Went the Day Well? (1942) was Brazilian born director Alberto Cavalcanti's first feature film for Ealing Studios after he had joined them, in 1940, from the GPO and Crown Film Unit, then under the auspices of documentarian John Grierson. Under Grierson's wing, Cavalcanti had contributed to a number of highly-regarded British documentary films such as Coal Face (1935), Night Mail (1936) and Spare Time (1939). When Grierson left for Canada he was offered the post of head of the unit but declined when it required him to become a naturalised British citizen. 

After completing the short film Yellow Caesar in 1941, a propagandist pot-shot at Mussolini that's included on this Blu-ray release, he moved on to this adaptation of Graham Greene's short story 'The Lieutenant Died Last', scripted by John Dighton, Angus MacPhail and Diana Morgan, wherein Went the Day Well? itself became an unofficial form of propaganda that was concerned with the security of the home-front during wartime.

CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO: The Sun Makers / DVD Review

The Sun Makers
November – December 1977

‘Praise The Company’ ‘Stuff The Company!’

Bob Holmes’ satire on the British taxation system. Or is that too simple a description? The Sun Makers may well have started life inspired by Holmes's run-in with the Inland Revenue or as a bit of a broadside at the BBC's treatment of the writers it employed, if the commentary and the documentary that supplement this disc are to be believed, but it also reflects the times in which it was made.

Holmes seems to have caught the way the wind was blowing as the Labour government reeled under pressure from the unions and hurtled towards the ‘Winter Of Discontent’ in 1978-79. He examines the birth and the nature of revolutions, the exploration of who are the oppressed and the oppressors and the binary between left and right political viewpoints  in the story recalling a number of themes in the equally satirical Carnival Of Monsters and the scathing attack on privilege that formed the undercurrent of The Deadly Assassin.

A platform for interdisciplinary scholarship on British SF, horror, gothic and fantasy television, the Alien Nation conference at Northumbria University on 20th and 21st July seeks to advance an understanding of the historical importance of the fantasy tradition within British television, and of the significance of that tradition to British and international visual cultures more generally.

It also coincides with a surge of creative achievement and popular interest in programmes incorporating “fantastic” elements, such as Doctor Who, Being Human, Survivors and Misfits, as well as the elevation of many older shows to cult or canonical status. As the first major conference specifically on the subject of British telefantasy, it will consider how this rich tradition might be understood, evaluated and contextualised. Panels and speakers will cover everything from Quatermass to Misfits, fan cultures to soundscapes, the Britishness, the comedic aspects and the gendering of our telefantasy. It also includes screenings, special events and a book launch. The keynote speakers include Stacey Abbott, Helen Wheatley, Stephen Volk and Peter Wright. The conference organisers are Dr James Leggott and Dr Alison Peirse.

Cathode Ray Tube has live blogged the keynote presentations as well as a selection of the many panel discussions across the two days of the event. The conference had its own Twitter hashtag #aliennationconf and tweets an comments are also included into the live blog.

Jerzy Skolimowski's Deep End (1970) is a film that surely ranks with Polanksi's Repulsion (1965), Antonioni's Blow Up (1966) and Losey's collaborations with Pinter, The Servant (1963) and Accident (1967) as one of the most interesting cinematic dissections made, by another European outsider, of British social and cultural mores of the 1960s. As the 1960s progressed and London become the epicenter for the perceived changes supposedly ushered in by the 'Swinging Sixties', several European directors found themselves on British shores, casting an unprejudiced view over the tidal wave of political and social changes, the debates about gender and class, as British music and design was at full tilt in its quest for world domination.

Even Truffaut made his first film in English, Fahrenheit 451, at Pinewood and on location in Berkshire and London in 1966 and Deep End seems to have been equally feted through its collision of European art-house and 1960s pop zeitgeist, with Skolimowski linked to Polanski through his screenwriting on Knife in the Water (1962) and star Jane Asher's credentials as a Beatle's former girlfriend. And yet, despite critical praise, the film vanished shortly after release, doomed by its brief appearance at an art house cinema, the Academy, and poor release across the UK. For years it was considered lost but now Bavaria Film have completely restored it, it has enjoyed a successful re-release and the BFI have released it as part of the Flipside imprint. Rightfully, Skolimowski's idiosyncratic view of British life is revealed to be a rather vital link in the cinema that depicts the unraveling of the 1960s and looks pessimistically towards the next decade.

