"I AM NOT
David Tomblin, George Markstein
RANKED 2nd: A brilliantly made title sequence, lots of location scenes and the magic power of tautology when we get to know that the village is The Village, the beach is The Beach, the sea is The Sea... Let's have more of it!
Don't read any further unless you know THE PRSIONER already and you want to delve more indepth into theoretical discussions and facts around the history of the production. - Be seeing you!
In late summer of 1966 the television team, along with quite a lot of technical equipment, travelled to Wales to do the exterior shooting. Local people from Porthmadog or the surrounding area were hired as extras. They were supplied with colourful clothing such as capes and pullovers. The production crew was lucky as there was now sunny weather. In fact, THE PISONER would have look very different if the rainy weather had continued. Press information had been scarce. Hardly more was known than the fact that Patrick McGoohan was working on a new series. Also, the site of filming, Portmeirion, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis' creation, would remain a well-kept secret until the credits of the final episode "Fall Out" where the name of the location was eventually revealed (however, not in the German version).
Veteran director Don Chaffey was at the helm of the four episodes to be shot there, "Arrival", "Free For All", "Checkmate" and "Dance Of The Dead". Later, working in the filming studio, Patrick McGoohan himself would take over directing in many cases. Brendan J. Stafford was the director of photography. Footage for filler scenes, to be used all over various episodes, was also shot. The episodes "Arrival" and "Free For All" were shot back-to-back. Initially "Arrival" was to have been a real pilot for the series of 90 minutes running time. Patrick McGoohan later said that roughly 20 minutes of footage were cut in order to tighten the episode action.
Scenes for the episode "Checkmate" were among the very first to be shot, such as those of the chessboard visible by the marks on the lawm. There was also experimental work on a go-kart vehicle which was to become Rover, the dreaded automated Village watchdog. As is known, things turned out to be completely different. The mechanical device was inappropriate and it was then replaced by weather balloons.
"Arrival" has been watched many more times than most others of the series. Here, the exposition for everything to happen is established: the principle character is introduced and the affairs around his plight laid out; presented also is the location of the action known only as the "Village" [never mentioned in the German version, it's mostly "here", "place", "community" and so on]. Most important of all, the general mood surrounding the series is spread described either as "eccentric", "bizarre", "surreal" or, for that matter, as prisoneresque.
There's a specific magical attraction about those first minutes into the episode that has remained intact even after years of repeated watching.
The episode's intro hasn't become the title sequence, yet. It is still an integral part of the story. Its two and a half minutes would easily serve a dedicated seminar on film as a study object. The editing is tight, the images repeatedly recounting in later episodes what happened "previously on..." THE PRISONER.
Still, there is no spoken dialogue. The action begins after the protagonist regains consciousness in the Village and looks out of the window, then agitatedly striding up and down his apartment which is a replica of his London home. He walks out of it and into a mediterranean surroundings. Standing on the doorstep he thinks he's spotted somebody up on the bell tower. He climbs up the stairs to the top but sees nobody. A phantom? This little scene is somewhat symptomatic because the series - fiction - and the location Portmeirion - reality - they converge. Nothing or only little is what it appears to be at first sight. One of the rare examples of a shooting location becoming a principle actor.
The view from the bell tower is 360 degrees panoramic. And everything would be easier to swallow if there had been barbed wire and armed guards around. But there's nothing at all except of the Village, the sea and the wind noise. It could well be on a Sunday morning. Those having stayed in Portmeirion for an overnight will be familiar with the specific atmosphere. On his face even traces of panic are visible. The style here is very documentary with a hand-held camera used. Later, in the Village shop, only for a second, his eyes will be wandering on the map in a similar way. Next the chime of the bell startles him.
|Halfway into the episode the Prisoner meets a new Number Two. He'll now officially be called 'Number Six'. "I am not a number, I am a person", he maintains. Number Two instead is heard replying the "Six of one, half a dozen of the other", an English proverb.
The German version here translates differently but correctly: "The one does not preclude the other."
The staging of the arrival seen from the protagonist's perspective continues. Thus, people who like to do the ironing while watching TV or, like in the modern days of ours, is used to typing "Whatsapps" are likely to miss quite a lot of what the specific mood in these sequences is all about. There's no such thing like the verbal explanatory furor that we've come to be familiar with from most television series. Not each of the other episodes has been as meticulously set up like this one.
From up on the bell tower the man had seen a café. There he walks and approaches the waitress setting up the tables. The dialogue, however, remains somewhat dissatisfying: "What's the name of this place?" Her response: "You're new here, aren't you?" Man: "Where is this?" Her reply: "The Village?" - "Yes." - "I'll see if coffee's ready." Omissions, void. But there's phone box 'round the corner, still reason to hope for a happy ending. It isn't a British telephone booth, though. Just a telephone, no coin slot, in a plastic box shelter with a striped canopy on top of it. "What exchange is this?" No exchange. "Number please!" He says: "I want to make a call to..." And the voice: "Local calls only." The voice again demands his number. What number? He hasn't got one. "No number, no call." That's it, going round in circles.
