New Meat on Old Bones – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

This weekend I went along to see Jurassic World: The Fallen Kingdom, the sequel to Jurassic World (Trevorrow, 2015) and the fifth in the franchise that began with Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1993) and continued with The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and Jurassic Park III (Johnston, 2001). Although the film has Derek Connolly and Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow both returning as screenwriters, with Trevorrow and Steven Spielberg acting as executive producers, the introduction of Spanish film-maker J.A. Bayona as director gives this movie a welcome dash of Gothic horror that anyone who has seen his darkly atmospheric The Orphanage (2007) will appreciate. While in many ways the film retreads the familiar, audience-pleasing scenarios of the previous films, Bayona’s background brings some enjoyable Gothic frissons to the franchise and some elements that will please fans of classic British horror films of old. He directed a couple of episodes of Penny Dreadful too, including the frightening and surprisingly poignant ‘Séance’ episode, which surely should have earned Eva Green an Emmy.

There will be no spoilers here, or at least nothing that isn’t apparent from the trailers

The events of this film take place a few years after the first Jurassic World movie, as dino-trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and the former park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) return to Isla Nubar, a deserted ruin since the rampaging chaos of the first film. Claire’s career has changed tack somewhat, in that she is now leading a dinosaur-rights activist group, and the duo’s goal in returning to the island is to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from an imminent volcanic eruption and transfer them to safety. Their expedition is funded by the wealthy Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who – it is explained – was involved in the original dinosaur DNA experiments with John Hammond (the late Richard Attenborough.) His granddaughter Maisie Lockwood (engagingly-played by newcomer Isabella Sermon) spends most of her time bounding around the huge mansion learning about palaentology, but despite her youth, there are hints of mysterious connections between her past and that of the dinosaurs amongst whose skeletons she plays.

Supervising Lockwood’s rescue project is Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), an old friend of Claire’s. Now Spall will always be for me the frighteningly unstable Jay Wratten from the 2011 BBC series The Shadow Line and it’s no surprise to find him a villain here, following in the footsteps of Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) from the first film. He is just one of a great supporting cast of British actors, including Geraldine Chaplin and the ubiquitous but always-watchable Toby Jones.

While previous films have been pretty-much island-bound (part of the terror trap), Fallen Kingdom sees the dinosaurs moved off the island to their new home at the Lockwood Estate, a vast Gothic mansion with the inevitable basement in which unspeakable things go on. Much of Jurassic World was filmed in Pinewood Studios, but the exterior of Lockwood Manor is actually just a façade, constructed on Hawley Common, an army training ground near the Hampshire village of Minley. Bayona draws on his experience filming The Orphanage, as well as much older films and visual representations to explore the terror potential of dinosaurs loose in an old dark house.

The moral message of the film is not subtle – contrasting Blue Planet’s ethos of preserving natural environments and endangered species with the unregulated self-seeking excesses of capitalist greed, private militias and the mad science that has been condemned from Frankenstein through Westworld to the previous Jurassic movies. Genetic engineering has rarely been portrayed in a positive light on the big screen, and neither the Indominus Rex of the last movie nor the Indoraptor of this one do anything to change the impressions made by watching Deep Blue Sea (Harlin, 1999) Black Sheep (King, 2006) Splice (2009) or any other Promethean fable. While there are a number of deliberate and rather obvious references to scenes from earlier films in the Jurassic franchise, viewers might also enjoy spotting gentle nods towards much older dinosaur films such as One Million Years BC (1966) and Valley of Gwangi (1969), about which I’ve written previously [see here] While watching, I was also reminded of the comic-strip story ‘Flesh’ which appeared in 2000 AD during the late 1970s.

Despite healthy box office returns the film has received mixed reviews from critics, some of whom appear oddly confused about the aims of the creators of the Jurassic franchise; while one party carps about Fallen Kingdom sticking too closely to the storyline of earlier movies, another group grouches about the folly of taking the franchise in a different direction. I think it’s fair to say that the film aims at – and achieves – a balance between nostalgia and novelty. Feverishly debating how silly it may or may not be is as pointless as the endless controversy about the correct walking speed of zombies. As some of the pics above illustrate, the film has some superb visual effects with Bayona knowing how to play with panoramic sweeps as well as atmospheric shadows and reflections. Audiences can feast their eyes while the dinosaurs feast on the baddies. Isn’t that what the franchise is all about?