David Gladwell is not a name you'll instantly recognise from the annals of British film and television. Hopefully this is going to be rectified with the release of Requiem for a Village (1975), one of only two features he made during his long career as a British film maker. Start digging and you'll soon discover that Gladwell's reputation spans much of the British documentary movement of the 1950s and 1960s, either as a director or as an editor.

He studied painting at Gloucester Art College, began experimenting with film, and by 1958 had made two short films, A Summer Discord (1955) and Miss Thompson Goes Shopping (1958) with funding from the BFI. Both films are included in the supplements to this disc and demonstrate his fascination with the plasticity of the medium, a striking blend of jump cuts, slow motion, non-diegetic sound, unorthodox framing, use of close-ups and mixing black and white with colour footage. The success of these films secured Gladwell further support from the BFI and led to the fractured time experiments of An Untitled Film (1964). This haunting film synthesised Gladwell's obsession with time, where the components of a brief event are broken down into a slow motion catalogue of gestures, actions, looks and emotions. He also worked at British Transport Films in the 1960s, editing a number of short features, and began a productive partnership with Derrick Knight and Partners, a documentary film production company, that saw him direct and edit a number of films, including The Great Steam Fair (1964), also included in this set, and a promotional film for the new town of Harlow, Faces of Harlow (1964) commissioned by the Harlow Development Corporation.

Later in the 1960s, he worked as an editor on major feature films such as Lindsay Anderson's If... (1968) and O, Lucky Man! (1973), the Merchant Ivory production Bombay Talkie (1970) and worked as an editor on John Berger's acclaimed BBC series, Ways of Seeing (1972). After writing, directing, producing and editing Requiem for a Village, he continued working on a number of documentary films for the BBC and Channel 4 but he only wrote and directed one other feature film, an adaptation of Doris Lessing's Memoirs of a Survivor (1981) starring Julie Christie. It's themes, the ability to see or visit the past from the standpoint of a present on the brink of chaos and destructive change, resonate with Gladwell's own ideas in Requiem.

CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO: Paradise Towers / DVD Review

Paradise Towers
October 1987

"People don't just vanish, do they?"
"Of course not. There's always something left behind"

Following hot on Kate O'Mara's heels in the opening story of the 1987 season, Time and the Rani, was Stephen Wyatt's Paradise Towers. If the previous story had been considered by many as a pretty underwhelming and rather embarrassing slice of Doctor Who, then Wyatt's story didn't do a huge amount to improve the series's lot even if it signaled ever so faintly that the beached production was about to float freer on higher tides. It was the first proper commission handled by incoming script editor Andrew Cartmel and even though it was a terribly executed production there were glimmers of interesting ideas and directions buried beneath a mound of over-earnest design and the broadest performances imaginable.

Paradise Towers allows in a chink of creative light that the series certainly needed, until then more or less depending on abundant referencing and reuse of its past glories to tell stories. Wyatt's basic ideas and themes are imaginative, clever and, above all, free of the dogged reliance on formulaic continuity. It's terribly obvious about half way in that Wyatt is making this up as he goes along, freely admitting so in the commentary that accompanies the episodes on this disc, and struggled to find a suitable conclusion. The ideas, reflecting a myriad of themes about the destruction and devolution of communities at the hands of developers and planners, the disparity between the designs of modern architectural practices and the desire and comforts of the people that live or work in their creations and the effects of rampant petty bureaucracy, are implicit rather than explicit.

