Monday, 25 April 2011

NYT reviews Dead of Night

I'm surprised - yet again - to hear a film I've always known about described as 'obscure'. But it's nice to see that Dead of Night, one of the great British post-war movies, still has the power to please film buffs.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Stupid Mistake Corrected

Ardent fans of those notes about the author might be puzzled to find that the first story in ST19 offers precisely zip in that respect. This is because I forgot to put in the note for Colin Insole's superb tale 'Flower of the Sun'. Sorry. So here it is for the completists:


'Some of the background to the story was suggested by the chapter on John Dee in Hope Mirrlees' entertaining biography of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, entitled 'A Fly in Amber'. Also, I recommend 'The Elizabethan Underworld', a collection of essays, stories and poems, published in 1930 by George Routledge. It is a goldmine of contemporary accounts concerning Elizabethan criminals and their methods. The extensive glossary of thieves' slang shows a remarkable similarity to the criminal argot of Victorian London.'

Monday, 11 April 2011

Mr Parry and his DVDs


Anyone who knows anything about M.R. James will be well aware that he wrote most of his early ghost stories to be read aloud to his fellow Cambridge scholars. It might be argued (by me, at any rate) that no dramatisation of an MRJ story can do it justice simply because it works beat when used as the author intended - as a form of intimate Victorian parlour entertainment. While other gentlemen were reciting Tennyson, Browning or Swinburne, Monty James was crafting and performing his own dramatic monologues, calculated to appeal to the antiquarian and somewhat ecclesiastical listener.

Which brings me to Robert Lloyd Parry, who has now produced two DVDs based on MRJ's stories. It's interesting to compare and contrast, as they say, the stories he has chosen to read. The first two are 'Canon Alberic's Scrapbook' and 'The Mezzotint', both definitive works of their kind.

'Canon Alberic' sets the standard for the now-familiar sub-genre of the hapless tourist who finds something valuable in an out of the way place, only to discover that he's stirred up something best left alone. 'The Mezzotint' is the classic haunted picture tale, mixing a series of startling incidents based on changes to the engraving with some convincing back story. The country house setting, the theme of a revenant seeking revenge on an overbearing squire - it's been done many times since, but seldom so well.

In his reading Parry conveys the dry humour, the erudite playfulness, and the consummate grasp of the storyteller's art that make MRJ's work so enjoyable, even after all these years. In his performance of both pieces he stays on the right side of the line with regard to the non-genteel characters, who are sometimes seen as broadly comical, but are really rather helpful and intelligent. Certainly the sacristan and his daughter are intended to be good people faced - like Dennistoun - with something they can't control or comprehend. The college porter in 'The Mezzotint', likewise, is a stalwart figure, a good family man who instinctively grasps the evil nature of the haunted picture.

Dark Shadows Fall

This year's title from Sarob Press is a collection of stories by Mark Nicholls, whose day job is President and Librarian at St John's, Cambridge. If you think that means his stories are full of leather clad women with chainsaws fighting off zombies, you should read the previous sentence again. We're very much in M.R. James country, here - unworldly academics, country houses, servants with amusing accents and so on. However, these stories rise above mere pastiche of the Provost of King's, and some deliberately take  the ghost out of his/her/its traditional habitat - thus one story, 'In Eastern Waters', is very redolent of Conrad.

The fact that most of these stories were published in Ghosts & Scholars should tell you that they of a high standard, both in terms of the writing and the central ideas. So far I'm about half a dozen stories in and enjoying them a lot. However, according to Rob Morgan the collection is now sold out. I suspect this means copies can be obtained from various wily dealers, as per usual. Well worth making the effort. More detailed review of Dark Shadows Fall to come in ST20. l

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Any Minute Now...

ST19 is here in boxes and contributors' copies are on the way, if not already there. Subscribers should start receiving their copies very soon. Please be patient before telling me yours hasn't arrived yet. Hope you enjoy it when it does.