Tuesday, 22 January 2013
Friday, 18 January 2013
|1940 edition, illustration by Norah Borges|
"The body is imaginary, and we bow to the tyranny of a phantom. Love is a privileged perception, the most total and lucid not only of the unreality of the world but of our own unreality: not only do we traverse a realm of shadows, we ourselves are shadows."
Octavio Paz on The Invention Of Morel and other works by Adolfo Bioy Casares
Tuesday, 15 January 2013
Thursday, 10 January 2013
Sunday, 6 January 2013
Like Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, Boris Karloff's Thriller was an anthology of fictional delights on America's NBC channel in the early 60s, by turns chilling and moral, albeit frightful (and sometimes crime) rather than sci-fi, and hosted by Mr Frankenstein's monster, whose gravelly-toned opening of each episode introduced the players and warned the faint of heart of what was to come, 'as sure as his name was Boris Karloff'. A classic conveyor belt of goose-bumping goodies - gothic mansions, foggy moors and graveyards, grisly monsters, ghouls and bogey-men, murderers, swindlers and would-be Devil tricksters about to get their comeuppance - populated tales with pulp comic titles like Parasite Mansion, Dialogues With Death, Well Of Doom and Pigeons From Hell. The stories were high-class though, written by names including Hitchock's Psycho script inspiration, Robert Bloch, and Twilight Zone writers Robert Matheson and Charles Beaumont, or adapted from tales by the likes of Edgar Allan Poe and Robert E Howard. A cast of stellar and later-to-be-stellar actors including William Shatner, Mary Tyler Moore, Leslie Nielsen, Elizabeth Montgomery, Robert Vaughn, John Carradine and Boris Karloff himself added the stardust, and though the show only lasted two seasons before being shunted by the success of the macabre anthology Alfred Hitchcock Presents, there is of course YouTube and a mammoth 14-disc DVD box set of all 67 episodes so that you can scare yourself silly through many dark nights before your own reckoning.
(thanks to Duglas T Stewart for the reminder of this series on Twitter!)
(thanks to Duglas T Stewart for the reminder of this series on Twitter!)
|Mummers Parade, Philadelphia, 1909|
|Medieval Mummers, from the Folklore series of UK Royal Mail stamps, 1981|
Herbert Halpert and GM Story: Christmas Mumming in Newfoundland: Essays In Anthropology, Folklore and History, 1969
Don't be fooled by those dainty hand-on-hip poses. Fifteenth-century revelry during the 12 days of Christmas meant the masked and costumed mummers (versions of which exist worldwide throughout history) not only acting out genteel folk dramas and parading through the streets, but also getting up to all kinds of mischief, drunken loutishness, crime and violence. Nothing changes then - it's just the costumes aren't as good.
Saturday, 5 January 2013
The ghost stories of Victorian writer MR James were a particularly popular choice for adaptation in the early 70s as part of the BBC Ghost Stories For Christmas, but the 1979 version of his tale Casting The Runes is still a lost treasure. Jacques Tourner had made a film of it, Night Of The Demon, in 1957 and there was a 1968 ITV teleplay, but the ITV Playhouse take on it in 1979 is like an overview of the previous decade's popular culture occult obsession. Prudence Dunning (Jan Francis) is the gradually spooked out journalist victim, whose TV documentary exposure of supernatural charlatans reactivates an old vendetta by reclusive mystic Julian Karswell (Iain Cuthbertson). Ten years before he had similarly been mocked by a journalist, John Harrington, whose mysterious death in snowy Yorkshire opens the drama. Now Karswell casts the doom-laden runes for Dunning, and as he lurks in libraries, cuts a brooding black-clad figure in long-shots over bridges and messes with her mind in Dunning's home and his study it's how and whether she can fight back that racks up the suspense. Well, what you do if a warlock put a curse on you?
This is Bangour Village Hospital, in Dechmont, near Edinburgh. It's easy to zoom past it on the motorway, but it covers 600 acres, hidden among woods and landscaped grounds. It opened in 1906 as the Edinburgh District Asylum, looked after soldiers during both world wars and was a working psychiatric hospital up until 2004.
It's a place that, like my friend Rhian said when we visited, is trapped in time, and yet it's not. We make shadows of our dreams and nightmares, past and future, except that those shadows aren't out there, they're within us. I wanted to say we can let those shadows go any time we want, but I think they nestle inside, entwining with everything. How large you let those shadows loom though, that's up to you.
There's a few thousand photos of the hospital on flickr. Most of them are of the spooky abandoned kind, and then there's a set from someone who worked there, taken in 1970, snapshots in Kodachrome colour, some with patients in the wards, that raises more uncomfortable resonances. The point is that walking around there now, as plenty people do with their families, or their dogs, of a Sunday afternoon, it's not a spooky place, and, as it turns out, it wasn't ever the Victorian Bedlam of our nightmares. At least, that's not what it set out to be.
