Back to blogging

There has not been much blogging of late. The spirit is willing but the flesh has been otherwise engaged with earning a living, surviving the start of the new academic year (I teach undergraduates now – they’re lovely, the process is terrifying, the admin continues to be a nightmare). However, this week has been Reading Week so I’ve been taking the opportunity to sort out other areas of my life while I’ve not been in the classroom. With luck, the rate of posting here will start to pick up again or at any rate develop some sort of consistency. There is, after all, lots to write about at the moment.

This post, however, will probably be link-rich rather than content-rich as I share a few recent discoveries.

One great discovery earlier this year, via The Weird, was the work of Bruno Schulz. I wrote about ‘The Sanatorium at the Sign of the Hourglass’ here and am looking forward to reading Schulz’s other work when I have a chance. I was pleased, recently, to come across a film adaptation, The Hourglass Sanatorium. It’s long but fascinating to watch, not least because of the way it plays with Schulz’s story. The elements are all there but rather as Schulz refuses a linear narrative so the film in turn refuses Schulz’s order and reframes different elements of the story to provide a commentary on the idea of narrative itself. It’s a wonderful piece of work and Jan Nowicki is outstanding as Joseph. (Alas, the version I found, with English subtitles, has vanished, although there are various clips on YouTube, and also full versions that require registration on sites I don’t quite like the look of. It does also seem to be available on DVD.)

Along with that came a documentary about Bruno Schulz, The Cruel Fate of Bruno Schulz, which is also well worth viewing.

More recently, I watched Tarkovksy’s Solaris for the first time in over twenty-five years. I’d only seen it once before and remembered being very impatient with the slowness of it. I watched it again as it was being shown to my undergraduate class and it seemed wrong to have them talking about it when I’d not seen it. I seem to have changed a lot in twenty-five years or more. To begin with, the film didn’t seem slow at all. Instead it was utterly absorbing and time passed very quickly, to the extent that I was surprised when it ended. Secondly, I made the rather startling discovery that I had apparently blanked almost all of it from my mind after the first viewing. Literally, the only parts of it I seemed to recall with any clarity were the ocean sequences. I have my suspicions as to why I did that, given some of the psychological underpinnings of the film would have come rather close to home, but it is a shocking thing to find that one can wipe so much from one’s mind like that. Particularly when there is so much now that I like about this film. I’ve read the new translation of Lem’s novel, and I shall probably have to watch Soderbergh’s remake (which in turn seems to have some affinities with a dramatisation that turns up on Radio 4 Extra from time to time). I am also intrigued/bothered by this which seems to live in a world in which Tarkovsky’s film never happened but shall not pass judgement until I’ve read the novel.

Solaris is available on YouTube in two parts, with subtitles: Part 1 and Part 2<

Shifting tack entirely, I was really pleased to learn that the BFI is bringing out a boxed set (pdf) of the BBC’s much-admired adaptations of some of M.R. James’s ghost stories, not to mention their magnificent production of Dickens’ ‘The Signal-Man’ and a slew of other things, as well as that truly bizarre 201o remake of ‘Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You’ featuring John Hurt, almost the first thing I ever wrote about on Paper Knife. Looking back at my blog post I see now that the film may have a certain amount in common with ‘Sanatorium at the Sign of the Hourglass’ so, strangely enough, I’m looking forward to seeing it again and considering it afresh, shorn of any Jamesian connections.

John Coulthart, over at {feuilleton} has similar tastes to mine and a rather better memory for these things on tv, as a result of which he has lately been lamenting that the boxed set does not include Schalken the Painter, based on a story by J Sheridan Le Fanu, a production which I’d completely forgotten about until he mentioned it. Coulthart also writes on Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape, a production that scared me witless when I saw it at the impressionable age of 13 (the rather cruel deal was that I could watch these adaptations of James’s work and other ghost stories on condition that I did not wake the house up by having nightmares later: hello, insomnia). I saw it again about twenty years ago and it seemed to stand up fairly well then, though I notice M John Harrison being less convinced this week so it’s probably time to watch it again and see how I feel. (Paul Kincaid, meanwhile, is busy complaining that the BFI boxed set doesn’t include Robert Powell’s dramatic readings of James stories, which is admittedly another gap though they are at least easily available on YouTube. We are agreed that Powell does a particularly good version of Paul’s favourite story, ‘The Mezzotint’.)

More reclamation work of late has involved finally cracking and buying a DVD of Children of the Stones, which I remember vividly from my adolescence, and, a little while ago, laying hands on a DVD of the Dramarama: Spooky series, which includes Alan Garner’s The Keeper, by far the best piece on the DVD and as powerful and frightening as I remember it. Also, I got hold of a DVD transfer of Penda’s Fen some time ago, and that is as remarkable as I remember it being.

So, rampant nostalgia? Maybe, but I’d contend that they really don’t make ghost and supernatural stories like that any more, as evidenced by the 2010 production of Whistle.


2 thoughts on “Back to blogging

  1. Jonathan M

    That Solaris-related post at SFSignal is pretty damn funny. 'I'd like to watch the Russian version…' but you can't be bothered? but there's a stout hairy man playing the George Clooney part?Children of the Stones is quite neat but not as frightening as I remember it being. The psychological battle between the boy and the evil astrophysicist still works and the idea of a town that's caught up in worshiping an astronomical anomaly is quite cool but it feels a lot more like the TV adaptation of Chocky than it does the output of Nigel Kneale.One TV ghost story you don't mention is Ghostwatch. If you can track that down it is definitely worth a look.

  2. Maureen Kincaid Speller

    Yes, it's not like it's actually difficult to find the Tarkovsky version. Maybe it's the subtitles. Though given a choice between Clooney and Banionis circa 1972, I know who I think is the more interesting on-screen presence.I still regret not seeing Ghostwatch when it was originally broadcast. I recall some impatience with the beginning of it, having not realised what was really going on, and turned it off. Why did I do that???

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