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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    Shadows and fog



    Should we thank Britain's weather for the great black and white horror films of the 1950s and 1960s? By Jeremy Dyson



    Friday January 30, 2004

    The Guardian



    As a lifelong devotee of fantasy cinema, I found myself in the Warner Village this Christmas waiting to be transported to Middle-Earth and feel that special feeling that only a brush with the extraordinary can bring. Peter Jackson's epic vision dazzled me, his technical achievement I found truly astonishing and the film presented an incredible imaginary world with a verisimilitude that cinemagoers had never encountered before. And yet... and yet... Instead of elation I was feeling mild disappointment. That unnamed gland within - that secret part of me that craves a particular kind of stimulation before it releases its distinctive rush of wonder - had not been tickled. How could this be in the face of such excitation? Wasn't I just being kept from that feeling because I was now a jaded adult, whose ability to feel that kind of awe had been numbed by overexposure to hundreds, if not thousands of similar experiences?

    The Germans have a word for the quality that I missed in Return of the King. Ehrfurcht. There is no equivalent in English but it means something like "reverence for that which we cannot understand". Although it is often used in a religious context, it is entirely appropriate to apply it to secular experiences. Robert Aickman, who wrote some of the finest supernatural fiction of the 20th century, purloined the word to describe the effect he strove for in his work. It is a subtle, delicate thing, a palpable frisson, a marvellous sense of being in the presence of something larger than ourselves. As well as being present in the good ghost story, it's to be encountered in the best fantasy and science fiction too - but, on screen at least, it's proving a rarer and rarer phenomenon.



    The films that most keenly provoked Ehrfurcht in me were the ones I fell in love with in my early adolescence and developed a deepening relationship with as I entered adulthood: the supernatural horror pictures of the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. These were often paired in late-night TV double bills with the gaudier, shoutier Hammer films, whose fairground pleasures were more immediate but which didn't linger as long in the imagination. Movies such as Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie and the later Night of the Demon and The Haunting evoked lasting feelings of a more complex nature. It wasn't simply fear, although that was part of the cocktail - The Haunting had me so frightened that I was literally too scared to move my hand in order to switch channels. But mere fear is too negative an emotion to engage for long, and the gorier horror-shows of the 1970s and 1980s certainly didn't come close to inspiring these kinds of soulful reactions. There was something more marvellous going on here - something closer to enchantment.



    Over time I began to realise that the films I adored had something in common. More often than not they were made in black and white. Not exclusively, of course, but the monochromatic examples exerted a considerable pull. They just seemed to work better.



    This was one genre in particular that we in this country seemed to do well. A disproportionate number of the finest examples of the supernatural horror film were British productions (although sometimes, as in the case of The Haunting and Night of the Demon, with American directors). This expertise accords with the written ghost story, many of whose finest exponents have been British, too. Maybe it's something to do with our climate - fog and rain and long winter nights are effective stimulants to the fantastic imagination.



    A good example of such a home-grown treat is Jack Clayton's The Innocents (1961). One of the last black and white supernatural horror films to be made in this country, The Innocents is rarely screened today. It does not suit television because it was made in Cinemascope, often using the wide screen to bold effect with striking deep-focus compositions that just don't survive panning and scanning. Since it's currently unavailable on DVD, fans of such movies should race to London's ICA next week for a rare chance to see it projected on screen.



    The Innocents director Jack Clayton was not prolific, but much of his output was notable. He kickstarted the UK kitchen-sink genre with his refined screen version of Room at the Top, and went on to adapt Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes for Disney in 1982 - a film not well-received upon its release but whose slow, careful pacing and delicate atmosphere have aged rather well. The Innocents, though, was Clayton's most complete and striking film.



    Adapted from Henry James' The Turn of the Screw by the impressive combination of Truman Capote and John Mortimer (via William Archibald's Broadway adaptation of the previous year) the production was gifted with a great cast, including Michael Redgrave, Megs Jenkins and most notably Deborah Kerr giving one of the finest performances of her career as the neurotic governess Miss Giddens. Clayton's greatest asset, however, was his cinematographer Freddie Francis, who would go on to become a respected director of horror films himself. Francis had shot Room at the Top as well as Karel Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and would later become a favourite of David Lynch, photographing The Elephant Man, Dune and The Straight Story. But The Innocents' remarkable low-key, deep focus arrangements using the entirety of the screen disprove Fritz Lang's famous dismissal of the form as being only suitable for shooting funerals and snakes.



