Saturday, 30 May 2009

Picture this

Although it's fairly well known that what exists now of the film Things to Come is not the entirety of what was originally planned, or even filmed, it is not so widely appreciated that some of the extant footage appears in a different order to that originally intended by scriptwriter H.G. Wells. This is particularly true of the third act of the film, set in the year 2036. In the published Film Story - essentially the shooting script from mid-1935 - following the little girl's video history lesson, part of this segment plays out thus:
(1) Oswald Cabal meets with Space Gun engineers; introduced to Maurice Passworthy
(2) "A quarter of an hour later," Cabal arranges to meet Raymond Passworthy
(3) Cabal meets Passworthy in the City Ways; they travel outside to the "Athletic Club in the hills"
(4) At the Athletic Club, Cabal and Passworthy meet Catherine Cabal and Maurice
(5) Cabal meets with his ex-wife, Rowena
(6) Theotocopulos's televised speech
(7) World audience reacts to (6)
(8) Three days after (4), Passworthy meets with Catherine and Maurice
(9) Cabal discusses the growing rebellion with "Controller of Traffic and Order" Morden Mitani
(10) Cabal meets with Passworthy, Maurice and Catherine
The surviving footage and the slightly expanded surviving editor's script, hocwever, has the following arrangement:
(1) Cabal meets with Space Gun engineers; introduced to Maurice Passworthy
(6) Theotocopulos's televised speech
(4) Cabal and Passworthy meet Catherine Cabal and Maurice
(X) Theotocopulos and followers discuss public reaction to speech
(10) Cabal meets with Passworthy, Maurice and Catherine
Most significantly, what are two different meetings between Cabal, Passworthy, and their respective children - i.e. 4. & 10 - separated by a gap of three days and a number of other events, are effectively merged together to give the impression of a single meeting, punctuated by a brief cutaway to Theotocopulos and his followers. The latter does not appear at all in the Film Story, and it feels very much like an addition to explain the changed timeline. In the original version there are at least a couple of days for the discontent to grow after the broadcast, but in the surviving footage it seems that all it takes is a few choice soundbites from the rebel artist to provoke an instant reaction, hence the need for one of his entourage to declare that his words, "have struck fire!"

It is notable that whilst in most cases the dialogue in existing footage is almost word-perfect when compared to the Film Story, the only major deviations are in the scenes involving Theotocopulos. The role was originally played by Ernest Thesiger, but Wells was so dissatisfied with his performance that he personally approached Cedric Hardwicke as a replacement. Thesiger was so unaware of this that he actually turned up at the film's premiere in February 1936 with a group of friends, so clearly the change happened once all of his scenes had been shot the first time around.

When the restored Network DVD was being planned, the question was how to integrate script extracts from the missing footage in the "Virtual Extended Version" of the film, and it was decided to include as much as possible, but to retain the chronological arrangement of the extant footage, thus:
(1) Cabal meets with Space Gun engineers; introduced to Maurice Passworthy
(6) Theotocopulos's televised speech
(4) [At the Athletic Club,] Cabal and Passworthy meet Catherine Cabal and Maurice
(5) Cabal meets with his ex-wife, Rowena
(X) Theotocopulos and followers discuss public reaction to speech
(8) Three days after (4), Passworthy meets with Catherine and Maurice
(9) Cabal discusses the growning rebellion with "Controller of Traffic and Order" Morden Mitani
(10) Cabal meets with Passworthy, Maurice and Catherine
The decision to drop Cabal and Passworthy's actual first meeting and subsequent journey through the City Ways was a difficult one, but at the time what was known of the film as a whole suggested that this was one sequence that had probably not been shot, let alone included even in the rough-cut. Whereas most lost scenes are represented by production photographs proving that they were at least rehearsed, if not actually filmed, there seemed to be absolutely nothing of what was quite a convoluted journey through and then outside of the Everytown of 2036. In his 1995 book on the making of the film, Christopher Frayling suggested that the technical requirements of the Athletic Club - with its huge flexible windows and complex sporting water-chute - may have been too great. Although there was much dialogue between Cabal and Passworthy, there didn't seem to be an easy way to incorporate it into the "Virtual Extended Version" of the film on the DVD, so it was omitted.

