I've said it before and I'll say it now: In Search Of… is a very weird show. In between an episode about tidal waves and an one about the Amityville Horror comes an episode about Carlos the Jackal. There's some dodgy reenactments but otherwise it's a topic that could have appeared on any legit news/current affairs show of the late 1970s.
To the viewer watching now, it's a bit of an interesting historical oddity. Carlos basically was a terrorist mastermind of the 1970s. Basically, he's portrayed in this episode as a slightly crap supervillain, which is not so far from the truth. These days, terrorists are basically one-shot weapons. They do what they do and either die or get caught doing it. Carlos comes from a day when a single terrorist might strike several times. As such, a terrorist might actually gather a bit of cred in his career. Rather than just being forgotten when the next murderous idiot comes down the pike. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S04E02 Carlos: the Most Wanted Man in the World"
Now this is what I watch the show for -- just straight up harmless silliness. And I mean it, as weird fringe beliefs go, 'this diamond will make you unlucky' is about as harmless as you can get. Hell, it's possibly helpful – look at the horrors surrounding the diamond industry and tell me the world wouldn't be a better place if people though all diamonds were haunted.
Anyhoo, this episode is about the Hope Diamond. It starts with a truly hypnotic intro with Nimoy delivering a beautiful (if meandering) narration about the beauty and supposed power of diamods. This is illustrated with footage of diamonds, segueing into a backdrop of an actress playing a sorceress as we get into the weird stuff. There's a slightly dull bit in the middle when we talk to a gem expert, and then we're back to the silliness. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S03E20 The Diamond Curse"
The last few episodes have been a bit up and down, including the wonderful strangeness of Dreams and Nightmares and the Money Pit Mystery, interspersed with sparse fare like Animal ESP and Psychic Sea Hunt. Maybe this next episode will be fun? And it's titled… Angel of Death, aka Joseph Mengele.
Jack the Ripper. *Deep sigh.* Okay, let's do this.
Silhouette of a man on a brick wall. A woman a red dress that looks kind of Victoriany in the dark and from the back walks along. Still, the electronic music is suitably dramatic and Nimoy gives a lovely delivery to his cliché driven oration. "The files of Scotland Yard" indeed.
The woman tries to hurry away from the approaching camera but then stops and turns. Oh great, we were doing first person from the murderer. I was fine when the camera was playing first person with Bigfoot, but the Ripper? Anyway, we see a heavily disguised and shadowed man approach the woman, who screams. Cut to black.
Pan across London at twilight. Now this is interesting. In the 1970s, if you filmed in low light what you'd see was not too obviously unlike 1880s London. Nimoy waxes lyrical about the wealth and power of the British Empire, comparing that to the poverty and squalor of the East End.
Trouble is, when they film some extras playing Victorian Eastenders, they and their surroundings are so clean. There's some trash ostentatiously spread on the ground in one shot, but this only emphasises the lack of muddy rat-filled streets and sooty, poster-encrusted walls. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S03E05 Jack the Ripper"
We open – to my surprise – on a few seconds of footage from the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Wouldn't have thought this series would have the budget. Leonard Nimoy says that according to the movie, Cassidy died in South America. (Cut to an old-timey car on a desert highway.) But if so, who was the 'mysterious stranger' who turned up in in Wyoming fifteen years later?
Huh? Who? Don't know, do you? Huh?
So anyway, there's the thesis of the show. Did Butch Cassidy die when history supposes him to have died, or did he live on like Anastasia, Dillinger, Earhart, Hitler, Morrison, Elvis and Tupac? Is anyone, in fact, dead? Is 'death' just a big con? Maybe the people who 'die' really just go off to live on a big farm upstate with a nice family and lots of room to run around? ...continue reading "In Search Of… S02E21 Butch Cassidy"
This is going to be fun! A nice piece of inconsequential weirdness to ring in the new year.
In 1918, the Russian royal family were massacred by the Bolsheviks. Theories that the Czar Nicholas II's youngest daughter—the Grand Duchess Anastasia—somehow survived the executioners' bullets have been around for decades. But spoiler alert: in 2007 DNA evidence was used to prove that she died in 1918 after all.
Now, while it is a little unfair to blame a show from 1978 for not knowing that, it does mean that for once I'm going into an episode with absolute certainty. It's not a case of 'yeah, but…' It's not a case of 'that doesn't seem likely'. It's not a case of 'what, the Minoans?' or 'but last week, you said...' or even 'I don't think that's how archaeology works.' This time, when they ask the question 'did Anastasia survive?' I don't even have to wonder. Nope! Just nope! ...continue reading "In Search Of… S02E13 Anastasia"
In 1970, Elvis Presley met Richard Nixon. He arranged this simply by turning up and asking to see the president and by basically, you know, being Elvis.
Elvis and Nixon is an enjoyable, low key historical comedy/drama, documenting Elvis' campaign to get into the Oval Office and speculating on what passed between the President and the King. (Nixon had not yet begun recording his meetings, so there's no actual record of what was said.) The handwritten letter that Elvis wrote to Nixon is still around, and we know that Elvis basically wanted to be made a secret Federal Agent so as to save America from hippies.
The film works mainly because of excellent performances by the two main actors, Michael Shannon playing Elvis and Kevin Spacey as Nixon. These are damn tricky performances. After all, Elvis and Nixon have to me two of the most imitated men of their time, and yet Shannon and Spacey avoid doing straight out imitation. Yes they keep some of the mannerisms but they're more interested in getting to the humanity of their respective characters. This is very important, because the gap between the public and private faces of celebrities is a key theme of the movie.
It's also a hugely funny movie. It's not a comedy in the sense of being about set-ups and jokes, but about the basic absurdity of the entire situation. Some of the humour comes from the weird way in which two very different and yet very similar forms of power interact, overlap and contradict. Some of the other laughs come from the specific characters of Elvis and Nixon and the different ways in which these two leaders keep their subordinates in line.
Elvis and Nixon is an unusual thing in an American historical movie, steering away from the huge issues and explosions, working on a small scale. Taking place on one day in a handful of locations it nonetheless has an awful lot to say about an event which was not particularly important, and yet which manages to be deeply telling.
Last week I promised not to do any fact checking on this episode. I have a feeling I'm going to regret that.
So, open on a man in a tricorn hat rushing into a coach. Nice. Sets period, gives a sense of urgency. There's a slightly blurry effect on the screen as the coach speeds away. Nimoy tells us that its France, 1760, and 'the wonder man of Europe runs for his life.
(Hmmm… Marvel Wonder Man joke, or Danny Kaye Wonder Man joke? Eh, the Danny Kaye movie is pretty obscure… Then again, Wonder Man isn't exactly a first-string Marvel character either… Eh, skip it.)
Nimoy assures us that this man is a man of mystery, a genius in many subjects including alchemy. Though he looked forty, he may have been much older. Who says so? 'Many', that's who. We're talking about the Count of Saint Germaine, though he was called 'the man who would not die'. Who called him that? 'Others', that's who. What, exactly, is the relationship between 'many' and 'others'? That, no one knows. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S02E02 The Man Who Would Not Die"