show in history, maybe even in the entire Western history of performing itself, where a black man and a white man are shown as being not only co-stars, but as true equals. Yes, I Spy is a historically and culturally significant show in that regard, but I wasn't going to mention it, because it was never mentioned on the show. And that means that I Spy has aged well. It's also modest and admirable. Here they were, a groundbreaking show at the height of the civil rights movement and the two stars insisted not only on not making it a big deal, but on not mentioning it. They only wanted to entertain.

I Spy is available on DVD in Regions 1 and 4.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Before The Parade Passes By


A couple of years ago I took the interwar lit course at uni and it's topic was The Great War and Shell Shock. The professor devoted a full month to discussing Parade's End by Ford Maddox Ford, which no one had ever heard of before. It has never been out of print but it has never been a best-seller. But it has been hailed as one of the greatest English novels of the Twentieth Century, which I would have to agree with.
Parade's End is actually four novels, published separately but meant to be read as one volume. They are:

Some Do Not... (1924)
No More Parades (1925)
A Man Could Stand Up (1926)
Last Post (1928)

I have struggled since I began this blog to write a post about this novel since I began this blog. It's just so hard to put the plot and what the author is saying into words. So, here goes.
Parade's End chronicles the life of Christopher Tietjens from his life just before the outbreak of the war, to his service on the Western Front and his life after he returns and tries to find his place in a society that has no need for his character and what it stands for.
Tietjens is "the last Tory". And by Tory, I don't mean a member of the Conservative Party, I mean a Tory as opposed to a Whig. Just look it up, it's to hard to explain succinctly. Tietjens is a brilliant government numbers man, a member of the landed gentry, an officer and a gentleman and the last Edwardian. Or at least he was before 1914. After the war he is still the same man, but the problem that he faces is that the Twentieth Century started while he was serving at the Front and by the time 1918 roles around and he returns from France, everyone who acted like him and held his values had either been killed or were too old to have a meaningful place in society. For Tietjens, the Twentieth Century is embodied in the two women in his life. His bitch of a wife Sylvia, a vindictive and sadistic socialite who is determine to ruin both him and his entire family history and Valentine, a high-spirited modern woman and a suffragette whom he meets during the war and whom he lives with after the war in an unconsummated relationship.
In the book, Ford wrote that the effect of the First World War was "a crack across the tabletop of history". And in a sense, it was. It ripped an entire society from the stagnate past and thrust it into the modern world in the space of just four years. Nothing would ever be the same and this was the message that Tietjens finally begins to understand by the end of the book.
But what is the book about? Well, that's rather hard to explain. To begin with, Ford began writing it during the war, but didn't finish it until ten years after. The plot is hard to explain because Ford is one of the first writers to employ that oh so modernist method of time skips. The narrative, like memory itself, jumps around from different times and places and it is only at the end that we finally get the full picture of just how much being in the war had affected Tietjens.
Parade's End is about trying to capture and explain the world that Tietjens comes from, the world that was lost so suddenly in 1914. In a nutshell, Parade's End is about the end of an epoch and it is an attempt to recapture what was lost: lost time; lost friends; the loss of a generation of young men; the magic of the past; the ending of parades; the end of the natural officer class; and the end of a way of life.
Remember the last episode of Blackadder Goes Forth? That is what this book is about. It is about those officers who went Over The Top and survived and came back to discover that after the most horrific experience in human history (up to that point) they had no place in society.
I wouldn't say that I liked my experience of reading Parade's End. I didn't enjoy reading it, but I was engrossed by it. You have to read it in order to understand fully the effect that the Great War had, not only on those who lived through it, but more importantly, the affect that it had (and still has) on those who came after it and on the modern world itself. For without the First World War, there would be no modern world.

