Storylines In Review

2019 Blog Posts
Bygone Britain, By Train

Travelogues are always popular at this time of year, as a vicarious solution when winter is ending but the holiday season has not arrived. The first time much of contemporary Britain was shown onscreen in colour was in the series of scripted travelogues made for British Transport Films in the 1950s and early 60s, as indirect promotion for the then recently nationalised [1948-] railway network, to encourage Brits to get out and see their own country. [go to feature page].

Top Ten Tintin

The Adventures Of Tintin make for suitable tonic viewing at this dreary time of year.
But with 5 feature films and 2 tv series comprising dozens of episodes, where to start?

[go to feature page]
 
In Memoriam 2018
As always, at the close of the year, the media publish obit roundups for those we lost over the past year. Here, we look at the writers and other creative figures we lost.
When a film or tv star dies, of course there’s always international coverage – as with this past year, e.g. Burt Reynolds [died age 82], or western star Clint Walker [age 90]. Even someone widely known just for a single role, as a voice actor, gets widespread headline coverage – this year Douglas Rain, the soft-spoken Canadian actor who was the voice of HAL in 2001, who died age 90. Sondra Locke is best known as Clint Eastwood's former partner, on- and off-screen, but she later turned director with Ratboy in 1986, from a Rob Thompson script, and wrote a memoir critical of Hollywood, The Good, The Bad, And The Very Ugly – A Hollywood Journey, in 1997. Just over Xmas, Dame June Whitfield, who appeared in over 1,300 radio and TV shows (e.g. as the mother in Ab Fab) during a 70-year career, died age 93.
The same goes for producers and directors, like Penny Marshall [age 75], who began her career as an actor before directing films like Big; British film-industry stalwarts Lewis Gilbert, remembered for Reach For The Sky, Carve Her Name With Pride, Sink The Bismarck!, Alfie, Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine plus three James Bond films, and Michael Anderson, remembered for The Dam Busters, Around The World In 80 Days, The Quiller Memorandum, and Logan’s Run; Nicolas Roeg, the cinematographer turned director with films like Performance, Walkabout, Don't Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth etc; and Raymond Chow, the Hong Kong producer, who began as a publicist for Shaw Brothers Studios and then brought Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan to the international screen.
Directors who also mainly wrote their own films get the coverage. Notably, this year Italian writer- director Bernardo Bertolucci, whose obit says he first “became famous as a poet.” He became famous in the film world with Il Conformista (1970), from the Alberto Moravia novel, and then the English-language Last Tango In Paris (1972), which he largely wrote himself. The Last Emperor (1987), was a later career triumph, with nine Academy Awards. IMDb credits him with 25 films as a writer, the same number as a director.
Writers who are literary lions such as author Philip Roth (Goodbye Columbus 1959, Portnoy's Complaint 1969 etc), who died aged 85, get decent coverage, as does Tom Wolfe, whose 1979 impressionistic nonfiction bestseller about the early US space programme, The Right Stuff, was adapted by director Philip Kaufman in 1983.
The overlapping field of SF and fantasy literature has its own fanbase, and the passing of Ursula K. Le Guin, described in 2016 by The New York Times as "America's greatest living science fiction writer", was duly noted. Harlan Ellison had and has his own following as a leading science fiction writer (though he preferred to be called a fantasist). IMDb credits him with 30 films and tv dramas as a writer, but he also had his name removed from screen credits in favour of his nom de plume, "Cordwainer Bird". His dystopian-future novel A Boy And His Dog (filmed 1975) is currently being remade. The same goes for the Trinidadian-British author V.S. Naipaul, whose 1957 The Mystic Masseur was adapted by Caryl Phillips and filmed by Ismail Merchant in 2001, and the Israeli author Amos Oz, whose memoir A Tale And Love And Darkness was made into a 2015 feature film. Louis Cha Jin Yong, Hong Kong's most famous writer and the best-selling Chinese author, was nicknamed the 'Tolkien of Chinese literature' for his wuxia novels, which were the basis of over 90 film-TV shows and role-playing video games. Scottish-born novelist Philip Kerr was an all-rounder but is best known as the creator of the Bernie Gunther historical crime novels [HBO mini-series currently being developed] set in Nazi Germany.
English writer Douglas Scott Botting is less well-known, despite being a prolific career author of nonfiction books, some based on his own travel explorations, as well as a documentary producer and presenter. His Times obit was sub-headed ‘Author and adventurer who decided to write after being told to f*** off by Ernest Hemingway’. (EH was in a bad mood having just read some slighting obits published after he was prematurely reported dead in a plane crash in Africa in 1954.) Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot Geoffrey Wellum is remembered for his 2002 memoir, First Light: The Story Of The Boy Who Became A Man In The War-Torn Skies Above Britain, which became the basis of a BBC documentary-drama he narrated in 2010.
Clive King was author of the 1963 children's classic Stig Of The Dump, about a modern boy befriending a surviving prehistoric caveboy, which has never been out of print and became the basis of 3 British tv series.
NYC-based playwright Neil Simon is best-known as the author of comedy plays, such as his early 1963 success Barefoot In The Park (filmed 1967), which was inspired by his first marriage, though it was his next play The Odd Couple (1965) that made him famous. He wrote over 30 plays and nearly 30 screenplays, and is said to have received more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer.
 

