srijeda, 6. travnja 2016.

P J Hammond - Sapphire and Steel (tv-series 1979 - 1982)

Jedna od "najčudnijih tv-serija svih vremena". Ne o putovanju kroz vrijeme, nego o procjepima i uvrnućima u samom vremenu. Ništa se ne objašnjava, logika sna ne razrjeđuje se nikakvim racionalizacijama.

A whole series about time anomalies? Not time travel , but ruptures, twists in the fabric of time. On ITV?
Those were the days.
1979-1982, to be precise. Not coincidentally, the prime years for k-punk music. David McCallum and Joanna Lumley star in what a fansite describes as '[d]efinitely one of the strangest series ever produced.' No exaggeration, surely.
Sapphire and Steel.
Here was a series, notionally 'science fiction', in which '[n]othing is explained, absolutely nothing. This is where the series gets most of its dramatic impact - the near-total ignorance of the viewer as to what is going on. No nice pauses in the action whilst the master fiend explains his/her plans for conquest of the Universe. In many of the stories, the master fiend is even invisible, so you never even see what it is that's being dealt with. Either that, or the creature is every possible shape simultaneously...'
What stopped the series being frustratingly obscurantist were the unmistakeable contours of a logic, albeit one that was only fleetingly apparent to the viewer. Sapphire and Steel had the consistency of dream; but whereas the tendency in most 'dream-like' narratives is to ultimately defuse the power of the oneiric, Sapphire and Steel never dissipated dream mystery with (over)explanation. Its decontextualised images and sinister sonic refrains were allowed to retain their unsettling force.
Watching now, Sapphire and Steel looks like Tarkovsky's Stalker mixed with Dr Who and Magritte. Science fiction with none of the traditional trappings of the genre, no space-ships, no rayguns: no anthropomorphic foes, only the unravelling fabric of the corridor of Time, along which strange, malevolent entities would crawl, exploiting and expanding gaps and fissures in temporal continuity.
All we knew about Sapphire and Steel was that they were 'detectives' of a peculiar kind, sent from equally mysterious 'agency' to repair these breaks in time. Like Tarkovsky's Stalker, Sapphire and Steel are Sensitives, attuned to chronic disturbances beyond the perceptual range of human beings (including the audience).
Sapphire and Steel carried themselves with an inhuman poise, a lofty sense of their superiority to humans. Like the series itself, the two lead figures were (gratifyingly) lacking in humour. (The self-reference that had begun to infect Dr Who was refreshingly absent from Sapphire and Steel). McCallum's Steel was icily indifferent to the humans into whose affairs he became reluctantly enmeshed; and if Lumley's Sapphire appeared more sympatheitc , there was always the suspicion that her apparent affection for human beings was much like an owner's feeling for a pet.
Like Nigel Kneale (Sapphire and Steel's Adventure One is a virtual remake of 'The Stone Tape'), like the best of Dr Who, like Lovecraft, Sapphire and Steel's appeal lay in its exploration of the Gothic side of SF. Its frissions came from the uncanny, from the shudders it managed to evoke from familiar objects and phenomena which refuse to ever relinquish their weird associations. The conduits for temporal breakdown are often Freud's strangely familiar: in Adventure One, children's nursery rhymes; in Adventure Four, old photographs.
Sapphire and Steel is about as far away from Now SF as you could imagine. Low-budget, small cast (most often only Lumley and McCallum and a couple of others), high-concept: a world away from the massified likes of the Matrix trilogy. - Mark Fisher aka k-punk

"There are things - creatures, if you like - from the very beginnings of Time, and the very end of Time. And these creatures have access to the corridor. They're forever... moving along it. Searching... looking... trying to find a way in. They're always searching, aways looking."
"For the hole in the fabric?"
"Yes. But they must never be allowed in, never ever!"
At the risk of annoying the likes of Luka who aren't so keen on my 'seventies nostalgia' posts, here's another one on Sapphire and Steel.
A little background.
Sapphire and Steel was produced by ATV (ITV midlands region) between 1979 and 1982. It was the brainchild of author P J Hammond, who had previously worked as a writer on police dramas such as The Gentle Touch and Hunter's Walk and on children's fantasy shows like Ace of Wands and Dramarama.
Hammond explains the concept as follows:
"The basis of `Sapphire and Steel' came from my desire to write a detective
story, into which I wanted to incorporate Time. I've always been interested in
Time, particularly the ideas of J B Priestley and H G Wells, but I wanted to
take a different approach to the subject. So instead of having them go
backwards and forwards in Time
, it was about Time breaking in, and having set
the precedent I realized the potential that it offered with two people whose
job it was to stop the break-ins."
I've just rewatched Adventure One and is really is an astonishing piece of work. In Adventure One, Sapphire and Steel arrive at a house in a remote coastal area. They find two children alone; their parents have unaccountably vanished, and all the clocks in the house have stopped.
What follows is an exemplary exploration of the uncanny. The uncanny, the unheimlich, the unhomely. Freud's original analysis of the term, you will recall, drew upon the ambivalence of the word: the fact that the unhomely includes the homely. The 'un' is a token not of negation (there is no negation in the unconscious) but of repression.
Adventure One is set entirely within a family home, and Sapphire and Steel treat the familiar objects of the house - the children's story books, the paintings, all the 'old things' - as if they are dangerous weapons. Such objects, it emerges, can be 'triggers' for the temporal breakdowns the two time detectives are duty-bound to rectify. For Sapphire and Steel, the house becomes an intensive space in which every slight movement, every posture and word, potentially has a ritual significance.
If the series is remarkable for its cryptic refusal to pander to the audience's demand for explanation, that is partly because it is attuned to the unconscious, to the submerged knowledges that children still possess but which adults have forgotten. On the level of the unconscious, no explanation is necessary. Everyone knows there is something disturbing about clocks. Everyone knows that nursery rhymes are sinister incantations. Everyone knows that paintings contain worlds you can fall into. Everyone knows there are realities a hair's breadth away from our own into which you can step. - Mark Fisher aka k-punk

It's the pace of the thing that I find so fascinating. Due to budget restrictions, every storyline unfolds very slowly, typically stretched over six 25-minute episodes. Events occur at a magnetically slow pace, in a scenario where, funnily enough, Time itself is supposedly the 'villian'. Special effects, supporting characters and scene-changes are kept to a bare minimum - everything is held together by the rivetting on-screen presence of lead actors Joanna Lumley and David McCullum. The complete absence of spectacle imbues everything with an eerie stillness, which makes the occasional action sequences even more startling. Special mention must also go to Cyril Ornadel's incidental music. Arranged for a small ensemble of musicians (predominatly woodwind) with liberal use of electronic treatments (ring modulation, echo/delay) to intensify the drama and suggestion of horror, Ornadel's cues are far more powerfully chilling and evocative than anything you're likely hear in the mainstream media today. -

Mark Fisher: The Slow Cancellation Of The Future

post on Refracted Input, part 1
post on Refracted Input, part 2

I especially like 'recombinatorial delirium'...
He misses out the most important factor, a technical one: the confluence of recording and the Internet's destruction of intellectual property constraints - the ubiquitous availability of everything that's ever been recorded, sound and vision, does more than anything to bring about temporal erasure. Everything's equally available, so everything's equally contemporary. That's the main factor driving recombinatorial delirium: all influences have the same immanence, without reference to temporal positioning or weight. The number of possible combinations has become, in practical human terms, infinite... - Gerald O'Connell

Created by P.J. Hammond, Sapphire and Steel (ITV, 1979-82) was an exhilarating, frequently bizarre series whose striking originality remains undimmed since its initial screening. Although originally devised as a children's series, what emerged, with its sophisticated and enigmatic storytelling and emphasis on an atmosphere of fear, was clearly aimed at older audiences.
Ever-glamorous Joanna Lumley and a saturnine David McCallum played the mysterious title characters, elementals with special powers who were able to communicate telepathically. Much of the series' strength derived from the interplay between them, their scenes together charged with sexual energy, a factor enhanced in the two stories featuring the flirtatious Silver, played by David Collings.
The second story, set in a deserted railway station, is perhaps the best and best-remembered, due at least partly to the fact that at eight episodes it is by far the longest, and because it was halfway through its run when the 1979 ITV strike hit, keeping the channel off the air between August and October. When transmission was resumed, the story restarted from the beginning, climaxing with a chilling and cruel finale in which Steel sacrifices the innocent and blameless Tully (sensitively played by Gerald James) without the slightest compunction.
Although the third story included some location filming on the roof of a high story building, the series was otherwise wholly studio-bound, which gave the programme its distinctively claustrophobic feel, combining limbo sets, atmospheric lighting and clever use of minimalist music and augmented audio effects.
The fifth story, broadcast in the summer of 1981, was written by Don Houghton and Anthony Read to give Hammond a well-deserved rest and was a neat metaphysical reversal of a standard Agatha Christie scenario, with members of a dinner party killed one by one before vanishing out of existence.
The sixth and final story ended on a cliffhanger, with the protagonists trapped in a window in space, left to wander in time for eternity. Hammond has said that a further story was planned, but by 1982 commissioning company ATV had lost its franchise and interest in the series had waned. Sapphire and Steel, across 34 episodes, brilliantly combined science fiction, horror and fantasy with the time plays of J.B. Priestley and the absurdist work of Beckett and Pinter into a unique melange that in its imaginative writing and obscure plotting is still unrivalled. - Sergio Angelini

Revisiting Sapphire and Steel
Sapphire and Steel. Sci Fi Freak site
Page on TV Tropes
Stephen O’Brien SFX magazine
Page on British Horror Television