Manhunter

Image from soundonsight.org

This 1986 cult classic by Michael Mann is one of the most stylish adaptations of the Thomas Harris novels. Based on his early thriller Red Dragon, the film focuses on Will Graham (William Peterson), a criminal profiler called out of early retirement to investigate a case. The subject is Francis Dollarhyde, a particularly nasty serial killer who wipes out entire families. To ‘recover the mindset’ of a killer, Graham visits Lecktor (Brian Cox), the killer whose case caused him to retire in the first place. While Lecktor is only a minor character his presence haunts the investigation, as Graham closes in on his quarry. The visuals and soundtrack are unique and stylish.

On the surface, Manhunter has some oddities: the malevolent Lecktor is treated as important yet does very little, the killer is suddenly given a romantic sub-plot halfway through the film and a line of communication between Lecktor and the killer is set up but results in nothing. However, I would argue that all these points tie into a deeper structure in the plot; The structure of semantics. The characters work as symbols. As symbols, the relationships between these characters form a coherent structure in the film’s argument’s about good  and evil.

The heart of the film is the relationship between the hunter and the hunted, and the blurred boundaries of that relationship. It is here that Lecktor comes into play. A slightly different version of the infamous Hannibal Lecter, Lecktor’s role is to symbolise pure evil. Graham is a symbol of humanity that is compromised by its connection with evil. The killer Dollarhyde is a symbol of crazed, confused evil mitigated by a scrap of humanity. The relationship these characters have to Lecktor is symbolic of their relationship to their own internal evil. Both try to utilise that relationship, and neither get precisely what they want out of it. Graham’s attempts to understand a killer’s mindset while staying detached do not quite work for him. The killer’s awkward attempt to bond with Lecktor through letters never truly comes to fruition. Lecktor is representative of an extreme.

As a symbol, the character of Hannibal Lecter can be used to make a statement on the nature of evil. In the Silence of the Lambs he is used to say that evil might have a superficial charm that disguises utter horror. In the NBC series Hannibal he is used to say that evil is attractive, destructive and destroys those it attracts. Manhunter’s statement on evil is that it is simply nasty. Brian Cox plays Lecktor as fast-talking, obnoxious, mean-spirited and petty. Manhunter has no interest whatsoever in the attraction of evil. It is humanity that is attractive.

A major element in the film’s exploration of its themes is the killer’s humanity. Dollarhyde, played by Tom Noonan, is a uniquely disturbing character. Everything about him is presented as ‘off’ in some way: The crabbed way he uses his hands, his confused, strained expression when he talks, even his overly loud clothing. Coupled with his terrible violence, he embodies eerie, unsettling and utterly dangerous psychosis. Unlike the novel, the film does not attempt to get at the root of his insanity. We are given hints at fantasies of power and masculinity, at some twisted idea of love, but these fantasies are not truly made clear. We are not meant to understand his insanity, but to be frightened of it. Having set up Dollarhyde in this way, the film then shows him falling in love. The romantic sub-plot, while a little rushed, serves a very deliberate purpose; It shows us a tragedy. Dollarhyde’s sudden romance with his blind girlfriend Reba (Joan Allen) provides him with love and acceptance. But he is too insane to process it. During his love scenes, the film’s striking visuals linger on Dollarhyde’s tortured face. He is emotionally overwhelmed, bewildered, powerless before the warmth and acceptance being offered him. Worse, romance is not sustainable for someone like this. At the first flash of jealously he reverts to violence. Love is not presented redemptive in this context; it is presented as part of the killers’ nature. It is an indelible, troubling and largely useless facet of his character that makes him both human and tragic.

Tom Nonnan as Dolyharde. Image from moviepilot.com

While Dollarhyde represents a monster mitigated by humanity, Graham represents the other side of the coin. He is the embodiment of humanity, but a humanity that is compromised and troubled. The film is seen primarily through his eyes, the camerawork and visuals mirroring his internal processes. Initially, Graham is surrounded with images of the quiet, humble family life he leads before being taken out of retirement. This life is gently romanticised, the most beautiful cinematography in the film being devoted to Graham’s scenes with his wife. However, this idyllic life is corrupted and disturbed by the investigation. The choice to investigate puts strain on Graham’s marriage upsets his son and eventually puts the whole family in danger. These external problems reflect the internal problems going on in Grahams’ psyche. He cannot help being affected and damaged by the work he does. A psychological relationship with evil, as symbolised by Lecktor, is necessary to the way he works. This is a corrupting relationship. Because of the semantics of the film, a confrontation with the killer is inevitable. When this confrontation happens, Graham does not escape mentally or physically unscathed, in keeping with the film’s themes.

