Sunday, July 29, 2007

1984, the BBC version

Screened the BBC television production of "1984" over the weekend. Sourced from a kinescope, this is the only surviving record of a live, two-hour television adaption of the novel from 1954 that stars Peter Cushing.

The acting by Cushing and the cast is first rate. It was an ambitious production, consiting of 28 sets, several filmed inserts to "open up" the story or bridge scenes, and a live orchestra playing the score in a nearby studio. The intimacy of the production, with minimalist sets and lots of close-ups, adds to the claustrophobic feeling of the story and allows you to concentrate fully on Cushing's disheartening transformation to a man crushed by Big Brother.

The British had considerable experience with fairly elaborate dramatic productions all the way back in the 1930's in the early days of electronic television, so it's no surprise that they were able to pull off "1984" so well - it was light years ahead of US television at the time. The only detraction was the flimsy cardboard set used for Winston Smith's apartment; it just wasn't convincing and briefly broke the "spell" of watching the drama unfold.

Too bad there's not more early British television that has survived and is in circulation.

entry at Wikipedia on the 1954 BBC production of "1984"

Also, the other day, I listened to the "Goon Show"'s parody of the BBC's "1984" telecast; the Goons version is called "1985" and has Seagoon battling the Big Brother Corporation by joining the Independent Television Army. It includes, as a motif, constant announcements from the telescreens such as "Attention! Attention! Lunch is now being served in the BBC cafeteria! Doctors are standing by!" When Seagoon's torturned in room 101, he's subjected to recordings of then-popular BBC radio shows. Peter Sellers, who always does several characters on the Goons, plays both Winston Seagoon's love interest and the Big Brother Corporation torturer at the end.

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