Friday, April 3, 2015

Godspeed Cynthia Lennon

Cynthia Lennon photographed by Astrid Kirchherr
Cynthia Lennon occupies a singular place in rock music history. She was the first woman to marry a Beatle, although John Lennon was not even famous when she married him. Her status as John Lennon's first wife overshadowed everything else about her life, to the point that all most people know of Cynthia Lennon is her marriage to John Lennon. Sadly, Cynthia Lennon died April 1 2015 at the age of 75. The cause was cancer.

Cynthia Lennon was born Cynthia Powell on September 10 1939 in Blackpool, Lancashire. It was not long after her birth that her family moved to Hoylake, Lancashire (now Merseyside). She was interested in art from a very young age. She was eleven years old when she won a prize in an art contest held by the Liverpool Echo. At age 12 she was accepted into the Junior Art School in Liverpool. It was in September 1957 that she enrolled in the Liverpool College of Art. It was there that she met John Lennon.  The two eventually began dating. It was in August 1962 that Cynthia learned she was pregnant. Upon being told, John Lennon insisted that the two should get married. They did so, on August 23 1962. She gave birth to their son on 8 April 1963.

The Lennons' marriage was only a few months old when The Beatles' first single, "Love Me Do", was released on October 5 1962 in the United Kingdom. It was not long before the United Kingdom was swept up in Beatlemania, and the rest of the world followed. Cynthia had met John as a poor art student and struggling musician, but found herself married to the leader of the most successful rock band of all time. Unfortunately, their marriage would suffer because of The Beatles' success. Cynthia was often left at home with their son Julian while John toured with The Beatles. Over time the two of them grew apart as John became less and less communicative with her. In the meantime John's friendship with artist Yoko Ono eventually blossomed into an affair. Cynthia and John Lennon divorced in November 1968.

In 1973 Cynthia opened a restaurant called Oliver's Bistro in Ruthin, Denbighshire, Wales. In 1978 she published the memoir A Twist of Lennon, which she also illustrated. She sold the bistro in 1983. She was involved in various ventures over the years. In 1988 she launched a failed perfume called Woman. In April 1989 she opened  a restaurant called "Lennon's" in Convent Garden, London. In 1995 she recorded a cover of Mary Hopkin's "Those Were the Days", produced by Sir Paul McCartney. In 2002 she published the biography John about her relationship with John Lennon. In 2010 she and her son Julian unveiled the John Lennon Peace Monument in Liverpool.

Cynthia would eventually remarry. She was married to Roberto Bassanini from 1970 to 1973. She was married to John Twist from 1976 to 1983.  She had a relationship with  Jim Christie from 1981 to 1998. She was married to Noel Charles from 2002 to his death in 2013. After her marriage to John Twist she had her name changed back by deed poll to "Cynthia Lennon".

For better or worse Cynthia Lennon will always be known as John Lennon's first wife. Sadly, this ignores the fact that she was her own person. From her various illustrations it was obvious that she had talent as an artist. While it is difficult to say how things may have unfolded had she not met John Lennon, it seems possible that she could have had a successful career as an artist. At the very least, she could have had a successful career in commercial art.

It also seems possible that she may have played a role in The Beatles' success. Writing in The Rolling Stone, Yoko Ono noted that The Beatles behaved differently when she was around, saying, "I wonder how much her presence encouraged the group to go all the way to the top." It is impossible to say if The Beatles would have been a success had it not been for Cynthia's presence, but regardless she was a part of The Beatles' lives even before they became the biggest band ever. Cynthia Lennon has sometimes been reduced to a footnote in the life of John Lennon and the career of The Beatles, but she was always so much more.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Vince Gilligan's Island on ME-TV

If you watch ME-TV regularly, chances are you have seen the promos for Vince Gilligan's Island. If you haven't, it is an event hosted by Vince Gilligan, who was a long time writer and producer on The X-Files as well as the creator of The Lone Gunmen, Breaking Bad, and Better Call Saul. It will air on Sunday, April 5 from 6:00 PM  Eastern/5:00 PM Central to 10:00 PM Eastern/9:00 PM Central.

As might be expected Vince Gilligan is the host of the event, during which he will feature episodes of television shows that have had an influence upon him. He will be joined by  Bob Odenkirk, best known as Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.

I have to say I admire Mr. Gilligan's tastes in classic television, as he has chosen a solid line up for the event. Vince Gilligan's Island will feature episodes of The Twilight Zone, The Honeymooners, Taxi, and Columbo. He also talks about other classic shows he loves in this interview ME-TV conducted with him, which you can read here. Aside from reading about Mr. Gilligan's love of classic television, I was happy to find out his childhood was a lot like mine and many others of our generation. He grew up with only four television stations to watch that were picked up by a huge aerial on the roof, the orientation of which was changed by device called a rotator (which Mr. Gilligan, like many of us, calls a "clicker").