Graham’s problems stem from a dilemma. This is the dilemma that is presented by the existence of evil: do you deal with it and take inevitable damage? Or do you retreat and try to preserve your own innocence? The answer Manhunter presents us with is: Retreat is not really an option. Graham cannot turn away from the crimes he is presented with, because his humanity will not let him. There is a price to not turning away, because in the semantics of Manhunter, contact brings corruption.

In the end, Manhunter is about the spectrum of good and evil, and the tragedies inherent in that spectrum. Graham’s tragedy is the tragedy of compromised integrity. Dollarhyde’s tragedy is the tragedy of largely corrupted humanity, craving love but unable to sustain it. We are asked to consider both of these tragedies, and the way they relate to true evil. The conclusion of Manhunter’s exploration of its themes is: contact with evil is inevitable, damage is inevitable, but integrity can still be preserved. Graham emerges triumphant in the end, scarred but whole. The price of contact is not too high.

The Changeling

Image from shakesperesglobe.com. No copyright infringement intended

The Sam Wanamaker Theaters latest offering comes from the oft-overlooked genre of Jacobean tragedy. As this lively production demonstrates, these plays can be deeply compelling. We come back, fascinated, to the bizarre mixture of blood, poetry, grotesque humor, beauty and pathos that they offer. More than that, the sense, present in all of them, of a world that has lost its innocence, spinning out of control. The characters in these dramas are carried along by events, generally of their own making, and become victims of out-of-control passions. There is no sane authority that can be appealed to, no fixed point onto which they can hang. Perhaps it is this world that we recognize and feel a connection to. This is not to say that the plots or the characters lack anything; the two most popular tragedies in recent years – ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore and The Duchess of Malfi – have all the hallmarks of satisfying tragic drama: protagonists afflicted by a fatal flaw that upsets the balance of their world; an emotional situation with which the audience can connect; a plot that proceeds with sense of dark inevitability; and a satisfying conclusion.

The Changeling has all of these qualities, but differs in some ways from our usual conception of ‘tragedy’; The atmosphere is one of domestic secrecy; Personal relationships, not court intrigue, are central to the plot; The setting is almost an irrelevance; And the play is so character-centric, so closely psychologically plotted, that it is almost a character study. Beatrice-Joanna, the protagonist, is set on marrying the man of her choice; to escape her current engagement she hires the repulsive and amoral De Flores to kill her fiancé. Unfortunately for her, De Flores is obsessed with her and demands sex in payment for the murder. Beatrice’s world spirals out of control as she engages in a desperate cover-up attempt that begets further murder. There is also a comic sub-plot set in a madhouse that reverses the events of the plot and plays it for laughs, acting as a sort of counterpoint to the main action.

The heart of the play is the relationship between Beatrice and De Flores. Beatrice insists that she hates him, but what are her real feelings? Is De Flores just a thug who seizes an opportunity to rape Beatrice, or are this strange couple made for each other? Or is the truth somewhere in between? Their actions during the play are like a grotesque parody of romance: De Flores kneels to Beatrice, pleading to be allowed to serve her, presents her with a ring (with her fiancés severed finger included) “wins her love” and manages to die with her. This suggestion of a twisted romance combines with Beatrice’s tragic transformation and growing self-knowledge.
The production at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, (running from January until March), plays this story lightly. The comic sub-pot, often cut or reduced in favour of the tragedy, is handled with skill and attention. Isabella (Sarah MacRae) calmly side-steps the attentions of two disguised suitors (Adam Lawrence and Brian Ferguson) and Lollio, (Pearce Quigley) De Flores’s self-serving comic counterpart. Quigley is very good in the role, bringing just the right amount of lightness to the good-natured scheming. The madmen are disturbing enough to add to the atmosphere and the comedy comes primarily from Lollio and the suitors.

