Tuesday, 26 January 2010

McGoohan's on Everybody's Mind: Contemporary Echoes of the Struggle of Number Six

Patrick McGoohan's 1967 show is often spoken of as both visionary and as evocative of something about Today as Yesterday. There are all sorts of reasons a person might believe that to be the case, but an impressive series of TV documentaries from a couple of years ago not only reflects some of the elements of Western Society that helped to inspire McGoohan and his collaborators, but also amplifies why his programme's concerns still seem so relevant to the recent past and the present-day, and why life can never be just a dream. These documentaries were made by Adam Curtis and broadcast by the BBC.

In deference to the man who has made this Blog so easy for me, I should quote Adam Curtis, as he prefaces his own programmes:

"Politicians from both the right and the left came to believe in a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic creatures. Out of this came a new and simplified idea of Politics. No longer did politicians set out to change the world. Instead they saw their job as being nothing more than to deliver what these free individuals wanted and at the same time we too came to think of ourselves as simplified beings whose behaviour and even feelings could be analysed objectively by scientific systems which told us what was the normal way to feel. And both we and our leaders have come to believe that this is the true definition of Freedom. There is no other. But there is.............. "

Or as Patrick McGoohan expressed himself once: "If there's enthusiasm and the team feels it's being directed by someone who knows what he wants, then all that enthusiasm goes into good work. If you feel that the director or the producer is only doing it for the money, then nobody gives a damn."

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4917227518812346524&ei=5GVfS-zLCdyf-AaS9OzmCQ&q=+numbers+bbc+documentary&hl=en&view=3#docid=-5376212150896990926 The Trap: - 1 -
What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom
This opening episode is the most directly 'prisoner-related' as it deals with exactly the zeitgeist that Patrick McGoohan developed his own ideas within. In this episode, Curtis examines the rise of game theory during the Cold War and the way in which its mathematical models of human behaviour filtered into economic thought, with particular reference to the work of John Nash who believed that all humans were inherently suspicious and selfish creatures that strategised constantly. A separate strand in the documentary is the work of RD Laing, whose work in psychiatry led him to model familial interactions using game theory. His conclusion was that humans are inherently selfish, shrewd, and spontaneously generate stratagems during everyday interactions. Laing's theories became more developed when he concluded that some forms of mental illness were merely artificial labels, used by the state to suppress individual suffering. This belief became a staple tenet of counterculture during the 1960s.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4917227518812346524&ei=5GVfS-zLCdyf-AaS9OzmCQ&q=+numbers+bbc+documentary&hl=en&view=3#docid=-1087742888040457650 The Trap - 2 -
The Lonely Robot
This programme moves past the years that created The Prisoner but the echoes are clear. Indeed, if The Prisoner is viewed as *visionary*, then here is part of the vision! The second episode reiterated many of the ideas of the first, but developed the theme that drugs such as Prozac and lists of psychological symptoms which might indicate anxiety or depression were being used to normalise behaviour and make humans behave more predictably, like machines. This is presented as a logical (although unpredicted) outcome of market-driven self-diagnosis. People with standard mood fluctuations diagnosed themselves as abnormal. They then presented themselves at psychiatrist's offices, fulfilled the diagnostic criteria without offering personal histories, and were medicated. The alleged result was that vast numbers of Western people have had their behaviour and mentation modified by drugs without any strict medical necessity. Archive clips spanning two decades emphasise how the severely reductionist ideas of programmed behaviour have been absorbed by mainstream culture. This brings Curtis back to the game theories of Cold War. Curtis explains how, with the "robotic" description of humankind apparently validated by geneticists, the game theory systems gained even more hold over society

The Trap - 3 -
We Will Force You To Be Free
This final episode segues more into 21st Century politics and perhaps becomes irrelevant to what inspired elements of The Prisoner but the final program focused on the concepts of positive and negative liberty introduced in the 1950s by Isaiah Berlin. Curtis then points out how many political groups who sought their vision of freedom ended up using violence to achieve it. For example the French revolutionaries wished to overthrow a monarchical system which they viewed as antithetical to freedom, but in so doing ended up with the so-called Reign of Terror. Similarly, the Communist revolutionaries in Russia, who sought to overthrow the old order and replace it with a society in which everyone was equal, ended up creating a totalitarian regime which used violence to achieve its ends. Using violence, not simply as a means to achieve one's goals, but also as an expression of freedom from Western bourgeois norms developed from the Existentialist ideology of Jean-Paul Sartre, who argued that terrorism was a "terrible weapon but the oppressed poor have no others."

