BBC Three’s “It’s a Mad World” season

It’s nearly six months since I wrote a lengthy post exploring how mental health issues were being dealt with in film and TV in recent years, particularly in relation to teenagers and young adults.  That post, which has since been expanded, can be found here:

https://silentmovieblog.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/mental-illness-comes-out-of-the-celluloid-closet/

I find myself pleasantly surprised that I am now writing a (much shorter) post about the season of programmes on BBC Three about mental health issues and the young.  I confess that I haven’t seen all that much of the season – it can, after all, be quite depressing being a depressive watching programmes about depression!  I’m sure anyone with a teminal illness would avoid any films made by Hallmark and starring Lindsay Wagner for much the same reason!  However, it is clear from the relatively little I have seen, that this is groundbreaking stuff.  Not only are the programmes covering a wide range of issues within the subject matter, but they are also a rarity: aimed at young people but treating them like adults.   It’s refreshing.

Last night saw the first screening of Failed by the NHS, which examined a number of cases in which young people were let down both by the health system and by individuals within it.  The documentary managed to be informative, moving and devastating, but avoided using shock tactics to get its point over.  Jonny Benjamin, known to some through his YouTube channel about his own mental health condition, made for an engaging presenter.  His interviews with fellow sufferers who had been let down by A&E, GPs, or the health system itself, saw him glean enough information from his interviewees without pushing them to talk about aspects of their lives and illness that they weren’t comfortable with.

I am pleased to say that my own experiences are quite different to those being interviewed.  I was diagnosed with depression at around the age of 20, and with bipolar a decade after that.  The various GPs I have gone through in that time have treated me well, although I admit I have never found myself in A&E as a result of my illness.  The stories in this film were quite different to my own experiences and demonstrate that, although the system was not dealing with the mentally ill particularly well five or ten years ago in some cases, things are getting worse.

The reviews of the documentary that I have read today have not exactly been showering the programme with praise.  The Telegraph called it a “soft-pedalled investigation”, whereas online review site Unreality TV found it to be “dry” and “noisy”.   What needs to be remembered here is the channel on which it aired.  BBC Three is aimed at a young demographic and, while it was aired at 9pm, this programme was no doubt intended to be accessible to a younger audience.  Bearing that in mind, it couldn’t go into the depth that some of the critics have suggested it should have.  While I, too, would have liked a rather more aggressive interview of the Minister of State for Care, I’m not sure that this was the place for it.  If you were watching this, aged 16, and suffering from a mental illness, you would probably want the positive final message that the show ultimately gives rather than a politician being backed into a corner.  The Telegraph also wanted to know facts and figures, how often do these case occur, etc.  But surely the obsession with statistics is part of the cause for the NHS failures in the first place.   People shouldn’t be treated as a number, but as an individual, and if this happens to just the seven people featured in last night’s film, then that is still seven people too many.

The BBC Three season of programmes is a huge step to de-stigmatising mental illness, and does so not just by talking about these issues, but also be presenting us with sufferers of mental illness who, on the outside, show no signs of being ill.  By telling their stories, this may well go some way to breaking the myth that, just because you look well, you can’t be really ill – and many of us have had to put up with attitude at some point.  It also shows that, just because you’re mentally ill doesn’t mean you are constantly acting “weird”.

That said, there is still a long way to go.  Mental illness is more than being about the traditional symptoms.  While it was hinted at in last night’s programme, the physical symptoms that go along with mental illness also need to be talked about more: the lethargy, the aches and pains, being more susceptible to bugs and colds etc, stomach issues, headaches, migraines etc.  But we can’t do everything at once, and BBC Three should be applauded for everything they have done so far.

Clara Bow: Lost Films and Early Years

This is a little post that collects a variety of materials together regarding the first few years of Clara Bow’s film career.  Here are reviews, pictures and advertisements from films that exist, films that are lost, and films that sit somewhere in the middle!  Enjoy.