Beatrice (Hattie Morahan) is thoughtless and coquettish, but never sinister. Morahan plays her as a woman whose main flaw is her self-deception; while she tells herself that she loves Alsemero (Simon Harrison) “with the eyes of judgement” she is very clearly ruled by her heart. Harrison is very well cast as Alsemero, a man as upright and attentive to social mores as De Flores is not. Harrison’s ability to be both innocent and threatening makes Beatrice’s desperation to cover her actions more plausible. Harrison is genuinely frightening in the last scene, throwing his wife around in a haze of anger, betrayal and disappointed love. His shattered belief in her purity has become a flaw in itself. This is a nicely rounded portrayal of a character who might otherwise have been rather flat.

Morahan’s best moments come in Beatrice’s interaction with De Flores (Trystan Gravelle). Beatrice’s hatred of the ugly servant may be played as haughty disdain (as Helen Mirren did in the 1974 BBC adaptation) but Morahan plays it as uncontrollable and highly personal, a primal reaction that cracks her composure; She is incapable of self-control with regard to him. Face patterned with red birthmarks that give him a satanic look, Trystan Gravelle is more than equal to his role as the creepy, isolated but ruthless man tormented by his obsession. Gravelles De Flores is bitter, cool, wilful, logical, pragmatic, crude and utterly amoral but also bleakly funny, drawing several laughs in the early scenes. During his verbal sparring with Beatrice he does not give an inch, holding up with passive-aggressive good manners. The scene is electric as she desperately insults him, face contorted, all pretence of reserve dropped. These two are mutually obsessed, but have no point of contact. Whether Beatrice’s hatred hides something else hardly seems to matter. She does not understand her feelings, she cannot even try to. It is an important flaw essential to her character, and it is good to see it played so well.

De Flores’s coolness calcifies into menace in later scenes as power dynamics are reversed. He is horribly matter of fact with his demand when he comes to collect his payment from Beatrice. Stanley Baker played De Flores as desperate and self-pitying in this scene in the BBC adaptation, but Gravelle is coldly angry. He will have what he wants. He knows he is the right man for Beatrice. The element of rape in their relationship is horribly explicit. Beatrice (Morahan) reacts to him with a frightened emotional submission that resembles Stockholm syndrome. Her tentative displays of love for him are heart-breaking, although sympathy for her is likely to frizzle out with her thoughtless dispatching of a maid who knows too much (Thalissa Teixeira, irrepressible in this supporting role).

The staging by director Dominic Dromgoole is very good, and especially atmospheric during the ghost scenes. The dance scenes are beautifully choreographed and lit, with eerie and appropriate music by Claire van Kampen. There is only one complaint that can really be made about theater this good, which is that it is theater. The Sam Wanamaker playhouse has been infuriatingly coy about filming its performances, apart from the beautiful production of The Duchess of Malfi which was filmed and aired on BBC four last year. This is a beautiful, fresh production, and deserves to be recorded.

The Duchess of Malfi at the Sam Wanamaker playhouse

Staged, January 2014
Broadcast on BBC 4, 25/05/14
The recording of the Jacobean drama, staged earlier this year at the Globe theatres new Jacobean playhouse, is a bewitching production. Lit entirely by candlelight, it makes excellent and dramatically effective use of light and shadow, creating a dreamlike and violent world within the confines of the stage.
The story, simply put, is that of the Duchess, who remarries in defiance of her brothers. This simple act unleashes the rage of her incestuous twin Ferdinand (David Dawson). Along with Tis pity she’s a whore, Malfi is one of two Jacobean dramas that seem to resonate strongly for our own time. The treatment of corruption, power, romance, gothic horror and a central powerful heroine speaks to a modern audience as strongly as it ever has.
Gemma Arterton is mesmerising in the main role, depicting the Duchess as a flighty young girl forced to mature by the ensuing tragedy. Dawson gives an unusually pliant and fragile depiction as Ferdinand, portraying him as a psychotic man-child, vulnerable, petulant and dangerous. Sean Gilders Bosola plays off well against him as a gruff, introspective killer in the pay of a moneyed epicurean. James Garnon plays the Cardinal with a sort of nonchalant malevolence.
The production is complemented by excellent and well-researched music, courtesy of Claire Van Kampen, and some well-choreographed dance scenes. The essential ingredient of the play- the sense of tragedy – is properly conveyed through the atmosphere. During the Duchesses imprisonment, the direction gave the sense of having stepped into someone else’s nightmare; the dance of madmen, the ‘votive’ posing of her families corpses, the executioners who bear such a strong resemblance to Death in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. In surroundings like this, you can properly appreciate the Duchess’s inner strength in the face of her persecutors.
The action falters a little in the final scenes, which deal with the fallout of her murder, but there is a feeling of unrolling inevitability about the final coup-de-grace. Bosolas revenge on the brothers is set within a tragicomic world as opposed to the Duchess’s wholly tragic one. Ferdinand rushes shrieking and growling about the stage; the madness we have sensed beneath the surface has now utterly consumed him. James Garnons’ Cardinal has a particular kind of malevolence. Shifted to the foreground in the last quarter of the play, Garnon plays the Cardinal with a lightness and humour that is ultimately very effective; This is a man, you feel, who does not even have the decency to take his own evil seriously. Nonchalantly plotting and killing his way through the last act, Garnon goes out on a joke among the corpses of those who have fallen victim, ultimately, to his actions. An irony that encapsulates the brilliance of this excellent production.