    It's Francis's photography that provides the clue as to why there was Ehrfurcht in abundance in the likes of The Innocents and its predecessors, and why it seems to be so hard to find today. One of the film's most effective moments comes in a simple yet beautifully composed wide shot. Miss Giddens has become convinced that the large, lonely estate where she is employed is haunted by the malign spirits of the previous governess and her depraved lover. One grey afternoon, as it pours with rain, the governess's ghost seems to appear in the deluge, visible in the distance, somehow standing on the surface of the ornamental lake. Because the shot is so wide and seemingly composed of shifting layers of foggy grey, the viewer is forced to peer into it, trying to make sense of what they are seeing. The feelings of fear, awe and trepidation that this simple image conjures are far more intense than any detailed CGI depiction of the impossible I have yet encountered.



    Perhaps a clue as to why this might be so is contained in a 1995 essay by Walter Murch, the mercurial genius of a film editor and sound designer who worked on The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. Entitled Sound Design: The Dancing Shadow, the piece is a meditation on how fruitful the gap between what is presented on screen and what it is supposed to be depicting can be. Murch states: "The danger of present-day cinema is that it can suffocate its subjects by its very ability to represent them. It doesn't possess the built-in escape valves of ambiguity that painting, music, literature, radio drama, and black and white film automatically have, simply by virtue of their sensory incompleteness - an incompleteness that engages the imagination of the viewer as compensation for what is only evoked by the artist."



    It seems to me that that gap between what the director is able to show and what the imagination can conceive is now closing, perhaps for good - and because the viewer's imagination is being spoonfed , no longer needing to compensate for what's missing, the end product is nowhere near as satisfying. What once was an unconscious collaborative activity is in danger of becoming entirely passive, and those muscles of the imagination that were once exercised regularly in the cinema by the likes of The Innocents may begin to waste away entirely. There is a fascinating paradox here: when it comes to depicting the fantastic on screen, the fewer colours there are in the palette, the more the film-maker can effectively evoke.



    · Jeremy Dyson introduces The Innocents and his short film The Cicerones on Wednesday at the ICA, London SW1. Box office: 020-7930 3647.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Country: England
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    I have to agree DB7,I went to see "Return of the king" and came away thinking that Peter Jackson's trilogy is the most remarkable achievement in film to date.I am a great Tolkien fan and was very disapointed with Ralph Bakshi's 1978 attempt,and thought is it ever going to be possible to recreate this story on film.Well the answer has to be yes,now that I've seen Peter Jackson's version,a true milestone in cinema history.Now,having said that,I still can't bring myself to say that I wouldn't prefer to watch,say,"a matter of life and death"or "the Third man"or "Passport to Pimlico"or "Hue and cry" and for that matter "Night of the demon".So, the question I have to ask is,does this make me single minded? are watching these films like wearing my old comfortable slippers?The only answer I have to that is I don't really know,The "rings" trilogy is certainly top of my list of erm..."other" films,but I just can't better the feelings I have for the films already mentioned and those are but a few!I'd be interested in what anyone else thinks about it.

  3. #3
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    What a great and much underrated classic this is, I first watched this as a young child and it had a huge impact on me. I think Robert Wise had viewed this movie before filming The Haunting wink



    I dug out the video the other night and it still packs an almighty punch.



    Anyone else enjoy this movie?

  4. #4
    Member Country: Great Britain
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    You're right, this is a great film. The cinematography and soundtrack is fantastic, it's certainly one of my favourite chillers.

  5. #5
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    Yes Freddie Francis's cinematogrpahy is sublime, he and Jack Clayton also collaborated on the superb Room at the Top.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Country: Wales David Challinor's Avatar
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    I love this film too. I particularly love the haunting opening, of a child's voice singing to darkness on the screen before the opening film studios title even appears. Very original and spooky.

    A cinema ambition of mine is to see it on the big screen.

    And do any of you know it was the inspiration for a Kate Bush song? She saw it in the late 1960s or 1970s and wrote 'The Infant Kiss' for her 1980 Never For Ever album....''I say good night-night, I tuck him in tight...''

