122. Geniuses

Tapehead no 122

Sometimes, Tapehead wonders if there is a God. Namely after he’s sat through one and a half hours of Bob Mills, four fucking hours of Tim “Clueless” Clark, and Tommy Udo doing the ingeniously inane Film Night ! Have mercy.

Then on BBC2the lordly visage of Orson Welles appears from behind a velvet curtain. Slicked-down hair, slick black suit, gigantic cigar, wearing what looks like some of Ice-T’s jewelry…Orson is arisen.

Just about the coolest man that ever lived, what he does next is extraordinary even by his standards. He hypnotises a goose.

The Lost Films of Orson Welles comes courtesy of his strikingly stylish ‘companion’ Oja Kodar and includes clips from reels of unseen, unfinished, ideas and playful home movies – things like Orson’s own trailer for the dazzling F for Fake, test shots from Japanese whisky ads, and bizarre sketches satirising the English aristocracy that he may have made just for his own amusement.

Fantastic footage of his Merchant Of Venice outshines scenes from virtually completed movies like the self-financed thriller The Deep. A rainy highway sex scene from The Other Side of The Wind out-Lynches anything in Wild At Heart.

As we watch Welles editing from Moby Dick, the glint in those eyes reiterates that, besides his appetite for life, his appetite for greatness was in itself what made him great.

“Actors pretend to be modest but no magician pretends to be modest. Every magician is the greatest magician in the world,” he says. And that is what he was.

Evan today, 1980’s pilot of Hill Street Blues looks too radical, too fabulous, to have merely been on TV (rather than some Brian De Palma/Scorsese protégé). The acting, writing, editing, and photography make NYPD Blue look like Heartbeat.

There are too many characters here that you love: Furillo, Esterhaus, Renko, La Roux. All the young dudes (and check the threads). Then there’s Washington (“Lissen, lover…”), Bobby Hill (“All he wants is a little no-attenshun from his woman”), and the magnificently deranged Howard Hunter (“Frank, I would like free rein to neutralise that liquor store”). 

One glance of Joyce Davenport’s steely glare and you can even forgive Steven Bocho the likes of Henry, Fay, and Ray Calletano. As for Mick Belker (“move it, hairball !”) how many of us remember he was played by Bruce Grobbelaar ?

Hill Street had the saddest shoot-outs, and in one here the grainy atmosphere and sudden violence is like a cross between Cassavetes and Peckinpah (except better). It ends, of course, with the ‘counselor’ and ‘pizza man’ in bed, in their big white dressing gowns. Cue the Mike Post music.

Finally, on this week’s episode of Incredible Journeys, after the moose and the butterfly, we have the rattlesnake. (But that’s women for you.) 

“Giving birth”, the narrator tells us, “is his mother’s only maternal act” after which Sonny is on his own. Year after year, he navigates back to the same spot, dodging the peccary pigs, the king snakes, the rednecks, and watching out for those “deadly giant centipedes.”

Like a metre-long, sequined, strip of chain mail, the metallic slither of the snake’s tongue and the dancing rattle of his tail are truly horrendous. The close-ups are so scary that when the narrator tells us “that’s not his nostril”, what we hadn’t allowed for was a Predator-style “thermal pit” that creates “heat images.”

This makes Sonny pretty frightening, especially when he just sits there, lying in wait for a rat to scamper back to the nest he’s just chased it out of.

“He senses a moving heat source,” whispers the narrator. (A cameraman, perhaps ?)

You have to wonder how we really know it’s the same snake and which poor sod got the job of following him, especially when our subject then hibernates in a cave full of twenty other beasts that include several huge diamondbacks and a gruesome venomous Gila monster.

The highlight comes when a hawk stomps along the sand chasing after Sonny before the roaming rattler pegs it down a hole – only to find the cameraman has got there first. 

How the fuck did they do that ? Miraculous TV.


The Lost Films of Orson Welles: Sat, 7.40pm, BBC2

Hill Street Blues: Sat, 11.35pm, C4

Incredible Journeys: Thurs, 8pm, BBC1