David Dawson and Gemma Arterton as the twins, with James Garnon in the background. No copyright infringement intended. Original source http://cdn.images.express.co.uk

 

The Duchess of Malfi: Feminism and identity

Gemma Arterton as the Duchess – Shakesperesglobe.com

The Duchess of Malfi, a tragedy written by one of Shakesperes greatest contemporaries, may be seen as a sort of feminist narrative, which I will examine here. The plot, simply put, is the story of a widow who marries again in defiance of her brothers. Ferdinand, her twin, imprisons and tortures her, attempting to break her spirit before he kills her. The issue of identity, of perception, is a major theme in the play with relation to the Duchess herself. Throughout the plot the Duchess is trying to assert the identity she has created for herself – that of a loving wife and mother – against the identities forced on her by her brothers, and by society at large.

One of the major factors in the tragedy of Ferdinand and the Duchess’s relationship is Ferdinand’s restricting of his sisters’ identity. He allows her no scope to exist as a woman. For Ferdinand, the Duchess may exist as a Duchess, a political figure; she may exist as his sister. She may exist as a (chaste) widow, like the ‘figure cut in alabaster’ that kneels over her husband’s tomb (Act I scene II). This identity Ferdinand has created for her, of a thing to be ‘caged up like a holy relic’ is unnatural to the Duchess, stifling. As she says, she has ‘youth and a little beauty’* – why should she not act naturally, as a woman? But any transgression of the limits Ferdinand sets for her, result in the imposition of another identity, every bit as false as the other:

Ferdinand: A sister damn’d; she’s loose i’th’ hilts,
Grown a notorious strumpet[…]
She hath had most cunning bawds to serve her turn,
And more secure conveyances for lust,
Than towns of garrison for service.
-Act II scene V

The woman Ferdinand conjures up in this scene is a whore, who will casually tumble “some strong-thigh’d bargeman/Or one o’th’ wood-yard, that can quoit the sledge/Or toss the bar, or else some lovely squire/That carries coals up to her privy lodgings.” The whorishness assumed by Ferdinand is utterly alien to the Duchess’s nature, as evidenced in Act I scene II – her concern in that scene is with marriage in the spiritual sense. She asks her new husband to ‘lay a naked sword between us/To keep us chaste’ presumably until the marriage has been formalized in the church. She is established deliberately as the last woman to behave as Ferdinand assumes. The false identity Ferdinand imposes on her in this scene seems to reflect the imprisonment he later imposes; restrictive, abusive, misogynistic in tone.

The brutality that characterizes Ferdinand and his attitude to the Duchess contrasts with the gentle warmth characteristic of her own, self-created identity:

Duchess: This is flesh and blood, sir;
‘Tis not the figure cut in alabaster,
Kneels at my husband’s tomb.

– Act I scene II

indexGemma Arterton as the Duchess. No copyright infringement intended. Source: Thisweek.co.uk

The tenderness and wit of the ‘domestic’ scenes with her husband serve as a backdrop for the Duchess’s self-created identity. To herself she is a woman, a wife, and a mother. She is a private figure first, a social and political figure second. What the brothers demand of her is the suppression of the private self, which is a very large part of her self-identity, and her actions are a defiance of that.

