Thursday, January 15, 2009
A note for the passing of actor Patrick McGoohan, known to American audiences as intelligence operative John Drake in the 60s television show Secret Agent (titled Danger Man in Britain, where it originated), and especially for the dada/surreal serial maze he created and starred in, The Prisoner.
A craggy countenance and a rumbling boom box of a voice, McGoohan had pacing, brooding presence on the screen, someone who could give you the impression that he was thinking of several different different things while he spoke to you directly about a particular item of dramatized controversy. It was a restless energy he could bring to a career of roles he succeeded in problematizing with a repertoire of ticks, manic hand gestures, tilts of the head, an abrupt change of posture; he seemed like he was about to go off at any moment. He was a smart enough artist to guide his persona into the right roles, and The Prisoner was the perfect fit; an uncontainable individualist quits an undisclosed intelligence agency, only to find himself kidnapped and held prisoner in an isolated village with other prisoners where the cryptic overseers demand information which he will not give.
The Prisoner, referred to as No.6 in the series, continually calculated his escape attempts, all of them failure, a task he would only start again because he would not be contained.
Odd, driving, quirky, The Prisoner fit neatly into a generation's reading and viewing habits where The System and The Man and The Establishment meant sterility, conformity, death on two feet, and it got the spirit of rebellion through the likes of No.6. One suspects that McGoohan's pacing rebel would do well with the counter culture that turned him into a hero: the prisoner didn't seem the sort of trade one sort of conformist rigidity for another. He wasn't a joiner.