The Village is still devoid of people, at least, that is, as far as one can say. What should he do? He finds a stand displaying: "Information - Push and find out" with a number of buttons on it. As he pushes one a rattling sound is heard just like that at the parking ticket dispenser on the day he drove into the underground parking... Then the sound of a car engine and brakes. An off-road type of vehicle, a taxi with a striped canvas canopy as a roof has arrived, stops next to him. That was quick. "Whereto, Sir?" the female Asian driver asks. He's too perplexed to reply and hesitates. "Où désirez-vous aller?" she asks again.
He gets into the taxi, wants to know why she would speak French to him. The driver: "French is international." She goes on telling him that the place was very cosmopolitan, so one could never be sure who one would meet next. She would have guessed, she continues, he was either a Pole or a Czech. His question in response as to what such people would be doing here is directed rather to himself than her, thereby assuming firmly he'd be on familiar British ground. In 1966 Poles or Czechs would be living behind the Iron Curtain which, under normal circumstances, was insurmountable. "We're only the local service", the driver insists. Next he tells her: "Take me as far as you can." If only there weren't the strange circumstances about his appearance in the Village, the sightseeing trip about parts of this picturesque site could be really an enjoyable one; classical architecture, statues, fountains and cobblestone pavement. But still it's all going in circles.
As if to confirm this find the driver says: "I did tell you we're only local". The taxi stops in front of an old-fashioned grocery shop. The man walks in, the sound of a doorbell is heard. The shopkeeper behind the counter donning a striped apron is talking to a woman in an unidentified language [German only in the German version] which serves well to reinforce the feeling of strangeness and alienation. He switches to English as soon as the woman leaves the premises. What is it that the man wants? The question asked like a lurking suspicion. A map of this area. The shopkeeper, not unlike the waitress, exercises himself in hindering and repeating: "'Map'? Colour or black and white?" And then: "'Map'... er... ah! Black and white...", awkwardly pulling a folding map from a drawer. But you don't get much wiser through it. A bit abashed our man asks for a larger scale map. "Only in colour, sir. Much more expensive." The map, unfolded again, reveals nothing, however, in terms of the current whereabouts. Quite the contrary. It is only now that he becomes aware of the strange titles on the map's geographical features:
A moment of shock, like losing ground in this tautological vertigo, also traces of panic. He wants a map not just of this village... Nonesuch. There's no demand for others. The shopkeeper, as if he'd known it anyway: "You're new here, aren't you?"
|"The early landmark episodes are tight and apart from 'Free For All' have perhaps less McGoohanish injections than later stories. In fact, 'Free For All' does seem somewhat 'stranger' in content when compared with 'Chimes", 'Dance' and 'Checkmate'. For the latter three stories, the star did not have any directing or writing credits and the presence of [George] Markstein, [David] Tomblin, Chaffey and Stafford at the time of the first quartet of episodes being created, including the pilot, made for a more ensemble approach."
[SIX OF ONE society magazine "Free For All" 1/2002]
"Be seeing you!" says the shopkeeper, his words of good bye accompanied by a significant hand gesture as the man walks out of the shop. Outside a loudspeaker announcement makes itself heard warning the citizens of possible rain showers in the afternoon. Also, the voice proclaims that "for your enjoyment" ice-cream is on sale, "the flavour of today is strawberry." That special flavour of the Village will be with viewers from now on.
The moment the kidnapped - the Prisoner - spots a chamber maid on the balcony of his dwelling he hurries home only to find nobody - she's already gone. Instead the telephone is ringing. He receives an invitation for breakfast, the male voice telling him: "Number Two. The Green Dome."
Approximately nine minutes, one fifth of the episode's running time, have gone by until this moment. And like the protagonist viewers barely have a clue to what's going on. But now the exposition is over and the action as such commences with the visit at Number Two's residence who's to tell the newly arrived citizen that "they have taken quite a liberty" and further what it is that they want to know from him: the reasons behind his resignation from office.
He defends himself verbally, saying that he's been checked before. But then there's an alarming realisation: the man who's to become Number
Six to us has already been filed, stamped, indexed briefed, debriefed and numbered for a long period of time, ever since his childhood. Now he's also being pushed. "That gives you the right to poke your nose into my private business?" he churns out in anger. And, perhaps, his resignation wasn't the reason for his abduction, not at all, but they'd have "immobilised" him anyway?
He is then invited by Number Two to a trip around the Village, by helicopter and by foot. "Almost like a world on its own", as Number Two puts it. A bit of small talk between the two, a little joking. Again, the documentary style of filming as previously on the bell tower is employed in conveying images of everyday life in the Village. Number Six is shown what the Village authorities could be capable of doing unless the required information is provided. Whether the incident was planned or not, Rover, the amorphous Village guardian, has his first-time appearance in displaying his potentially lethal capacities. Eventually, an ineffectual escape bid by Number Six is thwarted after which, and because of his encounter with Rover on the beach, he finds himself in the hospital. Upon his discharge he is given a number of items, insignia of his new Village life: new clothes, such that viewers will be familiar with from now on; an identity card, a credit card, a straw boater and a number badge with the "6" on it. To be true, Number Six throws the badge aside with disdain.
What follows is a new episode, virtually, a new Number Two, another story, once again an escape attempt that ultimately fails and another demonstration of power and its capabilities by the Village. There's also an array of surreal refractions in the otherwise rather straight forward narrative, irritating and typical of the series. Something viewers are made to be aware of.
The trails have been laid out.
TEXT: Arno Baumgärtel