Overall, the narrative on one level is that of struggle, attempted suppression of the Duchesses identity, the imposition of false identities in place of her own. Her triumph, as a wife and mother, is a sort of moral triumph over false identity; her son will inherit everything, and Fernand’s torture, while cruel, never forces her to renounce her identity. On the contrary, her last request to her servant Cariola “look thou giv’st my little boy/Some syrup for his cold, and let the girl/Say her prayers ere she sleep .”** Is a final assertion of her chosen identity as a wife and mother.

* Act III Scene II

**Act IV, Scene II

Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands

http://festival.london2012.com

The British Library knows how to do its exhibitions. It does them big. The latest, “Writing Britain: Wastelands to wonderlands” (Friday 11 May– Tuesday 25 Sep 2012) explores the literary history of Britain.
The first section “Rural dreams” immerses you in pastoral idealism from pre-Christian times to modern day. There are early symbols and stories from John Barleycorn to Robin hood, poetry inspired by myths, the Mabinoginon, and its progeny The Owl Service. Further on: “earthly paradise” fiction, (Winnie the Pooh) country house literature and protests against urbanization. look out for Tolkien, especially his lovely painting The hill: Hobbiton-across-the-water.

“Dark satanic mills” is a startling contrast after the first sections mix of pastoral idealism and charm. With an soundscape by Mark Peter Wright, you are immersed, not just with accounts of infernos-with the noise too. The literature is reactions to mines, mills and factories. The décor is impressive: black and white prints of industrial life, and mills that would look at home in Dante. Among Trollope and Elliot are surreal surprises; John Dyers The Fleece poeticises the wool industry. Wordsworth’s letter to P.M Gladstone objecting to Windermere Railway-angry sonnet included. Look out for Ernest-Jones’s amazing depiction of an English town-the striking style resembles the set-pieces in Metropolis. Elsewhere there’s George Orwell’s sketch map of his route in The Road to Wigan Pier. The poetry includes Ted Hughes and W.H. Auden (with haunting illustrations by Henry Moore.)

The countryside in “Wild places” is a world away from “Rural dreams”. The best and worst of emotional extremis is showcased, with Wordsworth’s intensely spiritual poetry alongside Gothic romances. Bronte’s Wuthering Heights features. So do the works of  Daphne Du Maurier, and generally any great writer who wrote about passion and peril in countryside. King Lear (look out for the striking illustration) and Dickens’s Magwich are cited as humanity overcome by wildness. Sole blemish on the section: post-apocalyptic novels by Richard Jeffries and J.G. Ballard.

“Beyond the city” explores ideas of the suburbs. Among printed images of the suburbs hung tapestry-style, are surreal, magical, and menacing discoveries. A suspension of disbelief predominates. In a Kafkaesque story The beetle (1897) by Richard Marsh, a shape shifting beetle represents foreign intrusion. Ralph Steadman’s gleeful illustration to Alice in Wonderland depicts the Rabbit as a bowler-hatted commuter. In pride of place was G.K. Chesterton, with  The Napoleon of Notting Hill and The Man Who was Thursday. The crowning piece of the section is the striking publicity poster for Notting Hill. There is slight stress on his negative-the notes for  The man who was Thursday, describe the surveillance and paranoia in his books. True, but his books are also wild and funny. J.G. Ballard’s Kingdome Come and Crash are much darker. One unexpected inclusion was Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes is more associated with London, surely? He does go to the suburbs, but even so…Is he taking a holiday? If so he chose a nice location.

“Cockney visions” is one of the biggest, best decorated sections; The floor is covered with prints of Victorian and pre-Victorian maps. Others hang from the ceiling.  Showcased work stretches from Chaucer to the handwritten manuscript for Harry Potter. “In different voices” concerns different accents and dialects in London. Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and Angela Carter’s Wise Children rub shoulders with West Indian and Jamaican writers. In “City of Dreadful night” things get interesting. The dark side of London is explored, with Dore’s haunting engravings for London: a pilgrimage and Thompson and Blake’s poems to the city. The great villains of 19th century literature are displayed: Sweeny Todd, Conrad’s terrorists in The Secret Agent, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are there, plus a graphic novel based on the Ripper murders. Odd, among all these villains, is the absence of Conan Doyle; Surely Moriarty can stalk with the worst?
“Street haunting” is intriguing, because of the central idea: The wanderer who really experiences the city. This is certainly a diverse section, mixing sightseeing manuals with De Quincy’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater. Among this collection is a character who would be at home in “City of dreadful night”. Poe’s The Man of The Crowd is presented as a “city wanderer” story. In the beautifully illustrated copy on display, the narrators pursuit of an old man takes him through London’s underbelly. It is eventually revealed that the old man is so evil he cannot be alone with himself: he is “the man of the crowd”. Largely “Cockney visions” resembles this story: Interesting, intelligent, dark-and very colourful.

