Friday, 18 January 2013

echoes : octavio paz and adolfo bioy casares

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

Thursday, 10 January 2013

happy birthday london underground

Part 1 of the Haunted London Underground, narrated by Paul McGann - plague pits, murdered actors, wartime panic and spectral trains. Read more at Unexplained Mysteries.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

boris karloff's thriller - "in God's name, just speak!"

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!)

underneath the masks: philadelphia mummers parade

Mummers Parade, Philadelphia, 1909
This put a different spin on the vintage photos I'd been enjoying: the annual New Year's day Mummers Parade in Philadelphia has always been subversive but, according to Slate, this year's parade also highlighted the city tradition's shadowy history of treating minority ethnic groups.

demons of disorder: medieval mummers

Medieval Mummers, from the Folklore series of UK Royal Mail stamps, 1981
"... they rode through the city, accompanied by numbers in various grotesque dresses, making disport and merriment; some clothed in armour; others, dressed as devils, chased the people, and sorely affrighted the women and children; others wearing skin dresses, and counterfeiting bears, wolves, lions, and other animals, and endeavoring to imitate the animals they represented, in roaring and raving, alarming the cowardly and appalling the stoutest hearts."

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

70s occult TV bows out: casting the runes

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?

we make shadows: bangour village hospital

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's post-it monsters

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.

Peanuts theme (Linus & Lucy) 600% slower - welcome to the other side

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.