Anyhow, if you are a fan of classic television and Vince Gilligan,  you might want to check out Vince Gilligan's Island this Sunday!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Harry Styles to Guest Star on Sherlock

Harry Styles of One Direction is set to make his acting debut in the next series of Sherlock. The popular young singer will play a forensics expert at Scotland Yard who assists Sherlock and Watson on an important case.

Mark Gatiss, executive producer and co-creator of the show with Steven Moffat, said of Harry Styles's upcoming guest appearance, "Studies conducted by the BBC have shown that Sherlock appeals primarily to people over thirty. We are hoping that Harry's guest appearance will pull in a slightly younger demographic for the programme."

Steven Moffat, executive producer and co-creator of the show with Mark Gatiss, commented, "I am so happy that Harry Styles is guest starring on Sherlock. I am a huge One Direction fan. I'm hoping we can get him to sing in the episode as well!"

Harry Styles, who is currently on tour with One Direction in South Africa, said of his appearance on Sherlock, " I had never even heard of Sherlock until Steven Moffat contacted me. It's no wonder. I checked and it's only on three times every three or four years! I really feel sorry for Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. I hope that my guest appearance will help boost both of their careers!"

A standalone special of Sherlock is set to air around Christmas this year. No date yet has been set for the fourth series of the programme.

And if you believed any of this (except for that very last line) do keep in mind what day it is....April Fools!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Pre-Code Blogathon: Island of Lost Souls (1932)

It was on March 31 1930 that the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) adopted the Motion Picture Production Code. The Code essentially laid out what was and was not allowable in motion pictures. While the Code had been adopted in 1930, however, it was not rigorously administered and as a result it was often ignored. Many films made in the early Thirties included content that would not be seen again until the Fifties or even the Sixties, content that even then violated the Code. Extreme violence, promiscuity, adultery, homosexuality, sexual innuendo, and drug use all appeared in Hollywood movies made in the late Twenties and early Thirties. It was on June 13 1934 that an amendment was added to the Production Code that required all films made after July 1 1934 to be submitted to the Production Code Administration to get a seal of approval before they could be released.  What has since come to be known as the "Pre-Code Era" was over.

The Pre-Code Era overlapped with another historic period in American film history. It was on February 12 1931 that Universal premiered its film Dracula in New York City. This marked the beginning of what can be considered the "Golden Age of Horror Films", an era that can perhaps be ended with the release of Dracula's Daughter in 1936. Given the Golden Age of Horror overlapped with the Pre-Code Era, it should come as no surprise that many of the horror films released in the period were much more intense in terms of content than what would follow. Indeed, while Universal's well known horror films only occasionally overstepped the bounds of what was considered acceptable at the time by many, other studios would push the envelope with regards to content. This was particularly true of the horror films produced by Paramount. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) ran afoul of  state and local censorship boards even upon its initial release. Paramount's 1932 horror film Island of Lost Souls would as well. In fact, in the end it could well have been the most controversial Pre-Code horror film besides MGM's Freaks (1932).

Island of Lost Souls was an adaptation of the 1896 novel The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells. The novel centred on an Englishman named Edward Prendick and his time on an island on which the scientist Dr. Moreau was intent on creating human beings out of animals. While Island of Lost Souls would retain the idea of a traveller and his encounter with Dr. Moreau (played by Charles Laughton in the film), it would also take a few liberties with the source material. The least of these may have been the change in the protagonist's name, from Edward Prendick to Edward Parker (played by Richard Arlen). A more substantial change was the addition of two new characters. One was a traditional, Hollywood love interest in the form of Parker's fiancée Ruth Thomas (played by Leilia Hyams). The other was a more complex character, that of Lota the Panther Woman (played by Kathleen Burke).  Island of Lost Souls departed from the novel in other ways as well, including introducing sex into the mix as well as having a traditional, Hollywood ending rather than the slightly more complicated end of the novel.

Despite being based on a best selling novel by H. G. Wells, Island of Lost Souls faced opposition even before production on the film began. The Studio Relations Committee (the MPPDA's body charged with implementing the Code at the time) expressed a great deal of concern with regards to Island of Lost Souls.  They warned that the idea of crossing humans with animals would be a risk and even advised that the film "..should be abandoned." They also expressed some concern over Dr. Moreau's line, "Mr. Parker, do you know what it means to feel like God?" Paramount ignored the the Studio Relations Committee and went forward with the film. And, as history shows, Dr. Moreau's famous line remained in the film.

