Ridley Scott/Number 6

The Prisoner 

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Click to view the entire serie for free if you haven’t already!

The Prisoner (known only as Number Six) is a former government agent who has abruptly resigned from his job and finds himself imprisoned in an idyllic yet bizarre seaside village isolated from the world by the sea and mountains where his captors try to find out why he abruptly resigned from his job. Number 6 desperately wants to find his way to freedom without revealing anything to anyone, being loyal to his employers but also true to himself and the sets of values he believes in. The Village seems to be inhabited by other prisoners as well as enemy agents and guardians but it is very difficult to know who is who, Most (but not all) guards wear the same style of resort clothing and numbered badges as the prisoners, and mingle seamlessly among the general population. Thus, it is nearly impossible for prisoners to determine which Villagers can be trusted and which ones cannot.

The only one that obviously seems to be in charge of the Village is Number 2. Number Six is monitored heavily by Number Two, the Village administrator acting as an agent for an unseen “Number One”. A variety of techniques are used by Number Two to try to extract information from Number Six, including hallucinogenic drug experiences, identity theft, mind control, dream manipulation, and various forms of social indoctrination. All of these are employed not only to find out why Number Six resigned as an agent, but also to extract other purportedly dangerous information he gained as a spy. The position of Number Two is filled in on a rotating basis: in some cases, this is part of a larger plan to confuse Number Six; at other times, it seems to be a result of failure in interrogating Number Six.

Starring and co-created by Patrick McGoohan, the show’s combination of 1960s countercultural themes and surrealistic setting had a far-reaching effect on science fiction/fantasy programming, and on popular culture in general became the base for what is now known as one of the best cult series from the 60’s , it combined spy fiction with elements of science fiction, allegory, and psychological drama. 

The opening and closing sequences of The Prisoner have become iconic. Cited as “one of the great set-ups of genre drama”, the opening sequence establishes the Orwellian and postmodern themes of the series; its high production values have led the opening sequence to be described as more like film than television.

Bike
Click to see Hoffman’s strange Bicycle ride.

 The bicycle that is always at the forefront of anything related to the Prisoner is without a doubt the symbol of  LSD and all the fuss that was made round its discovery. Lysergic Acid Diethylamide was discovered April 19, 1943, as Albert Hofmann, a chemist for Sandoz, in Basel, Switzerland, ingested a minute amount—just 250 micrograms–of a compound derived from the ergot fungus. He soon felt extremely disoriented as he rode his bicycle home, where he experienced all the heavenly and hellish effects of lysergic acid diethylamide. Pink Floyd even had a song immortalising this event simply called Bike.  

Many secret services around the world were very intrigued by various hallucinogenic drugs (especially but not exclusively, LSD) and a shitload of secretive research around mind control were set in motion by various governments after WWII. Without a doubt, the Village where most of the action takes place his he and specifically is a reflection of those mind control covert operations, at least it is one aspect of it. One in particular, Project MKUltra—sometimes referred to as the mind control program—was the codename given to an illegal program of experiments on human subjects, designed and undertaken by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Experiments on humans were intended to identify and develop drugs and procedures to be used in interrogations and torture, in order to weaken the individual to force confessions.  Their purpose was to study mind control, interrogation,behavior modification and related topics. It is therefore obvious that the serie was very much aware of all the implications of LSD (mainly but not exclusively) during this period and for sure the bicycle that is omnipresent throughout the serie reflects the importance it had back then.  

Another part of the inspiration for the Village came from research into World War II, where some people had been incarcerated in a resort-like prison called Inverlair Lodge. Actually the Village is a brutal dictatorship, best described by Number Six himself as “This farce, this 20th century Bastille that pretends to be a pocket democracy.” It is ruled by a revolving series of Chief Administrators designated “Number Two”, some of whom return to the office after lengthy absences. They vary greatly in personality and in methodology: some of them are quite amiable, some are sadistic, and some are mere bureaucratic functionaries bordering on functional impotence. Sadly, I must admit that it seems to resemble more and more today’s or even tomorrow’s ”ideal” society, “Work units” or “credits” serve as currency in its shops, and are kept track of with a hole-punched credit card (no money),  its unique, controlled newspaper, its taxi service (no individual cars allowed implicating that you cannot go anywhere outside the village on your own), It’s camera surveillance system (Big Brother), No alcohol or drugs, no gambling, no radio, rigged justice system…  It is baffling to think how far the resemblance has gone with what is actually well on its way… Exactly who operates the Village is deliberately obscured. Ostensibly, the Village is run by a democratically elected council, with a popularly-elected executive officer known as “Number Two” presiding over it and the Village itself, although internal dialogue indicates that the entire process is rigged. Number Two appears to be directly answerable to unseen superiors, the shadowy “They” or “Number 1″ pulling all the strings from behind the scenes, with direct contact via a red hotline phone. Undoubtedly resembling today’s Illuminati, Bilderberg, Skulls & Bones, NSA, Isis and similar shadowy organisations whose influence is felt but whose motives and goals are far from being clear.  Do I need to say more?? If you watch the serie you will, without a doubt take note yourself of these little ”insignificant” things that are indeed very troubling.

It was probably one of the most influential pieces of television of the 1960s not only in the UK and USA but also in France, Australia and many other countries. Even The Beatles were fans. Its cult status was confirmed with the establishment in the 1970s of the official Prisoner Appreciation Society, Six of One. 

Apparently there is a chance that it will be brought up to life again by none other than the creator of (among many others) ”Blade Runner”, Ridley Scott! The movie director already had plenty of momentum heading into Golden Globes weekend with a Best Director nomination, and now he has even more. Scott is in early negotiations on a deal to come aboard and direct The Prisoner, the screen version of the 1968 Patrick McGoohan British TV series. This has been a plum project at Universal for some time with numerous A-list scribes including Christopher McQuarrie writing drafts. The most recent version was by The Departed scribe William Monahan. The film is being produced by Bluegrass Films Scott Stuber and Dylan Clark. Scott’s Scott Free team will likely become part of it as they get the script that makes the director happy. Numerous writers are circling to do that, and the elbowing by several top actors has also begun, now that word is getting around that Scott is coming aboard.

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