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

Une Collection Particulière by Walerian Borowczyk

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British animator Bob Godfrey died this week but as a result of copyright restrictions there’s little of his work on YouTube aside from the films he made for children’s television in the 1970s and 1980s. One of those series, Roobarb (1974), is a personal favourite, but Godfrey had a long career in animation, and worked in many different styles. Two years before Roobarb he caused a stir with the bawdy Kama Sutra Rides Again (1972), a cartoon that was banned for a while, animated films being subject to the same ignorant reaction as comics from those who see them as a medium solely for children. Since we can’t watch Godfrey’s film online here’s something he may have appreciated, fellow animator Walerian Borowczyk in 1973 showing off his collection of vintage erotic art. After this Borowczyk abandoned animation for the no doubt more lucrative world of the sexploitation feature film.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Dom by Walerian Borowczyk and Jan Lenica
Les Jeux des Anges by Walerian Borowczyk
Labirynt by Jan Lenica
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk

Rhinoceros by Jan Lenica

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As noted here last year, Polish artist Jan Lenica (1928–2001) was also an animator as well as a celebrated poster designer. Die Nashörner (1964) is an 11-minute condensation of Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros that no doubt works best if you’re familiar with the play but which nevertheless contains some funny moments, especially when “Rhinocerosism” starts to spread. The film is free to download at the Internet Archive.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Repulsion posters
Dom by Walerian Borowczyk and Jan Lenica
Labirynt by Jan Lenica

Dom by Walerian Borowczyk and Jan Lenica

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Dom.

Having referred this week to individual animated films by Borowczyk and Lenica here’s their ten-minute collaboration from 1959. “Dom” means “house”, with the house in question providing a vague framing device for otherwise disconnected episodes, some of which repeat themselves. It’s more of a curio than anything, most interesting (again) for the moments that would be better explored by future directors. In addition to further collage animation there’s a short sequence which gives octopoid life to a human wig that’s very reminiscent of Jan Svankmajer. Watch the whole thing here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Les Jeux des Anges by Walerian Borowczyk
Labirynt by Jan Lenica
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk

Les Jeux des Anges by Walerian Borowczyk

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Les Jeux des Anges.

Following yesterday’s post, we can be certain that Terry Gilliam had seen Les Jeux des Anges because in 2001 he included it in a list of ten favourite animated films. Jan Lenica co-directed Dom (1959) with Walerian Borowczyk but doesn’t work on this film which is the darkest and strangest of all Borowczyk’s works I’ve seen to date. Once again there’s some unavoidable subtext, although whether that applies to the Holocaust or to Stalinist repression is for the viewer to decide. What we see is a series of painted tableaux in which various mechanical processes are butchering angels. The atmosphere isn’t far removed from the cruelties of Roland Topor while the painted scenes are very similar to those that David Lynch would be animating a couple of years later. The soundtrack is credited to electronic composer Bernard Parmegiani. Watch it for yourself here.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Labirynt by Jan Lenica
Les Temps Morts by René Laloux
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk