Skip to main content

Gloat all you like, but just remember, I’m the star of this picture.

The Avengers
5.11: Epic

Epic has something of a Marmite reputation, and even as someone who rather likes it, I can quite see its flaws. A budget-conscious Brian Clemens was inspired to utilise readily-available Elstree sets, props and costumes, the results both pushing the show’s ever burgeoning self-reflexive agenda and providing a much more effective (and amusing) "Avengers girl ensnared by villains attempting to do for her" plot than The House That Jack BuiltDon't Look Behind You and the subsequent The Joker. Where it falters is in being little more than a succession of skits and outfit changes for Peter Wyngarde. While that's very nearly enough, it needs that something extra to reach true greatness. Or epic-ness.


ZZ von SchnerkA beautiful performance. You were right. Absolutely right, my dove. He makes an excellent corpse. Excellent.

With only five guest stars (including 3.23: The Outside-In Man's Anthony Dawes as the actor dressed as Steed in the teaser – "He's absolutely gorgeous. Just look at those nostrils"), Clemens' teleplay puts the emphasis on performance, although James Hill, in his first of four for the season, again illustrates why he was one of the most consistently inventive and reliable directors on the show. 


ZZ von Schnerk (Kenneth J Warren, 1.6: Girl on a Trapeze, 2.15: Intercrime, 3.20: The Little Wonders) is a Von Stroheim-esque out-of-favour auteur delusional that his snuff movie – with Mrs Peel as both star and victim – will grant him immortality as a filmmaker; while there's no indication of how his magnum opus "The Death of Emma Peel" is going to fit together – obviously, as he is quite mad – there's something of a Peeping Tom-by-way-of-Sunset Boulevard about the episode, as deaths on camera are punctuated by past-it stars of yesteryear slumming it for their director (von Stroheim was of course, in Sunset Boulevard, but acting, long since unable to command a directing gig) thanks to a clause in their contract.


ZZ von Schnerk: The destruction of Mrs Emma Peel, conceived by ZZ von Schnerk. Written by ZZ von Schnerk. Directed by ZZ von Schnerk. A ZZ von Schnerk production!

They're Damita Syn (Isa Miranda), who starred for Schnerk in The Bad Bad Lady, and Stewart Kirby (Wyngarde, 4.21: A Touch of Brimstone, of course). The former put me slightly in mind of Madeline Kahn in Mel Brooks' '70s movies, while Wyngarde embodies the louche old luvvie to a tee. The thing is, though, once we've been set up (Emma is lured into a trap, gassed in a taxi – Wyngarde is the driver, having earlier filmed her while posing as a clergyman – and awakes on set), the encounters with the duo, while Schnerk is surreptitiously filming her, rely on the quality of the "set pieces", which are variable and/or repetitive. There's a great opening number of the wedding of Mrs Emma Peel, as Kirby embodies a nightmare vicar, one part chinlessly ineffectual, the other vicious, pushing her down a hill in giddy slow motion. She rights herself only to see a hearse and "RIP Emma Peel" – the accompanying gravestones all bear her name.


Policeman:He's very good, I'll give him that. Specialises in corpses, does he?
Mrs PeelHe can't do anything else.

There's then a succession of altercations with Kirby: as Alexander to Emma’s "wicked little sister" (Syn's mother coshes an initially bemused Emma on the head after she makes short work of Alex), a bandit who "dies" bloodily to her gunshot in a western saloon, a WWI German brandishing a machine gun who causes her to hightail it, an American Indian with a tomahawk, and a gangster with a tommy gun. The latter kills David Lodge's policeman extra, whose presence is equivalent to that of Kenneth Colley and Ronald Lacey in the earlier and later house trap episodes, particularly so since he meets a nasty end. 


Lodge is a likeable presence (he previously played policemen in The Naked Truth and After the Fox, as well as Jelly Knight in Two Way Stretch), and as in those, we initially wonder if he's part of the plan, although it turns out not to be so ("Very well. I will write him into the script, and then write him out"). The policeman is needed, as there's never a danger of a true weird-out or surrealism in Epic, a point where you aren't quite clear what is going on; during the plod scenes, until Lodge reveals who he is, there's a welcome swing towards obscurity.