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Mad Dogs and Englishmen….

On 7 May the BBC finally released a DVD of The Mad Death, some 25 years after the miniseries was originally broadcast in the summer of 1983. The programme imagined what might happen if rabies was introduced into Scotland, and over the course of three episodes follows the spread of the disease, its effect on victims, and the authorities’ attempts to control the outbreak. Filmed on location around central Scotland – including a memorable chase sequence in which a landrover pursues a rabid dog through the old Plaza shopping centre at East Kilbride – and containing some horrific scenes of rabies symptoms, including nightmarish hallucinations – the programme attracted a great deal of attention at the time, especially as the threat of rabies reaching the UK was a real fear then, and the subject of widespread media campaigns.

In retrospect, one wonders if we worried too much, and over the years my memories of watching the original broadcast have been tempered by further reflection about the other fears and anxieties that perhaps lay beneath all the lurid imagery and ‘protect our borders’ propaganda.

The BBC’s timing of their DVD release was rather serendipitous as it coincided with the publication of my illustrated article, ‘”Mad Dogs and Englishmen”: Hydrophobia, Europhobia and National Identity in “The Mad Death” (BBC Scotland, 1983)’ in the online periodical, The International Journal of Scottish Theatre and Screen. This was written for a special issue on ‘TV in Scotland: Past, Present and Future’, and some idea of the contents can be gleaned from the abstract:

BBC Scotland’s three-part series The Mad Death (1983) presented a fictional account of a rabies outbreak on Scottish soil. Although the story was based on a lurid unpublished novel and made use of classic horror tropes, including animal attacks, imprisonment in a baronial manor and terrifying hallucinations, it also reflected the sober tone of public information films and contemporary rabies safety campaigns. Filmed in Scotland and making effective use of Highland locations and actors such as Jimmy Logan, the ‘Scottishness’ of the production was nonetheless undermined by the vague presentation of the physical landscape, uncertainty over the parameters of the Scottish and English authorities, and an uneven depiction of social classes and dialects. A more detailed study of this content reveals the cultural anxieties that underpinned the narrative and characterisation, which remain acutely relevant as the 35thanniversary of the original broadcast approaches. Drawing on original production materials and personal discussions with screenwriter Sean Hignett, this article places The Mad Death in its social, cultural and political context, exploring how the series engaged with questions of national heritage and social identity while at the same time repackaging familiar tropes from the traditions of the horror genre. Particular attention is applied to the ways in which the spread of rabies is used to reflect anxieties about the dangers of European integration, employing language and attitudes that are all too familiar from the ongoing ‘Brexit’ debate in Britain. Through a close analysis of these issues it is possible to provide detailed insights into the production of The Mad Death, the adaptation process and the workings of the Scottish television industry during a time of social and political upheaval. The essay aims at providing a case study from which lessons can be learned that could help guide policy for future Scottish programming.

and also from a little ‘word cloud’ image that I generated:

For those who wish to read my article, it can be accessed (free-of-charge) here

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Hot off the press….

I’m pleased to report my recent appointment as editor of Photographica World, the journal of the Photographic Collectors’ Club of Great Britain (PCCGB). In taking on this post I am following in the footsteps of Michael Pritchard who edited the journal from its foundation in 1977 through to 2002, when the editorship passed to John Marriage, in whose capable hands it has remained for the last sixteen years. Photographica World is a 60-page magazine, printed in colour and published three times a year. It is dedicated to the history of cameras and photographic culture, publishing original research, feature articles, book reviews and correspondence.

Some recent issues of ‘Photographica World’

The PCCGB has members across the UK, Europe, America, Asia and Australasia, including vintage camera and photographic collectors, museum curators, photohistorians, academics, publishers, professional photographers and dealers, as well as many others with diverse interests in the history of photographic culture and technology. Every year the PCCGB hosts an international camera fair in London – this year’s Photographica will be on Sunday 20th May. Maybe I’ll see some of you there?