“Waterlands” is the exhibitions crown. Video installations dominate, with a soundscape by Mark peter Wright and archive footage of the Thames and the seaside.  Below in the display cases are the writers you might expect (Austin, Larkin, Greene, Dickens, Kingsley) and the writers you don’t (Stoker: The original illustration of Dracula biting a white-clad maiden certainly catches the eye.) Highlights include “Sweet Thames” poems: John Leland’s Swan Song, where the poet in no way sucks up to Henry the Eighth; Self dubbed “Water poet” and publicity stuntman extraordinaire John Taylor. Best are Edmund Spenser’s 1596 Prothalamaion and T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. Both poems are gorgeous, and it is interesting to see them together.
There are darker interpretations; In Du Maurer’s Rebecca the sea holds dark secrets. In Conrad’s Heart of Darkness the Thames is a link British imperialism. However there are far lighter examples here than elsewhere: the original manuscript of Alice in Wonderland. The notes tell of  the boat trip that inspired the book;

http://www.telegraph.co.uk

Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, a masterpiece of idyllic Englishness; Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows plus some rather unexpected illustrations for a scene in which Pan appears; different takes on the scene are compared, With Arthur Rackham winning out from sheer peculiar genius. To finish off the section is an artwork by Liz Mathews.
This is not an exhibition about Britain. This is an exhibition about writers, and their relationship with Britain. Perhaps there is a little emphasis on the negative, but “Waterlands” makes up for that. Overall, lovely.

Being Human series four

Ah, Being Human. The show with the most ridiculous sounding premise imaginable, that delivers such enjoyable content. ‘A vampire, a werewolf and a ghost share a house’ sounds like a cross between ‘Twilight’ (death to that terrible franchise by the way) and an unsuccessful seventies sitcom. But what it proved to be was greater than the sum of parts. It may be comedy horror crossed with domestic drama, but there is an underlying philosophy to this show. The central idea-that emotional connections are what make us human beings-is a good one. There are reflections on free will, redemption and isolation in between the jokes and the stakings. Russell Toveys’ career was kick started by his role as George the werewolf-though having seen him in Sherlock series 2 episode 2: The hounds of Baskerville, I fear he may be stuck with dog-related roles for a while.

I worried for the fourth season. Replacing half the cast was bad enough-but the premise of this season seemed dangerously over the top, a risky move in television. But like the scores of critics who were forced to rethink, I warmed to this season at the end.

It was a mistake to worry about the recasting. Damien Molony is a wonderful new vampire, and even better, is not attempting to imitate his predecessor. The first vampire, Mitchell (Aidan Turner), was a laid-back Irish charmer who reverts to his old violent tendencies at the end of series three. It would be a terrible decision to copy that character. And Molony doesn’t. His incredibly posh, uptight Hal is repressed and obsessive-compulsive. There is something very funny, menacing and tragic about his character.

Damien Moloney as Hal York

Michael Socha also gives a good performance as the new werewolf Tom. The actors have very good chemistry together, and do the ‘odd couple’ act convincingly. Sadly, there are fewer domestic scenes in this series, but we do get to see them discuss Antiques Roadshow, so not all domestic humor goes out of the window.  Lenora Crichlow is her lovely self as the ghost, but it looks as though she will be replaced for the fifth series. If so, let’s hope her replacement proves as likable in the long run.