Even by today's standards it is easy to see why the Studio Relations Committee would have objections to the film. Dr. Moreau doesn't only want to make humans out of animals, but it is fairly clear that he wants the hero Parker to mate with Lota the Panther Woman. One of Dr. Moreau's "beast men", Ouran also tries to assault Parker's fiancée Ruth. Dr. Moreau performs his operations without anaesthetics and makes free use of a whip against his "beast men". One can easily see why the Studio Relations Committee would have cause for concern.

Indeed, it should come as no surprise that Island of Lost Souls faced a good deal of censorship across the United States upon its initial release. The Kansas State Board of Review passed the film only after extensive edits were made to it. Virginia's state censorship board rejected it twice before Paramount threatened them with a lawsuit. The Virginia state board then passed Island of Lost Souls, although it was with several cuts to the film. Of course, Paramount could not threaten legal action every time Island of Lost Souls faced censorship, as they would have soon found themselves buried in legal bills. Fourteen different regional censorship boards outright rejected Island of Lost Souls.

The film would also face censorship outside the United States. In the United Kingdom the British Board of Film Censors banned Island of Lost Souls outright. It would not be seen in Britain until 1958. Even then it was only after several cuts had been made to the film and it was given an "X" Certificate (meaning no one under 16 could see the film). Several other countries also banned the film, including Denmark, Germany, Holland, Hungary, India, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Given the reception it received upon its initial release, it should come as no surprise that Island of Lost Souls suffered greatly once the Code started being more strenuously enforced in 1934.   Indeed, when Paramount wanted to re-release the film in 1935, the Production Code Administration rejected it entirely. When Paramount wanted to reissue the film in 1941, the Production Code Administration only allowed it after any references Dr. Moreau made comparing himself to God were cut, as well as the doctor's line "Man is the present climax of a long process of organic revolution. All animal life is tending to human form," and any reference to Dr. Moreau's intention for Parker to mate with Lota the Panther Woman. Sadly, Island of Lost Souls would not be entirely restored until 2011.

While Island of Lost Souls is regarded as a classic by many today,  H. G. Wells himself disliked the film, and referred to it s "...a travesty of his intent..."  He apparently felt that it was a vulgarisation of his work that emphasised  horror and sadism, and that it entirely missed the more subtle philosophical underpinnings of his novel The Island of Doctor Moreau.

While it is true that Charles Laughton's Dr. Moreau is more a sadistic megalomaniac than the misguided idealist of the novel, I personally think H. G. Wells was wrong. I think Island of Lost Souls actually does address the philosophical themes of The Island of Dr. Moreau and does them quite well. Certainly the theme of the folly of human interference with nature, a theme that can also be found in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, is present in the film as it is in the novel. The film also does a fairly good job of addressing the theme of man's responsibility towards his fellow living beings that is found in novel. Arguably, the film does an even better job of addressing the themes of cruelty and pain than the novel does. While Island of Lost Souls was certainly shocking for its day and is still disturbing even today, it was never a mere horror film, even though it seems H. G. Wells thought so. In fact, much of the reason Island of Lost Souls retains its power to disturb is that it addresses themes that people usually do not like to think about.

Not surprising given the censorship it faced, Island of Lost Souls did not particularly do well at the box office upon its initial release. Fortunately over the years it would develop a following until such time as many regard it as a classic. Despite two more adaptations having been made (both titled The Island of Dr. Moreau--one released in 1977 and another in 1996), Island of Lost Souls is still considered by many to be the best film adaptation of the novel. Island of Lost Souls has also had a lasting influence. It has been referenced in everything from Sullivan's Travels to The Simpsons. Rock bands from Devo to Oingo Boingo have taken inspiration from the film. While Island of Lost Souls faced a good deal of censorship and did not do particularly well at the box office upon its initial release, it has since become regarded by many as one of the all time great horror films of the Thirties.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Thank You for a Successful Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon!

I just wanted to thank everyone who participated in the Favourite TV Show Blogathon for making it a success. The blogathon not only boasted several entries, but also a wide variety of entries. We had everything from posts on poplar favourites to lesser known, more obscure TV shows. We also had posts devoted to both American and British shows. And I think very nearly every genre of scripted television shows was covered! I must say that I was very impressed with all of the posts. All of you did a very good job.

As I said in the official post for the blogathon, I have decided to make the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon an annual event. It will still be in March, although next year I plan to pay a bit more attention so it does not conflict with the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival (which I hope to attend)! I also have the second annual British Invaders Blogathon coming up in August (the official announcement will be in early June), so you might want to start thinking about that if you enjoy blogathons!

Anyhow, thanks to everyone who participated and congratulations on jobs well done!