Friday, January 16, 2009

Patrick McGoohan

There was nothing like "The Prisoner" on television in 1968. There is still very little that compares to it today--in its deliberate quirkiness, its refusal to follow the established formula of the 6o-minute teleplay. Imagine the staid audiences of 1968-trained on "Gunsmoke", "The Andy Griffith Show", "F Troop", even the "Man from U.N.C.L.E." and --tuning in to "The Prisoner". More than one viewer probably called their station to complain--or maybe called the TV repairman to get their "regular TV back on the screen".

I was 8 years old in 1968, left alone during summer Saturday evenings--and "The Prisoner" fascinated me. Man it was weird-soooweird. And creepy. What the hell was that big latex ball? Gave me nightmares-still does.
And that concept--falling asleep, waking up in your own apartment--but transported to an entirely different place--how cool was that? I remember looking out my bedroom window wondering if I really was where I thought I was.
'Good question.
McGoohan gave no quarter in that series, he never succumbed to the conventional demand for closure-revelling instead in the ambiguities raised by his premise, and engaging the philosophical complexities of the post WWII cold-war society we were creating. And if you shared his dark sense of humor-"the Prisoner" was funny -like a knife.And colorful--love those umbrellas. The 'ending" to the series is no ending at all--a maze within a puzzle within a riddle--it answers nothing and yet confirms our worst expectations. Did Six escape? Is there an escape?
It's the narrative possibilities that stay with me today. The questions the series raises-about individuality, about the social collective, mind control-media control; the symbols McGoohan utilized to engage difficult ideas in an entertaining way.
I'm not hopeful for the new series--"The Prisoner" was the result of one man's vision. And like any work of art, there's no recreating it--why bother? It's like trying to repaint Matisse.
So I imagine they should have a parade to celebrate Six in Portmerion. Bring out those rainbow umbrellas, march in unison throughout the square-chanting"SixSixSixSix".
Patrick McGoohan would've hated that. and that's as it should be.

Be seeing you.

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