The main fault lies with the writers. In any series of Being Human, the storyline is very important. The writers work hard on a structured story arc that throws some terrible moral dilemma at the characters, but still allows for some fun. But in this case, they made the wrong choice: ‘The vampire leaders will arrive in two months and begin world domination.’ is just a little too big and silly. One main draws of the show is the focus on small, domestic problems, not big apocalyptic ones. To keep everything on the human level was a good decision, and should not be abandoned. The moral dilemma the group is presented with also has a try-too-hard feel to it. Worst of all, there is not very much for the characters to do while they await the vampire leaders, so there are a lot of one-episode story arcs rather than a build up to the climax. There are drop-ins from a serial killer, an  old character, a troublesome journalist and a sub-plot involving werewolves. Which brings me to this series’ main villain, Cutler the vampire.

It’s hard to know what they were trying to do with Cutler. This show is known for its big, bad villains (Herrick in series one and three, Kemp in series two) and Cutler immediately comes across as a lightweight. He is that most dubious of phenomena, the intentionally sympathetic baddie. His character reminds you of the overconfident twerp at the office who owns expensive desk toys and wants to be an executive. We are treated to his sad back-story, in which his life is casually torn to shreds in front of him. But like Alex in A clockwork Orange, this character is still a villain. This is someone who tears out throats absentmindedly. Were the writers trying to be ironic? Add depth to the character? Make some point about human nature? Either way, it is pretty underwhelming. The actor does his best, injecting a cocky, devious evil into Cutler, while also making him very vulnerable. He also has some pretty good lines.

It looked as though the show had gone the way of Torchwood and failed to deliver a big villain. But fans and critics were wrong to worry. At the end, Being Human finally picks up to its usual standards. This came partly with the action, but mostly in the form of the wonderful Mark Gatiss. He gives an understated and chilling performance as the sinister vampire leader Mr. Snow. Far from failing to produce a good villain, the writers gave us the scariest character Being Human has ever seen. With his blackened teeth and filthy fingernails, Mr. Snow is repulsive. He brings to mind the pre-Dracula stories, when vampires clawed their way out of graves, and didn’t bother to wine and dine you. Gatiss-last seen playing Mycroft Holmes in Sherlock-is one of the best actors around, and can make the smallest word or gesture stick in the mind.

Mark Gatiss as Mr. Snow

So what is the final verdict? This series overall has stumbled, but it has not in the end, actually failed. There has been a lot of changes, some pretty regrettable, like the leaning towards silliness. The underlying tone of the show remains, thank God, but it seems to lean further away from the domestic. This is a pity. If you change too much you could lose everything that makes Being Human what it is. The new cast is fine, and gives a new reason to watch the show. So shall we forgive the writers for this season? Well, redemption is one of the shows major themes. Let’s forgive Being Human, and keep our hopes up for season five. One thing this show is known to do is resurrect its more successful villains. Long live Mr. Snow! (But not too long, please.)

The cabinet of Doctor Caligari

http://graphics8.nytimes.com

There seems to be a fashion right now for silent films with a live accompaniment. With a series of rather dull-looking blockbusters lined up for the summer, these silents are possibly your best choice. If you go to the right venue, you can catch some of the most interesting, imaginative films ever made. The picturehouse cinema chain must be one of the best things to happen to London recently. In a dimly lit room, with a real club atmosphere, we watched The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari with a live score from “Minima”.

And it is a twisted jewel of a film. A study in mistrust, paranoia and madness, it is set largely in the tortured mind of the central character. The atmosphere is very Germanic, with a sort of macabre playfulness that calls to mind Tim Burton. There are some genuine chills, and a plot wrong-foots you at every turn-including (apparently) the first twist ending in cinema.

The hero and his friends encounter Caligari (Werner Krauss ), an evil showman, who has enslaved a sleepwalker. As the group get entangled in the mystery surrounding Caligari, a story of madness and murder follows.

The most striking feature is the films astonishing visuals. The scenery is a Burton-esque fantasy of sharp planes and angles. The main setting-a small German town-is a hallucinatory tangle of twisted streets, filled with menacing shadows. The action moves from one fantasy to another, from the bleak countryside to the halls of a mental hospital, but in every scene, the backdrop is a labyrinth. The actors fit right into these twisted surroundings. The exaggerated acting style and Gothic appearances help create a perfect fantasy world that hovers between comedy and menace.

Overall, a truly brilliant experience. The mainstream run of cinema has little to offer right now. Don’t waste your money on a so-so horror flick. Go to your nearest Picturehouse and book something truly brilliant.

The tour dates of “Minima” can be found at www.minimamusic.co.uk