Thursday, August 2, 2012

FEATURE: LoEB ''Road Trip''

This week's League of Extraordinary Bloggers assignment is all about the ultimate pop culture road trip!

Cool and Collected's Brian gave the League the following assignment:

Summer’s coming to a close but there’s still time for one more vacation. Plot out the ultimate pop culture road trip.

Now obviously there are a lot of pop culture locations that immediately spring to mind. Penrith, perhaps? PEN-RITH. Or how about an alien world? A trip into the future or the past, courtesy of a handy time machine? Or what about a tropical island? But before I could think any further on the matter, somebody sprayed a strange gas through the keyhole and I woke up...

In the Village.

OK, so that didn't really happen. But it's a nice way to segue into the first destination featured in today's Assignment, The Prisoner's Village, or - as it's known more commonly - Portmerion.

The creation of architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, Portmerion is a small village - now held by a charitable trust - designed and built over a fifty year period that fused existing British with newly designed, European-influenced architecture - particularly such as that found Italian towns like Portofino - to create a unique, borderless vision of the future.

As a result of its distinctly unusual looks, Portmerion found itself being a popular haunt of actors and TV crews looking to use it as a double for cities within Europe. Most famously, when Patrick McGoohan was looking for a setting for his surrealist drama The Prisoner, he found his Village at Portmerion.

Now I know some of you will probably only know The Prisoner from the brief (and frankly terrible) AMC show from 2009. If so, then I can just about forgive you for not wanting to see the original. But trust me on this, miss out on The Prisoner and you're missing out on one of the Greatest Cult TV Shows ever. Essentially the Lost of its day, The Prisoner is a mindbending, surrealist spy-drama that - even in the forty-plus years since its original airing - remains an enigma.

On the surface, it's the tale of an unnamed secret agent, played by Patrick McGoohan (although some fans of his previous series Danger Man/Secret Agent insist this character is that show's hero, John Drake) who - upon quitting his job - is gassed and transported to a mysterious Village. Stripped of his identity and given the number Six, his attempts to escape are constantly thwarted by Number Two (played by a revolving cast of actors each week) and his (or her) minions, usually using a variety of security measures including CCTVs, boats and - one of the show's most iconic images - Rover, the white balloon that chases and engulfs those foolish enough to attempt escape.

But that doesn't even scratch the surface of what's going on here and is like saying ''Game of Thrones is about a few people trying to become king.'' At its heart, The  Prisoner is as much allegory as it is adventure series. At its core is the assertion that ''it is the right of the individual to be individual'' and during its seventeen episode run, the show explores the methods used by ''the powers that be'' to control, distort and even kill those who would oppose them and the valiant attempts of every prisoner - small ''p'' - to resist.

Although the show features its share of crowd pleasing chases and fights, the real drama comes from the incredibly sharp scripts and verbal sparring. Number Two never carts The Prisoner off to be tortured or even killed (although there are occasions where some come close) but rather their battle is one of wits and the mind. McGoohan's Prisoner seethes with righteous anger yet remains polite. It's all just so wonderfully English and is more exciting than any car chase or punch up.

Although initially the show left the viewing public stunned (and the story goes that Patrick McGoohan had to actually leave the country to escape the outcry at the show's... unexpected resolution) over the years The Prisoner has gained a huge cult following. It therefore comes as no surprise to learn that the entire village of Portmerion now operates as a hotel and even includes a Prisoner-themed merchandise store (situated in what was The Prisoner's house in the show.)

As a huge fan of the show, you can therefore understand why The Village was my natural first port of call on my pop culture road trip. But now we'll move on to our second... wait, what's that blooping noise...? And... a white balloon! Rover! No, let me---


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