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43 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Television Masterpiece, 30 July 2013
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This review is from: Schalcken The Painter (BFI Flipside ) (DVD + Blu-ray) (DVD)
Suddenly, a whole raft of classic British supernatural television dramas is lined up for release by the BFI. Items which were only available as grainy bootlegs are due for issue as quality, restored items. These releases cannot come too soon for those of us who saw the original broadcasts, for we don't know how long we have left to enjoy such happy reunions. Prominent among these forthcoming films is Leslie Megahey's 'Schalcken The Painter' based on the story by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu. LeFanu was one of the first writers on supernatural themes to depart from the vapourous ghosts of tradition and introduce those more corporeal demons and vampires who strutted their stuff at the end of the nineteenth century, and who are with us still. The use of a scholarly narrator was also a device adopted by LeFanu, one which was emulated by his great disciple Montague Rhodes James. This conceit served to make the ghost stories of both these writers more believable.

'Schalcken' was a film in the BBC's 'Omnibus' strand being thereby designed to be both entertaining and instructive, as indeed was LeFanu's story. The film is in colour. I cannot comment upon the quality of the restoration as I haven't seen the new product. This revue concerns only aesthetic aspects of the film.

The story is told as a sequence of dramatic tableaux with an ever present, understated commentary by an art historian (Charles Gray). The casting is inspired and the acting superb: Jeremy Clyde (Schalcken), Maurice Denham (Gerrit Dou), Cheryl Kennedy (Rose) and John Justin (Vanderhausen). It's probably unfair to cite a particular piece of acting for special praise but I cannot resist mention of the scene in which Rose first sets eyes on her macabre suitor. It is breathtaking, even electrifying. Cheryl Kennedy has surely never produced a better performance than this.

The sets are gorgeous. The use of soft, low lighting helps to transport the viewer into a series of seventeenth century Dutch interiors. The experience is akin to watching paintings by Vermeer come to life, all filmed with an unwavering sureness of touch. Detailed reviews of this celebrated film are readily to be found online. However, I would leave these till later if you don't want to read the story before watching the film.

I cannot imagine a more sympathetic rendition of LeFanu's chilling but moral tale. Unlike M. R. James he was not deterred from bringing sex into his stories. The viewer must be prepared for scenes of a sexual nature and ones which contain female nudity. Throughout the direction is masterly. Don't miss this atmospheric masterpiece.
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Tracked by 4 customers

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Showing 21-29 of 29 posts in this discussion
In reply to an earlier post on 11 Sep 2013 18:57:33 BDT
Last edited by the author on 11 Sep 2013 19:12:52 BDT
EDIT: Just reread your comment and realized you were being sarcastic. However can I ask what's wrong with searching for bargains, especially when they are from longterm BFI retail partners such as Fopp or Moviemail?

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Only a tiny percentage of the BFI's home video sales are through their own NFT shop and mail order wings. Reducing the prices of certain items at these two sites is in no way an indication of poor overall sales.

They have simply discounted last year's BBC Ghost Stories releases to encourage further speculative sales before the second round of BBC supernatural titles later this year.

As for your belief said BBC Ghost Stories failed to sell, well bare in mind many collectors had been waiting 20+ years for these programs to have a quality legal release. When they finally appeared they were highly publicised, widely and positively reviewed and received plenty of positive word of mouth. Oh, and first pressing of the boxed set version sold out within weeks.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Sep 2013 20:06:28 BDT
peter41 says:
There is nothing wrong with looking for bargains. I do it also. My point here is that some items, let's say of limited appeal, may not get onto the market if advance orders are poor. The marketing of the Powell dvd resembles that of the Le Fanu audiobook to an uncanny degree. For many weeks there was no image (eventually one appeared and can still be found on Amazon) then the release date was put back by a month; then another month and so on. The sellers 'Craftsman' have never stated that they have abandoned the project but the audiobook never came out. It is still advertised but described as 'currently unavailable'. Marketeers do sometimes test the market by advertising a product that hasn't been fully developed. I've pre-ordered some of these advertised rarities more in hope than anticipation. I'd rather pay over the odds than see the projects stall. You may be right (I hope you are); perhaps there is a robust market for atmospheric ghost stories. I admit that I know little of how the BFI work but they must have done some market research. My own feeling is that support is relatively weak and inconsistent. Grab these gems while you can. Some of us are running out of waiting time.

