Friday, 29 February 2008

The Light Pours Out Of Me

Stigma. 1977.
The penultimate of BBC's Ghost Stories for Christmas departed away from adapting stories by M.R. James and Charles Dickens in favour of a modern tale written by Clive Exton. The play explores similar themes as had appeared in productions such as the childrens' series 'Children of the Stones' and Nigel Kneale's plays 'Murrain' and 'Baby' - that is the ideas and themes of witchcraft and folklore in a modern day setting.
It starred Kate Binchy and Peter Bowles as Katherine and Peter, an affluent middle-class couple who move to the country with their teenage daughter. When workmen attempt to unearth a large menhir stone from their cottage garden, it unleashes a supernatural force which wreaks a ghastly curse on the wife. She begins bleeding heavily despite having no wounds. At first she is able to disguise it from her family but by the morning she is lying in a pool of blood with her husband and the local doctor looking on helplessly. Simultaneously the workmen discover that a human skeleton had been buried under the ancient stone. The remains of someone who seems to have been killed in a ritualistic manner.

A Box for Black Paul

Longing (detail) 1983

Child in the Wake of Death (detail) 1983

Escort (detail) 1979

Death's Bookkeeping (detail) 1982

Death of the Poor Man (detail) 1983

Finnish outsider artist Viljo Gustaffson (1927 - 1994)

Thursday, 28 February 2008

I am kurious oranj

A warning to the curious. 1972. Directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark.

Another of the BBC's adaptations of M.R. James ghost stories.
An amateur archaeologist discovers the lost crown of Anglia in a remote Norfolk coastal area. From the moment he unearths the treasure he is followed by a black-clad figure.

I had too much to dream last night

Whistle and I'll come to you. 1968.
This, the first of the BBC's adaptations of M.R. James' stories was aired as part of the Omnibus series and directed by Jonathan Miller.
An old whistle has emerged in the displaced soil of a grave, and a bumbling academic holidaying nearby, played by Michael Horden, discovers this and cleans it up. The artefact is adorned with a latin inscription which he translates to be; 'Who is this who is coming?' A blow through the instrument is seen to unleash a psychic disturbance. The room Horden is staying in contains two single beds, and he experiences a disturbed sleep due to the sounds of someone twisting and turning in the other bed, which facilitates a dream that he is being pursued on a desolate beach by an unseen figure. In an extraordinary moment we see what appears to be a bed sheet rearing up on the sands, moving towards him. The following morning the maid asks him which of the beds he has slept in, as both are disturbed. Horden converses with another guest in the boarding house, giving the viewer the opportunity to discover that the professor doesn't believe in the supernatural, finding a rational explanation for any suggestion of ghostly presences.
But later that night, there are further disturbances in his room, and turning to the empty bed, Horden sees the knotted sheet rising up. The sight of the terrified professor's thumb finding its way into his mouth, as he starts blubbering, is chilling.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Smash it up!


A BBC Childrens' serial first aired in 1975, based on a trilogy of books by Peter Dickinson. The programme was introduced with the words 'A science fiction serial for older viewers...' - something of an understatement, it could be said. Looking more like a government information film on how to survive a nuclear war, rather than a piece of tea-time entertainment. The series begins with a seemingly ordinary family becoming crazed by a weird droning sound which impels them to smash up all the electrical equipment in their home, outside, the chaos is widespread; mobs are overturning vehicles or setting them alight, while a preacher warns of the end of the world. As the series develops, the heroine, a teenage girl named Nicky, loses her parents and eventually ends up in a country village where she is subject to a modern-day witch trial, complete with a self-styled witchfinder intent on 'dipping her in the pond'. Welcome to childrens' television in the 1970s.

Watch a ten-minute montage of the series, here:

It's alright ma, it's only witchcraft

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Bizarre Love Triangle

The Owl Service. Granada Television. 1968.

This serial, adapted by Alan Garner from his prize-winning novel, was a sexually-charged tale of adolescent jealousy that broke new ground by pushing hard at the boundaries of children's television.

The Welsh legend of Blodeuwedd is a tale of betrayal retold in the 11th Century book of The Mabinogion. Blodeuedd, a woman made of flowers, was unfaithful to Lleu Llaw Gyffes with Gronw Bebyr. Gronw then killed Lleu with a spear so that Lleu became an eagle - Lleu's magician Gwydion turned the unfaithful woman into Blodeuwedd, the owl, as punishment.

Now three modern-day teenagers are revisited by Gwydion's curse. Upper-class Alison, her haughty public school stepbrother Roger and working-class Welsh boy Gwyn are similarly locked into a triangle of love and hate that threatens to destroy them. Gwyn later learns of the father he's never known and discovers that his mother was once possessed by the same old plates Alison uncovered in the attic.

Clear Spot

These paintings by the Marquis d'Hervey, a nineteenth century French theorist of dreams, are attempts to depict images that appeared to him in those moments when he was passing from waking into sleep. Such images, sometimes abstract as here, sometimes vividly naturalistic, are thought to occur in the condition of half-consciousness that precedes slumber and in those moments just prior to fully-awakened consciousness.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Borstal Breakout

The cover feature in the OBSERVER magazine 11th March 1979 was entitled 'NEW JERUSALEM GOES WRONG' - In the early 1960s Kirkby (Merseyside UK) Labour Party was told by Barbara Castle (on the prospect of a new council estate development): 'This is your chance to build a new Jerusalem.' These photographs tell the story a decade and a half on. A pigeon fancier is about to release one of his birds in the final picture.

Further reading : 'ESTATES' Lynsey Hanley (Granta)