We start with The Daring Years, a lost film from 1923.

the daring years august 9 1923 p 3 film daily

Moving on to Black Oxen, a film highly acclaimed and immensely popular on release, and which partly still exists today.

black oxen exhib herald dec 29 1923

black oxen feb 9 1924

Next up, is material relating to Poisoned Paradise (1924).  According to ClaraBow.net, the film is/was being preserved by UCLA.

clara bow poisoned paradise march 16 1924 exhib herald

pic jan 19 1924 p 27 exhib herald

clara bow poisoned paradise feb 2 1924 p 42

poisoned paradise film daily jan 27 1924 p3

Our next pieces are related to Maytime, a print of which was found in 2010.

maytime

maytime page 2

clara bow feb 16 1924, 35, exhib herald

Although from Picturegoer in 1925, the following article is placed here as the pictures etc are most related to the above films.

little clara bow march 25 picturegoer 58-9

Up next is a film that received somewhat mixed reviews, Grit, from 1924 – a lost film.

grit  feb 2 1924 p21 clara bow

Onto a film that does exist and is kicking around for people to hunt down should they want to, Capital Punishment (1925)

capital punishment film daily dec 23 1924 p8-9

Not only does The Ancient Mariner not exist, but we also seem to be devoid of stills from the film, and even posters.  A trawl through the web has dredged up the first three items below, followed by a review from Film Daily.

ancient 2

ancient 1

ancient mariner 3

ancient mariner film daily 1ancient mariner film daily 2

One final item is rather mysterious, and not something I have read about elsewhere.  The March 1926 edition of Photoplay tells us that Clara was filming It’s The Old Army Game, and yet it was Louise Brooks who finally took the role in the finished movie.  Perhaps someone out there can shed some light on this one!

clara old army game

All images are courtesy of the Media History Digital Library

THE UNKNOWN (1927)

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Are you sitting comfortably?  Then we’ll begin.  Alonzo (Lon Chaney) is an armless knife thrower in a travelling carnival/circus who is passionately in love with his glamorous assistant, Nanon (Joan Crawford).  She is completely oblivious of Alonzo’s love and is more interested in turning away the affections of Malabar, the strong man, because he’s a rather tactile fellow, and she has a morbid fear of men’s hands.  However, unbeknown to everyone except his faithful assistant, Cojo, Alonzo is actually in possession of his arms and keeps them strapped to his body under his clothes in order to give the illusion of being armless.  What’s more, not only has he got two arms, he has three thumbs (I hope you’re following this) and, leaving a trail of murder behind him, cannot let anyone find out about this as it would reveal him as the murderer.  As he pursues his love of Nanon, Cojo points out to Alonzo that they will never be able to be together as, on their wedding night, she will find out that he has arms after all.  Realising this, he blackmails a renowned surgeon into amputating his arms – after all, he can use his feet in a similar way so he won’t miss them.

Oh, the things a man will do for the love of a woman.  Like amputating his arms.  Let’s face it, we’ve all done it.  No?  Oh, OK then.  Obviously things don’t quite go to Alonzo’s plan in this rather bizarre film from 1927, but then I guess you’re not surprised given the plot summary of the first half of the film.

This may well be Chaney’s best role, and is certainly one of director Tod Browning’s greatest efforts.  Browning is perhaps best known today as the director of Freaks (1932) and Dracula (1931), but it is his silent work that shows him at his best, especially when directing a film with a carnival setting such as this one.  This is a grotesque little film, and one that has a finale which wouldn’t be out of place in the “torture porn” cycle which has dominated the horror genre over the last decade, and still pulls quite a punch (excuse the pun) nearly eighty years after it was made.  Aside from Chaney, the film is also notable for Joan Crawford’s great performance in the role of Nanon, the object of Alonzo’s affections, with the New York Times stating that she “gives a most competent performance” (Hall, 1927: 17).  That’s actually quite a complement for the New York Times.

Thought lost for decades, The Unknown is a great (and often horrifying) watch.  It can be found only on region 1 DVD as part of “The Lon Chaney Collection” which comes with an entertaining feature length documentary on Chaney, a reconstruction of the lost film London By Night (Tod Browning, 1927) and two more feature length silent Chaney classics:  The Ace Of Hearts (Wallace Worsley, 1921) and Laugh, Clown, Laugh (Herbert Brenon, 1928).  Highly recommended.