TALES OUT OF SCHOOL: Four Films by David Leland / Blu-Ray Review

David Leland's quartet of dramas from 1983, under their original umbrella title of Tales Out of School gets a very welcome release from Network this month. All four films, Birth of a Nation, Flying in the Wind, RHINO and Made in Britain, were commissioned by Central Independent Television, the ITV franchise that emerged from the restructuring of the original ATV, and were produced by Margaret Matheson, who had become Controller of Drama after a successful if controversial time at the BBC where she had produced Alan Clarke's banned television play, Scum. After a steady career as an actor during the 1960s and 1970s, Leland's reputation as a writer willing to tackle socially sensitive subject matters grew through his work in 1981 on Play For Today, on Psy Warriors and Beloved Enemy.

Both plays had also brought him into contact with director Alan Clarke whose work, radical and realist in tone, had become fiercely political and controversial (he had directed the banned production of Scum for Matheson and the later cinema version). Their paths would all cross again on the production of these four films, with Clarke directing the Prix Italia award winning Made in Britain, the final film of the quartet. As Leland outlines in both of the excellent documentaries that supplement this release, he had been concerned with the structure and power of mass education for some time and through Clarke secured the commission for Tales Out of School from Matheson.

Just a very quick plug to let you all know that those lovely people at Classic TV Press, who published my own title Doctor Who: The Pandorica Opens - Exploring the Worlds of the Eleventh Doctor last year, will be promoting their range of titles, including my own book and other publications on Secret Army, Survivors and Being Human, at this weekend's London Film & Comic Con at Earls Court 2.

They will no doubt be talking to visitors about their forthcoming titles, including Standard by Seven, a book about the enduring appeal of Blake's 7 written by David McIntee, television director Michael E Briant's forthcoming memoirs, the recently published revised edition of Joanne Black's book on Being Human which now incorporates her anaylsis of the third series, and their Upstage theatre imprint, about to publish former RSC actress Caroline Blakiston's book Black Bread and Cucumber. Realised from extensive diaries of her time living and working with Russian actors, both before and after the coup of 1991, the book shares her remarkable experiences as the first English actress to play in Chekhov, in Russia, in Russian.

Classic TV Press's 2011/12 catalogue can be downloaded here and if you visit their stand at London Film & Comic Con you'll be able to purchase the currently published titles directly from their stand and buy a signed edition of the Being Human book as Joanne will be in attendance and signing copies. Oh, and of course, it's another opportunity to pick up my book too!

The event is of course filled to the rafters with actors from the worlds of science fiction and fantasy television and film, including Doctor Who, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Babylon 5, Back to the Future, Star Wars and many, many more.

London Film and Comic Con
8th, 9th & 10th July 2011
Opening Times:
Friday (Preview Night):
6pm - 9pm
Early Entry - 9am / Standard Entry from 11am - Show closes at 6pm.
Sunday: Early Entry - 9am / Standard Entry from 11am - Show closes at 5pm.

Ticket Prices:
Friday preview night: £5.
Saturday and Sunday: Early entry - £12 all ages or £30 family ticket. Standard entry from 11am - £6 adults, £3 children (12 and under) or £15 family ticket.

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Don't Look Now (1973) is perhaps Nicolas Roeg's greatest and most accessible expression of his ability to use images and editing to leap across time and space, making connections in film narrative that are often magical, metaphysical and psychological, inviting the audience to ponder the fragility of life and death, of fate and desire. 

Based on a very brief short story from 1971 by Daphne Du Maurier, Don't Look Now, adapted with a script written by Chris Bryant and Allan Scott, is first and foremost an exploration of grief and loss as the Baxters, John and Laura (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie), attempt to cope with the death by drowning of their daughter Christine. A significant part of the grieving process takes place in Venice where John is working on the major restoration project of a local church. As the couple struggle to revive their relationship Laura meets two sisters, Heather and Wendy (Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania). Heather, although blind, claims to have the gift of second sight and convinces Laura that she can see the presence of the dead Christine with them in Venice. John is entirely sceptical and believes that the two women are exerting a malign influence over Laura. However, throughout John experiences his own visions, Christine in her red mackintosh and of Laura and the two sisters on a Venetian funeral barge as the police deal with a killer stalking the streets of the city. It is only as he pursues a similar figure in red through the fog enshrouded back streets and canals of Venice that the true nature of his predestined fate is finally revealed to him.

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