Because it is so long and has no linear narrative, Parade's End would be almost impossible to adapt to television (it could never be a movie) without losing the development of it's characters and Ford's message. Or at least that's what I and everyone in my class thought so when we were reading it. However, the BBC has adapted it into five episodes for broadcast later on this year and have cast Benedict Cumberbatch (the most awesome real name ever!) as Christopher Tietjens. I think he will be perfect in the role. There is only one production still at the moment, but I shall post the trailer and air dates as soon as they are released. But I do highly recommend reading the book before it airs. You have plenty of time to do so. Tell me what you think of it.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Recently Embroidered


This year, I've been embroidering a lot of little quotes to hang on my limited wall space. I love embroidering text above all else, mostly because I am unable to draw and there are just too many wonderful modern and vintage patterns floating around Flickr and Etsy to choose from.

The above is from this title card from The Plastic Age, which I really want to see, since it stars Clara Bow. It hangs above my perfume bottles on my dresser.

As You Wish

If The Princess Bride had had a musical number, it would have been the most perfect movie ever! It also has my second favourite sword fight scene. My Dad's hobby is calligraphy, so he wrote this out for me and I embroidered it.
Here it is in context, above one of my bookcases.


Ernie Kovacs quote

Ernie Kovacs -television's original genius. I love Ernie Kovacs. I think he's hilarious and perhaps one of the two true geniuses that television has ever had. I'm working on a post about him that I hope to have written by the end of the month.
I found this frame at the thrift store after I had finished it and I popped it in because I thought the matting made it look like it was on the television screen. It's on the wall next to my TV.

Ceiling Fan and Radio in every room

I thought my bathroom (and by bathroom I mean literary a closet with a toilet in it) was a bit plain, so I decided to dress up the walls by embroidering two phrases from vintage matchbooks on scraps of floral fabric. I wrote down "Ceiling Fan and Radio in every room" ages ago on my list of stuff to embroider. I don't remember where I saw it, but I could have sworn it was from a post on motels from Millie Motts.

Close Cover before Stricking

Don't they look nice on my wall?


There's too much Tuesday in my beetroot salad

I was re-watching my Beyond The Fringe DVD for the millionth time a few weeks ago and during the "Words and Things" sketch, Jonathan Miller said as an example of everyday speech: "There's too much Tuesday in my beetroot salad". I thought it was so absurdly wonderful that I immediately started embroidering it.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Murphy Brown is Kick-Ass!

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I have a confession to make: I can't stand the Mary Tyler Moore show. I realize that it is a important show in that it had the first single, independent career woman as it's star, but I never found the Mary Richards character to be a great role model. She was just too weak and dull.
Now, Murphy Brown is more than just a role model. She's a kick-ass role model. And she changed the face of American television. There are still some aspects of her character, mostly her razor-sharp wit, that hasn't been seen on television since.
Murphy Brown aired for 247 episodes from 1988 to 1998. It's first episode began with Murphy, a forty year old, single, award-winning and famous investigative journalist and a co-anchor on a live newsmagazine show called FYI. Murphy returns to work to find that the show's producer has been replaced by a young Yale grad called Miles Silverberg, who is a naive, over-achieving yuppie and knows almost nothing about producing a news show. The Network as also added a new member to FYI, the Pollyanna-like Corky Sherwood, a former Miss America, who is perpetually perky and knows nothing about world affairs. She does those light stories about puppies and decor they show at the end of the hard-hitting FYI episodes.
The pilot takes place on Murphy's first day back at work after she has been in rehab for alcohol and cigarettes.
This had never been done before. Normally it's the male characters on a show that have a drinking problem and have just turned forty and have no intention of getting married. But here, it was a woman and a famous woman at that, at the top of her profession and played by a famous actress (Candice Bergen).
Rounding out the cast of characters are Frank, the show's undercover reporter and Murphy's best friend, Jim Dial, the stoic veteran anchor, Phil the owner of the bar next to the studio in Washington D.C. who knew everything about every political figure for the past fifty years, especially stuff that the public didn't know and Eldin, the philosophical artist that Murphy hired to paint her house in the pilot and spent the next six years painting murals all over her house. He's my favourite character in the show.

