Sunday, April 3, 2011

Playing First String

As soon as you can, get a hold of an episode of Secret Service. I wish I could trust you to simply go out and do it based on what I'm telling you, because the pleasure of this show is in the discovery. But sadly, you need more.

Secret Service was the last Gerry and Sylvia Anderson "Supermarionation" production. Like Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlett, the characters are all played by puppets. In this one, they tried an interesting but insanely wrongheaded strategy - sometimes it will be a puppet in a miniature set, but for some long shots, they used human body doubles for the puppets in full-size sets. It was a way of saving a little money on miniature sets, and now and then you'd have to show a character running, and it's simply easier to make a real person do that than a puppet.

Still, puppets are lousy actors and using them for closeups is just loony.

And that's not even considering the premise of the show, which would have been insane under any circumstance. It's the adventures of Father Stanley Unwin, who works for B.I.S.H.O.P (British Intelligence Secret Headquarters, Operation Priest) as an undercover spy. Unwin is voiced by Stanley Unwin, who also plays his full-size doppleganger, but only in long shots. Unwin works with his parish groundskeeper Matthew, another agent, and here's where it gets weird. Unwin has a device which can shrink people to a fifth of their size. For missions Matthew is reduced and Unwin carries him in a specially designed suitcase to various situations where he can observe or sabotage enemy actions.

This notion that this thing made it out of a pitch meeting is proof A: of miracles and B: that the late sixties was the golden age of hallucinogens.

As it happens, the size Matthew shrinks to is about the height of a Gerry Anderson show puppet. Though sometimes, they have to put him in scenes with other puppets so they use camera tricks. All right, I just can't go on without giving myself a headache. They only made 12 half-hour episodes, so it's pretty breezy watching if you don't go nuts. If you're a fan of special effects or dubious narrative strategies, rush out and watch this one.

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