ZZ von SchnerkYou are not feeling the part, Mrs Peel.
Mrs PeelI have a feeling I will be feeling it.

The Wyngarde costuming & overacting business is pretty much exhausted by this point, as his confederate soldier proves, so it's as well that the scenery shifts for the grand climax, a Poe-esque affair complete with advancing pendulum (Emma is tied down, naturally) and Kirby and Syn – well, more Universal horror than Poe – planning to "experiment on living tissue".


Curiously, Emma doesn't appear to be taking it very seriously ("Gloat all you like, but just remember, I'm the star of this picture"), almost as if she expects to be rescued. Which she promptly is, by Steed, who aside from sussing who Kirby was (he recognises his voice from a Hamlet performance) has, like those other Cathy/Emma-centric episodes, been relegated to an offscreen role (as the pan to a "Meanwhile Back at the Ranch..." sign on set, before the cut to Emma's apartment, suggests). He's given some nice moments, though, such as posing as his stand-in's corpse and having Emma break a "fake" chair over his head.


SteedAnd luckily, I got here in the nick of time.
Mrs PeelOtherwise, did you enjoy the picture?
SteedOh, not bad. At least it had a happy ending.

I also rather liked that Steed removes Kirby's wig and glasses before plugging him. At one point, Emma, having been told "I will make you famous, Mrs Peel. I will make you a star… posthumously"is surrounded by an animated logo and elicits an MGM lion "Rowrrr". As inspired as these moments are, one rather wishes there were more of them, instead of Wyngarde’s frantic mugging.


SteedUnbridled passions… Why don’t we just spend the evening at home?
Mrs PeelWhy not? Let’s get back to my apartment.

The coda is easily the best of the season do far, reeling off a list of movies to see on a night out (I was Napoleon's Nanny), including a nod to Fellini (Lasagne 6 ½ ), a critique of the same ("I walked out three-eighths of the way through"), and reference to an old Kirby movie (Nights of Abandon), before opting to stay in. Except that they aren't in Emma’s flat; she kicks – breaks – the fourth – second – wall, as they're actually on the set where she awoke earlier. Which is obviously actually her standard set at Elstree (they missed a trick not having his place next door); this sleight also occurred with the street set outside her house earlier, only at night. Another neat touch is the break with Steed doing the summoning at the outset ("Sorry Steed, I'm needed – elsewhere"), culminating in him glancing at the camera. There's a lot of fun to be had with Epic then, but it isn't quite von Schnerk's, or Clemens', masterpiece. 



























Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.

Watership Down (1978) (SPOILERS) I only read Watership Down recently, despite having loved the film from the first, and I was immediately impressed with how faithful, albeit inevitably compacted, Martin Rosen’s adaptation is. It manages to translate the lyrical, mythic and metaphysical qualities of Richard Adams’ novel without succumbing to dumbing down or the urge to cater for a broader or younger audience. It may be true that parents are the ones who get most concerned over the more disturbing elements of the picture but, given the maturity of the content, it remains a surprise that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may on the face of it seem like an odd bedfellow), this doesn’t garner a PG certificate. As the makers noted, Watership Down is at least in part an Exodus story, but the biblical implications extend beyond Hazel merely leading his fluffle to the titular promised land. There is a prevalent spiritual dimension to this rabbit universe, one very much

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

They say if we go with them, we'll live forever. And that's good.

Cocoon (1985) Anyone coming across Cocoon cold might reasonably assume the involvement of Steven Spielberg in some capacity. This is a sugary, well-meaning tale of age triumphing over adversity. All thanks to the power of aliens. Substitute the elderly for children and you pretty much have the manner and Spielberg for Ron Howard and you pretty much have the approach taken to Cocoon . Howard is so damn nice, he ends up pulling his punches even on the few occasions where he attempts to introduce conflict to up the stakes. Pauline Kael began her review by expressing the view that consciously life-affirming movies are to be consciously avoided. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but you’re definitely wise to steel yourself for the worst (which, more often than not, transpires). Cocoon is as dramatically inert as the not wholly dissimilar (but much more disagreeable, which is saying something) segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie directed by Spielberg ( Kick the Can ). There