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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

Schalcken the Painter revisited

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Illustration by Brinsley Sheridan Le Fanu from The Watcher and Other Weird Stories (1894) by J. Sheridan Le Fanu.

The stranger stopped at the door of the room, and displayed his form and face completely. He wore a dark-coloured cloth cloak, which was short and full, not falling quite to the knees; his legs were cased in dark purple silk stockings, and his shoes were adorned with roses of the same colour. The opening of the cloak in front showed the under-suit to consist of some very dark, perhaps sable material, and his hands were enclosed in a pair of heavy leather gloves which ran up considerably above the wrist, in the manner of a gauntlet. In one hand he carried his walking-stick and his hat, which he had removed, and the other hung heavily by his side. A quantity of grizzled hair descended in long tresses from his head, and its folds rested upon the plaits of a stiff ruff, which effectually concealed his neck.

So far all was well; but the face!

Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter (1839) by J. Sheridan Le Fanu.

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Compare this shot to the inferior YouTube version.

I enthused at some length about Leslie Megahey’s 1979 television film Schalcken the Painter last year so there’s no need to repeat myself. This post serves notice that the film is available at last in another marvellous dual-format release from the BFI, replete with extras, and the usual authoritative booklet notes. The Blu-ray transfer is a revelation after years spent watching an old VHS copy (the versions of YouTube are even worse). I noted before the astonishing lighting by cameraman John Hooper which successfully replicates not only the Dutch interiors so familiar from Vermeer, but also the candlelit chiaroscuro of Godfried Schalcken’s own paintings. (Le Fanu, incidentally, spelled the painter’s name “Schalken”.) Blu-ray quality might seem like overkill for a low-budget TV drama, however well-made, but this film in particular demands it, especially when the interiors begin to darken along with the story.

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Cheryl Kennedy and Jeremy Clyde.

Among the extras there’s a 39-minute interview with Leslie Megahey and John Hooper about the making of the film. The combination of scenes based on period paintings plus candlelit interiors always makes me think of Barry Lyndon so it’s a surprise to discover that Megahey didn’t have this in mind at all. The film owes more, he says, to Blanche (1972) by Walerian Borowczyk, a period feature film which utilises a similarly flat shooting style with scenes based on medieval art. I’ve only seen Borowczyk’s earlier animated films, some of which have featured in previous posts, so this is one to look for in future.

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In addition to the making-of piece there are two short films: The Pit (1962, 27 mins), directed by Edward Abraham, based on Poe’s Pit and the Pendulum, and The Pledge (1981, 21 mins) directed by Digby Rumsey, based on a short story by Lord Dunsany. I’ve not watched either of these yet, it seemed unfair to follow Megahey’s film with lesser fare.

After such unbridled enthusiasm it goes without saying that this is an essential purchase for anyone who enjoys the BBC’s ghost films of the 1970s. I’m biased towards Megahey’s productions but I find this a superior work to many of the MR James films. Megahey filmed another drama about a painter in 1987, Cariani and the Courtesans. It’s a non-supernatural piece but also has Charles Gray narrating and John Hooper behind the camera. I’ve not seen it for years so I’ll continue to hope it may also see a reissue soon.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Schalcken the Painter
Leslie Megahey’s Bluebeard
The Watcher and Other Weird Stories by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Chiaroscuro

 


 

Posted in {art}, {film}, {horror}, {painting}, {television}.

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