 

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Revisiting The Lost World (Hoyt,1925)

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to attend a screening of a beautifully-presented new print of The Lost World (Harry Hoyt, 1925) at Curzon Clevedon. This new (2016) restoration by Serge Bromberg’s Lobster Films runs for about 104 minutes and will almost certainly be the definitive version of the movie, restoring several fragments that haven’t been viewed for decades. (There is a rumour that existing prints of The Lost World were sought out and destroyed prior to the release of King Kong in 1933, to clear the field of any possible competition.) For many years the only version of The Lost World available was a much-mutilated 50 minute Kodascope print, but over the years successive restorations (e.g. by George Eastman House in 1998 and David Shepard two years later) introduced marked improvements in both the quality and the content, which was basically the same but with digital improvements to sound and image. It was accompanied by a new orchestral score composed by Robert Israel, which fitted  the film perfectly.

Adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel of the same name, The Lost World tells the story of an expedition led by Professor Challenger (Wallace Beery) in order to prove to his critics that dinosaurs are still living in a remote area of the Amazon jungle. Accompanying him are journalist Edward Malone (Lloyd Hughes) – whose newspaper is funding the expedition- Paula White (Bessie Love), who has a journal belonging to her missing father Maple White that contains sketches of the dinosaurs, sceptical Professor Summerlee (played by the director’s brother Arthur Hoyt) and sportsman and hunter Sir John Roxton (Lewis Stone), who has romantic feelings for Paula.  The film follows their exploits in the jungle, encountering dinosaurs, learning what happened to Maple White, escaping from volcanoes and ape-men, transporting a brontosaurus back to London – and of course dealing with its inevitable escape and rampage through the city streets….

Thus particular screening was introduced by Peter Lord, cofounder of Aardman Animation. He also brought along some of the original models used in making their latest stop-motion film Early Man.

Stop-motion models for ‘Early Man’ (2017)

The growth of Aardman – from a domestic tabletop to a world-leading Oscar-winning studio – echoes the remarkable career paths of early animators such as The Lost World’s Willis O’Brien, who went on to work on King Kong, a film that inspired a young Ray Harryhausen to become O’Brien’s assistant. Aardman are perhaps best known now for Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit films but those of a certain generation will remember the animated character ‘Morph’ who first appeared on BBC’s Take Hart in the late 1970s.

The setting for Paradise Falls in Pixar’s animated movie ‘Up’ (Docter, 2009) was clearly inspired by the cliffs in ‘The Lost World.’ The American company Pixar was associated with Lucasfilm and Apple before being bought by Disney. Unlike Aardman, stop-motion techniques have played little part in Pixar’s computer-generated animation.

The influence of The Lost World and King Kong on 20th century cinema has been enormous, and can be traced through numerous films including Hammer’s prehistoric movie cycle, the Jurassic Park franchise and other fantasy adventures. Ray Harryhausen’s work has inspired generations of animators and film-makers, yet the name of the man who inspired him is often forgotten now. Before the main feature we were treated to one of O’Brien’s earlier films, a short five-minute film R.F.D. 10,000 B.C. made for Thomas Edison’s company in 1916. This was accompanied by live music played on the Curzon’s organ by Colin Godfrey. The plot, for what it was, followed two cavemen competing for the love of a cavewoman, one a postman who used a dinosaur to carry his mail (R.F.D. stands for ‘Rural Free Delivery’, the American postal service for farms and rural settlements.)

For those who have not yet seen the restored version of The Lost World – and it’s far superior to the truncated versions shown previously on television – it is being screened as part of the Ilfracombe Film Festival on Saturday 21st April at 4 pm in the Landmark Theatre, on Ilfracombe’s Promenade. You won’t be disappointed!

 

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Carte-de-visite of the week #13 Belle Bilton

This carte-de-visite was taken in the late 1880s and shows the Countess of Clancarty (1867-1906) – a singer, actress and music-hall entertainer better known under her stage-name of Belle Bilton. It shows her in costume and was taken in the Ebury Street studios of fashionable London photographers W. & D. Downey, opened in 1872 by William Downey (1829-1915) while his brother Daniel managed their studio in Newcastle. The Downeys took many portraits of Queen Victoria and the royal family, as well as aristocrats, society beauties and famous actresses. Belle was photographed by Downey several times, and also sat for other society photographers such as Alexander Bassano.

