Saturday, 10 January 2009

Knee deep in feathers

We need something to cheer us up. Well, I do, as I'm fed up after my first week back at work. So, classic humour which is not at all supernatural, merely super:


canon alberic said...

"I think the word difficult is an awfully good one here" Thanks: quite cheered up.

So what did you think of the last part of Crooked House?

Since you ask: I'm afraid I was more than disappointed with the whole exercise. Like Mark Gatiss, and so many other children of the time, I was deeply effected by the 1970's BBC adaptations; and of course few pleasures can compare with first reading an M R James story.

It is interesting to speculate why it seems no longer possible to pull off either straightforward adaptations or heavily influenced original works?

BBC 4s "A View From The Hill" was I thought far better perhaps simply because, with all due respect to Mr Gatiss (who has done marvellous work), it had better source material. Even so it was not at all frightening.

With Crooked House (which I sincerely wanted to enjoy) I'm afraid I thought the first Episode was just awful; the second had a good script (but was, sorry Dame Jean, execrably performed); and the third the scariest, best plotted, had a very weak ending.

Having failed to enjoy them together, I pursuaded my teenage daughter to watch "A Warning To The Curious" (available as you will know from the bfi) and we were in contrast deliciously spooked. Like me she thought Crooked House was rather overwhelmed by its writer effectively starring in the production; by the Dr Whoishly camp execution; and by effects and performances that were sometimes very unsubtle. The honorable exception being the lead actor who was the best thing in the series.

A Warning is a marvel. Almost no dialogue, and strange but believable performances. More Beckett than LOG. Nature choreographed and threatening, barely a dropped note in soundtrack of manipulative genius; and a horrific ending acheived chiefly with a swinging light bulb.

It seems that the original adaptations have become artefacts of the great master in their own right. They use modest resources delicately to realise MR James' compelling evocations of the past. They were made with high seriousness. They get more frightening as any sense of their actual historicity (the 3 day week, the IMF crisis), and even the identities of the cast, fade from memory.

Perhaps the prevailing (post post)modern tone of comforting self-satisfied irony is deadly to the creation of that exquisite sense of apprehension (on Christmas Eve) that seems to have been there purpose.

An irony itself given James's own extensive but brilliant use of the same tropes.

PS If you want another, and modern, Christmas Poem try Alice Oswalds "Various Portents" from Woods etc (2005). Read aloud it will make people cry.

valdemar said...

The execution of Crooked House wasn't at all bad, but I felt the actual content lacked punch. There were only a couple of slightly shocking bits in each episode, which isn't enough. I don't think Gatiss quite pulled off the frame story format, either. It could have been a lot better, given the good cast.

I think 'Warning' worked very well because of Peter Vaughan's solid performance and the general understatement. The only problem I have with it is the over-physicality of William Ager, hacking away at his victim on the tumulus (oo-er, missus). That was unsubtle and spoiled it a bit for me.

'The Woman in the Veil' by E.F. Benson