Archive for Leslie Megahey

Ash to Ashes

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


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.


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.

It’s the pictures that got small

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on June 1, 2011 by dcairns

“Now see here, Kimmins, this picture you’re subtitling, this SANSUGAR SONATA –“


“This picture, it’s Japanese, isn’t it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And do you know what it’s full of, this Japanese picture?”

“No, sir.”

“It’s full of Japanese people.”

“Good heavens, sir!”

“Quite. Absolutely chocka with the little devils. Crawling all over the screen like ants, they are. I had a look at it myself, and I can tell you, it’s not a pretty sight.”

“No, sir.”

“So what we want you to do, Kimmins, is this: make the subtitles as large as you can. Blot out as much of the picture as possible. God knows, it won’t be enough, but at least we’ll have tried.”

“Yes, sir.”

Was startled by these mammoth subs in the film clips excerpted in a BBC Arena documentary on Kurosawa from 1985. Wondered how they got to be so chunky.

I must say, though, the BBC arts programmes in that period were way better than what we get now — a few years ago, they “did” Kurosawa again, at twice the length, and it was less informative and entertaining. A clue to this was the way the clips they used from Leslie Megahey’s original 1985 interview with the Great Man were all of the moments when he was not talking.

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