Background and Stage Career

Isabel Maud Penrice Bilton was born in 1867, the daughter of Sergeant John George Bilton of the Royal Engineers. Under the stage name of Belle Bilton she made her name as a music hall entertainer at the Alhambra and the Empire and other venues. Sometimes she appeared with her sister – an advert for a performance at the London Pavilion in Piccadilly in 1886 shows the ‘Sisters Bilton’ on the billing.

Lord Dunlo

Richard Somerset Le Poer Trench, 4th Earl of Clancarty, using a stereoscopic camera around 1864, three years before the birth of his son.

At the Corinthian Club towards the end of April or beginning of May 1889, Belle met a young aristocrat – William, Viscount Dunlo, son of Richard Somerset Le Poer Trench, 4th Earl of Clancarty and heir to the title. Like Belle, Lord Dunlo was twenty years old, and the couple quickly fell for one another: they were married soon after, at Hampstead Registry Office, on 10 July 1889. The groom’s father was not impressed at his son’s choice of bride, and William had already incurred the Earl’s displeasure due to his lack of enthusiasm for the army career that had been planned for him. As it had already been decided that William would benefit from foreign travel in the company of a sober and morally-minded mentor, his scandalous marriage to a music hall entertainer proved the last straw: the Earl forced his newly-wedded son to sail for Australia immediately under threat of losing his inheritance. A divorce case – which in those days depended upon proving adultery – was at once initiated, with the Earl determined to use every means in his power to blacken Belle’s name and have the union dissolved with his family’s honour intact.

The Trial

Over the next few months evidence was gathered, while Belle – in the absence of her husband – continued to socialise and pursue her stage career. In April 1890 she played the title role in the ‘burlesque extravaganza’ Venus at the Plymouth’s Theatre Royal. The trial opened in July 1890 with Sir James Hannen sitting as judge, Sir Charles Russell prosecuting, and the solicitor general Frank Lockwood QC representing Belle. The adultery trial had been preceded by a separate court case in which Belle was implicated in forgery; although the matter was quite independent of her marriage to Lord Dunlo, it was clearly intended to blacken her character – an objective that was largely thwarted by her being found innocent.

Eastern Evening News (Saturday 12 July 1890) p.2

It became apparent during the adultery trial that Belle was more sinned against than sinning, and the Earl and his associates came out looking worse, having instigated various machinations to make Belle look bad. As recent events have made all too clear, rich and powerful men can be responsible for all sorts of abuse to protect their interests. When Lord Dunlo declared he believed his wife to be innocent of the charges, the case collapsed, and he returned to live with Belle. Cut off from his father’s allowance, the couple were required to live off Belle’s earnings from the theatre – estimated at around £1,500 a year. Some felt that the publicity of the court case might actually help matters:

‘I dare say the photographs of Lady Dunlo (Miss Belle Bilton) are more marketable now than ever. I don’t know if this fascinating young lady has been paid liberal terms by Bassano and the other photographers to whom she has given sittings, but she certainly deserves to remunerated handsomely. She will sell like ripe cherries from now until her divorce trial comes off.’

London and Provincial Entr’acte (Saturday 12 July 1890) p.5.

The couple did not have long to wait. Belle’s father-in-law died less than a year after the trial, aged only 57. In May 1891 her husband became the 5th Earl of Clancarty, and Belle assumed the title of Countess of Clancarty. The couple had five children, including the 6th and 7th Earls of Clancarty.

Belle with her twin sons Richard and Henry, born Devember 1891. Photographed by Bassano ca. 1893-4. Reproduced courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Sadly, Belle died of cancer on 31 December 1906 at Garbaldy Park, Ballinasloe, County Galway, Ireland, at the age of only 39. Carte-de-visite portraits of her – both in theatrical costume and as herself – are fairly easy to find and so it is tempting to consider building up a collection of these. Belle’s short life is intriguing for anyone with an interest in late Victorian theatre, and there is something inspiring – and remarkably topical – about the story of how this young woman refused to be crushed by powerful men who sought to silence her.

 

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