Archive for Lawrence Gordon Clark

Ash to Ashes

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2016 by dcairns

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One of the best things about the BBC’s old Ghost Stories for Christmas is how they don’t all fit a pattern. MR James was the default choice, but The Signalman, from a Charles Dickens story, is one of the best. That one has a couple of beautiful eerie images but depends largely for effect upon Denholm Elliott’s magnificent performance of Dickens’ largely unedited dialogue. The finest James adaptation, on the other hand, Whistle and I’ll Come To You, by Jonathan Miller, almost dispenses with coherent dialogue entirely, in favour of vague mutterings by Michael Hordern which run under nearly every scene.

I was inspired to visit The Ash Tree when my friend Danny Carr commented on how unexpectedly Roegian it was. And this is true — in converting yet another James story to the screen, the series’ regular director, Lawrence Gordon Clark hewed closely to the text, necessitating some unconventional cinematic language — overlaid dialogue from unseen peasants, flashbacks, dreams, quite a bit of narrative fragmentation.

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Adding interest is the fact that the piece is set in a distant time period — two, in fact, and that it hinges upon witchcraft rather than ghosts. Plus the torture, nudity (only Leslie Megahey’s explicitly necrophile Schalken the Painter tops it) and the rather Cronenbergian monsters make it quite unlike anything else in the series. Plus it features Lalla Ward, which places it somewhere between VAMPIRE CIRCUS and Doctor Who, which seems about right — supernatural vengeance against sadistic puritans on the one hand, puppetshow monsters on the other. The elfin Lalla’s career was so unrelentingly psychotronic — no wonder she ran for comfort into the rational arms of Professor Richard Dawkins.

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A Ghost Story for Christmas

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on December 31, 2013 by dcairns

The BBC has a long tradition of televised ghost stories at Christmas time, often involving M.R. James adaptations. Mark Gatiss has happily revived the idea this year with his version of The Tractate Middoth.

But here’s one from the ’70s, (heyday of this activity) made by commercial television, and it’s at least as good as the Lawrence Gordon Clarke movies the Beeb were turning out, while running about a third of the length. James is such an economical writer and most of his stories so simple that it’s no squeeze at all, and in fact the film feel’s leisurely. But the sting in the tale is powerful — it even gets away with depending on special effects, which work precisely because they’re so unexpected after the low-key exposition. It feels like the film itself has been invaded by another reality.

Interesting to see a maze played for terror before THE SHINING. Our director, Tony Scull, who, like his film, has existed without leaving any trace upon the IMDb, exploits the ragged and decaying hedgerows so he can film through them and get what we call Sid Furie shots, where the camera seems to be spying on the actor, implying some sinister presence. Sadly, this stops him from doing what Kubrick did, moving the camera through the maze giving us the subjective impression of being lost and enclosed. True, he wouldn’t have had access to a yet-to-be-invented steadicam, but hand-held could work just as well — wobble and lurch can add to our nervousness.

But he scores at the end, particularly when the credits start to rise before the VO has finished wrapping up the plot — this sounds like it could be messy, but it’s beautifully effective, capturing attitude of the uncaring universe as embodied by the TV schedule — we have to move on, and we can’t worry too much if some poor chap has just had his nerves shredded. And how are your nerves? Feel any urge to look behind you and check that no malefic presence has materialized through the floorboards while you were intent on your screen?

BBC Ghost Stories for Christmas (Expanded six disc set) PAL ONLY

STOP PRESS: we’re told that this short is an extra on this DVD: Casting the Runes [1979] [DVD] Maybe if a few of you click through and buy it I’ll feel less guilty about inadvertently pirating something that was commercially available! The main feature is a TV adaptation of the same MR James story that became NIGHT OF THE DEMON…