Posted on 14 Sep 2013 14:27:20 BDT
Last edited by the author on 14 Sep 2013 14:44:31 BDT
croaksnooze says:
peter41: Having read your appraisal of 'Schalcken', I wonder why you haven't waited until you've actually seen the BFI version. These Amazon pages are intended for specific product assessment - hence the heading 'Customer Reviews' and the reason that they're usually helpful.
As to the original film, most of your observations seem fair, except your prudish warning that 'The viewer must be prepared for scenes of...'. The weirdly thrilling intertwining of eroticism and death is inescapable in life and hardly surprising in horror films!

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Sep 2013 16:00:03 BDT
peter41 says:
The whole idea is to whet the punter's appetite. I want people to buy these. If that happens the BFI may bring out more of the same. The prudery is calculated. Tell someone that they may be shocked and they'll go for it more. I don't usually review items before they are released; I'm just worried about what seems to me to be a fickle market for items like 'Schalcken'.
I'm not so sure that everyone will agree with your last sentence. Many people of my generation will have found eroticism eminently escapable, though death less so.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Sep 2013 17:11:45 BDT
Last edited by the author on 14 Sep 2013 17:12:28 BDT
R. Lang says:
I don't mind reviews of vintage drama before they are released, as it gives me a chance to make my mind up in advance.
I must be a bit prude-ish, as I find very little reason for sex and nudity in horror and ghost stories.
Look at the classics like Night of the Demon, The Innocents, The Haunting, and the wonderful 70s BBC Ghost Stories for Christmas, still as good today as they were first aired.
As soon as the 70s kicked in, it was a free for all, even Hammer films went downhill, thinking sex and nudity is shocking, lets bang it in for the heck of it.
Anyway, I'll be happy if all the Mystery and Imagination episodes were remade exactly as they were made back in the 60s, and then I wouldn't mind paying my 145 quid tv license.
Looking forward to more ghost dramas released whenever that be, as modern tv stuff doesn't interest me in the slightest.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Sep 2013 20:03:53 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 15 Sep 2013 12:20:51 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Oct 2013 16:57:55 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 Oct 2013 13:12:41 BDT
croaksnooze says:
R. Lang, reviews are fine, but my point was that they're more helpful to prospective buyers when they refer to the actual product and not just to the film.
Sex and nudity add to the fun and provide effective counterpoint to the horror, in my view.
Classics, as you've called them, are certainly excellent in their way, but they're by no means the end of the story: every era must produce its own, so it'd be a mistake, I believe, to let a rosy view of the past cloud perception of the present.
Hammer films were tame compared to European films of the day; artistically, the UK has often lagged, alas.
Why remake old things? On with the new!
Fashions change - even among ghosts - and any self-respecting modern spook would be sure to appear in the finery of today!

Posted on 31 Dec 2013 15:22:47 GMT
''Unlike M. R. James he was not deterred from bringing sex into his stories. The viewer must be prepared for scenes of a sexual nature and ones which contain female nudity.'' In Le Fanu's original story Schalcken sees the ghost of Rose who guides him to the body of Vanderhausen who suddenly sits upright in a four poster bed. There is nothing beyond that and although I'm far from narrow minded I've always thought this production suffers from the addition of sex and nudity, which seems only to have been added to shock 1970's viewer's sensibilities.

In reply to an earlier post on 31 Dec 2013 20:12:44 GMT
R. Lang says:
I hope there are many more M.R. JAMES Christmas ghost plays every year on BBC.
Mark Gatiss attempt at The Tractate Middoth wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, and it kept to the period it was written.
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