  7. #7
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    The *child's voice* was that of the folk singer Isla Cameron who played Anna in the film. The song was the traditional *Oh, willow waly*.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Country: Wales David Challinor's Avatar
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    ..sorry gang and Dylan. I meant Kate wrote a song about the entire film, not just it's opening - originally my message was going to read like the following, before I was daft enough to change it's order around ...:

    ''I love this film too.

    And do any of you know it was the inspiration for a Kate Bush song? She saw it in the late 1960s or 1970s and wrote 'The Infant Kiss' for her 1980 Never For Ever album...I particularly love the haunting opening, of a child's voice singing to darkness on the screen before the opening film studios title even appears. Very original and spooky.

    A cinema ambition of mine is to see it on the big screen.''

  9. #9
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    Regrettably, this superb British classic from 1961 is not available in this country on either video or DVD. Fox home video are the worst company in the trade for not issuing titles from their back catalogue. If The Innocents had been a Warner or MGM picture instead of a 20th Century-Fox picture, it would have been available by now.

  10. #10
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    "So many films touch you, even if it's only the atmosphere you're left with. There was The Innocents (adapted from Henry Jame's ghost story The Turn Of The Screw and directed in 1961 by Jack Clayton, starring Deborah Kerr and Michael Redgrave), which I saw when I was a kid. It was so strong, and years later I wrote The Infant Kiss. There's an old horror film called Night Of The Demon (adapted from M.R. James short story Casting The Runes and directed in 1957 by Jacques Tourneur, starring Dana Andrews and Peggy Cummins) and that very much inspired Hounds Of Love."



    Kate Bush. Q Magazine. 1990.

  11. #11
    Senior Member Country: Wales David Challinor's Avatar
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    How about giving Kate an honorary membership of this site!!!! Sorry to drag this thread towards my favourite female songwriter but there were other recording on Never For Ever based on films...''Delius'' is based on young KB watching a famed b/w BBC doc about the composer screened in the late 60s, and ''The Wedding List'' is also - I've cut and pasted the following old KB interview.

    ''

    That was based on a film, a Jeanne Moreau film I once saw on the telly, when the bride's husband was killed and she sought revenge for those responsible. [She spends the next 15 minutes relating the plot of the film, ending in a breathless flourish]. It was an amazing film. Can't remember what it was called, though. [The film, truffaut's tribute to alfred hitchcock, is called la mariee etait en noir, or the bride wore black. - ied] (1980, Oct 10, Melody Maker)



    ''

  12. #12
    Senior Member Country: Great Britain
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    Maybe Morrissey deserves a honarary membership too. From the lyrics of Now My Heart Is Full:



    Tell all of my friends

    (I don't have too many

    Just some rain-coated lovers' puny brothers)

    Dallow, Spicer, Pinkie, Cubitt

    Rush to danger

    Wind up nowhere

    Patric Doonan - raised to wait

    I'm tired again, I've tried again, and



    Now my heart is full

    Now my heart is full

    And I just can't explain

    So I won't even try to



    Dallow, Spicer, Pinkie, Cubitt

    Every jammy Stressford poet

    Loafing oafs in all-night chemists

    Loafing oafs in all-night chemists

    Underact - express depression

    Ah, but Bunnie I loved you

    I was tired again

    I've tried again, and



    More Britmovie references in his lyrics at:



    http://www.compsoc.man.ac.uk/~moz/nicked.htm

  13. #13
    Senior Member Country: UK
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    The INNOCENTS has been shown a lot recently on sky cinema so i grabbed it on dvd to take a look,and i wasn't disapointed very atmospheric and a bit of peter wyngaurd too!.



    cheers Ollie.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Country: Wales
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    Kate Bush has been heavily influenced by British films - one of her earliest songs was 'Hammer Horror' She directed the video to 'Hounds of Love' very much in the style of 'The Thirty Nine Steps' and her most recent album (1993!) was 'The Red Shoes'. She met Michael Powell not long before his death and the line in 'Moments of Pleasure'-"he steps out the lift like Douglas Fairbanks" is apparently about him.

    Excuse me, I think I'll put a CD on!

  15. #15
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    We have a page about Famous Fans of Powell & Pressburger. Of course Martin Scorsese heads the list. But Kate Bush is there as well and there are a couple of extracts from magazine interviews where she's spoken about The Red Shoes & meeting Powell.



