First screened on ITV's South Bank Show in 1981, At the Haunted End of the Day
remains the only full-length documentary on Sir William Walton, and is probably the most perceptive of Tony Palmer's composer studies from the 1980s. The first half of Walton's life is the stuff of novels: his unremarkable childhood in Oldham; his years as a chorister at Oxford University; his induction into "high society" by the Sitwell family; above all, the series of major works written during the 1920s and early 30s. The second half--when Walton relocated to Ischia and, surrounded by the tropical garden his wife Susana created, continued to compose impressive but often overlooked works--allows for some stunning footage of the Italian coastline.
Musical contributions are plentiful, notably the young Simon Rattle directing Belshazzar's Feast and the First Symphony, and there are revealing interviews with Sacheverell Sitwell and Laurence Olivier. Interspersed throughout is film of the composer at work and in transit: laconic, self-deprecating, yet resolutely aware of his own worth.
On the DVD: At the Haunted End of the Day arrives on disc in a standard TV 4:3 video aspect that reproduces well, though picture quality varies according to location. The soundtrack has the required immediacy. There are no subtitles, nor any extras: a "20 years on" postscript would have been welcome, though Palmer does provide some candid observations on the making of music documentaries in the accompanying booklet.--Richard Whitehouse
Feature Length: 99 mins approx
Menu Screens: English
Video Aspect Ratio: 4:3