Bangour was a prototype of a utopian ideal, based on a German village model, a humanitarian approach to mental health. There were large sports grounds, a shop. The patients lived in "villas". The mammoth building at the heart of the village wasn't for patients; that's where the nurses lived. Elsewhere on the web there's photos of the hospital in the 1940s. It looks like a Hollywood version of a sanitorium. Maybe the reality wasn't like that, and maybe the sweeping wide roads, carefully cultivated shrubbery and pristine nurses and doctors uniforms provide a parallel that's easier to handle, but they make more sense looking now than any spectres of horror films or books. It really is a beautiful place to wander around.
John Kenn Mortensen is a TV writer and director in Denmark who draws monsters on post-it notes in his spare time. These monsters lurk amid the everyday, following us while we're out for a walk, hanging around while we try to reach something stuck underneath the wardrobe or while we put out the rubbish. They wait for us to sail our boat (or fall from a bridge) into their mouths, put us in cages and stick us in cauldrons for their family (monster) Sunday roast. But the monsters also cower behind trees as we walk by, get ignored even as they do their most fiendish faces behind us, and linger hopefully as we rest on a bench. Sometimes they even look as if they'd like us to take more notice of them. Mortensen has published two books of his post-it monsters so far, and also has a blog.
Linus and Lucy enter a whole other realm in this super-slow version of the Peanuts cartoon theme. You can also download the full track.
Thursday, 27 December 2012
|Invented by Charles Leicht, created by Creston Industries, 1969|
If you had all the postwar astrology/prediction-based games, would that mean you could have a battle of the clairvoyants and a face-off between the Amazing Magic Robot and the the Magic Eightball? That's what we need to ask Nemo.
Monday, 24 December 2012
Sunday, 23 December 2012
If there was a stone circle of 1970s British TV dramas in which modern technology came up against ancient forces, then Nigel Kneale's The Stone Tape, which finally comes out on DVD next month, would be the big monolith at the circle's centre. It led the way for Children Of The Stones, Changes and The Omega Factor, but as a horror where the chills were all the more unsettling for being based in science The Stone Tape stands apart.
Nigel Kneale had made his name in the 1950s with the pioneering BBC sci-fi gripper of Quatermass in its serial incarnation, so it should have been no surprise that his contribution to the BBC's annual Christmas ghost story in 1972 was nothing like a standard ghost story. An electronics research group, led by a bombastic Napoleon in a safari suit (Michael Bryant) in the twilight of an affair with his computer genius prodigy (Jane Asher) move in to a derelict house, Taskerlands, and discover by the chance the potential for a new recording medium in the haunted stonework of the basement. There is a ghost in The Stone Tape, a Victorian undermaid, but she's just the bait. The hook is the story of the primal forces within the stone that can't be contained, either literally by being recorded (on tape), or in power, and the havoc unleashed as the scientists try to harness those forces so that they can outdo the Japanese and, of all things, a rival firm out to build the first electronic washing machine.
There are plenty of disturbing resonances to enjoy here, from the eerie green-on-black oscilloscope signals that dominate the opening titles to Jane Asher's petrified expressions, the series of trapdoors to the narrative that burrows into ever-more abstract and arcane territory, the mixture of Victorian gothic and modernist sci-fi that's amplified by the set designs and sound effects (BBC Radiophonic Workshop working overtime again), and the undercurrent of ideas about modern capitalism, gender relations and even the definition of ghosts. For more on those, see Breakfast In The Ruins or the anthology extract from The Twilight Language Of Nigel Kneale by Dave Simpson at The Paris Review.
The real power of The Stone Tape though, is in its unseating of expectations and stereotypes. The unseen forces can't be called definitively malign, despite events, the scientists are not so obviously the bad guys or good guys, and the story, though dominated by men, is fuelled in every sense by the sole female character, as much by her intelligence and resolve as by her dissolving nerves and terror. It's like a code within a code within a code, The Stone Tape, a Russian doll as a computer programme, endlessly unravelling.
|late autumn hipstamatic Hampstead Heath trees|
Between Going And Coming
Between going and staying
the day wavers,
in love with its own transparency.
The circular afternoon is now a bay
where the world in stillness rocks.
All is visible and all elusive,
all is near and can’t be touched.
Paper, book, pencil, glass,
rest in the shade of their names.
Time throbbing in my temples repeats the same unchanging syllable of blood.
The light turns the indifferent wall into a ghostly theater of reflections.
I find myself in the middle of an eye,
watching myself in its blank stare.
The moment scatters. Motionless,
I stay and go: I am a pause.
Octavio Paz was a Mexican writer whose influences included surrealism and Aztec mythology. See the 1991 interview in The Paris Review for more about his ideas and amazing life, or read his epic poem based around the Aztec Calendar Stone, Sun Stone.