 

The ghostly title design for Bullitt by self-taught Cuban designer Pablo Ferro, who died in 2018 after a career specialising in this creative aspect of film, including titles for Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange and Men In Black.

 

 

 

 

With those who were mainly film-tv scriptwriters, coverage is more limited, and there may be omissions below.
Steven Bochco, who on US tv popularised long arcs and short [one or two episode] arcs running side by side with his 1980s police procedural Hill Street Blues, got recognition for this, cf see screen capture right.
Ray Galton, the surviving half of the team of Galton and Simpson (Alan Simpson died last year), got some recognition as the co-founder of the first British sitcom, Hancock's Half Hour, which went from radio to tv in the 50s and became a national institution that reportedly emptied the pubs when it was on.
The duo had met as teenagers in a TB sanitarium just after World War II and started writing together. They joined Spike Milligan (main writer on The Goon Show) and Eric Sykes to form Associated London Scripts. They were only 21 when Tony Hancock hired them, and stuck with him for most of his career. When he decided to go ‘solo’ they invented Steptoe & Son, about two rag’n’bone men, an unlikely sitcom setup which became a success in the 60s due to their artful writing. Together, they wrote more than 600 scripts before age-related health issues overtook them.
Songwriter Norman Gimbel (The Girl from Ipanema etc), winner of an Oscar, a Grammy and a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, was the creator, as his obit puts it, of a songwriting “catalog that reads like a compilation of 20th century hits.”
Scriptwriter William Goldman scarcely needs any introduction, especially as he wrote textbook memoirs like Adventures In The Screen Trade (1983) with its famous opening-sentence catchphrase about Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything.” He wrote original scripts like Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969), plus Marathon Man and The Princess Bride (both of which also had ‘novel’ versions), as well as adaptations like Harper (1966) and All The President's Men (1976).
Marine biologist turned animator Stephen Hillenburg was creator, in 1996, of the children’s favourite, the ‘educational’ character SpongeBob SquarePants, one of the most popular ongoing franchises on US pay channels.
Film composer Francis Lai created a series of love ballads which became part of the backbone of the 1966 Claude Lelouch film Un Homme Et Une Femme, with lyrics by the film’s costar Pierre Barouh (who died in 2017). Though its international success meant he went to score over 100 films, it’s unlikely he again had such an integral role as here. Entire scenes were shot around his songs, such as Aujourd'hui c'est toi (Today It's You) and Plus fort que nous (Stronger Than Us), which were given English lyrics when the film became a hit and a dubbed rather than subtitled version was released abroad. The film popularised the convention of having 'togetherness' montage scenes set to a voice-over song representing the lovers' thoughts and feelings.
Stan Lee was legendary creator of properties for the Marvel Comics empire, starting with Captain America in 1941. His obits say he had begun as a playwright in the US Army’s Signal Corps Training Film Division alongside future luminaries of American culture like author William Saroyan, cartoonist Charles Addams, director Frank Capra and Dr. Seuss creator Theodor Geisel.
Andy Lewis, who was best known for co-writing, with his brother Dave, the award-winning 1971 thriller Klute, also had a WW2 US Army background, and later became a speechwriter for JFK before becoming a tv scriptwriter. (Strangely, he does not seem to have written other produced feature scripts after the success of Klute.)
Peter Masterson was an actor and director but is best remembered as co-creator of the filmed musical The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas.
Denis Norden is best known to the public as a presenter (and writer-compiler) of the tv-outtakes compilations series, It'll Be Alright On The Night, which ran for 29 years from 1977 and made him an institution on British tv. But as he pointed out, he was really a 'writer who keeps on getting wheeled out'. After WW2 service in the RAF, he had begun writing as a teenager in partnership with Frank Muir in 1947, which led to 300 episodes of the radio sitcom Take It From Here [with Jimmy Edwards and June Whitfield], and further tv work on That Was The Week That Was, The Frost Report etc. (They came up with the line - reused in Carry On Cleo - “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me.”) He was also active in the Writers Guild, sitting on the television committee alongside Ray Galton, Alan Simpson and Jimmy [Dad’s Army] Perry, later becoming a WGGB chair, so to speak. He also wrote several feature film scripts in the 60s, including Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell – which is where some think Mamma Mia! got its plot premise.
Screenwriter and novelist Jeb J. Rosebrook launched his career with Junior Bonner in 1972, becoming a tv scriptwriter on tv series, notably The Waltons and tv movies, notably I Will Fight No More Forever, as well as the 1979 Disney film The Black Hole, and The Outsiders TV Series (1990) [sequel to the 1983 Francis Ford Coppola/ S.E. Hinton film].
Delores Taylor was partner with her husband Tom Laughlin on their hit indie Billy Jack films, which they co-wrote from 1969 on, as well as costarring in and coproducing/directing the feature series.
Audrey Wells, writer-producer/director of [mainly] romantic comedies and dramas, such as The Truth About Cats & Dogs (1996) and Under the Tuscan Sun (2003), died the day before her latest project, the current race-relations drama The Hate U Give, was released.
... RIP all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
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Storylines In Review 2019