I am a Blogger, and this has been a blog........ and yes, I giggled at the fact that the man's name is Curtis too............
Be seeing You

Sunday, 17 January 2010

McGoohan on my Mind: Harmonising the Disharmonious - The Filler Episode that took longest to make and cost more than any other -Conundrum.

My very first Blog was on the subject of that arch *Filler Episode*, The Girl Who Was Death. Alternately vilified or dismissed by many observers as cheap none sense or amusing kitsch, I explained my viewpoint of how this (in effect) penultimate episode was used by McGoohan to strip away the fourth wall of reality, in a theatrical sense and launch his viewers into the final two-part epsiode, that ran the gamut of the purest stage-surreal theatre to the glitziest filmed special-effects trickery of the television medium.

For my 21st Blog, I would like to try to make amends for not stopping at 17 by focussing on the arguably archest of Filler episodes, Living in Harmony. This is of course the infamous Cowboy episode, whose original title of Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling, was transferred to an episode carrying the pedestrian title up to that point of Face Unknown. Thus the title-song of one of the greatest Individualistic Westerns of the 1950's, High Noon, found itself primarily referring to the lost and previously forgotten fiancee of the hero, Number Six, whilst the Western resume of the adventures of our hero so far, was named after the town in which he now found himself, Harmony. Living in Harmony was shown as Episode 14, immediately before The Girl Who Was Death and one of its small aside roles could have been to introduce the notion that children were present in the village.

Curiously enough, one of the criticisms I've read of the episode The Girl Who Was Death is that it uses children as a plot device and yet children had never been seen in the Village up to that point - yet another Fan Myth, as you can see. Did McGoohan introduce them in Living in Harmony for precisely the purpose of utilising the device of children in the very next episode? Who knows? You decide for yourself, but bear in mind that children were specifically requested for Living in Harmony, according to Frank Maher, who provided his own as two of them.

The genesis of Living in Harmony has been chronicled in some aspects by the evident initiator of the concept and to some degree, the actual script-writer: Ian Rakoff. Writing in his effective autobiography, Rakoff describes his arrival in the world of The Prisoner sometime around the latter weeks of 1966 or early weeks of 1967, depending on how you read his memoir, which is infuriatingly date-unspecific. His script passed through the filter of David Tomblin to Patrick McGoohan, who, Rakoff tells us, had personally comissioned the story and seemed to have taken a great interest and enthusiasm in it, not withstanding his later comments in interviews congratulating interviewers on their perspicacity of noting the episode's *filler* nature. Ian Rakoff's background story, and a current interview (at 2010) is included here:
His story is an interesting and informative one but of course, as he admits himself, he had relatively little contact with McGoohan and just like most other of those closely associated with the Prisoner Project, seems not to have been privy to the close-knit producing/directing team of McGoohan and Tomblin. Reflecting on the mirrored images he presents might benefit from considering what Living in Harmony was actually seeking to add to the 17 episode run of The Prisoner.

In the course of his descriptions of his version of Living in Harmony, Ian Rakoff does not really explain to the reader what it was about the final form of the episode that he found so alien, or as he writes in his memoir, "Watching the episode was like having my insides torn out. For a moment I couldn't believe I'd written any of what i was seeing. It seemed familiar but from somewhere far away and long ago. Dialogues struck chords." Could it be that the big difference that he discerned was that the Cowboy episode was no longer an episode? Like The Girl Who was Death. Living in Harmony was no longer seeking to progress the story of The Prisoner. Instead it served as a resume of the entire concept of the series itself, to date; but by translating The Prisoner into a cowboy fable McGoohan was making the viewer find the universal nature of the story he had been crafting. The Cowboy Western was an apocraphylic format. High Noon, from 1952 was vilified by some elements of the Hollywood. It has been cited as an allegory itself "This film was intended as an allegory in Hollywood for the failure of Hollywood people to stand up to the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Sen. Joseph McCarthy Red-baiting era." http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044706/trivia

However, it should also be remembered that High Noon received four Oscars, so Hollywood certainly gave the movie its full blessing, with John Wayne collecting the award on behalf of Gary Cooper. Another movie from the same era also has echoes of Living in Harmony: "In the old West, a small frontier town is being controlled by ruthless mob boss Decker (Lyle Bettger) and his cronies. After the local sheriff dies under mysterious circumstances, Decker arranges to have the town drunk (Thomas Mitchell) appointed sheriff, thinking he will be ineffectual. But the new sheriff sends for Tom Destry, son of a famous two-fisted lawman, to be his deputy. When Tom (Audie Murphy) arrives, he isn't exactly the swaggering he-man the sheriff had in mind. In fact, Destry doesn't even carry a gun. But the new deputy's mild exterior masks a fierce determination to see justice done, as Decker and the other locals soon discover." http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0046906/plotsummary

Interestingly, the first movie incarnation of Destry was in a 1930's movie starring James Stewart who McGoohan is known to have personally admired.

