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Leonard Nimoy In Search Of S04E16 Vincent van Gogh
A good screencap or the best screencap? You decide.

This one is… Ah. This one is frustrating. Brilliant, but frustrating. With a lot of episodes of this show, I really don't know how Nimoy feels about the rubbish they have him spouting. With this one, it's very clear that he's quite passionate about the subject -- Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. Nimoy, as he explains early in the episode, once played Vincent's brother, Theo. Through that experience, he became deeply fascinated with Vincent's life. Later (after filming this episode?) he wrote and starred in a one-man pay about Vincent. A filmed version of this play apparently exists, but I gather it's extremely difficult to find. Nimoy went on to write the play into a book, which was published in the 80s.

My point is, this is clearly a subject dear to Nimoy's heart, and he really pours himself into the episode. His usually brilliant narration goes well above and beyond it's normal quality. During the linking scenes where he's meant to be in France, he's actually in France, not in some part of Southern California which looks a bit like Paris. He's far more deeply embedded in the show than usual, walking through the places Vincent worked and lived. When he describes Vincent's suicide, it's almost like he's fighting back tears -- and it's hard not to choke up watching it.

Unfortunately, in spite of its many, many strengths, the episode has a glaring problem. Namely, the structure of the episode is based on Nimoy looking for proof that van Gogh was not a 'madman' after all. And this is… yeah. This is weird.

It's a good documentary. I really want to stress this. I'm no expert on van Gogh, but I've seen serious documentaries made by the BBC that aren't as informative, entertaining or sensitive. But central to it all is Nimoy's quest to prove that van Gogh wasn't a 'madman' -- rather than just, you know, rethinking his prejudices about mental illness. I know there's no definitive, agreed diagnosis on van Gogh's condition but -- bottom line -- the man was mentally ill. No he wasn't a stage 'madman', a movie 'madman'; but most mentally ill people aren't that either. Nimoy argues that van Gogh's work is too brilliant for the artist to be 'mad' and… well, just no. There are, were, and will be lots of people with mental illnesses who are talented creatives.

Nimoy's conclusion is that van Gogh was not a 'madman' but an epileptic. I honestly don't know enough about epilepsy to know is this is likely. But basically arguing that van Gogh's erratic behaviour was neurological rather than psychological in nature means… what, exactly?

To be fair, in Nimoy's summing up, he wonders himself about the utility of asking the question 'what was wrong with van Gogh.' He concludes that asking the question is more valuable than the answers he found. And also to be fair, Nimoy clearly wasn't done with van Gogh. The episode looks like it's about moving van Gogh from one box to another box, but I suspect that Nimoy realised the inadequacy of that as a means of understanding one of history's truly great artists.

Quote

"But I found something that was, in a sense, beyond the search." Nimoy.

Summing Up

Personal quest: 10/10, Decent documentary: 9/10, Location filming: 10/10, Interesting subject: 10/10, Understanding issues of mental illness: 0/10. 39/50. Distinction.

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Stock certificate In Search Of S04e15 The Missing Heir

Now this one's pretty cool. I thought from the title it would be about a missing person case, but it's actually about an old stock certificate, the current owner of which is unknown. 'Fair enough' you say, but the certificate was worth three million dollars in the late 1970s. That is a spicy meatball!

We start with some pictures of the American West and a little speech about the land of opportunity, before Nimoy points out that there are a surprisingly large number of unclaimed assets in the US. Then we get into the details of this one, super valuable stock certificate, held in San Francisco by Wells Fargo Bank and owned by – well, no one knows. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S04E15 The Missing Heir"

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ID art of DB Cooper from In Search Of S04E11 with Leonard NimoyThe intro for this episode is very different from the usual In Search Of… into. There's the usual quick cutting between images and even a re-enactment (of a parachute jump) but it's all done in that driving, matter-of-fact style of true crime reporting – a quick walk rather than the show's usual ambling gait. Nimoy's narration takes on a hard-edged, somewhat urgent tone as he gives a quick overview of the case of DB Cooper.

I don't know much about the DB Cooper skyjacking, other that the name of the hijacker 'DB Cooper' was an alias, he was a robber rather than a terrorist, he was never captured, and got away with the then-princely sum of $US200 000. Is this episode going to be straightforward crime reporting or is are we going to discover that he was a Minoan agent of the Martians? ...continue reading "In Search Of… S04E11 DB Cooper"

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We open on a shot of a cross on a hill, presumably swiped from an old biblical movie. We move on to crowds lining up to see the shroud itself. But, surprisingly, we're also introduced to a 'young skeptic' who has a non-miraculous theory on the shroud.

In Search of S04E07 The Shroud of Turin
This is an actual screenshot of this episode, presented without any editing on my part.

There's some quite interesting footage of the carnival atmosphere outside of Turin cathedral. Nimoy compares people buying religious souveneirs to medaeval pilgrims. Then we look at the shroud itself, looming up out of darkness into closeup. Nimoy's beautiful narration carries this part, as the shroud itself is visually kind of unimpressive.

We interview the Rev Francis Philas (sp?) an American Catholic theologian. He talks with great enthusiasm about the shroud, and how it looks so much better in person and from a distance than you do from up close. If true, this explains a lot of the rather unimpressive shots of the shroud. Francis was part of a team that examined the shroud, subjecting it to 'many tests'. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S04E07 The Shroud of Turin"

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We open on a reenactmentpolooza as a bunch of people dressed Elizabethan-era English colonists do old timey chores. It's the Lost Colony of Roanoke, a genuine historical! Just how did a settlement of woefully underpre

The Lost Colony of Roanoke In Search Of s04e06
The Colony Gets Lost

pared people with little support from their government fail to flourish?

No seriously, it's a mystery. There were so many ways it could have gone wrong, so which one was it? ...continue reading "In Search Of… S04E06 The Lost Colony of Roanoke"

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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.

In Search Of Carlos the most wanted man in the world s04e02
Bang! Bang! Duh duh duh duh! Bang!

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"

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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.

Leonard Nimoy (l) and the Hope Diamond (r).

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"

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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.

Huh.

Pictured: human joy

Okay, this episode will not be fun. Also, my usual way of dealing with the less fun episodes with streams of jokes really won't be appropriate. Sorry. ...continue reading "In Search Of…. S03E18: The Angel of Death"

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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 woodcut killer strikes again

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's perspective. 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. Nightime London isn't as brightly lit as today. 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"

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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? Who was it? Don't know, do you? Huh?

Cue sound of gunshot. Population number drops to 143.

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 perpetrated by Big Coffin? 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"

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