Su Lum: In a video fever
My video fever began when I decided to sit out the war by watching all of the episodes of Masterpiece Theater’s “Upstairs/Downstairs” in chronological order, available at our local library.
Five years, 14 hour-long episodes per year – it’s a marvelous series that takes place between 1907 and the stock market crash of 1929, as seen from the perspective of the inhabitants of one London residence: the rich Bellamy family (upstairs) and their retainers (downstairs), the faithful butler, cook and lady’s maid and a revolving door of footmen, kitchen maids and parlor maids.
Part history lesson and part soap opera, you are swept up in their romances and the events of the day. Lady Bellamy (who had an adulterous affair with a young, doomed RAF pilot) dies on the Titanic. Members of both up and downstairs, whom you come to know better than your own family, are traumatized by World War I and all are affected by the ensuing social changes.
By the time the house was sold, marking the end of an era and the end of the series, the war was over and I was sicker than a rat-tailed dog with pneumonia, which led to my friend Fonda Paterson picking up the first year of the “Inspector Morse” series at the library for me.
I had only seen a couple of the “Inspector Morse” shows because they are usually run on PBS in two parts and I hate “to be continued” coming in the middle of a detective story when it’s already hard enough keeping all the clues and suspects in my head during the first half. Morse on video turned out to be perfect for sitting through pneumonia. The plots are dense but, when something confusing occurred or I dozed off, I could always rewind.
Morse is an interesting, complex character; in each episode he and his associate, Lewis, plow through evidence and track down clues in the scenic setting of Oxford and environs, a visual treat in itself.
Another treat was being able to tell the players apart. In “Upstairs/Downstairs” the players are virtually the same from episode to episode, but other than the main characters – Morse, Lewis, the Boss and the pathologist – every Morse show was a whole new cast of suspects and witnesses.
I have a problem, with American shows and movies, telling people apart. I thought it was just my dotage, but after watching a few Morse shows I realized that I could keep track of the characters because they hadn’t been cosmetically altered by nose jobs, orthodontics and liposuction, but just hung out there warts and all, easily identifiable.
I think there were seven years of Morse. The library has five, and two documentaries, plus the last show (a shocker). By the time I was through, I was over the pneumonia and hooked on videos.
I then suffered through “The Jewel in the Crown,” an epic series about India’s overthrow of British rule, never much caring for any of the characters, especially the white ones. What next?
I already owned my all-time favorites, “The Singing Detective” and “Fawlty Towers,” and have watched Ken Burns’s “The Civil War” many times (all of these are at the library). One of the librarians recommended “The Vicar of Dibley,” a 16-part British sitcom about a rotund, libidinous female vicar who shows up in the little village of Dibley.
Very irreverent without being sacrilegious, and hysterically funny. I watched that series twice, interspersed with “To the Manor Born,” while sitting out the election, and am now alternating “Fawlty Towers” re-runs and “The Irish R.M.,” another British hour-long comedy series (15 episodes), but I’m getting bored and my reading glasses have been fixed (another story) so maybe it’s back to books. I’m presently enjoying “Seabiscuit.”
[Su Lum is a longtime local who is taking video and print recommendations at mail to:email@example.com. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. ]
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