Six Into One: The Prisoner File


Patrick McGoohan.

Network DVD had a sale recently so I finally capitulated and bought the blu-ray set of The Prisoner which I finished watching this weekend. The picture quality is so outstanding it might have been made yesterday, and many of the extras are also essential for Prisoner obsessives, not least a restored print of the original cut of the first episode, something that was believed lost for years.


Episode 9: Checkmate.

There’s no need to enthuse about the series when I’ve done so already; this time round I’ll note that while the Cold War background is thoroughly outmoded some of the themes of particular episodes seem more relevant than ever. The model of total surveillance seen in the Village has for some time seemed to be one that Western governments and tech corporations would love to emulate. (“The whole world as the Village?” asks The Prisoner. “That’s my hope,” says Number 2.) The Prisoner isn’t the only drama to deal with authoritarian control, of course, but it also deals with the soft tyranny of closed communities, ideology and group-think. Episode 12, A Change of Mind, concerns a process whereby disobedient Villagers are confronted by their peers, declared “unmutual” then bundled off for corrective therapy; when they return they repent their antisocial crimes in public. In 1967 such a scenario would have seemed reminiscent either of McCarthyite America, or Soviet Russia and Maoist China; in 2015 you can be declared “unmutual” for minor infractions every day on the internet, and find yourself rounded upon by a sanctimonious horde.


The allegorical and symbolic qualities of The Prisoner have kept the series fresh for almost 50 years while the character who launched the genre that gave rise to series—James Bond—has required several overhauls in order to keep up with changing times. Bond may bicker with his superiors but he’s always been a tool of the status quo, an agent of the Control virus in Burroughsian terms. In episode 8, The Dance of the Dead, The Prisoner is lectured by a judge in a kangaroo court on the importance of “the rules”. “Without rules, we have anarchy,” she says. The Prisoner, who happens to be dressed in a Bondian dinner jacket, replies “Hear, hear.”

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Long Live the New Flesh: The Films of David Cronenberg


I used to have this documentary on tape but it vanished years ago so it’s good to find it again on YouTube. Long Live the New Flesh: The Films of David Cronenberg was directed by Laurens C. Postma and broadcast on British television in 1987 as a tie-in with the UK release of Cronenberg’s The Fly. The writer was Chris Rodley who subsequently directed some equally good documentaries of his own including the South Bank Show feature about the making of Naked Lunch (now present as an extra on the Naked Lunch DVD), A Very British Psycho about Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (clips of which can be found in this film), and Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance.

Postma’s film captures Cronenberg when he was starting to gain visibility outside the science fiction and horror genres he’d mostly been working in up to this point. Among the interviewees are Martin Scorsese, an early champion, and Stephen King, whose The Dead Zone Cronenberg adapted in 1983. In the critical corner there’s the late film critic Robin Wood who the producers possibly chose on account of his being the voice of dissent in Piers Handling’s 1983 study of Cronenberg’s films The Shape of Rage. Wood isn’t as tiresomely ideological here as he is in Handling’s book (where you can play a drinking game if you count the times he uses the phrase “bourgeois patriarchal capitalism”) but he still seemed to find something reactionary and “unprogressive” (in a political sense) about Cronenberg’s work. Elsewhere there are clips of the films from Shivers on, and I’d forgotten about the comparisons Rodley and Postma make between Cronenberg’s work and Michael Powell’s still astonishing Peeping Tom.

Long Live the New Flesh is 67 minutes long and unfortunately chopped into chunks on the YouTube copy. Watch it here:

Part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5 | part 6 | part 7