    Steve

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    DAVID RAYNER:

    Regrettably, this superb British classic from 1961 is not available in this country on either video or DVD. Fox home video are the worst company in the trade for not issuing titles from their back catalogue. If The Innocents had been a Warner or MGM picture instead of a 20th Century-Fox picture, it would have been available by now.
    If you have a multi-region tv/video you should be able to import the American video from the likes of Amazon. I've done that for a lot of hard to get titles (British and American), such as No Highway, The Univited, The Skull as well as The Innocents (which I got in 2002).



    The only complant is that the video is 'pan and scan' and not widescreen.

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    Thanks, Peter. I have bought quite a few titles from amazon.com and MoviesUnlimited.com through mail order that aren't available over here. I think the pan and scan version of the film is a transfer done by Fox Home Video years ago. I look forward to the day (although I shan't hold my breath meanwhile) when they re-master this classic for DVD in it's original CinemaScope format. I do have a multi-region DVD player, so Region 1 DVD's from America aren't a problem.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    Innocence found



    Jack Clayton's The Innocents (1961)



    Andrew Pulver

    Saturday June 4, 2005

    The Guardian







    Author: Henry James (1843-1916) was born in New York City, into a wealthy family. After a brief spell studying law at Harvard, he devoted himself to a literary life while travelling widely in Europe. His first novel, Watch and Ward , was written in Venice and Paris before being serialised in the Atlantic Monthly in 1871. James stayed in Europe as his writing career progressed, living first in Paris and then settling in England in 1876. Early landmarks included The Europeans (1878), Daisy Miller (1879), Washington Square (1880) and The Portrait of a Lady (1881). In 1898 James moved to Rye, Sussex. Here he dictated the story The Turn of the Screw . This and the novel What Maisie Knew (1897) marked the start of his great late phase. James then published a string of classics including The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904). In 1905 he returned to the US for the first time in 25 years; his negative reactions are recorded in The American Scene (1907). His native country's refusal to join in the first world war motivated him to take British citizenship in 1915; he suffered a stroke the same year and died three months later, shortly after receiving the Order of Merit.





    Story: James's interest in the unconscious and the spirit world is generally thought to have been inspired by family bereavements in the early 1880s. The Turn of the Screw was first published serially in Collier's Weekly in 1898. An unnamed governess, working in a lonely country estate, believes the two young children in her care, Flora and Miles, are being possessed and corrupted by apparitions of two dead former servants in the household, steward Peter Quint and the previous governess, Miss Jessel. Though the children deny the apparitions' presence, Jessel becomes obsessed with exorcising their influence, leading to Miles's death.

    The film-makers: Jack Clayton (1921-1955) started as a teaboy at Alexander Korda's London Films and worked his way through the ranks, producing films such as Three Men in a Boat (1956), as well as incurring Korda's wrath by marrying starlet Christine Norden. After directing an award-winning short film, The Bespoke Overcoat (1956), Clayton broke into features with Room at the Top (1959), part of the radical kitchen-sink generation of British cinema. He took The Innocents as a way of changing artistic direction even though he was forced to film in Cinemascope, a format he disliked. Cameraman Freddie Francis had just won an Oscar for Sons and Lovers (1960), and created superbly atmospheric black-and-white images for the film.



    How book and film compare: The film excises James's preface, with its description of fireside tales; instead, it begins and ends with the same shot of the governess (now called Miss Giddens) wringing her hands in apparent breakdown. Initial reaction to the book revolved around whether the ghosts were hallucinations or not (the first-person narrative encouraged this), but this is only a secondary consideration in the film. The Innocents operates more like a classic ghost story, but with more sexualised elements brought out - most notably in the scene in which Miles kisses Miss Giddens.



    Inspirations and influences: The Innocents is arguably the leading product of the celebrated wave of British-set black-and-white horror films, including Night of the Demon (1957) and The Haunting (1963). Interest in the genre perked up on the back of the mid-1990s horror revival; The Haunting was remade in 1999, and The Innocents clearly inspired the Nicole Kidman vehicle The Others (2001).

  19. #19
    Senior Member Country: United States
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    It was announced on the Home Theater Forum that Fox Home Video will release "The Innocents" on region 1 US DVD in early September.

  20. #20
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    That's good news. I shall order it from amazon.com when the time comes. But I hope they're going to do a wide screen transfer as it would be pointless re-mastering it for DVD if they're going to release it once again in pan and scan, as per their 1980's video.

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