Last week I finally got round to scanning and preparing for upload all of the almost forty additional production photographs I had acquired since the DVD was put together. These come from various sources and in a variety of formats, requiring some precision in lining up on the scanner, but still some trimming of the image electronically. It was while I was doing the latter on the still shown here - one of the iconic images from the film, frequently used to illustrate it in books, magazines, and on video or DVD covers - that something fleetingly caught my eye. I blinked, thinking "surely not," as I peered at the figures just visible along the bottom edge of the photograph. I zoomed in on one in particular, the image now more pixelated, but more compelling. I grabbed the still itself and a strong magnifying glass, and the results were even more conclusive. Finally, I put the photograph back on the scanner, homed in on the portion in question, and cranked the resolution up from the usual 100 to 900 DPI:

So there he was, Oswald Cabal amongst the crowd in the City Ways, and to his right (i.e. on the left of the photograph), the almost unmistakable top of Raymond Passworthy's head! In retrospect, while I'd only recently acquired this particular still (in a job lot of seven from Australia), I wondered how I'd not spotted this detail before. A quick check of the other examples I have of it used elsewhere, however, showed that in all cases the bottom edge of the image had been trimmed off, so that Cabal's head was barely visible, let alone that of Passworthy.

Finally we have some evidence that Cabal and Passworthy's journey through the city was actually filmed, but it will probably take the discovery of more photographs (the actual footage is too much to hope for!) to clarify the situation, although that may take some time. Based on the codes that appear on each still, there are at least 520 or so of them, of which I already own 91, and am aware of a further 41 - around a quarter of the total.


Friday, 1 May 2009

Another war...

As British forces withdraw from Iraq, I was reminded of a newspaper cutting I dug up a few years ago whilst researching the history of the East Yorkshire seaside town of Bridlington during the Great War, which uncovered a forgotten piece of family history. Although my father knew that two of his older brothers had served in the army during the War, neither of them spoke about it. Other sources showed that one of them had remained in the UK, working on the east coast anti-aircraft defences, but his brother Herbert travelled further afield...

Bridlington Free Press, 6 Dec 1918


Bridlington Man's Varied War

  H. Cooper, son of Mr. and Mrs. Cooper, Queen-street, who has been over two years in Mesopotamia, writes home an interesting letter concerning his experiences and the countries through which he has passed, including South Africa and India. In March, 1917, he describes the blowing up of a limber full of ammunition, by which 28 men and twnety mules were killed and wounded. He escaped practically unhurt, but comrades in front of him and at his side were killed. "We tried to get into the Mosque at Cpestiption [Ctesiphon], but were stopped, as they allow no one but a Mahommedan in. It was a lovely place. There are some ruins here thousands of years old." He was present at the British occupation of Bagdad, and writes: "We reached the city about 10.30 a.m., only a few hours after the Turks had flown, and found the streets filled with people, some serious, others cheering. These were dark-complexioned Jews and Arabs and fair Armenians, and the latter were the most pleased to see us." He likens the Bagdad Gate to the Bayle Gate. "I was talking to several of them and they were glad to see us." The writer gave interesting sketches of the fighting with the Turks, and of the air-fights, and states that he had an attack of fever. On one occasion


of the camp, one hundred miles north of Baghdad and five men were wounded and a number of mules killed: "I was one who helped to bury the mules. They take a big hole, as if put in a shallow one, the jackals used to scratch them up." Without the bathing in the rivers and pools life under the harsh conditions would appear to have been impossible. "Food also improved, and we got meat instead of bully, and three-quarter ration of bread issued. We improved our health over here, being able to buy eggs and fruit of all kinds off the Arabs, and we all got fatter again!" In July the heat was terrific, and there was much sickness. Soon afterwards the young soldier was taken seriously ill, and with a temperature at 105, he lost consciousness, and was unconscious for some days. He had to be sent down the river to Baghdad, where the old Turkish barracks were converted into an hospital, and ultimately to Bombay. Since then he had been in the van of the marching and fighting and had come through to victory fit and happy. At the end of his interesting diary in 1917 he said: "I have a lot to be thankful for, and I can look to the future with confidence. May the end of next year's diary be written somewhere nearer home!" Probably it has been.

Herbert's military records show that he joined up on 29 Nov 1915, at which time he was 27 years and 7 months old. Reflecting his peacetime trade, he joined the Army Service Corps at a saddler - number TS-10037 - and arrived at the Corps' base at Woolwich two days later. On 24 Oct 1916 he sailed for the Mesopotamian front, where he remain until 26 Aug 1917, when he was evacuated to India for medical reasons, as stated above. He eventually returned to the UK on 28 Dec 1918, seven weeks after the Armistice.

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