Whatever its antecedents and whatever Ian Rakoff's original script's unique elements may have been, what Living in Harmony did was to tell the story of The Prisoner all over again, but this time in a Western town. This is almost certainly not what Rakoff might have intended, especially as he seemed to be under the impression that his script was to be just one of several more, leading into a further season of shows.

It is a remarkable fact that High Noon is said to have taken four weeks to shoot, whereas Living in Harmony is believed to have taken five weeks, at least so it is reported in the 2009 book that accompanied the network dvd releases. Many of my earler blogs have challenged some of the long-repeated but frequently incorrect, misleading or downright deceitful myths about the production history of the remarkable series that is McGoohan's Prisoner. Some consideration of the circumstances surrounding the making of Living in Harmony are worthy of logical analysis. Much of the production history has been concoted by interviewing cast and crew over the several decades since 1967. Many of the testimonies are completely contradictory and Living in Harmony is a real case in point. It is regarded as a filler episode and yet it appears to have had the longest shoot of any episode. It is termed a filler episode and yet it appears to have been the most expensive single episode produced, the spent budget estimated at around £75,000.

The long-held view of The Prisoner production by its self-appointed experts has been that as Spring 1967 ended, with 13 episodes pretty much *in the can*, a second season of 13 were planned. This claim is made despite the unambiguous denial of the owner of the Production company, Patrick McGoohan. One version of the myth that attempts to contradict McGoohan is that the cast and crew were asked to introduce ideas - this is indeed how Ian Rakoff came to submit his original ideas for Living in Harmony - However, so far as is recorded there were at least four other unused ideas or script outlines that were never used, despite the fact that yet another idea was concoted between McGoohan and Tomblin, to make what became The Girl Who was Death. Despite still not having written his final script, McGoohan happily spent five weeks shooting one episode, when the cult historians would have you believe he was desperately seeking to scrape together as many as six more episodes. He was also happily spending nearly 30% more on this one episode than he had spent on any other, and these same historians will have you believe his budgets were being breached and Lew Grade's accountants were on the warpath. Clearly the real history Patrick McGoohan was living was a very different history to the one now frequently shoe-horned against these plain facts.

Most of the history writers will then attempt to explain this bizarre contradiction of the circumstance of real life against their concocted history-making by implying McGoohan was wilting under all the pressure and losing control of the whole project. What could be further from the truth? Consider that the Producer, Star, erstwhile Director and Script-writer was simultaneously making a Hollywood movie, and juggling his TV project, and when he had finally completed 16 episodes, was still able to write what is acknowledged by most as one of the most brilliant hours of imaginative TV (even if some find the imagination too surreal and full of avoidance). If the historian contends that his intention was to make 26 epsiodes in total, as all the *Official* historians seem to, then this behaviour does seem wild and illogical.

However consider what McGoohan says actually happened. He said it in 1967 and he said it in 1977 and he said it any other time he had the patience to answer the question over the ensuing decades. He said he only ever intended to make 17 episodes. Once a person is prepared to actually believe what the man tells them, then his behaviour in 1967 suddenly makes almost perfect sense.

By the end of Spring 1967 he had 13 episodes *in the can*, albeit some editing of the material no doubt remained to be done. From his perspective, he only had four more episodes to make. He could safely leave David Tomblin to tinker over the summer, making the one that didn't need him anyway - Do Not forsake me Oh My Darling - a script that he had had for some time. He had determined to make a Cowboy episode because he loved the cowboy hero (he once described John Drake as being like a Western hero). David Tomblin was going to concoct a segue from *reality* into a story-book in The Girl Who Was Death, McGoohan already had his overtly theatrical and penultimate episode Once Upon A Time in the can too, so all he had to do was write the final, 17th episode, and he had nearly eight months to do that. Suddenly, by simply believing Patrick McGoohan, you have the hugest contrast in the story. Suddenly, rather than a production in crisis and a man teetering on the verge of a breakdown, which is what all the *Official* histories will tend to make you believe, you have instread, a very professional, experienced actor/producer/director/writer giving himself a perfectly easy schedule to wrap up his 17 episode show - the 17 episodes that as early as February 1967 was publicly noted in the American press as having been contracted to and by Mike Dann, the CBS Vice-president.

Sometimes a story is complicated because nobody wants to believe the simple answers. As Patrick McGoohan once remarked,

"I think that some people do have a fondness for enigmas.......... but as well, they like something of a mystery, you know?"

History is not always what other people tell you it was. Sometimes by studying what people do and say themselves rather than what other people say they did and said, you can see exactly what really happened.