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But over the course of the series, Murphy Brown as a character is about more than just a recovering alcoholic. She is intelligent, works very hard at her job, takes her duty as a journalist very seriously, loves pulling pranks, slops around the house in pyjamas, becomes a single mother, stands up to the Network suits on several occasions, deals with breast cancer in the final season and loves Motown with a passion.
The reason why I think that Murphy Brown is a better role model than any other character on television today is that she stood behind her principals, even if it would cost her her job. Murphy Brown was made just before the news and the world of the journalist changed dramatically with the popularity of 24 hour news networks and everyone getting a summary of the news from the internet as it happens. For Murphy, being a journalist was about getting a story or an interview on the air, without compromising her ethics. Even if it meant landing in jail for not revealing her sources.
Murphy is also tough as nails. She got to the top of her profession on her own merits and isn't going to let anyone treat her as a little lady.
All this being said, Murphy Brown is also a hilarious sitcom that has really aged well. A lot of sitcoms get old and unfunny really fast, but not this one. Even it's topical political satire is still funny. It also deals with some issues that aren't present in today's shows and it also assumes that the audience is actually paying attention to what's going on.
Murphy Brown is still shown on reruns on a few channels, but it's largely forgotten today, and I really don't understand why. The first season was released on Region 1 DVD, but they wont release the remaining nine seasons on DVD because the the "high cost" of obtaining the music rights to songs, since the show had no theme song and played Motown songs throughout every episode. Which is a damned shame, since the show is cleverer than most modern shows on now, ridiculous 80's fashions aside. Actually, I quite like some of Murphy's clothes, since they suit her character.
The torrent for the first season is on most public sites, whereas the torrents for the remaining seasons are available on the private site TV Vault.

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This is a clip from a show about why the 90's ruled.

This is the rather short piece about Murphy Brown from the PBS show America in Primetime.

I found it hard to get clips from the show, so here is a promo for it's Australian syndication

The longest and funniest running gag on the show was the crazy secretaries that Personal kept sending to Murphy's desk. Above is a clip of the secretary of the day from the first season and below are two clip shows of the secretaries that Murphy had to deal with in the first season.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

I'm Back

4 Mar 12

I haven't been around blog land at all this year. How shame-making of me.
The hours at the store where I work have been cut back and moved around, so I've been working almost exclusively the night closing shift for the past three months and nights are the time when I feel the most creative, in terms of writing.
I tried writing during the day before I have to go to work, but I've been distracted by rearranging my room. I live in an attic, so my room is quite oddly shaped and there is very limited wall space, but I finally figured out a plan to fit all of my stuff (at least the stuff that I didn't get rid of in my six month downsizing project).
What I have been mostly doing instead of blogging is watching a lot of TV. My library finally has a decent amount of complete television series on DVD, so I've finally been able to watch the TV shows that I've always been meaning to watch, but could never find a copy of. And I've gone through a burst of embroidery projects that have been on my mind for quite some time.
I feel that last year, I focused too much on my Cinema Tuesday series and less on other aspects of the vintage lifestyle. Mostly the television and music aspects, which do take longer to write a post of, particularly if I want to screen cap a TV series. So I've decided that for the rest of 2012, I'm going to limit Cinema Tuesdays to just three films a month in order to focus on writing on a wider range of vintage topics.
As always, I'm open to thoughts and suggestions.

Outfit Details:
The sweater, skirt and belt all come from the thrift store up the street from my house and the shoes are from Bloch and they are the perfect ballet flat. I thought the sweater was a bit boring on it's own, so I freehanded some embroidery along the neckline. Because I can. The necklace is from this lovely shop on Etsy. A lot of people of asked me about the meaning behind the small flower on my necklace, since I do wear it everyday, but if you've seen Harold and Maude, you'll understand.

Detail -4 Mar 12

I have a new television post that I'm preparing for tomorrow, but in the mean time, here is a random picture of one of my cats. Her name is Ruby (after Ruby Keeler) and she's a polydactyl cat, meaning that she has extra fingers on each of her paws. And if you've seen my FB profile, she's the one on my head in my profile picture. I've tried to get a picture of her sister, but she's small and quite shy.