|Christopher Miles is a film and television director with an intriguing CV. His most celebrated film is probably 1970's The Virgin and the Gypsy, a lyrical D.H. Lawrence adaptation, though on television he will be best recalled for the spoof documentary turned actual conspiracy theory Alternative 3, which "revealed" a scheme for the elite to abandon Earth for Mars and leave the rest of us to perish. Also in his arsenal is one of the most waspish Tales of the Unexpected, Roald Dahl’s Neck, where Joan Collins was trapped in a priceless sculpture. His sister, actress Sarah Miles, will be better known than he is, however.
Miles' efforts came under the spotlight with the Blu-ray release from Network of his 1972 feature film Time for Loving, a four-part collection of stories of romance, but he had started out with short films, and two of those are included in the disc's extras. Frankly, if you were lukewarm on the main feature, these two might entice you to purchase, as they are rare as you like and well worth a look, starting with 1963's The Six-Sided Triangle, a comedy that was nominated for an Oscar for Best Short Subject. This category was always more open to experimentation than the longer form titles, and on a low budget, Miles shows off his innovation here.
The plot, such as it was, was designed around the repetition of one basic scenario: what happens when a husband returns home to find his wife with another man? The hook was that it played out as it would in six different countries, where the reactions, and indeed circumstances, are all markedly divergent from the starting point, beginning with, er, somewhere in the Middle East. Wherever Rudolph Valentino had supposedly made The Sheik, anyway, and it unfolds as in that silent movie hit as a sword fight erupts over the affections of the wife, played, as in each segment, by sister Sarah: the adulterer was always Nicol Williamson.
If the thought of Shakespearean thespian Williamson doing farce made your mind boggle, he certainly seemed up for it, jousting with the cuckolded husband (Bill Meilen) across the half hour duration in a variety of costumes. Almost all of these were introduced with a montage of newsreel clips summing up the outside view of the country in question, so Britain got bad weather and a mass brawl, for instance, and a fair few ended in violence. The Italian one was hard on Sarah's character, while the French saw Williamson disposed of with casual flair. The language barrier was solved with mostly silent skits: nobody says anything in Japan or Sweden, though we know where we are because Sarah is dressed as a geisha, and the cast are in an Ingmar Bergman pastiche.
Miles' follow-up was no less frivolous, and again he wrote and directed, this time for a slightly higher-budgeted half hour entitled Rhythm 'n' Greens in 1964. The stars were one of the biggest bands in the world, or they had been until The Beatles arrived on the international scene in 1963, and they were instrumental group The Shadows. They can legitimately be called one of the most influential rock or pop bands of all time, as they were the first to truly craft a distinctively British sound for rock 'n' roll, largely thanks to their lead guitarist’s way with an echoing note, he being the bespectacled Hank Marvin.
Not for nothing is their instrumental Apache named as one of the greatest records of all time, spawning anything from the Beat Boom all the way to hip-hop in the United States, but by 1964 they were best known as backing band to singer Cliff Richard, despite a number of hits without him. Cliff had taken them along on his film Summer Holiday the year previous to this, so it's only fitting that he should be invited along for a cameo here, albeit uncredited and in disguise (though recognisable if you are aware it is him). So why was he playing a blond, bearded King Canute? It was all to do with the plot Miles had concocted for The Shadows to play out.
Nothing less than the history of the British Isles in thirty-two minutes, an ambitious project that was filmed mostly at the beach at Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, south-east England. It starts with the band and four complementary dancers sunning themselves on the sand, listening to the tunes of The Shadows on the transistor radio, when a Professor interrupts and gives a lecture on said history (the Professor heard is unmistakably the plummy-voiced star Robert Morley). This bunch then proceed to act out everything from apemen to cavemen to Romans to Vikings and so forth, until the story is broadly related, stopping every so often so the band can play some music, miming on bones or lutes or whatever was appropriate to the theme. It was a bit of fluff to pass the time before the main feature in cinemas across the Commonwealth, wasn't nominated for an Oscar, but did entertain, even if the tunes were not among The Shadows' classics. As ephemera, these Christopher Miles shorts are well worth a look for the casual scholar of pop culture.
[Click here to buy Time for Loving and these two shorts on Blu-ray from the Network website.]